Montana and Yellowstone Park Fishing Report

Montana and Yellowstone Park Fishing Report

Valid July 19 through the beginning of August

This fishing report is valid from late May through mid-June, when some waters across the north end of Yellowstone Park will begin leaving the spring snowmelt.

Extreme heat and drought is hurting area fisheries in Montana badly and is limiting afternoon fishing opportunities. Based on the weather forecast, things are going to get worse over the course of this report. Closures are already present on marginal fisheries already, but we expect major fisheries like the Yellowstone River to begin seeing 2:00 to midnight closures starting any day. In fact the Yellowstone east of Livingston and the Stillwater are already meeting Montana FWP closure criteria, so it’s possible these areas will see closures beginning as soon as tomorrow.

Things are slightly better in YNP, but only on waters without geothermal inputs. No closures have been instituted in Yellowstone Park, though they should be. The lower Firehole River is already hitting 85 degrees, which is lethal to trout even in small doses. The lower Gibbon and the YNP section of the Madison aren’t far behind, alas.

Due to the heat and low water, we suggest fishing before 3:00PM on all waters and before 2:00PM on all waters flirting with 70 degree temperatures. The latter include the Yellowstone River, Gardner River, Stillwater River, lower Lamar River, and large portions of the Madison and Gallatin Rivers where 2:00 closures are already in place.

The fishing has generally been fair to poor except on high-elevation fisheries in YNP and on small mountain creeks outside the park. The only window of good fishing on major rivers outside YNP has been from about 9:00 to noon. The window has been wider inside the park, especially if you hike. We have generally been meeting at 6:00 and quitting by 2:00 on guided trips, and this week are moving to primarily offering morning half-day trips, especially on floats.

The best fisheries include the following right now:

  • Yellowstone River in Montana from Gardiner to Carbella Access. Points downstream of Livingston are too warm already, and areas between Emigrant and Livingston are very slow after noon due to the low water and bright sun. We are not fishing east of Livingston now and are quitting by 2:00 elsewhere.
  • Stillwater River. Be sure to quit before 2:00 or so downstream of Cliff Swallow Access. The Stillwater is yo-yoing from 60 to 74 degrees during the day, with 4:00-7:00PM seeing the highest water temps. Before 2:00 is okay.
  • Mountain Creeks in Montana. Once you get above irrigation diversions that suck most streams dry, mountain creeks are now cold and prime. These are really the only fisheries we suggest hitting in the afternoons, and even they will be best noon to 2:00.
  • Lamar River System in YNP except the last mile or two of the Lamar River. You will need to hike to shed crowds.
  • Yellowstone River in the Grand Canyon and Upper Black Canyon in YNP. Hopper fishing is underway in these areas and the Grand Canyon and upper end of the Black Canyon are the only sections of the Yellowstone that aren’t flirting with 70 degrees in late afternoon. They’re still hitting 68, though.


Montana Fisheries

The Yellowstone River in Montana is now running 64-74 degrees during the day, with the lowest temperature ranges (64-68) near Gardiner and the highest (67-74) east of Livingston. It is too warm to fish top to bottom after 2:00 and too warm period from Springdale Access east of Livingston all the way to Billings. The best fishing has been from 9:00 or so until about noon. Hoppers and ants have come on strong in the past week, but small Chubbies, caddis-style attractors, and streamers are also turning some fish.

The Stillwater River is warming up fast late in the day, but this one has such a wide temperature swing (60-74 degrees) that it’s possible to have good fishing before 2PM without hurting the fish. Near Nye may be cool enough all day. Fish medium-sized Chubby Chernobyls with compact and heavy nymph droppers. Keep an eye out for caddis, PMD, Yellow Sally, and Golden Stone hatches. Flows are floatable from Absarokee on down now, though with the water getting warm we suggest walking further upstream.

