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Runoff Report and Season Fishing Forecast for Early June 2022

Posted on June 4th, 2022 in Area Fishing News, Season Forecasts, Weather & Water Conditions

Introduction, Current Conditions, and Long-Range Outlooks

Here in Yellowstone Country, winter snowpack and how this snowpack melts from late April through June play the most important roles in summer water supply for both fish and agriculture from early June through mid-September. June through mid-September temperatures and rainfall play a secondary role. Only after mid-September does day-to-day weather play the largest role in overall water levels and water quality. Winter and spring weather are thus very helpful in planning summer fishing trips to the region.

On the heels of low snowpack in 2020-2021 followed by a record warm, dry summer that came early and a dry winter, as of April 1 we were mired in severe to extreme drought throughout the region. Thankfully, we have had an exceptionally cool, wet spring that has done a great job in reducing the drought. It’s by no means gone, but conditions have improved. The following graphic shows we’re primarily in moderate drought, with some severe drought in Yellowstone Park. While this isn’t ideal, it’s better than we’ve seen since 2020.

current drought in USA

Moreover, snowpack for the date is extremely high. This does not reflect how much snow actually fell this past winter and spring. Instead it shows how much there is on the ground compared to average for this date. Since we’ve had such a cold, wet spring, a whole lot of snow remains to melt. In general, the later and slower the snow melts, the more of it goes into the ground rather than running straight off to North Dakota. Due to the high remaining snowpack and the exceptionally late melt, we expect water levels to be near-average from July through September, even with the drought.

current western usa snowpack graphic

YCFF operations area (roughly) circled in red.

The abundant spring moisture and late melt means that most waters have not yet reached their peak streamflows for the year. On most streams this occurs between May 20 and June 1 in an average year. This year, most waters will reach peak flows in mid-June. Only geyser-heated waters draining low mountains in Yellowstone Park have already reached their peaks. The following graphic shows predicted flows for the Yellowstone River throughout the season. Combined with the graphic above and the weather forecast for the next two weeks, we expect the Yellowstone River to hit max flow around June 13–17. The Yellowstone generally drops into fishable condition about two weeks after it hits peak flow.

Forecast flow graph for the Yellowstone River through summer 2022.

The thin red line indicates the likely flow rate at which the Yellowstone will become fishable this year. This hits the “50/50” prediction for forecast flows around the beginning of July. These forecasts tend to predict slightly higher flows than actually occur, and this forecast was made during a cold/wet spell.

 

Visit NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center for the full range of long-term outlooks as well as lots of information on ENSO, assorted oscillations, and other weather and climate info that goes right over my head.

Summary of Anticipated Water & Fishing Conditions

In a general sense, here’s what we expect for June through mid-September streamflow and fishing conditions. This is based on current conditions and the longer-range outlooks. While this isn’t a “weather forecast,” it’s now late enough into the year that only extreme, prolonged summer heat and drought will change this forecast substantially for the worse.

  • The spring runoff is near its peak. Due to an extremely cold spring, peak snowmelt on all waters is occurring one to three weeks later than average. This is good for late summer flows, not so good for fishing right now.
  • After the heavy melt hits and then recedes, the most consistent fishing is likely to occur from about July 4 through sometime in August. Due to the late melt, we DO NOT expect any poor conditions in August and September. It’s fish will just be spookier and more erratic then.
  • Near-normal to slightly-below-normal streamflows are now certain, but only after mid-late July. The late runoff means that it is going to take a long time for the water to drop. The late summer low flows will not be extreme and should not have any large impact on the fishing conditions.
  • Runoff has been late and will see below-median peak flows on most rivers, but will end on an average to slightly later than average date. The Yellowstone usually drops into fishable shape between June 25 and July 4. This year it will come in around July 1 barring extended late June heat.
  • The most consistent fishing will occur in July and early August, but the entire July through October core season should see good water conditions. This is a huge improvement from early spring predictions, when we expected very bad conditions in August and September.
  • We do not expect any widespread fishing restrictions due to heat and drought. Only rivers that always or almost always see restrictions (the Lower Madison, Jefferson, Smith, Sun, Shields, and other minor summer fisheries at low elevations in Montana) are likely to see 2:00 fishing closures. On some hot, sunny days in late July and August the late afternoon fishing will be poor, but this is always the case.
  • Due to tinderbox conditions throughout most of the West, fires and smoke from both local and distant fires are likely to be very bad this year beginning in late July.
  • Due to the winding-down of COVID (we hope) prompting high tourism, as well as the rapidly increasing population in the region, fishing pressure will be intense from the end of runoff through early October, assuming fires and stream closures allow for it. The quality of the fishing will not play any role in how many people are on the water. We are already seeing much more fishing pressure than used to be typical, including record-high bookings for all of spring.

