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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

Covid-19 and Parks’ Fly Shop: Updated May 30

Covid-19 and Parks’ Fly Shop: Updated May 30

Covid-19 and Parks’ Fly Shop: Updated June 29

Introduction

The shop is open for both retail sales and guide service. We have a mandatory mask order in the shop, no exceptions. Covid-19 has been found in Gardiner, Montana (a town of 750 residents), so this is for everyone’s safety. In addition, we are limiting the maximum number of customers in the shop to one group of customers of any size traveling together OR four people, maximum. No exceptions. We encourage groups not traveling together to wait outside if possible, even if less than four customers are in the shop.

The shop is on standard summer hours.


Shop Policies

  • We ask that groups that are not traveling together avoid entering the shop at the same time. Please limit the number of customers in the shop to four at a time unless your group is larger than four people. No exceptions
  • Masks are required in the shop. No exceptions.
  • Please maintain as much distance as possible from staff. Now is not the time to lean over our shoulders to watch us tie flies.
  • We will not be renting any wading gear for the time being due to the difficulty of sterilizing waders.
  • If you are in the area but would rather not come into the shop, give us a call at 406-848-7314 and place your order over the phone. We’ll package it up and meet you at the curb.
  • Shop cleaning is now taking place daily, right down to the pens you use to sign your CC slips.
  • Hand sanitizer is available.

Summer Guide Business: Trip Planning and Temporary Changes to Policies

Deposit and Cancellation Policy Changes: To help reduce client uncertainty and anxiety in booking trips for this year, not knowing what the future will bring, we are relaxing our deposit and cancellation policies until further notice. Here are the changes:

  • As always, trips canceled a month or more out from the first day of the booking will receive a full refund.
  • Trips canceled from one month to 72 hours before the trip may apply the deposit to a future trip anytime in 2020 or 2021. Our standard policy is forfeiture of this deposit unless we’re able to rebook the guide. This policy change applies to all bookings, both retroactively to those made before the virus flared and to new bookings made until we change back to our standard policy.
  • Trips canceled with less than 72 hours notice will be handled on a case-by-case basis. In other words, if your flight’s canceled or someone gets coronavirus, we’ll credit the deposit to another trip.

Trip Booking Suggestions:

  • We suggest clients be flexible about what sorts of trips we plan to run. While Yellowstone Park and Montana are reopening to commercial services including guided fishing trips on June 1, we do not know if additional changes will take place as summer and therefore the course of the virus progress.
  • Walk trips allow for greater social distancing in general, though closer quarters at certain moments. Float trips allow for less social distancing in general, but almost no personal contact besides being “in each other’s space.” Bear that in mind when you think about what to book.
  • We anticipate the fishing will be very good this year, due to reduced pressure.
  • We may ask clients to drive their own vehicles and bring their own water more this year than we usually do.

YNP Covid-19 Operations Plan

Yellowstone National Park has asked us to note our responses to coronavirus. Here’s our responses to their questions:

Describe social distancing measures you will implement during your tours to minimize the risk of transmission in indoor areas, outdoor areas, and during transportation of clients.
As much as possible; clients will use their own vehicles, guides will maintain distance from clients and between clients, guides and clients will be required to use masks.

Describe how you will ensure CDC handwashing and sanitization measures are followed.
Each guide party will have soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and sanitizer spray.

Describe how and how often you will sanitize equipment and vehicles used to transport employees and clients.
Equipment and vehicles will be sanitized with sanitizing spray and wiped down before and after each trip.

Describe how you will handle the sanitization of shared equipment (scopes, binoculars, etc.) or equipment provided to clients (saddles and other tack).
See above. In addition to normal AIS cleaning, wading equipment will get a bleach solution rinse.

Describe how you will handle/sanitize equipment belonging to clients (fishing poles, backpacks, etc.).
In general guides will not be handling client equipment and clients will be responsible for their own equipment.

Will you provide food or drinks to clients on tours? If so, describe how you will handle food and drinks to minimize exposure and transmission.
We are discounting full day trips and asking clients to supply their own food. We will supply cooler, ice, and disposable bottled water (handled with gloves)

Describe actions will you take in your interactions with clients and visitors to minimize exposure.
Clients – see above, visitors we try to avoid anyway as fishing is not a large group activity.