Mountain Creeks in Montana see little guided pressure. Except for a few with paralleling roads (like Mill or Hyalite Creek), they see little tourist traffic either. They’re also running cold or at least colder than larger rivers, which makes them an excellent choice while the heat wave lasts. The fishing is physically hard, requiring you to climb steep slopes, clamber around logs and rocks, wade fast water with uneven footing, etc. Your rewards will be lots of mostly small to medium-size trout. Be sure to fish water that hasn’t been fished that day. Use attractor dry/dropper combos.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

The Firehole River is already hitting EIGHTY degrees Fahrenheit and should not be fished below the Old Faithful closure zone again until fall. In fact, we may not fish here again this year AT ALL to give the weary fish that survive this summer’s record heat a break.

The Madison River is also too warm.

The Gibbon River is too warm from Norris Geyser Basin down. In the headwaters near Grebe Lake, fish attractor dry/dropper combos. This is remote woodland fishing with lots of skeeters.

The Gardner River is too warm downstream of Boiling River, even in the mornings. From Osprey Falls to Boiling River, fish attractor dry/dropper combos or high-stick nymph in the pocket water. The best fishing will be as far as you care to get from the road. Hopper-dropper will be the main tactic, though you might try indicator or Euro-nymphing too. The best fishing will be from midmorning until about 2:00. The upper river, from the headwaters down to Osprey Falls, will produce well for tiny brook trout. The best fishing will be in the fastest sections, such as below Sheepeater Cascade in the remote upper Sheepeater Canyon.

The Yellowstone River is getting too warm in the lower Black Canyon, but is okay for now in the lower Grand Canyon near Tower Junction and in the upper Black Canyon near Hellroaring Creek. Hoppers and large attractor dries like Gold Chubby Chernobyls trailing compact, heavy, midsize attractor nymphs will be the main show. Caddis hatches are possible. Streamers are always good choices if the trout aren’t eating dries. Sometimes we even fish small Woolly Buggers on droppers under large hoppers. Throughout the canyons, we suggest quitting by 3:00. In the lower Black Canyon within 5mi of Gardiner, we suggest quitting no later than 2:00. The Lake to Falls section of the river opened July 15. While unsuited to beginners, this “spot and stalk” fishery can turn out reasonable numbers of 14-20″ trout and an occasional monster. Reports have been hit or miss, with some anglers reporting a lot more trout than in the past 15-20 years (the population was decimated by lake trout and is recovering), while others report lower numbers. Odds are the fish are hustling back to Yellowstone Lake where they spend the winters in a hurry, due to the extremely low flows and relatively warm water.

The Lamar River, Slough Creek, and Soda Butte Creek are now low, clear, and fishing well. Roadside areas will be extremely crowded, and even hike-in areas of Slough Creek can be a madhouse. Green Drake hatches are what really get the trout excited out here. PMDs can also bring good rises. Absent hatches, fish slender mayfly nymphs in the deep and turbulent areas. Also look for ant and hopper fishing to start soon. Small stoneflies are good choices both on the surface and underneath in the few rocky canyon areas on the Lamar and Slough, which will be less crowded than other near-road areas. Bright skies, warm water, and heavy pressure mean fishing after 2:00 or 3:00 is not a good idea, both for the sake of the fish and for your own success.

Most Lakes are now too warm for good fishing. Cascade and Grebe Lake in the central part of the park are the major exceptions. Look for damsel or Callibaetis hatches at midmorning before the wind comes up. Small leeches and flashy soft hackles and nymphs will work otherwise. The windier it gets, the worse the fishing. By midafternoon, wind mixing in warm air with the surface water will push the fish deep and shut off the fishing.

Many small brook trout creeks are fishing well. Stick to the shady ones with lots of turbulent pocket water, and quit by noon or 1:00. Brookies like things cold. The afternoon fishing will be tough and hard on the fish, especially in the wide-open meadow areas. Fish attractor dry/dropper combos and fish where you don’t think others have for a day or so.