Detailed Fishing Conditions by Water

There have been substantial changes to the following forecasts due to the abundant snow and cold weather we’ve enjoyed in April and early May. In particular, we no longer expect 2:00PM closures in late summer unless we have an extreme heat wave save on rivers that almost always have them, such as the lower Madison River.

Since runoff has now begun in earnest, we are growing much more confident about the accuracy of the following date ranges. If you haven’t booked your lodging or guide service, we suggest doing so ASAP since availability of both is now getting sparse.

Montana Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: Runoff will end between June 25 and July 4, with July 1 most likely. The Salmonfly hatch will occur for about a week immediately after runoff recedes. It is possible the earliest days of the hatch will see conditions too high and muddy to fish. The fishing will be best on slower, shallower sections of river in July and early August, but should be at least fair all season. Faster, deeper water upstream from Livingston should produce well all season. Only record heat and drought in July will change this prediction.
  • Madison River: The Lower Madison will not experience any appreciable runoff and will be best prior to July 1. After July 4 it will generally run too warm after noon depending on day-to-day weather. The Upper Madison (really outside my ops area) will likewise probably not experience much of a runoff. It will be best from mid-June through late July.
  • Boulder River: Runoff will end late due to intense recent snow. June 25 to July 4 is a reasonable window for the end of the melt, with July 1 most likely. The river will get too low to float by August 1, and perhaps sooner. High water temps and low flows will almost certainly be a problem even for wade-fishing in August due to this small river’s intense irrigation drawdowns. The Boulder seldom sees any fishing restrictions due to water levels or temperature, but in all honesty I expect areas downstream of Natural Bridge should be closed 24 hours a day in August, due as much to irrigation drawdowns as water temps.
  • Stillwater River: Runoff will end around July 1 most likely. Upper sections will be too low to float around August 1. Lower portions downstream of the Rosebud confluence will remain high enough to float until at least September 1 and possibly through September. Late summer rains will be required for float-fishing to remain an option after roughly Labor Day. The best fishing will occur in July and August, but should be decent so long as flows remain high enough to allow floating. This river will offer our best “action/numbers/dry flies” fishing this year.
  • Missouri River: No appreciable runoff will occur. The carp/walleye/pike water upstream from Canyon Ferry Reservoir will as always fish best from late July through early September. The trout water downstream of Canyon Ferry (including “Land of Giants”) will fish best from now through June.
  • Private Lakes: Day-to-day weather is more important on the lakes than snowmelt. These lakes have warmed up very late. Frequently we see excellent hatches in mid–late May. We are still in “leech and streamer mode” due to the cold spring. This late start should keep fishing good well through June, possibly through July in the case of Burns Lake. Hot/bright weather thereafter the determining factor on when things get slow.
  • Paradise Valley Spring Creeks: Fishing is always best on the creeks from early March through April, then again from about June 20 through July 20. Unfortunately, radically-increasing pressure on the creeks now means that many prime dates in June-July 2023 are now booked solid. We’re basically done guiding on these creeks except in March-April because of this.
  • Other Waters: The Gallatin River will likely drop out of runoff around June 25 and possibly get too warm downstream of Gallatin Gateway by late July.  Mountain small streams in Montana will generally fish best from July 15 through August, but may hang on into early September if summer is not too hot and dry. Public lakes in Montana will be best in June except for carp, which rise to hoppers on some lakes in late July and August.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: The Lake-Falls stretch opens July 1! This is a change from longstanding tradition. For decades this water opened July 15. We wish the early July closure remained in place to let the lake-run cutthroat finish the spawn in peace. That said, early July will almost certainly offer the best fishing here since the mid-1990s, since cutthroat numbers are increasing in general and almost none of them will have migrated back to the lake on the opener, in contrast to the previous opener which saw many fish already moving back to their winter haunts in Yellowstoen Lake. The fishing will remain good through July. The Grand Canyon from the Falls to the Lamar confluence will become fishable around June 20. The most consistent fishing (particularly if you prefer dry flies) will occur in July and early August, though the fishing should remain good until mid-October. The Black Canyon stretch from the Lamar to Gardiner will track similarly to the stretch downstream of Gardiner noted in the previous section.
  • Gardner River: The lower Gardner downstream of Boiling River will be fishable on a day-to-day basis from the opening of the park season, joined by the stretch from Sheepeater Canyon to Boiling River around June 20. Consistent fishing will begin by June 25 and continue in both stretches through July and above Boiling River until early October. Below Boiling River will be too warm and weedy at the end of July and on through mid-September. The headwaters above Osprey Falls will come in around July 5–10 and remain good until mid-August.
  • Lamar River & Tributaries: Runoff will end sometime in the first ten days of July depending on the water involved and the weather. The best fishing will occur in July and early August. The water will be low and slow and the fish heavily-pressured and spooky thereafter.
  • Firehole River: The Firehole will not experience an appreciable runoff and will fish best between the park opener and June 20. The first hot/dry spell after June 20 will shut down fishing until after Labor Day. While conditions have improved in the Firehole drainage over the past few weeks, they’re still not ideal. In fact, snowpack is lower in this basin than anywhere else in the area.
  • Gibbon River: The Gibbon upstream of Norris Geyser Basin will be fishable sometime between June 5 and June 10 and will be best before late July. Areas downstream of Norris Geyser Basin are unlikely to experience an appreciable runoff and will be best between the season opener and June 25. After June 25, the first hot spell will shut the fishing off until September 1. We will be guiding here at least two days in the upcoming week.
  • Upper Madison River: Generally similar to the Firehole but will hang on for a few days after the first hot spell.
  • Lakes in YNP: Ice-out has now happened on all lakes except perhaps Lewis and other high-elevation lakes in the southern part of the park (4+ hours from here). Travel to the lakes before mid-June will be a wet, sloppy mess due to mud and snowmelt. All will fish best through June, then trail off through July.
  • Creeks in YNP: Meadow-type streams will become fishable between June 10 and the end of June, with those draining lakes becoming fishable towards the earlier end and those draining mountains falling into shape later. All will be best for the first month after they come in. Rough, mountain creeks will come into shape around the beginning of July and be best for a month to six weeks starting about a week after they fall into shape.

