Private Lakes on Fire!

Private Lakes on Fire!

This is prime time on area private lakes, which are always at their best in June when area rivers are at their worst. Depending on the lake and the weather, we use a variety of tactics including sight-nymphing, stripping streamers, casting dries to cruising trout, and yes, even watching bobbers. We have three private ranch properties within reasonable range of Gardiner that each offer something different, including a property that had been unavailable for about ten years that just reopened to guided use last week that hosts big browns. The pic below shows Kody with one of five browns in the 21-24″ class that he and Trevor tied into during about two hours of fishing using sight-fishing techniques on June 7, despite tough wind and weather conditions.


We’ve converted two trips over the next couple weeks that were originally booked for something else into lake trips, for obvious reasons.

image of large brown trout illustrating the appeal of a new private lake fishery

Fly Tying Vid: Hula Princess Jig

Fly Tying Vid: Hula Princess Jig

I developed this nymph on and mostly for the Gibbon, but it’s a good choice anytime you’re looking for a changeup from a conventional Prince. Fish it either under a big bushy dry or in a bobber or Euro-nymphing rig.


Runoff Progress Report and Expected Clearing Dates for Regional Fisheries

Runoff Progress Report and Expected Clearing Dates for Regional Fisheries


Winter and spring mountain snow and how this snow melts from mid-April through the end of May (and then runs off into the rivers in most of May and June) is the primary driver for the western water year. High snowpack and a late melt means higher than normal flows during the prime June-September season, which limits early summer fishing but improves conditions for mid-late summer and early September. Low snowpack and/or an early runoff means an early end to the melt and good flows early in the summer, but tough conditions in mid-late summer. All in all, we prefer slightly above normal snowpack combined with a slow and normal to late melt, which gets us started on our peak summer waters only a few days late, but keeps flows high and cold in the early August “danger time.”

Our Winter and Spring and Current Conditions

We had generally above average winter and early spring snowpack, followed by a very cold and snowy/rainy start to the late spring (mid-May through most of June) period. This led to a very late onset of the spring runoff, and has waters within our operations area currently sitting at 122% to 175% of normal snowpack for the date. Runoff really began in earnest the middle of last week, and I do not believe any rivers have hit maximum runoff (including the Firehole in YNP, which peaks early). This is going to lead to late clearing dates and overall limited fishing options in June, but spectacular water levels for late summer. I expect the best late summer water conditions since 2014, which was the best since the late 1990s.

End of Runoff and Season Fishing Forecast for Various Waters

For most anglers, this is the “meat” of this post. Waters are listed in the approximate order in which they become fishable post-melt. Note that some waters are within my (Walter’s) operations area under my business Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing, but not really Parks’ Fly Shop’s, since they are a long way from Gardiner and YNP but not my home base in Livingston.

Area Private Lakes

All are now fishable and have their most consistent fishing of the year this month, though Burns Lake holds on through July due to higher spring water content. These are going to be the best near-Gardiner options for larger fish through June. High summer sees these running a bit warm and weedy, and they come back on around Labor Day and remain good through late October.

Paradise Valley Spring Creeks

All are fishable year-round, though the first 3 weeks of June are not as good as March and April, late June and July, and October-November. Bookings will be tight from about June 20 through July 20.

Firehole River

Currently running 650cfs and near but probably not quite at its maximum flow for the year. This will be the best flowing water option in YNP through mid-May, and should maintain high enough and cold enough flows to continue fishing well through July 4, though it’s a heck of a drive and so we try not to go here after other, closer options get good.

Lower Madison River near Bozeman

This section of the Madison is our closest river float trip option. It is rising and getting dirty, but never gets too dirty to fish. High flows this year should keep it fishing well through July 4, possibly as late as the 10th. After that it will get too warm, as it always is during high summer. For now, we’re having mixed caddis and mayfly hatches for numbers of smaller fish and fishing San Juan Worms and streamers dragging bottom for bigger fish.

