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Category: Snowpack, Streamflow, and Summer Fishing Predictions

Updates on winter snowpack and likely summer streamflow and fishing conditions, mostly posted from January through June

Snowpack Update and Summer Streamflow & Fishing Forecast: Early March Update

Snowpack Update and Summer Streamflow & Fishing Forecast: Early March Update

Snowpack Update and Summer Streamflow & Fishing Forecast: Early March Update

Here’s an introduction. More details are below.

After a great start to winter and a very warm and dry period from the middle of December through late January, February saw southwest Montana and northwest Wyoming blessed with one of the coldest and wettest Februaries in memory. This trend continued into early March, with temperatures a few days ago bottoming out at -28 in Livingston, a record for the date by 11 degrees! Basically, we had January weather in late February and early March.

Temperatures are still cold, but temperatures are now moderating somewhat and the outlook for the remainder of March is for cooler and drier than normal temperatures transitioning to warmer and drier than normal temperatures. April and May outlooks call for an equal chance of above normal, normal, and below normal temperatures and precipitation. We hope for normal precip and below normal temperatures to preserve the snow until May.

Fishing is frankly terrible right now. Even the Paradise Valley spring creeks are tough due to the lots of snow and ice on the banks, even though the creeks themselves are in good shape. The main flow of area rivers are now mostly ice-free except where drift ice has packed up and formed dams, but there’s so much bankside shelf ice that fishing is dangerous. We hope that conditions improve over the next week or two, but it could be early April before the boat ramps are clear this year. They’d better be. We have trips scheduled for the first week of April…

Current conditions put us in good shape for near-normal water conditions for this summer. It is now very unlikely things will be either substantially above normal or below normal this year, which should make for a “normal” season, provided the water melts on time. If it melts drastically late or drastically early, things could change a great deal. Since the forecast for most of March is for dry conditions, I expect the snowpack to decline as a percentage of average for the next few weeks. This means we could still be in for below-normal flows this summer (though probably not drastically below normal flows), particularly if the snowmelt begins in late April as it did last year, rather than around May 7-10 as it does in normal years.

NOTE: Everything that follows assumes near-normal precipitation and temperatures and a near-normal timing for the start of spring runoff!

snowpack map early march
March 9 Snowpack Map. Our area of operations is circled in red.

Current Snowpack Conditions and Impacts on Summer Fishing

Snowpack in our area of operations ranges from 116% to 132% of normal. The highest number is in the Madison-Gallatin Basin in Yellowstone Park, the lowest in the upper Yellowstone River Basin in NW Wyoming, including Yellowstone Park. Unlike last year, and frankly unlike January this year, this is exceptionally cold snow that will be resistant to melting early.

In a general sense, we have a strong snowpack that should provide near-optimum water levels and keep flows solid and cool through July. As always, the early part of August is a bit of a question mark and depends on NOT getting a week straight of 95-100 degree temperatures.

Here are some notes on what to expect for specific watersheds, beginning with the Madison Basin in YNP, which is always the first walk-wade water to drop out of the spring melt. I’ll cover waters inside the park first, then waters outside it.

The Yellowstone Park General Season Opens May 25 This Year!

Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers in YNP

This is the first time in quite a while that the Madison-Gallatin Basin has had snowpack numbers higher than the Yellowstone Basin. This could make for an interesting early summer on the Firehole River, “interesting” in the first week of the season because of high water and ACTUALLY interesting in the last week of June and first week of July. If and only if the snow holds off melting until a near-normal timeframe, we could have good fishing on the Firehole and certainly on the Gibbon and Madison into early July, at least in the mornings. In fact, it’s at least conceivable that both the Firehole/Gibbon/Madison AND the Yellowstone and its tributaries could offer good fishing for about a week in early July. This almost never happens. Usually there’s a week or so in there when the former waters are too low and warm and the latter are still too high, and we kind of have to scramble to find good spots in the Park.

The Firehole is likely to be the only fishable water in this basin for the first week of the park season. Even it might be “meh” for the first few days of the season, if a big warmup does not occur a couple weeks earlier in May to clear out some snow. It is likely to be best in the middle ten days of June, but at least solid from June 5 to 25. As noted above, there’s potential for fishing into July in the mornings, but that will depend on weather.

The Gibbon below Norris Geyser Basin should begin fishing between June 1 and 5 and be best in the latter half of June. It should continue to fish into the first half of July, particularly in the mornings. The canyon water downstream of Gibbon Meadows will be best for the first week or ten days, while the meadows will be best in the last week of June. The short section of the Gibbon that holds fish upstream from Norris Geyser Basin (and its couple fishable tributaries) will not be ready before June 20-25 and will be best in July and August. Reminder: Grebe Lake and the entire Gibbon watershed from Virginia Cascades upstream was poisoned beginning in fall 2017 and is now effectively fishless pending grayling and westslope cutthroat introductions.

