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Hoot Owl Restrictions Start at 2:00PM, Wednesday 7-21-21

Posted on July 21st, 2021 in Area Fishing News, Weather & Water Conditions

We knew it’d happen. This summer’s extreme heat and drought just caused Montana FWP to shut down afternoon and evening fishing on the Yellowstone, lower Stillwater, Madison, and most of the Missouri starting tomorrow. We agree with this decision. It should be extended to large, famous waters in Yellowstone Park, as well.

This obviously puts a damper on our guiding. Here are remaining options:

  • Morning half-day float trips on the Yellowstone River; for floats, this is probably our preferred option now.
  • Full-day floats meeting no later than 6:00AM.
  • Half-day and full-day walk-wade trips in Yellowstone Park; again, half-days are probably a better bet, though we can make a full-day work by sticking to small mountain streams in the afternoon.
  • Full-day walk-wade trips in Montana: Basically these trips would be limited to the upper Stillwater.
  • Walk-float combos: Another good option, though availability is limited. We’ll float early, then wade fish a small mountain stream in Montana later.

Do your rain dance, folks.

Here’s the full news release from FWP:

High temps prompt additional fishing restrictions on several Montana rivers

HELENA – Several angling restrictions on rivers in southwest, north-central and south-central Montana go into effect today due to warming temperatures and low flows.

The restrictions include what are commonly known as “hoot owl” restrictions, which means fishing is closed from 2 p.m. to midnight each day. Some waters are under full fishing closures, which prohibit fishing at all times of day. These closures and restrictions will stay in effect until conditions improve.

The following closure went into effect today:

  • A full fishing closure for portions of the Shields River from the confluence with Yellowstone River to USFS Crandal Creek Bridge.

These closures go into effect, Wednesday, July 21, at 12:01 a.m.:

  • A full fishing closure for portions of the Big Hole River from the confluence with the Beaverhead River to Tony Schoonen Fishing Access Site.
  • A full fishing closure for portions of the Gallatin River from the mouth to Hwy 84 Crossing.
  • A full fishing closure for the entire Jefferson River.

These restrictions go into effect, Wednesday, July 21, at 2 p.m.:

  • Hoot owl restrictions for the entire reach of the Madison River from the mouth to the boundary with Yellowstone National Park.
  • Hoot owl restrictions for portions of the Beaverhead River from the mouth to State Highway 91 South.
  • Hoot owl restrictions for portions of the Missouri River from Town of Cascade Boat Ramp to Holter Dam.
  • Hoot owl restrictions for portions of the Stillwater River from the confluence with Yellowstone River to Absaroka Fishing Access Site.
  • Hoot owl restrictions for portions of the Yellowstone River Hwy 212 Bridge in Laurel to Yellowstone National Park boundary.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ drought policy provides for angling closures when flows drop below critical levels for fish, when water quality is diminished, or when maximum daily water temperatures reach at least 73 degrees for three consecutive days. Warm and dry conditions are expected to continue during the coming weeks.

Low Water, High Water Temps: Major Impacts to Area Fisheries Beginning

Posted on July 2nd, 2021 in Area Fishing News, Weather & Water Conditions

If you’ve been following the news, you know that the NW United States has been under a nasty heat wave. We’re right in the bullseye even though we don’t make the news as often. Coming on the heels of a low snowpack year and an exceptionally hot and dry June, we’re starting to run into severe water temperature and flow problems that are hurting both fishing opportunities and area fish and fisheries. The governor has declared a state drought emergency. The long-range outlooks for summer 2021 do not provide much hope conditions will improve. Indeed, we’re now looking at our worst water year since 2007 or 1988.

Here’s a rundown of where we’re at and where we’re going. The hyperlinks will take you to relevant information pages.

As We Stand Now – A Summary

Water levels are drastically below normal. While the precise percentage varies from stream to stream, in general most rivers and streams are flowing at 30-40% of their historic averages for the date. For reference, these levels are closer to those commonly seen in early August than early July. Coupled with temperatures generally in the 90s at low elevation and the 80s even at 7000 feet in Yellowstone Park with bright sun, water temperatures are climbing well above normal. They’re already at levels seldom seen except during early August heat waves during previous drought years. The current water temperatures are unprecedented this early in the season.

Due to the high water temps and low water, some closures are already in place on low-elevation streams including the Jefferson, Shields, Smith, Ruby, lower Gallatin and East Gallatin, but near-universal closures on all larger rivers in Montana are likely soon. Except a couple marginal fisheries like the Shields, current closures are 2:00 to midnight “hoot owl” closures that allow for morning fishing. Without a break in the weather, full closures are likely on all major rivers except the Missouri, Bighorn, and perhaps the Madison upstream from Ennis Lake.

