Both walk-in and drive-in guided trips in Yellowstone Park will become available tomorrow, July 2, in the aftermath of the historic June 12–13 flooding. Access is still somewhat limited, but allows for a range of trips and fisheries. This post will be updated with the latest information as conditions change. We expect more and more options and more and more “normalcy” as the season progresses.
Drive-in Access Trips
Somewhat to our surprise, Yellowstone Park will be opening limited commercial access to the park from Gardiner starting tomorrow, July 2, via the old “Stagecoach Road” between Gardiner and Mammoth. While this road will not allow private tourist traffic, it will allow our guides to access the park. We will have two options to run guided trips inside the park for the summer:
Meet in Gardiner and have clients ride with our guides into the park to fish.
Meet clients who enter the park from West Yellowstone or another entrance (including those staying inside the park) at Mammoth, Norris, or another prearranged spot.
Our guides will be able to enter the park via the Stagecoach Road during very limited time windows, so only full-day YNP trips will be available. We are also looking into having our guides camp for a few days at a time inside the park, which would allow a wider range of trip offerings. The Park Service is going to allow guides to camp at closed campgrounds (Mammoth and Norris) to make this possible.
Public access to the “North Loop” reopens tomorrow as well. This allows fishing the Yellowstone in its canyons, most of the Gardner River, and a range of small streams, both with a guide and on your own. Access to Slough Creek and portions of the lower Lamar River should also be possible starting soon, but damage to the Northeast Entrance Road means that public access to the Lamar and Slough will not be possible. Only guides who understand the road limitations will be given access. No access to the Lamar Valley or Soda Butte Creek will be possible until at least autumn, for anyone.
Walk-in Access Trips
Walk-in public access from Gardiner is now possible. This allows guided or unguided fishing on the Lower Gardner River, just in time for its Salmonfly Hatch. Access to the lower Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River will also be possible once the Gardner River drops enough to permit fording it. The Rescue Creek Bridge which used to allow access to this water regardless of water level washed out in the floods. Fording the Gardner will probably be possible by around July 15 or July 20.
Happy New Year, everyone. It’s very early to start making any assumptions about snowpack for 2022, but we still wanted to give a brief update.
Early snowfall through autumn and early winter was sparse in the region. Late November and early December in particular were warm and dry. At its lowest, snowpack in the region ranged from roughly 50% to 65% of normal for the date. Potentially catastrophic, in other words, especially given the 2021 drought.
Thankfully, conditions have improved markedly. While the big snows hitting the West Coast and Utah have mostly gone just to our south and west, we’re still in decent shape for the date. Right now, drainage basins within the PFS operations area are at 88% to 116% of normal for the date. The most important basins, the Yellowstone in WY and YNP and downstream in Montana, are at 97% and 88%, respectively.
Here’s a graphic, with our operations area circled in red. This map is updated daily at this link.
We are forecast to get more moisture this upcoming week, before week two in the long-range outlook gets warm and dry (for the time of year). The extended outlooks from NOAA forecast a return to cold/wet for the latter half of January and continuing through winter.
I think odds are good we wind up with a snowpack in the 90-110% range for most drainages in our operations area, absent an early warmup. With the region in severe to extreme drought after the low snowpack and blazing hot/dry summer in 2021, we would rather see 110% or even 120% of normal snowpack, to give us a bit of a cushion.
We’ll provide an update on the snowpack with more detail in early February.
Runoff Report and Summer Streamflow and Fishing Outlook
Walter just posted an in-depth snowpack and runoff report and an outlook for summer streamflows and fishing over at Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we suggest you click this link for the details.
Long story short, we have low snowpack and runoff is near its peak. We anticipate a low runoff, an early end to runoff, and low, warm streamflows this summer. In general the best opportunities will be in the first three weeks of July before things drop too much, though after that the fishing will still be good as long as it’s not super hot and dry. If it IS super hot and dry… well, we might be doing a lot of 6AM to 2PM trips and morning half-days.
Walter made a snowpack and streamflow update on his business website. Rather than reinventing the wheel, go check it out.
In sum, we had an early start to the spring melt due to downright not weather the last few days of April, but early May is forecast to be cool and wet. This should stall the HEAVY runoff until at least May 15-20 and will certainly lead to good fishing on the Yellowstone, Boulder, and Stillwater once the first flush of runoff drops out in a couple days.
Overall, snowpack is low. We expect low streamflows and an early start to most summer fishing as the water drop sooner than usual. This is good for late June and early July fishing. It’s not so good for late July and August fishing, when we anticipate low flows and warm water that might prompt “early-on, early-off” trips for optimum results as well as some mandatory closures in warm, low-elevation waters. These waters are mostly in Montana, though it’ll be a short season on the Firehole this June.
An early warm snap over the past few days has resulted in the Yellowstone blowing out with the first surge of the heavy spring snowmelt. This means that for right now our fishable options have shifted to the Boulder, Stillwater, Lower Madison, and Missouri Rivers and to area lakes.
Here’s a flow graph. The river has almost quadrupled in volume over the past few days:
Below is the river’s level. It has come up about 2.5 feet since midnight on April 28. YIKES. This is the highest level the river has been since early July, 2020. Even if it had somehow remained clear, such a big jump would have made the fish weird for a few days. Since it’s full of chocolate brown mud and sticks, the trout are all hunkering on the bottom.
The good news is that this is not the onset of the full-scale runoff that will see the river completely out of play until well into June. The weather is forecast to drop back into the 50s-60s this week, and the NOAA forecast for the second week of May is calling for below-normal temperatures. Therefore we expect the river to drop back into shape by late this week and stay there through at least May 15 (assuming the outloos are accurate). There might not be much dry fly fishing, but these bumps in flow followed by drops before the heavy runoff hits typically bring great streamer fishing.