The Madison in YNP will probably be too high for the opener but drop and clear enough to fish with subsurface flies between June 1 and June 5. The best fishing will be in the latter half of June and it should hold up into July. Water conditions will be good for decent numbers of fall-run browns and rainbows to remain in the system until late June after overwintering in the river.

Yellowstone River Mainstem in YNP, and Tributaries in YNP

As always the upper Yellowstone River from Chittenden Bridge upstream to the park boundary (not including Yellowstone Lake) opens July 15 and will be best from that point through July. Water levels will be higher than anticipated in my last update, so that though the run should be stronger than it has been since about 1995 due to lake trout suppression efforts, fishing will be harder than earlier anticipated.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from the Silver Cord Cascade confluence to the Lamar River Confluence, including the Tower Falls area, MIGHT be fishable for the first 3-5 days of the park season if May is cool, but only with big nymphs and streamers for fit anglers. More likely, it is now unlikely to be fishable for the main summer season before June 20, and will probably not drop into shape before June 25-July 1. It will be good from this point through at least early October, with the Salmonfly hatch beginning around the time the water clears and continuing in sporadic fashion for a month. Yes, the Salmonflies hatch in the Grand Canyon for a month. They begin near warm water sources (small hot springs) and end near cold tributaries.

The Black Canyon of the Yellowstone from the Lamar Confluence to the Gardner Confluence is unlikely to fall into fishable shape before June 25 and it will probably be sometime in the last few days of June or first few days of July. Expect Salmonflies to begin about that time near Gardiner or a few days later and progress upriver for a couple weeks, with the conclusion of the hatch in the upper canyon between Hellroaring Creek and the Lamar around July 20-25. This water should fish well except when rains muddy it from the time it clears until late September at the upstream end and mid-October at the lower end.

Yellowstone River tributaries in the Park will generally be best in the latter half of July and August, though most will run clear no later than July 1. Blacktail Creek will be marginally clear by June 20-25. Tributaries draining lakes might be ready by June 15. Blacktail Ponds open in early July. Cascade Lake will be a swampy mess but probably reachable and ice-free in the first week of June, but will be best in the latter half of June after it warms a bit.

Gardner River System

The Gardner River Upstream from Osprey Falls will become fishable in early July. It has fished poorly the past few years. We’re not sure why. Access to this water may be tough due to road work this year.

The Middle Gardner between Osprey Falls and Boiling River will drop into some kind of shape sometime in the latter half of June, probably after June 20. It will fish best from early July through about October 25 (late season fishing is better when it’s warm out). Salmonflies should begin here with stragglers from downstream around July 1 and continue in the remotest reaches of Sheepeater Canyon into the first few days of August, with the bulk of the hatch around July 15.

The Lower Gardner from Boiling River to the Yellowstone may be nymphable for fit anglers on a day-to-day basis from the beginning of the park season. This is especially true for the first few days of the season, when the early opening means that cooler weather might allow some fishing before the bulk of the spring melt gets going. This is physically demanding fishing suitable only to experienced tightline (Euro/high-stick) nymph anglers. The river will start dropping into better shape about the same time as the Middle Gardner. The Salmonflies will occur in the first half of July. Fishing will be best for the last week of June and July and again from mid-September through the close of the park season.

Gardner River tributaries will begin dropping into shape around June 20 and be best in July and the first half of August. Many tribs will be hard to reach due to road construction. Grizzly Lake is effectively inaccessible due to this construction. Joffee Lake and the Swan Lake Flat sloughs will be squishy but fishable from the beginning of the park season (note that Swan Lake itself is fishless).

The Lamar River System

Slough Creek might be fishable in its Lower Meadow for the park’s opening weekend, but ONLY if it has been cool and dry, and ONLY utilizing streamers. It is much more likely to come into shape in the first week of July (along with rough water portions). The upper hike-in meadows (First, Second, Third) fall into shape a few days later. As always, Slough is usually best for the first month it is fishable, and gets tougher and tougher into late summer and early fall before shutting down in late September.

Soda Butte Creek will drop into shape between July 4 and 10 and be fishable from that point until late September. The catching will be best in late July and early August. I say “catching” rather than “fishing” because in our opinion the fishing is always miserable here due to overwhelming crowds and scarred, lethargic trout. It is often difficult to find 100 yards to yourself here and you should expect other anglers to jump into your pool no matter how small it is, including fishing directly across from you from the bank you are casting towards. Crowds are most intense and approach “eastern put & take fishery at stocking time” levels in the first two weeks of September, which is always the most crowded period here.