Snowpack & Runoff Update and Summer Streamflow and Fishing Forecast

Posted on May 19th, 2022 in Season Forecasts, Weather & Water Conditions

Introduction, Current Conditions, and Long-Range Outlooks

Here in Yellowstone Country, winter snowpack and how this snowpack melts from late April through June play the most important roles in summer water supply for both fish and agriculture from early June through mid-September. June through mid-September temperatures and rainfall play a secondary role. Only after mid-September does day-to-day weather play the largest role in overall water levels and water quality. Winter and spring weather are thus very helpful in planning summer fishing trips to the region.

On the heels of low snowpack in 2020-2021 followed by a record warm, dry summer that came early, we are currently in severe to extreme drought throughout the YCFF operations area. About half our operations area is in each category, which is an improvement from a month ago when 3/4 of our operations were in extreme drought. The core of winter brought no relief from this drought. As of March 31, snowpack sat at just over 70% of normal in most areas and we anticipated exceptionally low snowpack and thus extreme to record low streamflows. Following from this, we anticipated widespread stream closures and bad fishing conditions in late summer.

Thankfully, we enjoyed the coldest April since 1997. May has been more of a mixed bag, with several-day runs in the 70s followed by several-day runs in the 40s or 50s. The next three days are forecast to be cold and wet, with significant mountain snowfall, but then it’ll rise back into the 60s. The spring runoff has begun on all rivers, having started around May 15th-16th, about a week late. Overall, we saw drastic improvements in our water situation through early spring, with snowpack rising sharply and soil moisture at low elevations improving due to substantial rainfall. This has significantly improved our outlooks for the core summer season from our early April outlook, when we basically thought the sky was falling and expected absolutely terrible water conditions this year.

mid-may 2022 snowpack report

Snowpack as of May 19, with our approximate operations area circled in red.

