Yellowstone River Report – by Walter

I got out for a couple hours yesterday afternoon. It was finally time to face the fact that ski season is over and I need to make sure I remember how to fish. I’ve got two outdoor sports passions: when the snow is good, I ski and snowboard. When it’s bad or really when it’s nonexistent, I fish.

Of course, the day I decided to fish saw snow to start the day, temperatures in the 30s, a nasty wind, flurries in the air, and all in all was a more winter-like day than we’d had near Gardiner in a couple weeks.

Water conditions were less auspicious than the air. The river flow had come up about 25% in two days (from previous rains), while water temperatures had fallen from 48 degrees to 42 degrees, a very big change. The water also had a bit of a brown tinge. It was certainly clear enough, with about two feet of visibility, but anytime the river resembles weak tea rather than appears truly green, the fishing will suffer for it.

Enough caveats: fishing was slow, but I caught seven trout and a couple of whitefish and lost two other trout, including of course the largest of the day, in about two hours of fishing. Not bad, considering. Four of the trout were rainbows, two were cutt-bows, and one a pure cutt. Average size was smaller than expected given I was targeting pre-spawn rainbows a hundred yards downstream from the Yellowstone’s confluence with a major spawning stream, about 13 inches. In fact all of the trout ranged from 12 to 14 inches, though I lost one that was at least 18 inches. I got him close enough to see at least.

typical spring bow
Typical spring rainbow on the Yellowstone. 11′ 5wt switch rod and #6 Girdle Bug in its mouth, for scale.

Flies were all over the map. I got three trout on a #6 brown Girdle Bug with a beadhead, as you’ll see in the pic above, two on a White River or tricolor San Juan Worm (see the next pic), and one each on a Bead, Hare, and Copper and a pink Mop Fly. (Yes, they work here too. I tied the pink ones for the Missouri but had to try them on the ‘Stone too.) As anticipated, the trout were on the moderate-speed seams well off the bank. Beyond that, they were scattered. The run I fished is quite long, about 100 yards, and I caught fish from just below the drop-off at the upstream end where the current was near jogging speed all the way down until I could no longer get a decent drift even with my switch rod, as the current seam was now 2/3 of the way across the river.

white river worm
San Juan Worms are actually great choices on the Yellowstone in spring and fall, especially when water levels have recently increased.

There were a few midges and little winter stoneflies (#18 black) around, but the fish were paying no attention. For dry fly fishing the remainder of this month, look for temperatures in the 50s, preferably with cloudy skies and calm weather. BWO are getting stronger, there are still midges, and March Browns are just beginning. The latter will continue into early May assuming the river stays in shape, and we HOPE the river will still be clear for the Mother’s Day Caddis sometime in the first ten days of May.

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