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Yellowstone Fishing License Fees Increase

Yellowstone Fishing License Fees Increase

The title says it all. Big jump in Yellowstone fishing and boating license fees this year. The YNP license is now almost as expensive as the Montana license. Here’s the fee schedule:

On the plus side, you can finally buy Yellowstone licenses online. They will go on sale May 24 this year at

Snowpack and Summer Streamflow Predictions – DELAYED

Snowpack and Summer Streamflow Predictions – DELAYED

The title says it all. I expected to post about current snowpack and what it means for summer streamflow and fishing conditions sometime in the past few days or the next few, but I’m going to wait a bit.


Because we are currently right smack dab in the snow machine, so snowpack numbers are rapidly increasing every day. I’m going to wait to say what the numbers are and what they mean for summer/fall fishing until I don’t have to shovel for a couple days.

The above is GREAT news. We had a low snowpack last year and were having a VERY warm and dry winter to this point, but the outlooks for the remainder of the month are for us to make up for the deficit. All in all, fishing is better when snowpack is somewhat high. Things get delayed a bit in June, but July through September are much better.

Here’s today’s snowpack report for the area, with our approximate operations area circled in red. Most of these numbers were 10-20 points lower a week ago.

Three Winter Fly Fishing Tips

Three Winter Fly Fishing Tips


With summer crowds getting heavier and heavier, winter fishing is getting more and more popular in Montana. This is very different fishing than we have in summer, however. The fish are in different places and demand different tactics. Whole books have been written on winter fishing, but the following three winter fly fishing tips will point you in the right direction.

1. Find Warm, Walking-Speed Water from Four to Six Feet Deep

When winter fishing Montana rivers, you have to go where the trout are. The fast, shallow, bouldery areas where most trout feed in summer are devoid of fish in midwinter. The water in these areas is just too fast when trout have slow metabolisms. Instead, the fish gather in large, deep, slow-moving pools where the don’t have to work very hard.

On the other hand, the slowest pools are not the best places to catch fish. Simply put, trout need some current to bring food. So even though there might be a lot of fish in the dead-slow holes in winter, these fish aren’t eating. Instead, look for them along the edges of large, slow-moving current seams. Often the best spots are long midriver seams adjacent to big slow pools, the sorts of places where there’s a gentle interchange of current 100 yards long or more.

By the same token, avoid the very deepest runs. In summer, trout prefer to feed in water 2-4 feet deep. In winter, they may be a bit deeper. That bottomless deep run is unlikely to have any insect activity, because sunlight doesn’t penetrate all the way to the bottom as easily.

Trout are most likely to be feeding in seams that are a little bit warmer than the main river. Perhaps these are areas adjacent to hot springs or hot spring-influenced tributaries, such as immediately downstream of the Gardner River confluence on the Yellowstone or Hot Spring Creek on the lower Madison. Perhaps these are just areas that receive the most sunlight in the winter.

Winter is a good time to bring a stream thermometer. Look for water temps over 38 degrees. Anything colder and the trout tend to shut down. Once the water hits 41-42, you’re really in business.s

2. Fish Low and Slow

What do I mean here? Three things, even though “low” and “slow” are only two words.

First, “fish low.” By this, I mean your flies need to be on the bottom. If you’re not losing an occasional fly in the rocks, you’re probably not deep enough. Most bugs are in the gravel or cobble in midwinter, and even if a few are hatching, the trout are unlikely to move to mid-column to feed because currents are too heavy at mid-depth. The ONLY common exception to ticking the bottom is when heavy midge or BWO hatches occur, which may bring up a few nymph-eaters to mid-column and eventually some dry fly eaters to the surface. We love dry fly fishing here, but we don’t do it in the winter unless we’re seeing rising fish first.

“Slow” has two meanings. First off, your flies should not be “swimming.” If you’re fishing a run that’s moving at a slow walk, your flies should be moving the same speed as the current or just slightly faster if you happen to be fishing a streamer. No skating your bugs, no fast wet fly swings, no stripping & ripping streamers. Trout aren’t going to chase flies in winter.

The second meaning of “slow” refers to how quickly you should move. In high summer, we might cover over a mile of water in an hour on the Yellowstone River on a drift boat trip, and that includes time pulled over changing flies, fixing tangles, releasing fish, snapping pics, etc. Even on foot I might cover half a mile, skipping all but the best water. In the winter, I might fish a single hundred-yard stretch of river for two or three hours.

