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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 is Fading Fast! Final Streamflow & Summer Fishing Forecast

Runoff is Fading Fast! Final Streamflow & Summer Fishing Forecast

Walter posted his final runoff update and summer fishing forecast over at his website. Check it out.

In brief:

  • The spring runoff is still heavy on most freestone rivers across the northern part of Yellowstone Park and points north. It is basically over in the central and western parts of Yellowstone Park as well as west and northwest of the park. The Madison Basin in particular is now down to something like 30% of its normal snowpack for the date, meaning it’s game on over there.
  • Runoff came early and except for a couple short “runoff breaks,” was quite intense. Now that we’re past peak runoff, the cool spell coming this week will likely drop larger, low-elevation rivers out of the spring runoff to fishable levels for the season, though flows will still be high until about July 4.
  • Winter snowpack was quite high in most area drainage basins, but the early and heavy runoff has melted this snow fast. We now have below-normal snowpack everywhere, drastically below normal in the Madison Basin. This means we’re looking at below normal streamflows for July-September.
  • Area fisheries that are still in spring runoff will drop into play between June 20 and July 4. After that, everything except perhaps the rough lower Yellowstone east of Livingston will be ready to go.
  • Closures related to low water and high water temperatures are certain on the lower Madison River below Ennis Lake and on the Jefferson River. They are unlikely elsewhere. The Firehole River downstream of the Old Faithful closure zone is ALWAYS too warm to fish after about July 1, and this year will be no exception. Why this water isn’t simply closed from July 4 until Labor Day, I have no idea.
  • Other areas that are unlikely to fish well after noon from mid-July until Labor Day are the Gardner River downstream from Boiling River (a hot spring), as well as on the Gibbon and Madison Rivers in YNP. The lower Gallatin River downstream of Gallatin Gateway also falls into this category.
  • It is possible that low flows combined with heat waves in late July and early August will result in poor fishing conditions after 2-3PM on portions of the Yellowstone River outside YNP, especially points east of Livingston. This will be tied to day-to-day weather. A week of 90+ degree highs and sunshine will mean we need to start at 6AM and quit at 2PM, or fish the Yellowstone in the morning and go elsewhere after lunch. I do not anticipate any mandatory “Hoot Owl” restrictions on the Yellowstone.
Runoff Report, Update on Summer Streamflows, and Summer Fishing Predictions

Runoff Report, Update on Summer Streamflows, and Summer Fishing Predictions

Walter posted a thorough update over at his site. Check it out.

Here are some key takeaways for the PFS operations area:

  • Good winter snowpack is now melting furiously due to near-record temperatures (in the 80s in Livingston), which has everything except the Firehole and Lower Madison blown-out now.
  • Anticipate a brief spring season for the Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison inside YNP, as well as the lower Madison. The Madison basin inside and outside Yellowstone Park has the lowest snowpack in our operations area and it is melting quick.
  • The Yellowstone River outside YNP is likely to fall into fishable shape during the last week of June, with the Salmonfly hatch at the same time.
  • Waters across the northern part of Yellowstone Park will begin falling into shape around June 15-20, with the Yellowstone in the Grand Canyon and the Gardner first. The Black Canyon of the Yellowstone will come into play around June 25 or so, while the Lamar System will probably come in around or after July 4.
  • Slow fishing in late afternoon may occur in late July and August due to warm water temperatures, particularly on low-elevation sections of the Yellowstone east of Livingston, but the Yellowstone has the highest snowpack in our ops area, so except for a few days of “early on, early off” when it’s hot and sunny, we anticipate no other problems. At this time, we do not anticipate any “hoot owl” restrictions on any of our July-September waters. Restrictions are likely on the Jefferson, lower Madison, and other areas we never fish (and no one else fishes) in mid-late summer.
Season Streamflow and Fishing Forecast – May 2 Update (Along with some Corona News)

Season Streamflow and Fishing Forecast – May 2 Update (Along with some Corona News)

Walter made a thorough post about likely summer streamflow and fishing conditions over at his blog. Rather than reposting it and hurting the SEO for both our sits, I’ll just send you over there.

A note on shop ops right now: the shop is open on normal off-season hours of 9-5 daily and 10-4 on Sundays, with occasional unannounced closures. Please follow social distancing guidelines by limiting the shop to one group traveling together at a time. We are available for mail-order business as well as booking guided trips for the high season.

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


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.