As of right now, snowpack within our operations area is at 94% to 120% of normal. This is a huge increase from the end of March doldrums, when things were at 68% to 80% of normal. The most important basins–the Yellowstone River Basin in WY and Yellowstone Park and the Yellowstone River Basin in Montana–are at 106% and 102% of average, respectively.

These near-normal and above-normal numbers are rather misleading because they reflect the cold spring we’ve had rather than actual precipitation. Peak snow depths at most snow sensors (click around at this link) were far below normal. This snow just reached peak depth late and hasn’t melted as quickly as usual. Because of the ongoing drought, much of the snowmelt will just go straight into the ground to replenish soil moisture, rather than making it into streams. As such, we still anticipate below-normal streamflows during the core June–September season. They just won’t be as drastically low as we expected six weeks ago.

Current NOAA outlooks through the remainder of May suggest near-normal temperatures and precipitation, which is fine. We would love to have it remain cold and wet, but normal is far better than the hot and dry we had last year, which led to runoff finishing by early June. There is now no chance of that happening this year.

Eight to fourteen day map of forecast weather, produced May 18, 2022

Long-range outlooks (the monthly outlook for June and the seasonal outlook for June–August) do not look so friendly. We are forecast to see above-normal temperatures and below-normal precip. Boo.

Visit NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center for the full range of long-term outlooks as well as lots of information on ENSO, assorted oscillations, and other weather and climate info that goes right over my head.

Summary of Anticipated Water & Fishing Conditions

In a general sense, here’s what we expect for June through mid-September streamflow and fishing conditions. This is based on current conditions and the longer-range outlooks. Think of the following as something like a weather forecast from a week out: it’s too early for specifics, but the general outline is probably accurate.

  • The spring runoff began a few days ago, about a week late. While the runoff began with exceptionally sharp rises in flows (the Lamar River jumped from about 600 cubic feet per second flow to about 3600 in three days, the Yellowstone from 2500 to 7000), these were related more to abundant remaining low-elevation snowpack than to extreme heat. Cold to seasonal weather for the next week or two leads us to anticipate a normal progress of the spring melt from here on out.
  • After the heavy melt hits and then recedes, the best fishing is likely to occur between about June 25 and early August. Thereafter, cloudy days and rougher water will be best at least until the weather deteriorates in September. We do not anticipate widespread 2:00PM drought/heat closures on our prime waters barring extreme summer heat. This is a profound improvement.
  • Below-normal snowpack and resulting summer streamflows are now certain. As long as we do not suffer the month-long heat dome that occurred last year between mid-June and mid-July, flows will be somewhat below normal rather than record low. Many visitors will not notice much difference from previous trips to the region.
  • We anticipate a light snowmelt but a near-normal end to the snowmelt cycle, with the melt generally ending between June 20 and July 4 depending on the water in question. This discrepancy reflects the fact we are in drought and have a somewhat low snowpack, but that this snow is melting late.
  • July is almost certain to offer the year’s most-consistent water conditions when the area is taken as a whole. Conditions will be good in late June in many areas and into early August on some of the colder, rougher waters.
  • The fish are likely to be spooky and difficult from sometime in early August through mid-September in many areas. In August and September, steeper, faster, deeper water will fish much better than the flat, shallow stuff.
  • 2:00PM fishing closures will occur in late July and August on a few low-elevation waters, but will be rare if we have normal or even somewhat hot weather in summer. These closures are unlikely to impact the “core” fisheries (YNP, upper Madison, Stillwater River, Yellowstone River above Livingston) that are most popular at this time. That said, late afternoon and early evening fishing is likely to be poor from late July through August. More widespread 2:00 closures are possible if we have extended record heat in June and July as we did in 2021.
  • Complete 24hr closures are extremely unlikely even if we have a brutal heatwave like we had in 2021. This is another huge improvement and relief. A month ago we thought there was a 1 in 3 chance of such closures.
  • Due to tinderbox conditions throughout most of the West, fires and smoke from both local and distant fires are likely to be very bad this year beginning in late July.
  • Due to the winding-down of COVID (we hope) prompting high tourism, as well as the rapidly increasing population in the region, fishing pressure will be intense from the end of runoff through early October, assuming fires and stream closures allow for it. The quality of the fishing will not play any role in how many people are on the water. We are already seeing much more fishing pressure than used to be typical, including record-high bookings for all of spring.