Rugged portions of the Lamar River will fall into shape for nymph fishing and possibly the Salmonfly hatch in the first week of July. Meadow portions will fall into shape shortly thereafter. The fishing will be most consistent for the first month after it drops into shape, but the Lamar remains worthwhile until late September. Roadside portions in the upper and lower end of the Lamar Valley will rival Soda Butte for overwhelming and dispiriting crowds. The portions of the valley farther away from the road won’t be so bad, and hike-in stretches are almost always fairly uncrowded. The rough water may or may not be crowded. It depends on how many anglers fit enough to do so run screaming from the crowds further upstream to fish the rough stuff.

Other Lamar River Tributaries typically require hikes and perhaps rough footing to access and produce smaller fish than the main streams, but produce far healthier fish and far less crowds. The main exceptions are Trout Lake (always crowded) and the lower end of Pebble Creek (usually crowded, always crowded when Soda Butte is muddy). The tributary creeks that aren’t obvious or require a hike to reach will begin fishing sometime in the first week of July and be best in the latter half of July and early August.

Note on Lamar Drainage Crowds: Upwards of 90% of Parks’ Fly Shop retail customers from July 4 through September plan to fish roadside meadow portions of Soda Butte Creek, the Lamar River, and Slough Creek, or to hike to the First Meadow (2+ miles) of Slough Creek. The crowds are most manageable in July. They are least manageable in the first half of September. These crowds substantially detract from the overall experience of fishing these areas, result in hook-scarred and tired fish, cause erosion, and are otherwise to be avoided if you are fit enough to fish elsewhere. In 2018, less than 2% of all Parks’ Fly Shop guided trips into Yellowstone Park went to these areas, and always at client insistence or due to a lack of physical fitness needed to fish other walk-in fisheries.

Yellowstone River System outside Yellowstone Park

The “Upper” Yellowstone from Gardiner to Carbella is typically good already, but ice is limiting fishing so far this March. We hope things turn on in a week or two and really hope the ice is gone by early April, when we have floats scheduled and typically get a lot of big fish. The heavy runoff will probably begin around May 1-5 this year, and there will be a lot of low-elevation runoff during warm spells in April due to the abundant snow we’ve gotten lately. The river will drop out of runoff in the last week of June or first week of July, with Salmonflies beginning at that time. The best dry fly fishing will begin about July 10-15 and continue through early October. The nymphing was great all the way until November last year. Because I (Walter) now have a raft rather than a high-side drift boat, Yankee Jim Canyon floats will begin no later than July 15, though this water is typically best from August until early October regardless of water levels.

The Paradise Valley Stretch of the Yellowstone from Carbella to Pine Creek is usually not as good pre-runoff as the sections upstream or down, except during the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch which may or may not be fishable in early May. This water drops into shape at about the same time as the upper section, but is not as good on the surface except during the Salmonfly hatch or heavy evening caddis hatches before late July. The best dry fly fishing will be in August and September this year. Some slow fishing is possible during the hottest parts of late July and early August and during bright weather in late August and early September. The latter in particular depends on how fast the water drops after runoff. Low water here equals tougher fishing. Fall fishing is typically good in deeper areas.

The bottom of Paradise Valley and the “Town Section” of the Yellowstone from Pine Creek to Mayor’s Landing typically drops into shape a few days after the sections above (due to rough, turbulent water) but fishes better on dry flies than the Paradise Valley stretch through most of July, and holds up during hot/bright weather in late July and August better. It is also good in the fall, including very late fall (big browns). We will be running more trips on this stretch beginning no later than July 15, since both Rob Olson and I (Walter) are now based in Livingston right by this water. Evening caddis trips may be available in July depending on other bookings.

The “Lower Yellowstone” east of Livingston will drop into shape around July 10-15 and be best in late July, perhaps the first half of August provided water temps remain under 70 degrees, and after September 15. This is the big fish portion of the Yellowstone and is best for anglers who want to try for some toads rather than numbers of smaller fish on dry flies. We will be running this water more in 2019 due to the aforementioned guides being in good position to do so.

The Boulder River offers some pre-runoff fishing. Its main season will begin a few days before the Yellowstone. It should be floatable for about a month thereafter and makes a great changeup to the Yellowstone for those willing to drive to meet me in Livingston.