Yellowstone Park has not instituted any angling closures yet, though it should. Water temperatures in portions of the Firehole River have already reached 85 Degrees! This is undoubtedly lethal to the Firehole’s fish. We expect large-scale fish kills due to high temps have already occurred on this river.

Fire danger is high to very high and likely moving towards extreme levels. We are at stage II fire restrictions in Park County, Montana (as well as virtually all other counties in the area; no fireworks, kids), and the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, while stage one restrictions are present in Yellowstone Park.  We anticipate a very bad fire year in the region, possibly on par with 1988, or, for younger folk who don’t remember this, the recent apocalyptic fires in California.

Fire danger and water temperatures are increasing with no end in sight, while hope for increased streamflow is nonexistent before September rains.

Impacts on Fish and Fishing

High water temperatures and low flows are terrible for trout. Trout beginning experiencing thermal stress when water temps reach the high-60s. 73 degrees can be lethal. As such, Montana begins instituting 2:00 to midnight “hoot owl” closures when water temps hit 73 degrees three days in a row at any point during the day. 24-hour closures are instituted if temperatures fail to drop below 70 degrees during any 24-hour period. These closures remain in place until water temps remain below 70 degrees for three consecutive days and forecasts predict this will continue.

At any rate, fishing when water temps is over 68 is terrible, so it is best to leave the fish alone when temps reach this level.

When fishing when water temperatures may push into the danger zone, it is important to do the following:

  • Avoid fishing during the warmest part of the day or in any condition when water is over 68-70 degrees.
  • Play fish quickly to limit their exertions. Consider upsizing your tackle to enable bringing trout in quickly.
  • Keep fish in the water – no hero shot photos.
  • Use barbless hooks that are easy to remove.
  • Fish high-elevation or tailwater areas that do not get as warm.
  • Consider fishing for alternate species such as carp.

Given the duration of the low flows and high water temperatures, we anticipate severe negative effects on area trout populations. Large fish kills are likely in the Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers in YNP, which all receive hot geyser basin discharge. Limited trout kills are possible elsewhere. Large whitefish kills are possible in the Yellowstone River System due to a resurgence of Proliferative Kidney Disease, a parasite that thrives in the warm, low, weedy water we will have this year.

Impacts on YCFF Operations

Here’s the meat of the matter for many readers. Effects on our operations are beginning and will be severe for the remainder of the summer. These include:

  • Drastically reduced fishing opportunities on large, famous waters including the Yellowstone River and many locations in Yellowstone Park. Even when closures are not in place, poor fishing or undue stress on fish will prompt us to refrain from fishing many areas until temperatures decrease and flows increase.
  • Reduced fishing hours – We are already quitting by 3:00 and will shift this earlier if need be, even if we are not legally required to do so.
  • Earlier starts – We will begin meeting for all full-day trips at 6:00AM this week, and all half-day trips will run in the morning.
  • “Guide’s Choice” trips are required – Because options are limited, we expect all trips to have to run as “guide’s choice” trips in which we fish areas that are open and ethical to fish, regardless of client preferences. In general, the highest, steepest, and coldest water is what we will have to fish in order to operate at all.
  • Likely full suspensions of our services – We anticipate having to shut down our guide services beginning sometime in mid-July and continuing until sometime in late August. Full closures through the 2021 season aren’t off the table. We will be getting in touch with clients booked in July and August over the next few days to discuss options.

Will YCFF Survive This Year?

Absent all the trout in area rivers dying from this heat and drought (which frankly is something we are beginning to worry about) or our house burning down due to wildfires (more likely, we are prepping “GO!” bags for this possibility), yes we will. We had a record June due to the July-like water levels and are selling off some of our capital (namely the jet boat Walter just bought) to see us through the winter, and Walter is lucky his wife Jani chose a steadier and more-lucrative career. We will get through this year more-or-less intact and hope for a strong resurgence in 2022.

That said, a second year in a row like this one will destroy rather than damage area fisheries and will mean Montana is no longer a world-class fly fishing destination, in which case I will most definitely be looking for something else to do…

Runoff Report and Summer/Fall Streamflow Forecast and Fishing Outlook for Late May, 2021

Posted on May 31st, 2021 in Area Fishing News, Season Forecasts, Weather & Water Conditions

Introduction

Winter snowpack and how this snow melts from April through June are the primary drivers of summer water conditions: whether the water’s high or low, whether it’s warm or cold, etc. This in turn drives the fishing. In general, we like to see slightly above-normal snowpack since this leads to cool water and aggressive fish.

