Though it has been sunny with weather between the 40s and around 50 degrees for the past week, the Yellowstone River remains hazardous with bank shelf ice and is difficult to fish in many spots, with only a few boat ramps clear of ice.
In addition, stripes of low-elevation snowmelt have run through the river each day. It has always been possible to find clear stretches to fish, however. At 3:00 Thursday, the 26-Mile access in Paradise Valley was puke yellow/green in color, while the stretch near the Cinnabar access was emerald green with at least 4 feet of visibility (plenty).
This is DEFINITELY the latest into the late winter/early spring period that the Yellowstone has remained so inaccessible since I began living full-time in Montana back in 2006. Most years, the bankside ice is minimal by this point, with most boat ramps clear and almost all wade-access fisheries perfectly reasonable options.
Here are a couple examples of how this year differs:
East of Livingston, I have floated the Springdale to Grey Bear stretch as early as the first week of March without trouble. As of this writing, there are still river-wide ice jams on this section, and none of the boat ramps are clear of snow and ice.
Near Gardiner, my favorite stretch to wade-fish besides the mouth of the Gardner River right in Gardiner (which is always accessible through the heart of winter and is a good choice now) is usually easily accessible by late February, and frequently can be accessed without danger through most of the winter. It remains inaccessible both due to deep ice shelves completely covering the stream that must be waded to reach the main river and due to 4-6 foot ice shelves reaching out from the bank into the main river in the best spot, making the river itself dangerous to wade-fish. I thought hard about fishing it Thursday, but chose not to due to the danger of falling through the ice shelves. I usually get on this stretch for the first time without any danger besides the usual risk of a pratfall no later than mid-March.
The Long and The Short of It
For right now, choose the stretches of the Yellowstone you fish very carefully. Knee-deep snow or ice along the banks is negotiable, but it’s best to avoid any ice deeper than that, or walking on any that extends out into the river.
Floating is a bad idea except perhaps on the Brogan’s Landing to Yankee Jim stretch. Both of these ramps are ice-free, though there are high ice shelves along the banks for much of the float itself, making a pee stop a challenging endeavor.
Changes Coming Up
The weather forecast suggests the ice shelves will continue to melt at least slowly through mid-week, and will probably continue melting in a general sense moving forward. The melt may happen VERY slowly, however, since snow and temps peaking in the high-30s are forecast even at valley levels from the middle of next week through the weekend and the 6-10 and 8-14 day NOAA outlooks are calling for colder/wetter than normal conditions through at least April 5.
I have float trips scheduled the 6th-7th of April, and it’s possible I won’t feel safe running anything but the Brogan’s to Yankee Jim stretch noted above, though I’m almost certain that stretch will be at least safe to float. Mud might be a problem, though.