Yellowstone River Tributaries Outside the Park will begin dropping into shape around July 10-15 and be best in August and the first week or so of September. The main exception from Livingston south is Dailey Lake, which will ice-out soon and will be good in early April based on last year’s heavy stockings. Note: the private lakes and Paradise Valley spring creeks are discussed below.

Madison River System Outside YNP

For our purposes, only the Lower Madison River matters much. It will become floatable in early April subject to a reasonable melt of the current bankside ice. It will be best in May and June, and is our closest float trip option during this period. As usual, in early July it will get too warm to float ethically and remain so into early September, then be good again into November.

More Distant Waters

The Jefferson River should be good in the latter half of April and perhaps early May, then again for a week or two at the end of June and perhaps the beginning of July, before getting too warm until late August or early September.

The Gallatin River is going to experience severe ice jams in late March and April this year. By late April it should be great for wade angling (ice free areas near Big Sky sooner). The floatable lower portion is always of marginal interest until late September.

The Missouri River from Three Forks to Canyon Ferry Lake offers some rainbow fishing in late April and early May, but it’s “meh.” The much more interesting multi-species (carp, big trout, walleye, and pike) fishing will begin in late July and be best in August and while warm weather holds in September. The brown trout runs from Canyon Ferry and Toston Reservoirs are best in the latter half of October and November.

The “Land of Giants” Stretch of the Missouri is typically great by now, but it has been so cold and icy and there has been so much snow in that neck of the woods that I suggest waiting a couple weeks. After that, think pink flies through early May. Note that we are not offering power boat trips here this season. I had to sell my power boat to afford the down payment on a house. Look for them to return through my other business Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing in 2020.

The Missouri River Below Holter Dam (the famous stretch) is currently snowpacked and iced-over, very rare for this late in the winter. It should be good to go by early April at the absolute latest and very good from that point through June. Note that this is getting up to 4hrs from Gardiner, so it requires an overnight stay in Helena, Wolf Creek, or Craig.

Brief Snowpack Update

Brief Snowpack Update

Here’s a photo I posted in January:

dry yard in December in Montana

Here’s a photo I shot today:

snowy yardThe entire region, but particularly the Yellowstone River basins in Yellowstone Park and north of it and the Madison-Gallatin basins in Yellowstone Park, have been absolutely pulverized by snow of late. This latest storm, which has put down probably two feet and counting in Livingston, was enough to close schools across the region –which ain’t easy in the Rockies. Livingston schools were closed for the first time since 1989.

All this snow, along with biting cold temperatures that have made February colder than January for the first time in decades at least, means that area snowpack is now running way above average. Depending on the basin, as of this morning snowpack was running 111% on up to 127% of normal. This is a drastic change from even a week ago, when the Yellowstone basin in the park (now at 111%) was actually below-normal.

Once the snow actually winds down I will be posting my full outlook on summer water conditions for early March. Suffice it to say that things have changed. In short, we are now looking at normal to above normal snowpack and streamflows. Above normal snowpack now seems likely considering the long range outlooks through March. We aren’t quite to where we were last season, and we don’t necessarily want to be since only an early melt kept us from a very late start to the high summer season, but the snowpack is now WAAAAAAY up there. At the very least, I feel safe in saying we should be out of the woods for temperature and streamflow-related closures in Yellowstone Park and on the Yellowstone River and its tributaries.

Yellowstone River Fishing Report — Not Much to Report

Yellowstone River Fishing Report — Not Much to Report

Yikes. This has probably been the coldest February since I started spending the winters in Montana back in 2006-2007. It’s certainly the first time I remember February being both colder and snowier than January.

Here’s a still taken from the webcam near Pine Creek.

icy river webcam

See that shelf on the right side of the image? Ice. See the white haze down the middle of the river? Ice. See the island at mid-screen? Mostly ice. See the channels upstream? Almost all ice.

Most of the river is in this sort of shape right now. With air temperatures of late ranging from the single digits below zero up to about 20 degrees, and more of the same in the future, don’t expect much change until at least March 10.

If you want to fish the Yellowstone, your only options for the foreseeable future are the mouths of the Gardner River or Depuy Spring Creek. Otherwise, stick to the spring creeks themselves.

This is actually a very unusual state of affairs. While floating is still out in late February almost every year, we’ve frequently got mostly open river except for ice jams along many banks. The fishing is often very good in the long, deep, midriver runs now, with some midge activity on calm, warm afternoons, but good nymphing any day temps are above freezing. Not right now. I’ll update the overall fishing report (click above) when things change.

This cold is doing wonders for the snowpack. We’re at about 98-104% of normal in all our important drainages. Expect these numbers to jump 5-10% over the upcoming week, with heavy snow in the forecast. I’ll be posting a full update on the snowpack around March 10, but suffice it to say that it is looking more and more likely we’ll have normal snowpack (or so) for 2019.