The lower the snowpack and hotter and drier the summer weather, the more likely we will have tough or limited fishing on late summer afternoons due to warm water. In exceptionally hot/dry years, we may even have stream closures in core watersheds in our operations area. Some watersheds are now always closed from 2:00PM to midnight in late July and August, though none of these are important fisheries at this time.

Winter and Early Spring Weather Summary

Winter started with a bang in early October, with over a foot of snow and below-zero temperatures even in Livingston. Things then got dry by early November and stayed that way through January. The early part of winter was so dry that Bridger Bowl Ski Area had to delay its opening until almost Christmas.

February really saved our bacon. The whole month was very cold and very wet. In fact the ski area set its record for February snowfall. This heavy snowfall propelled Yellowstone and Montana snowpack to above normal levels in most river drainages by mid-February. Those that didn’t jump above average climbed over the 95th percentile, close enough.

March returned to slightly warm and slightly dry conditions for most of the month, with a few cold and wet outbreaks. Snowpack increased in a general sense, but declined against average.

April turned out to be highly variable, despite a forecast that predicted warm and dry. We’d go from a couple days of light snowfall that mostly melted by noon (here in the low country) to bright sun and 65 degrees a day later. The last few days of April were exceptionally warm, with temperatures in Livingston reaching the mid-80s on the 30th. This prompted an early start to the snowmelt.

May was highly variable, with weather yo-yoing from hot and dry to cold and wet. We had accumulating snowfall that stuck around for a couple days here in Livingston as recently as May 20. June 5 it is forecast to hit 90 degrees. That’s how the spring has gone. On balance, May was probably a bit drier than normal.

Current Yellowstone and Montana Snowpack and Runoff Update

Current snowpack ranges from 38% to 129% of normal in the Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing areas of operation. Runoff is well underway everywhere, which is a big reason why these numbers are so variable. The other big factor is a heavy winter storm that mostly impacted central and northern Montana ten days ago. Basically, high mountains and especially high mountains north of here still have good snowpack. Otherwise, the snow’s almost gone.

Snowpack is 75% of normal in the  Upper Yellowstone Basin in Wyoming, basically meaning the Yellowstone River and all its tributaries upstream of Gardiner, Montana. This comprises all the core summer water within Yellowstone Park. The Upper Yellowstone Basin in Montana is at 77% of normal. This includes the Yellowstone Basin (including the Wyoming water) downstream to the Clark Fork confluence near Billings, Montana, at the eastern edge of YCFF’s operations area and beyond the Parks Fly Shop operations area.

Besides the above basins, which are the most important river drainages for both businesses, snowpack ranges from 38% of normal in the Madison-Gallatin Basin in YNP to  129% of normal in the Smith-Judith-Musselshell Basin, which barely touches on our operations area.

In general, snowpack is low to very low across the important drainages in our operations area. With above normal temperatures in the forecast, things will not improve.

General Expectations for Summer

Based on current Montana snowpack and predictions for June we expect the following for the core June-early September season. Conditions after mid-September depend on fall rain and snowfall:

  • A short runoff cycle that will end in all but the highest drainages by June 20.
  • Below-normal stream levels from this writing onward.
  • Above-normal water temperatures in all river basins between July 10 and August 15-20
  • More 2:00PM fishing closures than usual between the above dates.
  • Potential for poor fishing conditions after 2:00-3:00 during hot spells on many fisheries that do not meet closure criteria (note: Montana closes trout fisheries from 2:00-midnight when they touch 73 degrees three consecutive days to avoid stressing trout; above 70 is poor fishing anyway)
  • Potential for round-the-clock fishing closures in a few low-elevation fisheries (note: these are unimportant fisheries to most anglers in midsummer)
  • Spookier than normal fish in late July, August, and September
  • More fires than usual from late July through September

Water-Specific Predictions

This is the meat and potatoes for most visiting anglers. Here’s when we expect various important fisheries to blow out with runoff, clear from runoff, and how we expect they’ll fish through the summer. Within each jurisdiction, waters are discussed in approximate order of when they’ll leave spring runoff.

Montana Fisheries

Private Lakes: The private lakes are now enjoying their best fishing of the year. Given the hot weather forecast for the upcoming week, we anticipate some lakes will begin slowing down by mid-June this year. All lakes will be poor from the beginning of July through mid-September.