Upper Madison River from Quake Lake to Ennis Lake

This section of the Madison is a LOOOONNNNGGG way to go if you’re staying in Gardiner. Not bad if you’re in West Yellowstone. Still fishable but rising fast, and will likely be awfully high to wade-fish through all of June. That said, should remain JUST clear enough for drift boat nymphing. This is a better fishery than the lower Madison, and fishes well all summer, but it’s really too far to drive from Gardiner, and a long way even from Livingston.

Madison River in YNP

Will be marginal until the 10th-15th of June due to dirty water coming from the Gibbon and lower Firehole tributaries, but probably won’t get so dirty it’s out of the question. Should continue to fish well until July 5-10, with mornings a possibility for the whole summer if the weather stays cool/wet.

Gibbon River

Fished well on the opener, but rising and running above its seasonal averages. The canyon will be marginal until the 10th-15th of June, then good (better than the Firehole in fact). The meadow water will be tough until the 15th. The Gibbon should fish well into the middle of July, particularly in the mornings.

YNP Lakes

All except Lewis and Shoshone will be ice-free and accessible (albeit wet, sloppy, marshy messes) by June 1. Lewis and Shoshone will follow by June 10. All will fish best from mid-June through mid-July.

Boulder River

This one takes a lot to get muddy and drops quick, so it should be floatable (though too high to wade) by June 20-25. It is gangbusters for a month thereafter, with probably the best attractor dry-dropper float fishing in our operations area, with most fish being rainbows in the mid-teens for length. The catch is that the “boat ramps” are horrifically bad, meaning clients need to be surefooted to traverse them and also must help us launch and/or pull out the boats. On top of that, the water is fast and shallow, requiring rafts.

Gardner River

Flowing at over 900cfs and rising. She’s blown and will be until probably June 20-25 even in the lower section below Boiling River. After that, it’ll be nymphs for 10 days, then the Salmonflies will start around July 4. Even the lower river below Boiling River should be cool enough through summer to fish well, and above Boiling River is always one of our favorite fisheries July-October.

Jefferson River

Chocolate stew. Should clear in the last week of June or early in July, but will only fish for about a week thereafter until drawn down too low for irrigation. In that short window it’s a good bet for those looking for ONE BIG BROWN, and we are offering floats here this year. Downside is the approx 2hr drive from Gardiner.

Yellowstone River, Grand Canyon

Will probably start dropping around July 1 and almost immediately start fishing well with nymphs and streamers. There are always “pocket” Salmonfly emergences here right out of the gate, but the bulk of the hatch will take place July 15-25.

Gallatin River, Especially the YNP Stretch

Will drop into shape around July 1 and be good except downstream of Gallatin Gateway through fall.

Yellowstone River, Gardiner to Livingston

We had a fishable Yellowstone as late as May 27, the latest since the 1990s. This means the end of runoff will be delayed unless we get a week of 90-degree temps in June (not forecast). Will probably not be ready until July 4-10, but fish very well thereafter and be stellar in August and early September, when it can sometimes be tough. Salmonflies may be blown out with runoff. If not, July 5-12 is my guess.

Yellowstone River, Black Canyon

Generally similar to the Gardiner-Livingston section, but Salmonflies will start a few days later and last (particularly at the upstream end) through at least July 25 and probably August 1.

Small Streams in YNP

A few will fish by June 15-20, but most will drop into shape sometime in the first half of July and be best from mid-July through late August.

Slough Creek

Will be ready no sooner than July 4, and better after July 10. After that it’s good for about a month, then gets progressively harder through September before getting too cold by late September.

Lamar River and Most Tributaries

Muddy until at least July 4, maybe the 10th. The canyon will fish as soon as it’s clear, but the meadows need another week. Will be best from July 20 through August, but fish okay through September and on warm afternoons through mid-October.

Soda Butte Creek

Will be muddy until July 4, maybe the 10th. Will be crowded before it’s good and stay crowded after it gets too low and cold in late September. We very seldom guide here due to the immense and overwhelming crowds and scarred fish.

Yellowstone River: East of Livingston

It’ll be after July 15 before this water is low enough to be safe to float. This stretch killed some folks last season… Should have enough water to fish well into late fall after that, with late August this year being a good period to roll the dice in search of one or two monster browns on hoppers.