Winter Snowpack and Likely Summer Streamflow Conditions Update for Early February

Winter Snowpack and Likely Summer Streamflow Conditions Update for Early February

Introduction and Current Conditions

Whoever did the snow dances, thanks. In my last posts about snowpack and likely summer streamflow, we were looking at a snowpack ranging from 69% to 93% of normal, with the most important basins at 81-86% of normal and falling fast, with most of the snow having fallen before early December. We were also dealing with drastically above normal temperatures that left the snowpack warm rather than deep-frozen as it usually is from early December through mid-January. If those conditions had continued, we would have been looking at a drastically below normal snowpack, an early runoff, and probably some tough fishing and perhaps closures in August.

Thankfully, Old Man Winter finally woke up and the past few weeks have reversed the previous trends. Several big storm cycles have hit that have raised the snowpack to near-normal levels in most of our operations area. In addition, Late January and the first few days of February have been bitter cold. Typically we’re past the worst of winter by now as far as cold (though not snow), but the past few nights have seen temperatures well below zero. In addition, this overall cold/wet trend is forecast to continue through at least the middle of February, and perhaps through most of the month. That will still leave a lot of winter and spring to go, but it will put us in a much better position overall.

Here is the current snowpack map for the region, with our approximate operations area circled in red:

February 5 snowpack map
February 05 Snowpack Map

Compare the above to the graphic I posted with my previous update:

jan 18 2019 snowpack

The improvement should be pretty obvious.

The trend looks set to continue for a while, as shown by the following precipitation and temperature outlooks from the National Weather Service:

8-14 day precip8-14 day temps

Put simply, we’re looking at a strong probability of cold/wet conditions through at least February 20. February is typically a drier month than either January or March, so having it run wet instead can really help the snowpack add up.

Disclaimer: Everything I say from here on out depends on near-normal weather from now through early June!

What Does the Above Mean for Summer Streamflows?

Based on current conditions as well as long-range outlooks through spring that favor an equal chance of above and below normal precipitation (though warmer than normal temperatures from March through June), I now anticipate normal to slightly below normal snowpack. There’s a lot of winter and spring weather that will impact this. A few really big storm cycles and we could still wind up with somewhat above average snowpack. It could also quit snowing in March and April and we still wind up with substantially below normal snowpack. In addition, the onset of the spring runoff plays a huge role. A melt beginning in late April might still put us into the danger zone in August. A melt beginning after May 10 can shift things into “above normal” water levels for summer, even if the winter snowpack had been “meh.”

I do feel safe making the following prediction: We are unlikely to have either substantially high summer streamflows or drastically low streamflows from late June through early September. I suspect we’ll turn out with something like an 80% to 110% snowpack and streamflow this summer, with around 90% of normal my guess.

What Does This Mean for the Fishing, in General?

Generally speaking, low snowpack means better conditions and fishing from the middle of June through the middle of July, with an early start on our primary summer fisheries on the Yellowstone River and its tributaries, but worse conditions from the beginning of August through the middle of September on these waters as well as limited fishing on our secondary waters, the Madison drainage in YNP and the lower Madison River, the Boulder River, and the Jefferson River. Higher than normal snowpack means tougher conditions and fewer places to fish in the first half of June (though good fishing in the places that are low enough and clear enough, mainly the Firehole, Gibbon, and Lower Madison Rivers, as well as private lakes), but much better conditions and fishing from late July through the middle of September in the Yellowstone System. All in all, we would rather have normal to slightly high snowpack with the Yellowstone drainage falling into shape in the first or second week of July depending on location, with good conditions in August, but have to sweat things a bit in June.

I think we’ll be ABOUT there this season, with only a couple weeks in early August in which water temperatures might make late afternoon fishing a tough option and slightly tougher fish in late August and early September, the latter due to low water and weeds rather than water temperature issues.

Overall, I anticipate conditions and fishing resembling the following recent seasons: 2009, 2010, and 2017.

I do not expect low/warm/challenging conditions as found in 2012, 2013, 2015, or 2016. Nor do I expect the high water and late start we had in 2008 or 2011. I also expect the conditions to be slightly less favorable than the “perfect” years we had in 2014 and 2018.

Any July-August River Closures Likely?

July-August closures are likely on the waters within our operations area on which such closures are typical, namely the Jefferson and lower Madison Rivers. The lower Madison will probably not be worth fishing from June 25 or so through about Labor Day. The Jeff will probably hold on a week or two longer at the front end and start a week earlier at the back end. In addition, the Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison within YNP will be too warm from sometime in late June (Firehole and Gibbon) or early July (Madison) through late August (Madison) or early September (Gibbon and Firehole), though they are seldom closed.