Missouri River – Land of Giants: Very low flows have led to crowded and so-so fishing on the Missouri so far this season. Weeds will be heavy in July and August due to the low flows, which will probably prevent us from fishing here July-September.

Area Reservoirs: Like the private lakes, the reservoirs are at their best right now and will likely begin falling off into summer doldrums with the upcoming heat wave. High-elevations reservoirs like Hyalite near Bozeman and Hebgen near West Yellowstone are a very different matter and should be fine except on hot/bright/windy afternoons in July and early August.

Madison River (Lower): The Lower Madison is at or near its best fishing of the year, though it’s very low. Caddis pupae, Yellow Sallies, and crayfish are working, and PMD might also be on tap. Forecast high temps will do this water no favors, though it probably won’t be too warm to fish before about June 20-25. The Lower Madison is always closed to fishing from 2:00PM until midnight from July 15-August 15. In reality it ought to be June 25 through Labor Day this year.

Jefferson River: The “Jeff” is now blown with spring runoff until about June 10. High air temps and low flows do this low-elevation river no favors. We might not have ANY fishable window between the end of the runoff and the onset of high water temps. Expect 24-hour closures here in late July and August, with 2pm to midnight closures in early July.

Boulder River: The Boulder has just gone into its heavy runoff, but it will drop quickly too. We expect marginal fishability by June 15. It’s very likely going to be an exceptionally short float season on the Boulder this year, with flows falling under the 500cfs threshold by July 15 to 20 at the latest. Expect low flows and stressed fish in late July and August, so no wade-fishing downstream of Natural Bridge in late summer, either. 2:00PM closures are possible in August from Natural Bridge to the Yellowstone.

Stillwater River: The heavy runoff has now hit on the Stillwater. Points upstream from the Rosebud confluence should come into shape June 15-20. Downstream, around July 1. Prime floating flows will be from June 20-25 through early August depending on the stretch. The upper Stillwater above the Rosebud will get too low by August 1. The lower Stillwater will likely get too low to float sometime between August 20 and Labor Day unless good late summer moisture occurs to keep things up. High water temperatures below the Rosebud confluence are likely in early August, with 2:00 closures possible but unlikely. More likely, you’ll just want to launch early and take off by 3:00 during hot spells.

Yellowstone River: The Yellowstone will experience maximum runoff around June 4 this year, with flows forecast to peak around 14,000cfs at the Corwin Springs gauge.. This is 6,000cfs below normal. Because of the low peak, expect fishable flows by June 20 at the absolute latest, with June 15 very possible. The most consistent fishing will range from June 25 to early August depending on the section and the weather. Late July and August will see water temperatures over 70 degrees on many hot afternoons. 2:00 closures are possible on the entire Yellowstone outside YNP but are most likely east of Livingston. Regardless of any mandatory closures, lots of days will demand “early-on, early-off” for good fishing, especially the week either side of the beginning of August when maximum sun/heat combine with lower flows. We expect many of our guided trips to meet by 6:30AM and be off the water around 3:00 during this period regardless of legalities. Mandatory 24-hour closures are unlikely anywhere on the Yellowstone, but are possible east of Livingston and especially east of Big Timber.

The Salmonfly hatch on the Yellowstone will almost certainly be fishable this year, though it will probably be of short duration. Look for the hatch from June 20 through July 4 depending on June weather and the specific stretch of river.

Most Small Streams: Except for a couple low-elevation odds and ends that fish well from mid-June until early July, like the Musselshell River and upper Smith River, most small streams will begin coming into shape in the first week of July and be best between mid-July and Labor Day. Most run ice-cold, which makes them excellent bets in late July and August on afternoons when big rivers may be too warm.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

The Yellowstone Park fishing season opened May 29. Most “westside” fisheries are clear and fishable already, with the Firehole already probably at its best fishing level and temperature of the year. Crowds have been overwhelming, though. The rest of the park will become fishable between June 10 and July 1, depending on the water. The upper Yellowstone and a few other odds and ends do not open until July 15. Check regs to be sure!

Please note that fall fishing is really not discussed here. Most or all of the larger rivers in YNP become good again after September 1 when cooler nights allow water temps to drop.

Firehole River: The Firehole is low, clear, warm, and crowded. The extreme lower Firehole has already hit 70 degree water temps right above its confluence with the Gibbon, though most of the river is still in the high 50s or low 60s. The best fishing of the “early” season is already occurring on the Firehole. It will get too low and warm for good afternoon fishing by June 10 and maybe June 5. It will get too low and warm period around June 20 absent cool and wet weather. Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing does not expect to run ANY trips on the Firehole this spring due to the short cool-water window. If 24-hour closures are not instituted on the Firehole in July and August due to high water temps, shame on Yellowstone Park.

