Float Trips in Late Spring

Posted on January 26th, 2021 in Fishing Tips

Late Spring Float Trips: Introduction

Late spring, here meaning from the beginning of the heavy spring melt in the first or second week of May through its conclusion in late June or early July, is prime time for trout fishing in many parts of the United States. In the Rockies, it’s not. This is particularly true for anglers who want to float free-flowing rivers like the Yellowstone, Boulder, and Stillwater rather than those right below dams, like the Lower Madison and Missouri.

The issue is the spring melt that raises all area rivers and turns most into raging brown chocolate milkshakes for at least a few weeks. During this timeframe, river float trips turn to tailwaters: the Madison and Missouri Rivers. These rivers downstream of dams stay clear. Therefore all that the high water they experience does is flush lots of insects and other foods into the drift for the trout to gorge on. In contrast to other rivers, tailwater rivers offer great float fishing at this time.

There’s one other factor that can influence fishing in late spring: runoff breaks. Runoff breaks are periods of cool or cold and usually dry weather that pause the spring runoff for a day or two at a time on freestone rivers, particularly the Yellowstone upstream from Livingston and the Boulder.

When a runoff break occurs, the trout in freestone rivers go bananas, feeding heavily on stonefly nymphs and streamers. If you happen to be here in May or the first three weeks of June when flows are dropping and water clarity is 18 inches or more, fishing on freestones can be better than it is almost any other time of year. You just can’t plan for these breaks, because they’re utterly dependent on day-to-day weather.

late spring runoff break brown trout

This brown came on the Yellowstone River during a runoff break around June 20, 2019, right before the river blew out again. The Yellowstone did not drop into fishable shape for good until July 7 that year.

Other good guided trip options this time of year are our power boat trips and private lake trips. As a matter of fact, this is the one period when these alternative trips are definitely better choices than float trips if you want to fish from a boat. That said, for many anglers nothing can compete with drifting down a river on a boat propelled by oars. Read on for info on where and how we do it through most of May and June.

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Posted on January 26th, 2021 in Fishing Tips

By far my favorite river to guide in early spring is the Yellowstone. It is clear most of the time in this period, though warm weather can muddy it for a day or two as low-elevation snow melts, especially when the warm weather is accompanied by rain. When this occurs, the lower Madison is a great option. Further afield, the Missouri below Holter Dam is always great in early spring, and sees less traffic at this time than it does a few weeks later.

The major downside of early spring is the weather. “Spring” in Montana is not like spring in warmer places. It might be 15 degrees in the morning. It might snow all day. Worse, it might spit a mix of drizzle and snow. The wind often howls. It might also be 80 degrees and turn the rivers filthy with early snowmelt down from the mountains. Floating can therefore be rather uncomfortable when the weather is bad, and it can be unproductive when it’s “good.” The somewhat variable water and weather conditions carry over to the fishing: it’s not consistent. Sometimes it’s great, but it can be tough too, especially if you’re after big numbers of fish rather than larger fish.

During early spring, half-day trips are better choices most of the time. This is especially true in March. Later in April, and especially in the few days of May before the runoff hits, the water warms and the fish get more aggressive, meaning full days are also a great option. Regardless of trip duration, we won’t meet early. There’s seldom any need to be on the water before 10:00AM.

Float Trips in Early Spring

Posted on January 26th, 2021 in Fishing Tips

Early Spring Float Trips: Introduction

Early spring float trips are the best-kept secret in area fly fishing. Larger rivers fish very well at this time as the trout wake up from the long winter. Some dry fly fishing is possible, but the real draw is targeting big fish using subsurface tactics.

Angler crowds are minimal, the big fish are on the hunt, and there’s even a shot at dry fly fishing when it’s warm (or skiing at Bridger Bowl or Big Sky on off days, if it’s cold). What’s not to love?

The weather and water conditions, mostly. It might be bitter cold and snowing, it might be warm with howling winds. The rivers might be crystal clear or they might be chocolate brown with an early taste of the spring melt. These are the dice you roll when you book an early spring float trip. Not daunted? Read on.

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