I do not expect any closures on the Yellowstone River, the Lamar River or its tributaries, the Gardner River, the Boulder River, or the Stillwater River. In other words, all of our summer waters should be fine and should not experience any closures, though as always the hottest/brightest days in late July and early August may necessitate an early start or quitting early for the best fishing, and the hottest/brightest days in late August and early September may necessitate either floating the roughest/deepest water or accepting spooky fish. This is typical even in high water years.

As I noted above, all of this might change somewhat depending on snow that hasn’t fallen yet as well as when runoff begins.

When Will the Best Fishing Occur on Various Waters?

Take the below with a massive grain of salt. I will be able to refine the following dates and make them more and more accurate as the winter and early spring progress. Waters are listed by jurisdiction, Yellowstone Park followed by Montana, with the waters listed within each jurisdiction according to rough overall importance to Parks’ Fly Shop’s guide services rather than distance or the number of shop customers who aren’t being guided headed to these waters.

Yellowstone Park Waters

Note:The general park season runs from sunrise on May 25 through sunset on November 3 this year. The major exception to the general dates is the Yellowstone River system upstream from the Upper Falls, which primarily opens July 15 (the lake opens with the general season).

Yellowstone River and Tributaries

The best fishing from the lake to the falls will as usual occur from the July 15 opener through July. This year should see good water conditions for this period, neither too high nor too low. Since fish numbers are on the upswing, I anticipate the best fishing since the late 1990s on this water this season. How’s that for a prediction?

The best fishing in the Grand Canyon (Silver Cord Cascade to Lamar River confluence) will occur from about June 20-25 through September, with only crowded and/or hot-sunny days in August and early September likely to be a bit slow, especially when the Lamar and its tributaries are muddy, which tends to push people here. There will be no water temperature issues. Expect Salmonflies to begin sometime between June 20 and July 1 and last through about July 20.

The best fishing in the Black Canyon (Lamar confluence to the park boundary at the Gardner River confluence) will occur from about July 1 through early October, with hot/sunny afternoons in early August likely a bit slower due to warmer water temperatures than we like. As always, this water can get muddy after summer thunderstorms. Expect Salmonflies in the lower end of the canyon between June 25 and July 10 and in the upper end from July 1 through July 20, with those dates to be refined later.

Yellowstone River tributary creeks inside the park will generally fish best in July and August, as always, though a couple will be fishable by June 10-15.

Cascade Lake should be accessible between June 5-10 and fish best through early July.

Gardner River and Tributaries

The upper Gardner, between its headwaters near Emigrant Peak downstream to Osprey Falls, including all tributaries in this section, will probably not be fishable at all in 2019. This is due to the ongoing Norris to Golden Gate road construction project. This project has been marching steadily northward for the past few seasons, and has already impacted some areas in the upper Gardner (especially Grizzly Lake and Winter Creek). We expect this project to extend north either to Indian Creek Campground or even all the way to the Golden Gate (the steep little canyon with the waterfall south of Mammoth) this year, making access impossible. Keep an eye on the blog for updates, which we will get in late spring.

The middle Gardner, between Osprey Falls and Boiling River, should be clear enough to fish on a day-to-day basis from the beginning of the park season, but very cold at that time. It will come on for real sometime in the last week of June, most likely, and remain good throughout the remainder of the park season except on exceptionally cold days in October-November. October is always the absolute best time to fish here.

The lower Gardner, between Boiling River and the Yellowstone confluence, will be fishable on a day-to-day basis from the beginning of the park season, and might be low enough by the 10th or 15th to be very good at least for fit anglers who can handle the fast water and like fishing stonefly nymphs. The fishing will really kick into gear after June 20, with the Salmonflies soon after. The last week or so of July and first half of August may see high water temperatures in the afternoons on warmer days, and I expect heavy weed growth to make nymphing annoying in August and September (the weeds have been getting worse and worse every year). The fishing will remain good through the close of the park season, and as always October is the best time to fish here at least if you’re looking for large fish and/or dry fly fishing (runner browns and BWO hatches, respectively).

Lower Gardner Tributaries, basically meaning Lava Creek, will be fishable sometime in the latter half of June and be best in July and August.

Madison River System in YNP: Firehole, Gibbon, and Upper Madison

The Firehole should be prime on the park opener and remain good through at least June 20, with afternoon fishing tough on bright days no later than June 15. The Firehole will probably be too warm for the summer by July 1, though its tributaries can be good through the summer. It will turn on again after Labor Day and remain good through the close of the season.