Madison River in YNP: The Maddy in YNP is clear and fishable and will be best before June 20. It will be too warm on bright afternoons thereafter and too warm period between July 1 and late August. Closures should but probably won’t be instituted from July 4 through August 15-20.

Gibbon River in YNP: The Lower Gibbon below Gibbon Meadows is low enough and clear enough now and will be best from June 1 through June 15. It will gradually get too warm thereafter and be too warm in July and August. From Norris Geyser Basin through Gibbon Meadows is in shape now and will be best from June 10 to June 20 and too warm between July 4 and Labor Day. From Virginia Cascade to Norris will drop into shape around June 10 and be best in July and early August. Upstream of Virginia Cascades is still undergoing grayling and westslope cutthroat restoration so is not recommended this year. 2:00 closures are likely and warranted below Norris Geyser Basin in late July and August.

YNP Lakes: All Yellowstone Park lakes that are open are accessible and fishable. Blacktail doesn’t open until July 1 and will likely already be too warm. Yellowstone Lake will be best before June 20. Cascade and Grebe will be best June 10 through early July.

YNP Central Plateau Streams: Streams like Nez Perce will drop into shape around June 10 and be best in late June and July.

Gardner River: Given the warm weather forecast, we don’t anticipate any “runoff breaks” on the Gardner. That said, it’ll be nymphable for good below Boiling River around June 10 and good by June 15. Osprey Falls to Boiling River will be a week later due to colder water. Above Osprey Falls will come in June 20 to July 1 depending on section and will be best in July. Below Boiling River will be too warm in the afternoons and may see closures in late July and August. The park is often overzealous with lower Gardner closures and may shut things down from Osprey Falls on down if they institute any closures at all. Closures between Osprey and Boiling River are NEVER warranted since this water stays below 65 all summer long no matter the weather.

Yellowstone River: The Yellowstone River above the falls always opens July 15 and will be best for the first two weeks. From the falls to the Lamar (Grand Canyon) will begin coming into shape around June 10-15 and be best from the point it’s barely fishable until about July 20 and again after September 15. It will be cool enough all summer, but can see heavy pressure in easy-access areas in late July and August. In the Black Canyon from the Lamar to Gardiner, it will track similarly to the Yellowstone outside the park as described above, except the Salmonflies will be present primarily in the first half of July and there’s less likelihood it’ll get too warm after 2:00 on late summer afternoons. Closures are unlikely on the Yellowstone inside YNP, though if the park institutes any closures at all they tend to go hog-wild with them.

Lamar, Soda Butte, and Slough Creek: Rough stretches of Slough and the Lamar will start coming in around June 20. Meadow stretches will come in around June 25 to July 1. The fishing will be best in July and on August mornings, though fishing will be good on cloudy afternoons even through August. We anticipate OVERWHELMING crowds on roadside easy-access portions of these streams this year. We’re talking people every 25 yards. This is due to the pent-up demand from people who didn’t travel last year combined with people who still can’t travel to more exotic locations overseas as well as low water that concentrates people in the main channels rather than allowing them to spread out in side channels. Closures are possible but unlikely in late July and August, though as noted the park can go bananas when they do institute closures (most recently 2007).

Rough Small Streams: As usual, small streams draining areas other than the park’s central plateau are steeper and rougher than others. They will come in around July 1 and be best from July 10 through mid-August.

Montana and YNP Summer Streamflow and Fishing Forecast for Early May 2021

Posted on May 2nd, 2021 in Season Forecasts, Weather & Water Conditions

Introduction

Winter snowpack and how this snow melts from April through June are the primary drivers of summer water conditions: whether the water’s high or low, whether it’s warm or cold, etc. This in turn drives the fishing. In general, we like to see slightly above-normal snowpack since this leads to cool water and aggressive fish.

The lower the snowpack and hotter and drier the summer weather, the more likely we will have tough or limited fishing on late summer afternoons due to warm water. In exceptionally hot/dry years, we may even have stream closures in core watersheds in our operations area. Some watersheds are now always closed from 2:00PM to midnight in late July and August, though none of these are important fisheries at this time.

Winter and Early Spring Weather Summary

Winter started with a bang in early October, with over a foot of snow and below-zero temperatures even in Livingston. Things then got dry by early November and stayed that way through January. The early part of winter was so dry that Bridger Bowl Ski Area had to delay its opening until almost Christmas.