Detailed Fishing Conditions by Water

There have been substantial changes to the following forecasts due to the abundant snow and cold weather we’ve enjoyed in April and early May. In particular, we no longer expect 2:00PM closures in late summer unless we have an extreme heat wave save on rivers that almost always have them, such as the lower Madison River.

Since runoff has now begun in earnest, we are growing much more confident about the accuracy of the following date ranges. If you haven’t booked your lodging or guide service, we suggest doing so ASAP since availability of both is now getting sparse.

Montana Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: Runoff will end between June 20 and the end of June, with June 25 most likely. The Salmonfly hatch will occur for about a week immediately after runoff recedes. It is possible the earliest days of the hatch will see conditions too high and muddy to fish. The fishing will be best on slower, shallower sections of river upstream from Livingston as well as all water east of Livingston prior to early August. Faster, deeper water upstream from Livingston should produce acceptably well all summer unless we see exceptional heat as we did last year, though midafternoon onward will probably be slow in August except on cloudy days. 2:00 fishing closures will depend on weather but are not likely without record heat.
  • Madison River: The Lower Madison will not experience any appreciable runoff and will be best prior to June 25. After June 25 it will generally run too warm after noon depending on day-to-day weather. The Upper Madison (really outside my ops area) will likewise probably not experience much of a runoff. It will be best from mid-June through late July. 2:00 closures are certain on the Lower Madison beginning no later than early July. They are very unlikely on the upper Madison.
  • Boulder River: Runoff will end late due to intense recent snow. June 20 to July 4 is a reasonable window for the end of the melt, with June 25 most likely. The river will get too low to float by July 25, and perhaps sooner. High water temps and low flows will almost certainly be a problem even for wade-fishing in August due to this small river’s intense irrigation drawdowns. The Boulder seldom sees any fishing restrictions due to water levels or temperature, but in all honesty I expect areas downstream of Natural Bridge should be closed 24 hours a day in August, due as much to irrigation drawdowns as water temps.
  • Stillwater River: Runoff will end between June 20 and July 4, with June 25 to July 1 most likely. Upper sections will be too low to float around July 20-25. Lower portions downstream of the Rosebud confluence will remain high enough to float until roughly September 1. Late summer rains will be required for float-fishing to remain an option after that. The best fishing will occur in July and early August, but should be decent so long as flows remain high enough to allow floating. This river will offer our best “action/numbers/dry flies” fishing this year.
  • Missouri River: No appreciable runoff will occur. The carp/walleye/pike water upstream from Canyon Ferry Reservoir will as always fish best from late July through early September. The trout water downstream of Canyon Ferry (including “Land of Giants”) will fish best from now through June. Both the trout water and the “other” water are less likely to have closures than any other water we fish.
  • Private Lakes: Day-to-day weather is more important on the lakes than snowmelt. These lakes have warmed up very late. Frequently we see excellent hatches in mid–late May. We are still in “leech and streamer mode” due to the cold spring. This late start should keep fishing good well into June, possibly into July in the case of Burns Lake. Hot/bright weather thereafter the determining factor on when things get slow.
  • Paradise Valley Spring Creeks: Fishing is always best on the creeks from early March through April, then again from about June 20 through July 20. Unfortunately, radically-increasing pressure on the creeks now means that many prime dates in June-July 2023 are now booked solid. We’re basically done guiding on these creeks except in March-April because of this.