The Gibbon River Canyon might be ready with the park opener, but is more likely to drop and clear enough to be good sometime between June 1 and June 5. Norris Meadow, Elk Park, and Gibbon Meadows should be low enough to fish well by June 10-15. While Norris Meadow (and the small fish water up to Virginia Cascades) can fish okay for mostly smaller trout through the summer, the stretch from Elk Park down to Madison Junction will be too warm from sometime in late June or early July through about Labor Day. Reminder: the water from Grebe Lake to Virginia Cascades was poisoned in 2017 and is fishless pending grayling and westslope cutthroat introductions.

The Upper Madison might be ready with the park opener, but is more likely to drop into shape for nymph and streamer fishing between the opener and June 1, with the best dry fly fishing from June 5 through June 20. It will get too warm for the summer except during cool spells beginning sometime in the last few days of June or the first few days of July, extending until late August. It will then be good through the close of the park season, with the best big trout opportunities in the latter half of October.

Lamar River System: Lamar, Soda Butte, Slough, and Smaller Tribs

All will probably drop into shape in the first week of July and be best from mid-July through early August, then get steadily harder and harder until they get too cold in late September or early October. As usual, crowds will be overwhelming and will detract from the experience in the roadside sections of Soda Butte and the Lamar. Those who can do so should stick to the rugged portions of the Lamar, hike to the Second Meadow on Slough, head over to the Yellowstone instead, or hike up one of the small tributary streams.

For what it’s worth, in 2018 we ran ten or twelve ten trips in the Lamar Drainage, total, and about half of those were on rugged stretches that aren’t the pretty roadside meadows most anglers think of when they envision this drainage. This water is just too crowded for us to want to take most clients here, these days. People don’t pay us for combat fishing for scarred and lethargic fish that get caught twenty or thirty times each season.

Montana Waters

Yellowstone River: Gardiner to Big Timber

As soon as the current cold snap breaks, most of the Yellowstone will become fishable on foot through early May. The best spring fishing will occur from late March through April. If you’ve never fished the Yellowstone in the spring, it’s uncrowded and an excellent time to target larger fish using subsurface tactics.

Runoff is likely to begin (as always) sometime in the first or second week of May, though in 2018 it actually started in April. This will put the entire river out of play for a month to six weeks, probably closer to the latter.

The Upper Yellowstone, from Gardiner to Carbella, will drop into good shape in the last week of June if current conditions hold, with the Salmonfly hatch at the same time or beginning less than a week later. The fishing for the hatch should be good, with lower water levels than we saw in 2017-2018. The most consistent fishing overall will occur in July, but water levels should be good enough that the fishing should be at least decent most days through October. The hottest, brightest periods in the last week of July and first half of August might entail meeting and taking out early, while the fish might be spooky during hot/bright weather in late August and early September. I do not anticipate any streamflow or water temperature issues beyond perhaps a few slow afternoons. Now that I (Walter) use a raft rather than a drift boat, Yankee Jim Canyon will be floatable during this entire period, though it is best when water levels are below 5000cfs, probably from about July 15-20 onwards. For what it’s worth, I guided this water in late October at flows of 1000cfs in 2018, for the first time, and the fishing for big rainbows on dead-drifted streamers, BWO nymphs, and egg patterns (near brown trout spawning areas) was phenomenal.

Paradise Valley (Carbella to Livingston) will drop into shape at the same time as the upper Yellowstone, and may or may not experience a good Salmonfly hatch. If the hatch pops as the water clears, levels should be right for a few days of very good fishing with both dries and subsurface bugs (including streamers!). After that, there will be a small dip in fishing quality before things get good again by the 10th-15th of July. Levels should promote good fishing through all of Paradise Valley through early August, but 26-Mile to Mallard’s Rest might be a bit slow from early August through mid-September, due mostly to low water levels rather than temperature. This will depend on weather conditions, with cool/cloudy days best in late summer and early fall. The upper and lower valley (Carbella-26 and below Mallard’s) should fish like the Upper Yellowstone does in this period. The whole valley will come back into play regardless of weather after September 10 and be good thereafter.

The Town Section through Livingston will come into play in early July and be good from that point through October except during the hottest, brightest days in August. Now that I (Walter) live in Livingston, along with Rob Olson and many of our contractor guides, we expect to fish this water a lot more. It’s good for both numbers of 12-14″ rainbows and decent shots at big browns, and it’s amazing how little of Livingston you actually see.