February really saved our bacon. The whole month was very cold and very wet. In fact the ski area set its record for February snowfall. This heavy snowfall propelled Yellowstone and Montana snowpack to above normal levels in most river drainages by mid-February. Those that didn’t jump above average climbed over the 95th percentile, close enough.

March returned to slightly warm and slightly dry conditions for most of the month, with a few cold and wet outbreaks. Snowpack increased in a general sense, but declined against average.

April turned out to be highly variable, despite a forecast that predicted warm and dry. We’d go from a couple days of light snowfall that mostly melted by noon (here in the low country) to bright sun and 65 degrees a day later. The last few days of April were exceptionally warm, with temperatures in Livingston reaching the mid-80s on the 30th. This prompted an early start to the snowmelt.

Today things have cooled back down into the 50s at low elevation and are forecast to remain there through the middle of the week (today is Sunday). After a brief warmup to around 70 degrees, it’ll be back into the 50s again for most of the first half of May. The 6-10 and 8-14 day NOAA outlooks are both calling for a very high likelihood of below normal temps and above normal precip through May 15.

Current Yellowstone and Montana Snowpack

Current snowpack ranges from 71% to 91% of normal in the Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing areas of operation. This is a 10+ point drop for most basins just in the past 5 days, due to the sharp warmup. Most of April, snowpack remained where it had been in our last update, in the 85-97% range, though the latest round of snow around April 20 actually bumped things to 100% in one drainage.

Snowpack is 85% of normal in the  Upper Yellowstone Basin in Wyoming, basically meaning the Yellowstone River and all its tributaries upstream of Gardiner, Montana. This comprises all the core summer water within Yellowstone Park. The Upper Yellowstone Basin in Montana is at 87% of normal. This includes the Yellowstone Basin (including the Wyoming water) downstream to the Clark Fork confluence near Billings, Montana, at the eastern edge of YCFF’s operations area and beyond the Parks Fly Shop operations area.

Besides the above basins, which are the most important river drainages for both businesses, snowpack ranges from 71% of normal in the Jefferson Basin to  91% of normal in the Gallatin Basin. The worst snowpack is in the Jefferson Basin, which isn’t very important to us, but it’s not much better in the Madison Basin inside YNP, at 77% of normal.

Snowpack decline should level off through the first half of May provided we don’t get much warm rain at high elevations. In fact, it’s very possible snowpack numbers (as a percentage of average) will increase, particularly if the second week of May is as cool as the forecast says. It should be cool enough to snow at high elevations. I wouldn’t be surprised to see numbers increase 5-10% by mid-May except in those basins that are already under 80% of normal, since they’re lower elevation and already melting furiously enough they’re just going to blow.

Here’s a map showing Montana snowpack. The YCFF area of operations is circled in red. The Parks’ Fly Shop ops area is about 2/3 the size.

may 02 2021 snowpack in montana

General Expectations for Summer

Based on current Montana snowpack and predictions for spring weather, we expect the following for the core June-early September season. Conditions after mid-September depend on fall rain and snowfall:

  • An early beginning to the spring snowmelt, with a pause in mid-May that should bring an extended early “runoff window” on all area rivers
  • An early end to the spring snowmelt
  • Below-normal stream levels after July 1
  • Above-normal water temperatures in all river basins between July 15-20 and August 15-20
  • More 2:00PM fishing closures than usual between the above dates.
  • Potential for poor fishing conditions after 2:00-3:00 during hot spells on many fisheries that do not meet closure criteria (note: Montana closes trout fisheries from 2:00-midnight when they touch 73 degrees three consecutive days to avoid stressing trout; above 70 is poor fishing anyway)
  • Potential for round-the-clock fishing closures in a few low-elevation fisheries (note: these are unimportant fisheries to most anglers in midsummer)
  • Spookier than normal fish in late July, August, and September

Water-Specific Predictions

This is the meat and potatoes for most visiting anglers. Here’s when we expect various important fisheries to blow out with runoff, clear from runoff, and how we expect they’ll fish through the summer. Within each jurisdiction, waters are discussed in approximate order of when they’ll leave spring runoff.

Montana Fisheries

Private Lakes: The private lakes are now ice-free and fishable. As usual, they will be best from late April through mid-June (Story Lakes) or mid-July (Burns Lake). We are looking to add the Sitz Ranch Lakes to our repertoire. They are best before early July.