  • Other Waters: The Gallatin River will likely drop out of runoff around June 20-25 and possibly get too warm downstream of Gallatin Gateway by late July. The Jefferson River will drop from runoff by June 20 and probably be too warm the instant it does. We will not be offering floats on this river anymore, odds are. The fish populations are too low and too stressed by heat in the lower stretches of river close enough to Livingston. Mountain small streams in Montana will generally fish best from July 10 or so through about August 20, but may hang on into early September if summer is not too hot and dry. Public lakes in Montana will be best in May and June except for carp, which rise to hoppers on some lakes in late July and August.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: The Lake-Falls stretch opens July 1! This is a change from longstanding tradition. For decades this water opened July 15. We wish the early July closure remained in place to let the lake-run cutthroat finish the spawn in peace. That said, early July will almost certainly offer the best fishing here since the mid-1990s, since cutthroat numbers are increasing in general and almost none of them will have migrated back to the lake on the opener, in contrast to the previous opener which saw many fish already moving back to their winter haunts in Yellowstoen Lake. The fishing will remain good through July. The Grand Canyon from the Falls to the Lamar confluence will become fishable around June 10, though there’s a slim possibility it will be marginally fishable opening weekend if the weather is cold. Most of June will see high and murky but fishable water. The most consistent fishing (particularly if you prefer dry flies) will occur in July and early August, though the fishing should remain good until mid-October. The Black Canyon stretch from the Lamar to Gardiner will track similarly to the stretch downstream of Gardiner noted in the previous section.
  • Gardner River: The lower Gardner downstream of Boiling River will be fishable on a day-to-day basis from the opening of the park season, joined by the stretch from Sheepeater Canyon to Boiling River around June 15. Consistent fishing will begin by June 20 and continue in both stretches through about July 20 and above Boiling River until early October. Below Boiling River will be too warm and weedy at the end of July and on through mid-September. The headwaters above Osprey Falls will come in around July 1 and remain good until at least early August.
  • Lamar River & Tributaries: Runoff will end sometime in the first week of July depending on the water involved and the weather. The best fishing will occur in July and early August. The water will be low and slow and the fish heavily-pressured and spooky thereafter.
  • Firehole River: The Firehole will not experience an appreciable runoff and will fish best between the park opener and June 15. The first hot/dry spell after June 15 will shut down fishing until after Labor Day. While conditions have improved in the Firehole drainage over the past few weeks, they’re still not ideal. In fact, snowpack is lower in this basin than anywhere else in the area. We did not guide on the Firehole in 2021 and almost certainly will not in 2022, either. If current climate models continue, the Firehole will cease to be a relevant fishery downstream of Old Faithful by 2030 due to repeated fish kills associated with high water temperatures.
  • Gibbon River: The Gibbon upstream of Norris Geyser Basin will be fishable sometime between June 5 and June 10 and will be best before late July. Areas downstream of Norris Geyser Basin are unlikely to experience an appreciable runoff and will be best between the season opener and June 20. After June 20, the first hot spell will shut the fishing off until September 1.
  • Upper Madison River: Generally similar to the Firehole but will hang on for a few days after the first hot spell.
  • Lakes in YNP: Ice-out will depend on day-to-day weather but should occur before or right around Opening Day. Travel to the lakes before mid-June might be a wet, sloppy mess due to mud and snowmelt, though all except high-elevation lakes and those in snowy areas (Lewis Lake, I’m looking at you) should be snow-free by the opener. All will fish best from ice-out (or Opening Day, whichever comes second) through June, then trail off through early July.
  • Creeks in YNP: Meadow-type streams will become fishable between June 10 and the end of June, with those draining lakes becoming fishable towards the earlier end and those draining mountains falling into shape later. All will be best for the first month after they come in. Rough, mountain creeks will come into shape around the beginning of July and be best for a month to six weeks starting about a week after they fall into shape.

