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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

Runoff Break Incoming (Who’s Up for a River Float?)

Runoff Break Incoming (Who’s Up for a River Float?)

Our weather forecast for the next week or so is calling for drastically below normal temperatures. Some days will see highs in the 50s even at low elevations! Runoff is now on the downward track everywhere, so this shot of cold weather is going to temporarily pull our normal summer rivers out of runoff. The Boulder in particular should be ready to float for the season by Monday and will probably not become unfishable again. The Yellowstone will be more marginal, but for anglers who want to “swing for the fences,” these runoff breaks are great times to pound the banks with streamers and stonefly nymphs.

Here’s the graph of predicted streamflows for the Boulder. It is fishable from 3000 down to about 500cfs. 800-2000 is prime. As you can, it’s looking great for next week.

graph showing predicted stream flow of the Boulder River
Boulder River predicted flows

Here’s the graph for the Yellowstone at Corwin Springs. We consider the Yellowstone fishable when it’s at a bit over 10,000cfs at this gauging station, though 8,000 is better.

graphy showing predicted streamflow on the Yellowstone River
Yellowstone River Predicted Streamflow

If the above predicted flows hold out, we expect excellent float conditions for experienced anglers from Sunday the 23rd through the last full week of June, with conditions deteriorating on the Yellowstone in particular for a week or so thereafter.

Availability for Boulder River trips is limited to June 26. Availability for Yellowstone River trips is limited to the 24th-27th and the 29th. Because the above flows are not guaranteed, we would not be willing to accept a float trip booking unless clients are staying in a location (Gardiner, Livingston, Paradise Valley, Mammoth, Bozeman) where they would be able to head over to the Lower Madison for the float if the above doesn’t pan out. Want to roll those dice? We often see some of our best big fish fishing of the year during runoff breaks like those we expect.

Runoff Progress Report and Expected Clearing Dates for Regional Fisheries

Runoff Progress Report and Expected Clearing Dates for Regional Fisheries

Introduction

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.

Yellowstone Opener May 25 — EVERYTHING IS CLEAR!!!

Yellowstone Opener May 25 — EVERYTHING IS CLEAR!!!

Head on over to our fishing report for full details, but I had to make a note on the blog as well… As of 4:00PM today, Thursday the 23rd, ALL streams in Yellowstone are running clear. This opener could be one for the ages, with not only the usual Firehole and the slightly less-usual Madison and Gibbon fishable, but also Slough Creek, the Yellowstone from the lower Grand Canyon down, the Lamar River, the Gardner, the Gallatin… It’s all good. It will also all get bad as soon as it warms up, so this weekend and early next week will be a good time to get the “trout flu.”

Water Conditions and Runoff Update: Clear* Window on the Yellowstone and Boulder?!!!?!? (* clear enough)

Water Conditions and Runoff Update: Clear* Window on the Yellowstone and Boulder?!!!?!? (* clear enough)

Flows on the Yellowstone and Boulder Rivers are currently nosediving due to drastically below normal temps. This is setting these rivers up for a brief window of clear (clear enough) water over the next week to ten days, particularly during the early to middle part of next week. These mid-snowmelt windows of fishable conditions only occur about one year in three and can produce the best fishing for large trout of the season. This is true for experienced anglers, anyway.

See for yourself.

graph of projected flows for the Boulder River
Boulder River Streamflow
Graph showing predicted streamflow on the Yellowstone River
Yellowstone River Streamflow

I do not suggest booking a float trip at this time unless you are prepared to drive to the lower Madison River if things turn out to not follow the predicted flows noted above. That said, keep an eye on things. If the above forecasts do pan out and you can book a float on short notice, I strongly encourage you to consider it for Tuesday or Wednesday, the 28th or 29th.

Note that this same cooldown should make the Yellowstone in its Black and Grand Canyons, Slough Creek, the Gardner, and the Firehole/Gibbon/Madison ALL fishable for the opening weekend of the Yellowstone season, and the few days thereafter. I will post more details on this late in the week.

Snowpack, Spring Snowmelt, and Summer Water Conditions & Fishing Outlook – Early May Update

Snowpack, Spring Snowmelt, and Summer Water Conditions & Fishing Outlook – Early May Update

Snowpack, Spring Snowmelt, and Summer Water Conditions & Fishing Outlook – Early May Update

Introduction

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 Current Conditions

All in all, we enjoyed an above-average winter and early spring snow accumulation season, with snowpack currently running around 120% of normal throughout our operations area. It is now the cusp of the spring high elevation snowmelt (runoff). With current temperatures forecast to run from below normal to normal for the rest of May, we are now assured of a normal to late spring melt, a heavy spring runoff, and overall above normal flows for the core summer season. This is going to make June fishing tough. It’s going to help late July through early September.

The spring runoff has not started in earnest on any area waters, though some are muddy with low-elevation and medium-elevation snowmelt, since the late winter and early spring period has generally been cool and wet and there’s therefore patchy snow remaining even at low elevations (though most elevations under 7000 feet are now snow-free). With temperatures forecast to remain in the 50s and 60s for about another week, it’s very possible the spring melt won’t begin in earnest until May 15. This is about a week later than average and more like 3 weeks behind last year.

Yellowstone Park Opener Outlook

The Yellowstone Park season opens May 25 this year. The opener is always the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, which falls early this year. Because of the late start to the melt and the early opener, it’s very possible the early fisheries are “weird” this year. During average years, the fishable water is the Firehole and that’s it. During years with below-normal snowpack, the Madison, Gibbon, and perhaps Gardner are also fishable. This year we expect different waters to possibly be better, before they enter the heavy runoff and the Firehole takes over. Here’s our guess.