Describe how you will evaluate employees and visitors to determine if they may be ill. Please describe actions you will take if an employee or visitor is ill.
All employees and clients are asked the screening questions about cough, fever, difficulty breathing every day. If a client reports as symptomatic their trip will be cancelled and their contact information will be noted for contact tracing purposes. An employee will be sent into isolation and reported for testing until a determination is made.

Please list any additional actions your company and employees will take to minimize transmission of the virus.
The shop is a common area that will be sanitized frequently during the day and shop staff will wear masks. In addition clients will be supplied with a check sheet including the above information and an expanded list of personal supplies on booking.


Ways You Can Help

This is going to be a hard year for Parks’ Fly Shop, just like everyone else in the travel/tourism field. We anticipate dramatic reductions in guided trip bookings and over the counter sales. Besides keeping our staff paid on at least a part-time basis, the hardest thing is going to be paying for our huge spring fly and tackle orders that have all now arrived, when we don’t have any customers buying these flies, rods, leaders, etc. Here are some things you can consider doing to help see us through:

  • Purchase flies and tackle through mail-order: We do not have an e-commerce site, but are glad to take orders for custom and standard flies, rods, and really everything else we stock except bear spray over the phone. Free shipping on orders over $50.
  • Place a deposit on a guided trip: We are now accepting open-ended deposits for guided trips that run anytime during the 2020 or 2021 seasons. We’ll take your deposit and your contact information, but won’t set a specific date for the trip until you’re sure you’re coming. Note that our trips are first-come/first-served and we do have some dates that are fully-booked for July-September 2020 already.
  • Take the virus seriously: The sooner people practice social isolation and good hygiene, the more support people give to local health care providers, and so on, the faster this will be over.
  • Once it is all over, support your favorite fly shops, fishing guides, tour guides, bookstores, climbing gyms, restaurants, bars, craft breweres, and so on. Small businesses in the service sector are taking it on the chin right now and for the foreseeable future. If you want such places to stick around for 2021 and beyond, give them your business instead of the big operations that will probably make out like bandits once the economy starts climbing again.
Early March Snowpack and Likely Summer Streamflow & Fishing Conditions Update

Early March Snowpack and Likely Summer Streamflow & Fishing Conditions Update

As readers should know from previous posts on the subject, winter and early spring snowfall and how this snow melts from April into June are the most important drivers of summer water conditions in our area. I make reports on the progress of the snowpack through the end of the spring runoff in late June or early July, with the reports getting more detailed as the season progresses and we start to get a firm handle on what to expect.

In general, we like to see snowpack between 100% and 120% of normal, with 105-110% absolutely ideal. With snowpack at this level, waters drop out of the spring runoff at about their normal time (between early June and July 10 depending on the water in question), but flows remain high enough and therefore cool enough through late July and early August for the fish to remain aggressive and happy. With higher snowpack, the fishing once the water clears is great, but we start late and miss much of the prime summer tourist season. In 2011, we weren’t able to begin floating the Yellowstone until July 28, for example. If snowpack is dramatically low, we get an early start and have good fishing until about mid-July, but mid-July through late August can be tough fishing and we may need to start and end early.

As of right now, here’s where we’re at. Our approximate operations area is circled in red. I have also added in the drainage basins for the Upper Yellowstone system in Wyoming and Yellowstone Park (including the Lamar and Gardner Rivers) and the Madison/Gallatin basin in Yellowstone Park, including the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers.

Montana snowpack map Mar 06 2020

As you can see, things are looking good right now in most of our operations area, with drainage basins in our operations area ranging from 92% to 127% of normal. By far the most important basins for our operations are the Upper Yellowstone basins in Montana and Wyoming/YNP. These are at 113% and 111%, respectively. The low spots are the Madison in Montana and Madison/Gallatin in YNP.

Because the winter has been warm and we’ve got warm, rainy weather in the forecast for the next week, I expect these numbers to all drop over the next week. Beyond that, long range NOAA outlooks for the 6-10 day forecast period suggest above normal precip and below normal temperatures (aka good chance it’ll be snowy), while the 8-14 day outlook suggests an equal chance of above, below, and normal temperatures with a greater chance of above normal precip. Very long range outlooks extending through the spring suggest greater likelihood of above normal temperatures as well as above normal precip.

We still have a good six weeks of “snowpack building time,” and the above outlooks do not look likely to drastically change our overall snowpack numbers, though I do expect them to decline a few points. We’ve had a warm winter, so the medium-elevation snow will start melting as soon as it gets rained on.