Missouri River – Land of Giants: Holter Reservoir is ice-free so jet boat trips are now available through Thanksgiving. The only limiting factor from here out is wind (N winds of 20+ mph are extremely dangerous). Due to low flows from the dam upstream, we expect things to get weedy by early July and be pretty tough in August and early September. Otherwise, this is a dependable fishery regardless of weather. Very low flows have thus far made things so-so at “LoG.”

Area Reservoirs: All low-elevation reservoirs are now ice-free. Wind permitting, we’ll be fishing some of those around White Sulphur Springs (there are four) this week. As usual, the best fishing is from ice-out through June on the low-elevation reservoirs near us.

Madison River (Lower): The Lower Madison is a perfectly reasonable fishery through the winter, though it’s best in May and early June. Due to expected low flows, the Lower Maddy may get questionable by June 20-25 this year. It now always has “hoot owl” 2:00PM to midnight restrictions from July 15 through August 15. These may be expanded to 24-hour closures this year if summer is hot.

Jefferson River: The “Jeff” is now blown with spring runoff, maybe through mid-June. The fishable window thereafter will depend on how fast it gets hot. Expect 2:00 closures after July 4, possibly expanding to a 24-hour closure from mid-July through August.

Boulder River: The Boulder has gone from 200cfs, less than half “floatable” flow, to 1200cfs in three days. 1200 is ideal floating level, but with a rise that fast it will probably be muddy. Once flows drop a hair early this week due to the cooldown, the Boulder will be an excellent choice until at least May 15, and probably more like May 20 before blowing again. Thereafter it will be muddy most of the time until about June 20. Note the “most of the time.” Unique among float rivers that ever get too muddy (the Lower Madison and Missouri never get too muddy to fish), the Boulder often drops into fishable shape for 2-3 days at a time even during the middle of the spring runoff. All it takes is a couple cold days. When these “runoff windows” occur, fishing is usually fantastic. The Boulder will drop from runoff for good around June 20. It will get too low to float by July 20 this year, and maybe as soon as the 15th. The headwaters will be fine to wade fish all summer, though the lower river may get low and warm enough that fishing after 2:00PM is not a good idea. This will be most likely the last week of July and first half of August.

Stillwater River: Upstream of the Rosebud confluence, the Stillwater tracks similarly to the Boulder in terms of entering and leaving runoff, as well as its floatable levels and late July and early August water temps. Downstream of the Rosebud, it’ll clear up around July 1 or perhaps a few days later. It should remain high enough to float until August 25. After that will depend on summer precip. High water temps suggesting a 2:00 quitting time are likely on hot days in August downstream of the Rosebud, though the Stillwater almost never gets statutory closures.

Yellowstone River: The Yellowstone in Montana has entered the early stages of spring runoff fast and hard, rising from under 2000cfs on April 27 to 6360cfs right now. It will drop into fishable shape sometime this week and stay there until May 15-20 if the forecast cool weather comes past. Thereafter, the river will remain in runoff for about a month except for the possibility of one or two runoff windows as described above for the Boulder. The Yellowstone will begin leaving runoff between June 20 and 25. The stretch from Gardiner to Yankee Jim Canyon and Carbella to Mallard’s Rest drops into shape first. Yankee Jim Canyon and points through and east of Livingston need another 10 days to two weeks to drop to safe levels (for us, 6000cfs on the Corwin Springs Gauge). The most consistent streamflows will be in July. The last week of July and the first three weeks of August may be too warm in late afternoon on a day-to-day basis from Gardiner to Livingston between July 20 and August 20, but 2:00 closures are unlikely unless runoff starts exceptionally early AND summer is very hot. East of Livingston, mandatory 2:00 closures are possible in the same timeframe and a lot of afternoons will be too warm on a day-to-day basis. Basically if it’s hot, bright, and dry, expect to take out early east of Livingston.

The Salmonfly hatch on the Yellowstone will almost certainly be fishable this year. Expect them beginning as the river drops out in late June through July 4, but probably not much or any thereafter. Ants will likely be better terrestrials this year. Terrestrial season is likely to start July 20 this year (early).

Most Small Streams: Except for a couple low-elevation odds and ends that fish well in late June, like the Musselshell River and upper Smith River, most small streams will begin coming into shape in the second week of July and be best between mid-July and Labor Day. Most run ice-cold, which makes them excellent bets in late July and August on afternoons when big rivers may be too warm.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

Note: The Yellowstone Park season opens May 29 this year, as late as it possibly can. The season always opens at sunrise the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. Because of the late opener, we expect all of the early season fisheries to be ready on the opener, which is unusual. On the other hand, the late opener means that the Yellowstone from the falls to the Lamar (Grand Canyon), Slough Creek, and the Gardner River are almost certainly going to be muddy. In years with early openers, these waters can be fishable for opening weekend before they enter runoff.