Please note: we won’t know if these predictions are going to hold or not until at least May 20, so check back then for an updated report.

The Firehole may be in full-scale runoff or not yet entering it on the opener. We expect BWO hatches and nymphing to be the most likely tactics to work. The critical blond Nectopsyche caddis are unlikely to start until early June this year.

The Madison and Gibbon may or may not be fishable on the opener, but will certainly be too muddy beginning a few days thereafter. If they are clear on the opener, I expect spring-style nymph and streamer techniques rather than hatches (Madison) and dry-dropper (Gibbon) to be the tickets.

The Gardner will likely be muddy, but if it has so much as a foot of visibility, it will fish well with big nymphs tight to shore. There may also be remnant Mother’s Day Caddis, but only if late May is VERY cold.

The Yellowstone in the Grand Canyon is going to be high, cold, and not clear, but it might be a sleeper bet for anglers interested in nymph and streamer fishing. We are going to look closely at this water right before the opener as it may be a great bet for early guide trips we have booked. It will get too muddy no later than June 1 and stay that way until late June. The Black Canyon is going to be muddy from the opener on. The lake to falls stretch is closed until July 15.

Slough Creek may be fishable in its lower meadow using streamers. If it is and you are experienced, fish there and expect the largest trout of the season. The rest of the Lamar Drainage will be muddy.

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.

Missouri River

While it is running high and likely to get higher, peaking about May 20, the tailwater portions of the Missouri below Hauser Dam (“Land of the Giants” section) and Holter Dam (the longer, more-famous, drift boat section) are always fishable throughout the spring and are fishing well on nymphs, though dry fly action is limited with the high water. As always, these stretches of river will fish best before late July and again from late September into November.

Area Private Lakes

All are now fishable and have their most consistent fishing of the year from now through June, 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 May and the first half June are not as good as March and April, late June and July, and October-November.

Firehole River

May be muddy on the opener and likely to see its peak runoff after June 1, a rarity. Nonetheless, this will be the most consistent river option in YNP through the first half of June and remain good through June, possibly through the first 10 days of July particularly in the mornings. After that will be too warm until about Labor Day and then get gradually better through the fall.

Madison River outside YNP

Fishing well now, but will rise and get steadily dirtier and be tougher for the last ten days of May and first half of June. Salmonflies in the latter half of June below Ennis Lake and the last few days of June and first few of July above Ennis.

Madison River in YNP

May be fishable on the park opener but then will go out of play by June 1 and be marginal for the first 10 days of June. Will then get progressively better and be good the last ten days of June and probably the first ten of July before getting too warm, with afternoons and possibly all-day fishing too warm in late July and early August, before coming back into play in the last ten days of August.

Gibbon River

Generally similar to the Madison, but less likely to be good out of the gate and more likely to hold up through July.

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.

Gardner River

May be fishable on the opener, but probably too high and fast for most anglers even when clear enough through about June 25. After that will nymph well below Osprey Falls. Above Osprey Falls won’t be ready until at least July 4 and probably the 10th. Salmonflies begin below Boiling River in the last few days of June and above it about July 10. They will last in colder portions of Sheepeater Canyon through July and probably into August. The Gardner should have enough water that even below Boiling River it stays cold enough to fish well except on the hottest days all summer.

Jefferson River

Fishable right now but will go into runoff in the first few warm days. Will clear around June 25, but only remain cool enough to fish for at most two weeks. Will come back into play around Labor Day.

Yellowstone River, Grand Canyon

May be fishable on the opener but will get dirty no later than June 1. Will drop into nymph/streamer shape around July 1, with pockets of Salmonfly activity near hot springs then but stronger in the latter half of July. Will fish well from July through at least September except when overcrowded and/or muddy.

Gallatin River, Especially the YNP Stretch

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

Boulder and Stillwater Rivers

Will drop into shape in the first week of July and be best from July 10 through August 1 for the Boulder and another two weeks on the Stillwater.

Yellowstone River, Gardiner to Livingston

Fishable now and given the weather forecast should remain so at least off and on for another week before blowing out with runoff for real. Mother’s Day Caddis hatch is underway. The late runoff means this water will not drop into shape until at least July 1, with July 5-10 more likely. Salmonflies will occur at the same time. The middle of July onward will be very good this year on the Yellowstone, with enough water in the Paradise Valley section to keep good fishing going through August. As always the upper river will produce best for numbers, closer to Livingston for size. The fall fishing will be consistent given the high levels. We had good floats into the last week of October last season and this year should be no different.

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 20 and probably July 25.

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

Possibly fishable with streamers on the opener, but will blow out thereafter and otherwise not be ready until probably July 5-10, with the best fishing from July 20 to August 10 or so, though some fishing will continue until late September.

Lamar River and Most Tributaries

Muddy until probably July 4 and too high in the meadows for another week, though the canyon will fish after July 4. Will remain good (though crowded) until late September or early October.

Soda Butte Creek

Very small shot of a short fishable window right at the beginning of the season, otherwise not fishable until about July 10. Will be horrendously crowded from before it’s ready through early October at least, or two weeks after it’s consistent. We leave Soda Butte for West Yellowstone guides and tourists except when we have no other option given client time or mobility restraints. We just loathe the crowds here.

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.