In regards to most of our operations area, in particular the Yellowstone Basin inside and outside Yellowstone Park, I should note that assuming the “average to somewhat high” snowpack numbers we’re seeing so far continue, we should have good to excellent water conditions for this summer, the fourth year in a row things have run average to a bit above. This will be the first time in my career (20 seasons counting 2020) that we’ve had this many years of solid water conditions in a row. We had great fishing and healthy fish last year, with the Yellowstone seeing probably its strongest average size range in at least ten years. Will this trend continue in 2020? I wouldn’t bet against it…

The Madison/Gallatin Basin inside Yellowstone Park is a different matter. It would not surprise me to see this snowpack drop to 85% of normal by the end of next week, with the bulk of the drop in the lower-elevation Madison portion of this shared basin. The storms have generally been going either just north of the park or just south of it, leaving the Madison Basin inside the park just off the storm track. This below average snowpack could become a problem if the forecast warmer than average weather for the next three months materializes. The Madison outside the park should be fine, particularly upstream of Ennis Lake, but the Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison inside the park might suffer due to low/warm water this year as they have not since 2016. The Firehole in particular may wind up getting too warm by around June 20, whereas it has fished well through June the past few years. We’ll have to wait and see on this. If you’re a Firehole-lover, I suggest doing some snow dances.

 

Early Snowpack Update: Looking Good so Far!

Early Snowpack Update: Looking Good so Far!

As readers should know from previous posts on the subject, winter and early spring snowfall and how this snow melts from April into June are the most important drivers of summer water conditions in our area. I make reports on the progress of the snowpack through the end of the spring runoff in late June or early July, with the reports getting more detailed as the season progresses and we start to get a firm handle on what to expect.

In general, we like to see snowpack between 100% and 120% of normal, with 105-110% absolutely ideal. With snowpack at this level, waters drop out of the spring runoff at about their normal time (between early June and July 10 depending on the water in question), but flows remain high enough and therefore cool enough through late July and early August for the fish to remain aggressive and happy. With higher snowpack, the fishing once the water clears is great, but we start late and miss much of the prime summer tourist season. In 2011, we weren’t able to begin floating the Yellowstone until July 28, for example. If snowpack is dramatically low, we get an early start and have good fishing until about mid-July, but mid-July through late August can be tough fishing and we may need to start and end early.

As of right now, here’s where we’re at. Our approximate operations area is circled in red. I have also added in the drainage basins for the Upper Yellowstone system in Wyoming and Yellowstone Park (including the Lamar and Gardner Rivers) and the Madison/Gallatin basin in Yellowstone Park, including the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers.

early february snowpack in Montana

As you can see, things are looking good right now, with drainage basins in our operations area ranging from 98% to 111% of normal. By far the most important basins for our operations are the Upper Yellowstone basins in Montana and Wyoming/YNP. These are edging right into the “sweet spot.” The only basins that we would like to come up are the Jefferson and Madison basins outside YNP. Considering we run less than five guided trips in these basins each year, this isn’t a huge issue for us so far.

The upcoming weather forecast for the remainder of this week looks like we’ll see the heaviest snowstorm of the winter so far from Wednesday (tomorrow) evening through Friday morning. The longer-range outlooks through February look cold and wet, as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if everything is up in the 115% of normal range by the middle of next week. Considering the long range late spring and summer outlooks are calling for warmer-than-normal temperatures, we’ll take it.

I should note that assuming the “average to somewhat high” snowpack numbers we’re seeing so far continue, we should have good to excellent water conditions for this summer, the fourth year in a row things have run average to a bit above. This will be the first time in my career (20 seasons counting 2020) that we’ve had this many years of solid water conditions in a row. We had great fishing and healthy fish last year, with the Yellowstone seeing probably its strongest average size range in at least ten years. Will this trend continue in 2020? I wouldn’t bet against it…

 

Early Snowpack Update

Early Snowpack Update

It’s never too early to start paying attention to how much snow’s in the mountains. The amount of snow we get from late October through early May and how this snow melts from April through June govern how much water we have in our rivers during the mid-June through September prime season. I post regular updates through the winter. Things WILL change drastically over the course of the winter. Last year we were looking at a very low snowpack until late January, with daytime highs in the 50s and some nights above freezing even in January, and then had some of the coldest and wettest weather in memory in February and early March. That said, here’s what we’re looking at so far.