The Lower Yellowstone (Livingston to Big Timber and Beyond) will come into play sometime between July 5 and July 15 and will fish best during cooler/cloudier weather in August (hoppers) or in a general sense in September and early October. This is “rowdier” water than the stretches of the Yellowstone upstream, and holds fewer but larger fish, so it is a much tougher option during the otherwise great period of July.

Private Lakes

The private lakes will be best from ice-out in early April through the middle of June (Story) to the middle of July (Burns), and good options again from the middle of September through late October. Since all of our guides who guide on Burns now live in Livingston, we have deleted our Burns Lake fuel fee, making this lake a great option for early summer dry fly fishing provided the wind isn’t howling. Burns and Story both fished well in 2018.

Merrell Lake experienced another fish kill in 2018, after one in late 2017, so we will not be guiding on it this year (and suggest you avoid it for your own fishing, as well).

Boulder River

We will be offering trips on this river for the first time in 2019. It is only floatable for a short window after the spring melt. This year, it will drop into shape between June 25 and July 1 and remain floatable for 4-6 weeks. This is a great attractor dry/dropper river that typically produces larger fish than the upper Yellowstone does with similar tactics, on average.

Lower Madison River

The Lower Madison is the closest float option to Gardiner during the May-June period. Since Rob Olson and I are now based in Livingston, we have dropped our fuel fees for this water, so if you’re willing to meet us in Livingston, day-trip river floats are now available even during the Yellowstone’s spring melt.

This stretch of the Madison begins at Warm Springs Access and extends to Three Forks, though the best trout water ends at Greycliff. It is best in the latter half of May and the first half of June, will get too warm sometime in the latter half of June, and turns on again sometime around Labor Day, with good fishing in late September and October. Limited opportunities for carp and pike are possible during the warm water period in high summer, but there are better fisheries.

Missouri River

The trout water below Holter Dam is good all year except perhaps during August and early September, but we only guide it in spring and early summer. It requires a 2+ day commitment. Expect good levels for nymphing in May and June, but the water may be too high for good dry fly fishing from early May through early June. We’ll see how much more it snows. Contact me for details on the floats we’re offering for the first time on this stretch.

The multispecies water between Toston Dam and Canyon Ferry Lake is always best in August and early September, especially on hot/bright days when other options might be poor. While some walleye, pike, and big (20+ inch) rainbows are possible at this time, we’re mostly sight-fishing for “rocky mountain bonefish,” aka carp. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. We’re talking about 4-12lb fish that require careful presentations and often run over 100 feet, without any crowds. Curious? This water also provides some options for big run-up browns in October and November, though we seldom fish it then.

The “Land of the Giants” section produces well from now through July whenever it’s warm enough you can stand it. The heaviest crowds are from mid-April through mid-May. We WILL NOT be guiding this water in 2019. I had to sell my jet boat to make a down payment on a house. I expect to replace the boat and resume offering trips here in March, 2020.

Paradise Valley Spring Creeks

We expect to the spring creeks to be a much more important part of our business this year, since we now have two full-time guides based in Livingston. As always, the creeks are best from now (early February) through April, from about June 25 through about July 20, and from mid-October through fall. We would love to introduce you to these waters in March or April.

Jefferson River

We will be offering trips on this river for the first time in 2019. It is typically best in the latter half of April and early May, before runoff, for a week or so right after runoff (this year the last week of June or first week of July), and again from the middle of September onward. It’s a long way from Gardiner, but doable as a day trip, and a “different” river than most you’ll see.

Lower Gallatin River

Richard Parks last guided here in the early 1980s, but we’ll be offering trips here again staring in fall 2019. This is big fish hunting downstream of the East Gallatin confluence in October, for run-up fish out of the Missouri.

The Upper Gallatin, from the Yellowstone Park boundary down to Four Corners, is always good in late March, April, and July, with lower portions tough in August and early September. We don’t really guide this water, though.

Other Waters

Expect details on the Shields, East Gallatin, Darlington Ditch, Stillwater, and a few other waters that are secondary options at best by late spring.


Let it Snow (Please)

Let it Snow (Please)

Let it Snow

jan 18 2019 snowpack
January 18 snowpack conditions across the NW United States. Our operations area is circled in red.

Our snowpack has been trending downward since early December. In the first half of January, my boyhood ski hill outside of ST. LOUIS MISSOURI of all places got more snow than Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman. The past couple days have been snowy, and we’re expected to have a week or so of unsettled weather with chances of at least some snow each day. Let’s hope so, and hope it piles up. All in all, near-average to somewhat above average snowpack makes for the best summer fishing conditions, at least from late July through early September.

weather forecast
January 19 weather forecast for Mammoth Hot Springs. Let’s hope it snows a bit.