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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.