The tables below show snowpack (the left-hand column of numbers) and total precipitation (the right-hand column) for Montana and Wyoming. Drainages within our operations area are in boldface, with the most-important drainages also set off with asterisk.

 

MONTANA
  KOOTENAI RIVER BASIN .........................  8 of  8      67        53 
  FLATHEAD RIVER BASIN ......................... 12 of 16      94        77 
  UPPER CLARK FORK RIVER BASIN ................. 13 of 15     100        80 
  BITTERROOT RIVER BASIN .......................  7 of  7      74        65 
  LOWER CLARK FORK RIVER BASIN .................  8 of  8      50        64 
  JEFFERSON RIVER BASIN ........................ 19 of 19      98        76 
  MADISON RIVER BASIN .......................... 11 of 11      83        67 ****************** (Madison River from YNP to Three Forks)
  GALLATIN RIVER BASIN .........................  7 of  7     108        98 
  MISSOURI HEADWATERS .......................... 31 of 31      96        78 
  HEADWATERS MISSOURI MAINSTEM .................  5 of  5     124        99 
  SMITH, JUDITH, AND MUSSELSHELL RIVER BASINS ..  9 of 10     139       100 
  SUN, TETON AND MARIAS RIVER BASINS ...........  5 of  6     186       100 
  MISSOURI MAINSTEM RIVER BASIN ................ 19 of 21     154       103 
  ST. MARY AND MILK RIVER BASINS ...............  3 of  3      98        81 
  UPPER YELLOWSTONE RIVER BASIN ................ 23 of 24     107        90 ****************** (Yellowstone from Gardiner to Billings, more or less, including the Boulder)
  WIND RIVER BASIN (WYOMING) ................... 11 of 13     103        68 
  SHOSHONE RIVER BASIN (WYOMING) ...............  5 of  6      97        83 
  BIGHORN RIVER BASIN (WYOMING) ................ 15 of 16     125       101 
  TONGUE RIVER BASIN (WYOMING) .................  6 of  7     136       108 
  POWDER RIVER BASIN (WYOMING) .................  6 of  7     176       133 
  LOWER YELLOWSTONE RIVER BASIN ................ 30 of 35     121        94 

WYOMING
  SNAKE RIVER .................................. 20 of 20      74        59 
  MADISON-GALLATIN .............................  5 of  5      74        54 ****************** (Madison Basin in YNP, the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers)
  YELLOWSTONE .................................. 14 of 14     102        81 ****************** (Upper Yellowstone River in Wyoming and Yellowstone Park, including the Lamar and Gardner)
  WIND RIVER ................................... 10 of 12     103        71 
  BIGHORN BASIN ................................ 10 of 11     149       115 
  SHOSHONE RIVER ...............................  5 of  6      97        83 
  POWDER RIVER .................................  6 of  7     176       133 
  TONGUE RIVER .................................  6 of  7     136       108 
  BELLE FOURCHE ................................  2 of  2     179       113 
  CHEYENNE RIVER BASIN .........................  2 of  2     161        95 
  UPPER N. PLATTE .............................. 16 of 19     103        81 
  SWEETWATER ...................................  3 of  3      69        54 
  LOWER N. PLATTE ..............................  4 of  4     193       111 
  LARAMIE RIVER ................................  7 of  7     140       103 
  S. PLATTE ....................................  2 of  3     140       109 
  LITTLE SNAKE RIVER ...........................  8 of  8     134        78 
  UPPER GREEN RIVER ............................ 13 of 14      75        60 
  LOWER GREEN RIVER ............................  7 of 11     103        81 
  UPPER BEAR RIVER .............................  8 of 10      91        64

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Generally speaking, the above means we’ve got a good start to the snowpack in the northern and eastern parts of our operations area, basically meaning the Yellowstone River and its tributaries, and things aren’t as good further to the south and west. The Madison Basin in YNP in particular has some catching up to do. The long-range NOAA outlooks through climatological winter (through February) suggest we’re looking at a warmer-than-normal winter (bad) but also a wetter than normal winter (good). So all in all, we’re hopeful that we’ll have a near-normal snowpack by late spring just about everywhere again this winter, as we’ve had throughout our operations area in 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19. This run of sustained decent water is a nice change from the yo-yo years we had from 2001 through 2015-2016.

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.