Walter posted his final runoff update and summer fishing forecast over at his website. Check it out.
The spring runoff is still heavy on most freestone rivers across the northern part of Yellowstone Park and points north. It is basically over in the central and western parts of Yellowstone Park as well as west and northwest of the park. The Madison Basin in particular is now down to something like 30% of its normal snowpack for the date, meaning it’s game on over there.
Runoff came early and except for a couple short “runoff breaks,” was quite intense. Now that we’re past peak runoff, the cool spell coming this week will likely drop larger, low-elevation rivers out of the spring runoff to fishable levels for the season, though flows will still be high until about July 4.
Winter snowpack was quite high in most area drainage basins, but the early and heavy runoff has melted this snow fast. We now have below-normal snowpack everywhere, drastically below normal in the Madison Basin. This means we’re looking at below normal streamflows for July-September.
Area fisheries that are still in spring runoff will drop into play between June 20 and July 4. After that, everything except perhaps the rough lower Yellowstone east of Livingston will be ready to go.
Closures related to low water and high water temperatures are certain on the lower Madison River below Ennis Lake and on the Jefferson River. They are unlikely elsewhere. The Firehole River downstream of the Old Faithful closure zone is ALWAYS too warm to fish after about July 1, and this year will be no exception. Why this water isn’t simply closed from July 4 until Labor Day, I have no idea.
Other areas that are unlikely to fish well after noon from mid-July until Labor Day are the Gardner River downstream from Boiling River (a hot spring), as well as on the Gibbon and Madison Rivers in YNP. The lower Gallatin River downstream of Gallatin Gateway also falls into this category.
It is possible that low flows combined with heat waves in late July and early August will result in poor fishing conditions after 2-3PM on portions of the Yellowstone River outside YNP, especially points east of Livingston. This will be tied to day-to-day weather. A week of 90+ degree highs and sunshine will mean we need to start at 6AM and quit at 2PM, or fish the Yellowstone in the morning and go elsewhere after lunch. I do not anticipate any mandatory “Hoot Owl” restrictions on the Yellowstone.
The Delektable Bug by Dan Delekta of Beartooth Fly Fishing is a large, aggressive stonefly nymph pattern with “a lot going on.” This version has the chenille body and abundant legs of a Pat’s Rubber Legs (aka Girdle Bug aka Turd), but also a marabou tail and a collar hackle. It has risen to become my best or second-best style of stonefly nymph over the past couple seasons, now certainly eclipsing the basic Pat’s. This variant is tied on a jig hook and has a couple small material additions in an experiment to cross over to appealing to fish who like my OTHER favorite stonefly lately, the Bomb Series nymphs, in this case the brown Stone Bomb. Otherwise it’s identical except in color to the basic Bug.
The basic Bug is the least-complicated version of a whole family of Delektable stonefly nymphs including the Braided Stone, the Hurless, the Mega Prince, the Mr. Rubber Legs, and the Stoner. Most are available in standard or flashback variants. These other variants add, subtract, or change a few materials, but otherwise use a similar tying process. For example the Mega Prince has a peacock herl body instead of chenille and adds biot wings, while the Hurless simply has a body of ostrich herl.
In most respects I use “Delektables” of one breed or another in the same situations where I would use other rubberleg stoneflies. I find the chenille-bodied version given here generally more effective when the water is high and/or off-color, as well as for ornery fall-run brown trout, while during the summer when the water is lower and clearer I prefer the similar Mega Prince or Mr. Rubberlegs.
The 2020 Delektable Flies catalog can be viewed here if you’d like to the stock color combinations and tying procedures: https://www.beartoothflyfishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Delektable-Fly-Catalog-2020-WebPDF.pdf
Note that I have no business relationship with Delektable or Beartooth. I just use some of the flies.
NOTE ON FISHING DATES MENTIONED IN THIS VIDEO: The streamflow predictions for the Boulder have changed and it is now forecast to remain above 2000cfs through at least June 17, alas. I now expect it to drop into shape around June 20, 2020.
The Clouser Swimming Nymph is a good fly this month on many waters in our area, especially the private ranch lakes which see their heaviest damselfly hatches in June and are also home to leeches, tadpoles, and in some cases small crayfish, all of which the Clouser Swimming Nymph can match if tied in the right sizes and colors. Tied down to a #14, this is also a good pattern on the grayling lakes in Yellowstone National Park, which will get going for the season in a big way around June 10. Check out the video below to learn how to tie this pattern.
Runoff Report, Update on Summer Streamflows, and Summer Fishing Predictions
Here are some key takeaways for the PFS operations area:
Good winter snowpack is now melting furiously due to near-record temperatures (in the 80s in Livingston), which has everything except the Firehole and Lower Madison blown-out now.
Anticipate a brief spring season for the Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison inside YNP, as well as the lower Madison. The Madison basin inside and outside Yellowstone Park has the lowest snowpack in our operations area and it is melting quick.
The Yellowstone River outside YNP is likely to fall into fishable shape during the last week of June, with the Salmonfly hatch at the same time.
Waters across the northern part of Yellowstone Park will begin falling into shape around June 15-20, with the Yellowstone in the Grand Canyon and the Gardner first. The Black Canyon of the Yellowstone will come into play around June 25 or so, while the Lamar System will probably come in around or after July 4.
Slow fishing in late afternoon may occur in late July and August due to warm water temperatures, particularly on low-elevation sections of the Yellowstone east of Livingston, but the Yellowstone has the highest snowpack in our ops area, so except for a few days of “early on, early off” when it’s hot and sunny, we anticipate no other problems. At this time, we do not anticipate any “hoot owl” restrictions on any of our July-September waters. Restrictions are likely on the Jefferson, lower Madison, and other areas we never fish (and no one else fishes) in mid-late summer.
Cold weather over the past few days has dropped the Yellowstone and Boulder Rivers into marginally fishable shape. They would have gone lower, but the cooldown was accompanied by a VAST amount of snow and rain yesterday and today, so things are still pretty marginal.
As of right now, the Yellowstone is flowing at 7350cfs at Gardiner and 9870cfs in Livingston. “Safe” float levels are 10,000 in Gardiner and 12,000 at Livingston, with the float stretches that are safe limited to flatter sections without aggressive eddies, such as the Cinnabar to Yankee Jim, Carbella to Point of Rocks, or Emigrant to Mallard’s Rest sections. The Boulder is down to 1560cfs, with 2000 safe. I’m not sure if the large tree which forms a dangerous and almost impassable barrier on the Boulder at Spring Creek Campground south of Big Timber is still there or not.
At the above flows, streamers pounded on the bank on sink-tips, using 1X or heavier tippet, is your best bet. You may also move some fish on stonefly and large attractor nymphs drifted through bankside pockets, but you’ll lose a lot of flies doing this.
Neither river is low enough for more than very difficult wade-fishing. On the Yellowstone, concentrate on the steep, rocky banks through and just past the town of Gardiner, fishing the slow holes next to the banks.
Here’s the flow data for the Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs, near Gardiner:
Here’s the streamflow predictions for the river at Livingston. Predictions are not provided for the Corwin Springs graph. Subtract about 2000cfs from the Livingston graph to get an approximation of expected flows at Corwin.
That big spike Tuesday afternoon will definitely be “all she wrote” for the runoff break fishing. Temperatures in Livingston are forecast to rise into the high 80s by next weekend, and that will send the remaining snow GUSHING down. Expect rivers to begin dropping again about 3 weeks after they shoot up.