Yellowstone River, Above the Falls

Opens July 15 and as always is best shortly thereafter, though increasing numbers of cutthroats and good water levels this year should keep it worthwhile for a shot at a few big fish until late August. 2019 will be the best year since the late 90s here, something we can now say every year, since the lake trout are getting slaughtered at a quick clip and therefore cutthroat numbers are rebounding nicely.

Top Guided Trips for June

Top Guided Trips for June

Are we still running guided fly fishing trips despite the high water? ABSOLUTELY! True, we have to drive a bit farther than we do later in the summer, but this is actually prime time for the water that is clear and fishable. Here are the top three options this time of year, in order.

1. Private Lake Foot/Float Trips

June often offers the best fishing of the season on area private lakes. Beginners can do well using slow presentations fishing deep with strike indicators, while experts can often enjoy sight-fishing using small nymphs and even dry flies. The private lakes offer the largest trout on average of any of our trips, with most fish running 14 to 18 inches and a real possibility of fish to 24 inches.

The private lakes must be reserved in advance and require additional “trespass” fees payable to the landowner, but no fishing licenses are required and we charge slightly less for these trips than for others, so the overall cost is comparable.

We guide on two private ranch properties. The Story Ranch Lakes are located about 30 miles from Gardiner. You should expect to meet your guide near the turnoff to the property. Burns Lake is much farther away, more like 90 miles from Gardiner, but it offers better dry fly fishing and slightly larger fish overall. To fish Burns, you’ll meet your guide in Livingston and drive on from there.

2. Lower Madison River Float Trips

The Yellowstone’s a chocolate stew and not good or safe to float-fish right now (stick to whitewater rafting near Gardiner), but the lower Madison is excellent in June, since it’s protected from the worst effects of runoff by a series of upriver dams. It stays clear and low enough to fish all through runoff and is our closest float river during June. It typically produces decent numbers of smaller trout on dry flies in June, with a few big ones on top. Dry fly fishing is best on cloudy days. If there’s no insect activity, you should expect to fish a mix of nymphs and streamers, targeting fewer but larger trout. There are rainbows, browns, and westslope cutthroats here, and some of the browns get big.

Advanced anglers will do better than beginners here, but by sticking to subsurface techniques most beginners will stick a few fish, too.

Our Madison River guides all live in Livingston, so to fish this water you should expect to drive to Livingston (50 minutes) and then continue on with the guide to the Madison about another hour away. It’s a long drive, but no longer than the drive to the Firehole, considering all the construction.

3. Walk-Wade Trips in Yellowstone Park

June is prime time on the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers in Yellowstone Park, with good hatches on the Firehole and attractor dry-dropper fishing on the Gibbon. We’ll often combine these waters in a day of fishing. Both beginners and experienced anglers do well on these streams, though there aren’t many big fish.

About June 10, Cascade Lake becomes accessible and is a great choice for anglers who want to take an easy (though muddy) 2.5-mile hike for good chances at lots of small, pretty cutthroat trout and the rare Arctic grayling. Cascade’s a good choice in the morning and early afternoon, and we usually combine it with the Gibbon or another stream that must not be named online after lunch. Cascade’s a good choice for anglers of any skill level.

Other lakes are also good in June. Trout Lake is a big fish bet suited only for advanced anglers who want to take a crack at BIG cutthroat trout, but a couple small lakes near Mammoth are great for small, aggressive brook trout. These are our only June fisheries suitable for anglers without much time, and are good for beginners.

By late June, more walk-wade options start falling into play: the Gardner River, various small streams, possibly the Yellowstone River… Late June is a long way off, so it’s best to wait on talking about these.

Clients staying in Gardiner should expect to leave from Parks’ Fly Shop for Yellowstone Park fishing trips, while if clients are staying in the park, our guide will meet you near our fishing destination or near your lodgings, if you’re staying on the way to the fishing.

Interested? Give us a call or stop in!

New Fly Tying Vid: Stillwater Soft Hackle

New Fly Tying Vid: Stillwater Soft Hackle

Tis the season for this one on private ranch lakes as well as public lowland reservoirs in Montana. In a couple weeks these will be nailing it on Cascade and other small lakes in YNP, most of which are still inaccessible due to snow and marsh.