The fish bunch up in winter, the water they hold in reduces the chances these fish will spook, and the fish are more tight-lipped, requiring perfect drifts to eat. All of this adds up to mean that in winter you’re much better off pounding on one or two good holes than fishing fast and furious.

3. Think Small or Think Big

Here I’m talking about flies. Basically, you have a choice between matching the dominant food items in winter (small stuff), or of giving the fish such a large mouthful that they can’t refuse it. Is it a good idea to fish something big, heavy, and meaty with something tiny on the dropper to touch both bases? You bet.

Most “small” flies should run #16 to #22, with larger flies on rivers and the smallest flies on spring creeks. The predominant small food items you should plan to match are midges and Blue-winged Olive nymphs. If the fish are rising, it’ll be to small midges (or slightly larger midge clusters, imitated with a Griffith’s Gnat) or occasionally to tiny BWO. As winter progresses, a few late Winter Stoneflies might join these insects, though small black mayfly nymphs and black single midge dry flies do a good job of matching these bugs. Also as winter progresses, eggs begin entering the trout’s diet, as early-spawning rainbows start dropping an egg now and again. These eggs should be tiny, either #16 or #18. Even San Juan Worms, which can work on spring creeks and tailwaters, should be sparse and small unless the water (on rivers) gets murky.

Note that pink flies are very good choices on many area waters in winter, especially tailwaters where both early eggs and dead scuds can be matched by pink patterns. Sometimes these run a bit bigger than the typical winter small stuff, but #12 or #14 is still the upper limit.

At the other end of the spectrum are stonefly nymphs and streamers. While you usually don’t want to use the giant #4 nymphs or articulated streamers you might use in summer, a #6 or #8 Girdle Bug or Woolly Bugger is an excellent option. You’re not necessarily trying to match any specific food item except the occasional stonefly nymph. Instead, you’re just giving the trout a great big mouthful: lots of calories to keep warm in winter.


Winter is not the time most visitors think to fish Montana, but if you stick to the tips above and wear waders that don’t leak with plenty of layers underneath, it can be more productive than you might think. Fish in early afternoon when the wind isn’t howling and air temperatures are tolerable.

Calendar Filling in Quick

Calendar Filling in Quick

Bookings are coming in fast and furious for July and August now, with some spillover into¬† September, though the “core” season is far busier than September-October this year compared to most. Many days in July and August are now fully booked or close to it. Better book soon!

Want to fish with me, Walter? My remaining open days in July and August are 7/20 and 8/2-3 and 8/16-18. My early September dates available are also limited, though things open up after the 10th.

Other Rivers We Float

Other Rivers We Float

Did you know that Parks’ Fly Shop now offers guided float trips on many rivers in southern Montana beside the Yellowstone? We now have no excuse to cancel a trip due to muddy water, since some stretch of one of these rivers is always fishable. Note that we operate on some of these rivers through my (Walter’s) outfitting license, rather than Richard’s. Here’s a rundown, with rivers listed in approximate travel time from Gardiner.


Lower Gallatin River

Location: About 20 miles west of Bozeman, a little over an hour and a half from Gardiner.

Best Base Towns: Bozeman, Livingston, Big Sky, Ennis.

Season: Primarily September and October.

The lower Gallatin is a seldom-floated, pretty prairie river that holds small numbers of seriously large trout, many of them migrants up from the upper Missouri downstream. While not a “core” river, this is a good one to check out if you’ve floated the “standards” and want to see some pretty country with a shot at a few big fish, all without driving far from Bozeman.

Boulder River

Location: About 30 miles southeast of Livingston, 1hr 55min from Gardiner.

Best Base Towns: Big Timber, Livingston, Columbus, Bozeman, Gardiner, Mammoth

Season: “Windows” of clear water during the May-June runoff, then for about a month beginning in late June or early July.

The Boulder is a small, fast, turbulent river choked in its namesake boulders, blessed and cursed with terrible boat launches. It can therefore only be floated in whitewater rafts, and even then only for a short period of time when flows range from 2000 down to 800cfs, usually for about a month after the end of runoff. Since it lacks dirt along its banks and comes out of the mountains quickly, runoff is not as intense as on the Yellowstone, starts later, and ends sooner. We expect the Boulder to fish around June 25 to July 1 this year, about a week earlier than the Yellowstone, and there’s a good chance we’ll see short windows of “clearish” water in late May and early June, due to a forecast cold snap.