Guide Service Availability

As of this writing, I still have lots of availability in June, August, and September. July is much tighter. I still have a few open days at the beginning of the month for Salmonfly floats or hike & wade trips and late in the month. I am fully-booked from July 5–22 and July 27–30. Contractor guide availability for the days I’m fully booked will also be rather thin during this period.

The following photo is from a private lake trip to Sitz Ranch on May 17. Fishing was so-so, but all fish were 16–21 inches. Photo courtesy Steve Smith. These guys will start eating dry flies in a few days.

Snowpack, Streamflow, and Summer Fishing Forecast – April 30 2022 Update

Posted on April 30th, 2022 in Season Forecasts, Weather & Water Conditions

Introduction, Current Conditions, and Long-Range Outlooks

Here in Yellowstone Country, winter snowpack and how this snowpack melts from late April through June play the most important roles in summer water supply for both fish and agriculture from early June through mid-September. June through mid-September temperatures and rainfall play a secondary role. Only after mid-September does day-to-day weather play the largest role in overall water levels and water quality. Winter weather is thus very helpful in planning summer fishing trips to the region.

On the heels of low snowpack in 2020-2021 followed by a record warm, dry summer that came early, we are currently in severe to extreme drought throughout the YCFF operations area. Most areas are in extreme drought, the second-worst category overall. Montana is in worse shape as far as drought than any other regions in the West except for Oregon east of the Cascade Range and southern Nevada. Unfortunately, we had a very dry winter. Thankfully, substantial rain and snowfall occurred through most of April, and the weather has been substantially colder than normal. This has significantly improved our outlooks for the core summer season from our early April outlook, when we basically thought the sky was falling and expected absolutely terrible water conditions this year.

We still don’t expect a high or even normal water year, but instead of the record-low water we were facing a month ago, we now generally anticipate somewhat low flows. We’ll take it, assuming that’s what we get.

April 30 snowpack detail image

YCFF operations area is circled in red.

As of right now, snowpack within our operations area is at 85% to 99% of normal. This is a huge increase from the end of March, when things were at 68% to 80% of normal. The most important basins–the Yellowstone River Basin in WY and Yellowstone Park and the Yellowstone River Basin in Montana–are at 95% and 96% of average, respectively. While on paper these numbers suggest near-normal water levels, they don’t take the drought into consideration. A lot of our snow will disappear straight into the ground during the spring melt, rather than actually contributing to streamflow.

8-14 NOAA outlook through mid-May 2022

We have enjoyed a cold and wet April. Current NOAA outlooks generally predict below-normal temps and above-normal precip through about the middle of May. This is great news. We now anticipate a late start to the spring snowmelt (rivers have only recently risen from winter-low flows, three weeks late). The longer the snow stays in the mountains, the longer water stays in the rivers in mid-late summer.

Long-range outlooks through May are also friendly: an equal chance of above/below-normal weather in the southern part of our operations area (though we are closer to the “cold” side of this map), a greater chance of below-normal temps in the northern part of our ops area, and increased chances of above-normal precip throughout our ops area.

May 2022 NOAA outlooks

If the 8-14 and monthly outlooks are correct, we will have a very late start to the spring melt. Very good news for summer weather and water conditions. Worse news is our long-range outlooks for summer. This graphic for the June-August period is not what we want to see. If these forecast hot and dry conditions dominate through summer, it will undo a lot of the good we’ve had this April and have forecast in May.

Visit NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center for the full range of long-term outlooks as well as lots of information on ENSO, assorted oscillations, and other weather and climate info that goes right over my head.

Summary of Anticipated Water & Fishing Conditions

In a general sense, here’s what we expect for June through mid-September streamflow and fishing conditions. This is based on current conditions and the longer-range outlooks. Think of the following as something like a weather forecast from a week out: it’s too early for specifics, but the general outline is probably accurate. We anticipate low streamflow conditions for the June-September core season. Water temperatures may also be warm, but this depends on summer weather.

Here’s what this means for anticipated water and fishing conditions. In general, the following assumes a somewhat accurate weather outlook for the next couple weeks and summer weather that tracks roughly with the NOAA long-range outlooks.