Firehole River: The Firehole will be clear enough and fishable on the opener and be best before June 15. It may be too warm on bright afternoons thereafter and will almost certainly be too warm after noon no later than June 25, and possibly by June 20. The park has apparently stopped closing geothermally-heated waters like the Firehole when water temps get too high, as they always do in July and August, but the Firehole should be closed to all fishing in July and August downstream of Old Faithful this year, even if it isn’t. Above Old Faithful is a fine mountain creek in high summer, since it has little geyser water.

Madison River in YNP: The Madison will be clear enough and fishable on the opener and best before June 25. It will be too warm on bright afternoons thereafter and too warm period between July 4 and late August. Closures should but probably won’t be instituted from July 4 through August 15-20.

Gibbon River in YNP: The Lower Gibbon below Gibbon Meadows will be low and clear enough on the opener and best from June 5 through June 20. It will gradually get too warm thereafter and be too warm in July and August. From Norris Geyser Basin through Gibbon Meadows will drop into shape June 5-10 and be best through June and too warm between July 4 and Labor Day. From Virginia Cascade to Norris will drop into shape around June 20 and be best in July and August. Upstream of Virginia Cascades is still undergoing grayling and westslope cutthroat restoration so is not recommended this year.

YNP Lakes: Yellowstone Lake will be fishable out of the gate more than likely. Cascade, Grebe, and other small lakes in the central part of the park may be reachable on the opener but will almost certainly be ready by June 5. These lakes will be best in June and early July. Note that Blacktail Ponds opens in early July. It will likely be too warm already by then this year.

YNP Central Plateau Streams: Streams like Nez Perce will drop into shape around June 15-20 and be best before early August.

Gardner River: Occasional runoff breaks are possible before June 20 downstream of Boiling River, but it will drop into shape for real downstream of the High Bridge June 20-25 with the Salmonfly hatch thereafter downstream of Boiling River. The Salmonflies will last until July 20 in Sheepeater Canyon. The river below Boiling River will be too warm after 2:00 and maybe in general between July 20 and early September. Osprey Falls to Boiling River will be fine but likely crowded in easy-access areas all summer. The upper river (brookie water) will come into shape around July 1 and be best before August 15.

Yellowstone River: The Yellowstone River above the falls always opens July 15. From the falls to the Lamar (Grand Canyon) will begin coming into shape around June 15 and be best from the point it’s barely fishable until about July 20 and again after September 15. It will be cool enough all summer, but can see heavy pressure in easy-access areas in late July and August. In the Black Canyon from the Lamar to Gardiner, it will track similarly to the Yellowstone outside the park as described above, except the Salmonflies will be present primarily in the first half of July and there’s less likelihood it’ll get too warm on late summer afternoons.

Lamar, Soda Butte, and Slough Creek: Rough stretches of Slough and the Lamar will start coming in around June 25. Meadow stretches will come in around July 1. The fishing will be best before mid-August with low but not warm water conditions thereafter. We anticipate OVERWHELMING crowds on roadside easy-access portions of these streams this year. We’re talking people every 25 yards. This is due to the pent-up demand from people who didn’t travel last year combined with people who still can’t travel to more exotic locations overseas.

Rough Small Streams: As usual, small streams draining areas other than the park’s central plateau are steeper and rougher than others. They will come in around July 1 and be best from July 15 through August.

Newsletter for April 15, 2021

Posted on April 17th, 2021 in Newsletters

Didn’t sign up in time for our April newsletter? Not to worry. The link below will take you there.

April 15 2021 Newsletter Link

 

Why People Like the Missouri River’s “Land of Giants”

Posted on April 8th, 2021 in Trip Reports

missouri river rainbow trout

We’ll usually see at least one in this bracket each day when fishing the Missouri River’s “Land of Giants” section of the Missouri River below Hauser Dam. I caught this one today, in the new old jet boat’s maiden voyage.

It’s pretty crowded right now, but higher water with runoff as well as the end of the spawn after mid-May will thin things out quite a bit.

Interested? The jet boat is out of commision for a week with a minor issue (a hatch lid broke and needs to be re-riveted), but we’ll be back in battery in a bit over a week. Still plenty of available dates in May and June for this water. A whole lot less thereafter.

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