Fishing the Boulder is a fast, furious affair, with streamers and dry-dropper rigs the ticket for fooling its high populations of rainbows and browns averaging 12-18 inches but occasionally getting huge. If you’re visiting in July and can handle traversing rugged boat ramps and helping us load and unload the raft, plan to spend a day here in addition to on the Yellowstone.

Lower Madison River

Location: About 30 miles southwest of Bozeman, about two hours from Gardiner.

Best Base Towns: Bozeman, Ennis, Livingston, Big Sky, West Yellowstone, Old Faithful.

Season: April through June or early July and again from Labor Day through October.

The lower Madison is our closest float river that never gets completely blown out due to spring runoff. It is a shallow, riffled river that gets awfully warm in midsummer, but is great in spring and fall. While rainbows in the 12-14″ class predominate, there are also some huge browns. Almost unique among area fisheries, there are vast populations of crayfish here, so nymphing with a crayfish imitation is often the most effective technique.

This is our best option for springtime floats. Let me be clear, we now can offer floats during the Yellowstone’s spring runoff in May and June.

Jefferson River

Location: About 50 miles west of Bozeman, 2hr 10min from Gardiner.

Best Base Towns: Three Forks, Twin Bridges, Bozeman, Ennis, Livingston

Season: April and Early May, a week or so in late June, and September-October

The Jefferson is getting a ways away from Gardiner, but if you’re staying in Bozeman it’s a great bet for a scenic canyon float offering chances at a few monster browns on nymphs, streamers, crayfish, and in the fall grasshoppers. This river gets less pressure than any other near Bozeman except for the lower Gallatin, but can turn out some great fish amid excellent scenery. It’s just not a good one for those who want to rack up the numbers on dries.

Missouri River Near Toston, MT

Location: About 30 miles north of Three Forks, about 2hr 15min from Gardiner.

Best Base Towns: Three Forks, Helena, Bozeman, Ennis, Livingston.

Season: July through early September (Multispecies, especially Carp), October-November (Trout).

This area on the upper Missouri River is home to Montana’s best spot & stalk fishing for carp, which average 4-12lbs and require sight-fishing tactics. There are also permanent populations of walleye, pike, and rainbow and brown trout averaging 20+ inches, plus seasonal migrations of brown trout in late autumn that can reach 30 inches or more. This is experts-only water regardless of target species, but it’s an uncrowded fishery that fishes consistently well for small numbers of the region’s largest fish from July into late fall, so long as you’re open-minded about species.

Upper Madison River

Location: About 75 miles southwest of Bozeman, 2.5hr from Gardiner.

Best Base Towns: Ennis, West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Old Faithful, Livingston.

Season: April through November.

Like the Lower Madison, the “Upper” never gets too muddy to fish during the spring melt. It’s Montana’s most popular fishing river, and produces great numbers of solid rainbows and browns. It’s too far to go in a day trip from Gardiner, however. Instead, it’s a good choice if you’re planning to fish with us in May, June, or October and are staying in the western part of Yellowstone Park, West Yellowstone, or Bozeman.

Stillwater River

Location: About 20 miles south of Columbus, 2.5hr from Gardiner.

Best Base Towns: Absarokee, Columbus, Red Lodge, Billings, Livingston

Season: April through November.

The Stillwater River is a larger cousin of the Boulder. It fishes similarly to it, but is high enough to float through the summer. While it’s getting to be a long way from Gardiner, it’s a good choice if you are spending any nights in Livingston, Billings, or Red Lodge, especially in August when the Boulder is too low and the lower Yellowstone can be too warm.

Lower Yellowstone River (Lest You Forget)

Location: From Livingston to Columbus, 1-2hr from Gardiner

Best Base Towns: Livingston, Big Timber, Bozeman, Gardiner, Mammoth

Season: Late March and April, mid-July through early November

While we tend to focus on the Yellowstone between Gardiner and Livingston, don’t forget we guide the entire “blue ribbon” portion of the Yellowstone, all way down to Columbus more than 60 miles east of Livingston. Except during the spring runoff, some portion of the Yellowstone is always clear and fishing well. Now that Rob Olson and I (Walter) are based in Livingston, getting on the Yellowstone when it’s muddy near Gardiner is simply a matter of driving to meet one of us in Livingston, rather than having us drive up to meet you at or near Gardiner. There’s now no reason to cancel a float trip on the Yellowstone due to mud!