  • The fishing and guiding seasons began in mid-March. Early fishing was good. Of late it has been poor, since we have still had winter water conditions when we should have had warmer, higher water, more insect hatches, and good streamer fishing.
  • Warmer spring weather is on the horizon, but not the kind of heat that prompts spring runoff to begin. We therefore expect spring runoff to occur late on all waters. On the Yellowstone River, it is unlikely to begin in earnest for at least another ten days, and possibly as much as three weeks. There may also be “runoff breaks” when spells of cold weather interrupt spells in the 60s-70s. At the moment we do not expect 80 degree temps for the foreseeable future, which is wonderful.
  • After the heavy melt hits and then recedes, the best fishing is likely to occur between about June 25 and early August. Thereafter, cloudy days and rougher water will be best at least until the weather deteriorates in September. We do not anticipate widespread 2:00PM drought/heat closures on our prime waters barring extreme summer heat. This is a profound improvement. We were almost certain of such closures a month ago.
  • Below-normal snowpack and resulting summer streamflows are now certain. How low we go depends on how much moisture we get through mid-May and how the snow melts from now through mid-June. Record-low water in late summer is very unlikely and will only occur if we have another awful heat dome in June-July as we did last year.
  • We anticipate a light snowmelt but a near-normal end to the snowmelt cycle, with the melt generally ending between June 20 and July 4 depending on the water in question. This discrepancy reflects the fact we are in drought and have a somewhat low snowpack, but that this snow is melting late.
  • July is almost certain to offer the year’s most-consistent water conditions when the area is taken as a whole. Conditions will be good in late June in many areas and into early August on some of the colder, rougher waters.
  • The fish are likely to be spooky and difficult from sometime in early August through mid-September in many areas. In August and September, steeper, faster, deeper water will fish much better than the flat, shallow stuff.
  • 2:00PM fishing closures will occur in late July and August on a few low-elevation waters, but will be rare if we have normal weather in summer. These closures are unlikely to impact the “core” fisheries (YNP, upper Madison, Stillwater River, Yellowstone River above Livingston) that are most popular at this time. That said, late afternoon and early evening fishing is likely to be poor from late July through August. More widespread 2:00 closures are possible if we have an early extreme warmup in late May-June and/or extended record heat in June and July as we did in 2021.
  • Complete 24hr closures are extremely unlikely even if we have a brutal heatwave like we had in 2021. This is another huge improvement and relief. A month ago we thought there was a 1 in 3 chance of such closures.
  • Due to tinderbox conditions throughout most of the West, fires and smoke from both local and distant fires are likely to be very bad this year beginning in late July.
  • Due to the winding-down of COVID (we hope) prompting high tourism, as well as the rapidly increasing population in the region, fishing pressure will be intense from the end of runoff through early October, assuming fires and stream closures allow for it. The quality of the fishing will not play any role in how many people are on the water. We are already seeing much more fishing pressure than used to be typical, including record-high bookings for March and April.

Detailed Fishing Conditions by Water

There have been substantial changes to the following forecasts due to the abundant snow and cold weather we’ve enjoyed in April. In particular, we no longer expect 2:00PM closures in late summer unless we have an extreme heat wave save on rivers that almost always have them, such as the lower Madison River.

Runoff is starting at a normal or late date. Our next update in mid-May will bring the following date ranges into much sharper focus.

Montana Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: Runoff will end between June 20 and the end of June, with June 25 most likely. The Salmonfly hatch will occur for about a week immediately after runoff recedes. It is possible the earliest days of the hatch will see conditions too high and muddy to fish. The fishing will be best on slower, shallower sections of river upstream from Livingston as well as all water east of Livingston prior to early August. Faster, deeper water upstream from Livingston should produce acceptably well all summer unless we see exceptional heat as we did last year, though midafternoon onward will probably be slow in August except on cloudy days. 2:00 fishing closures will depend on weather. Absent extended extreme heat, such closures are unlikely upstream from Livingston.
  • Madison River: The Lower Madison will not experience any appreciable runoff and will be best prior to June 20. After June 20 it will generally run too warm after noon depending on day-to-day weather. The Upper Madison (really outside my ops area) will likewise probably not experience much of a runoff. It will be best from mid-June through late July. 2:00 closures are certain on the Lower Madison beginning no later than early July and possible but much less likely on the upper Madison beginning in late July.
  • Boulder River: Runoff will end late due to intense recent snow. June 20 to July 4 is a reasonable window for the end of the melt, with June 25 most likely. The river will get too low to float by July 25, and perhaps sooner. High water temps and low flows will almost certainly be a problem even for wade-fishing in August due to this small river’s intense irrigation drawdowns. The Boulder seldom sees any fishing restrictions due to water levels or temperature, but in all honesty I expect areas downstream of Natural Bridge should be closed 24 hours a day in August, due as much to irrigation drawdowns as water temps.
  • Stillwater River: Runoff will end between June 20 and July 4, with June 25 to July 1 most likely. Upper sections will be too low to float around July 15-25. Lower portions downstream of the Rosebud confluence will be high enough to float through sometime between August 20 and September 10. Late summer rains will be required for float-fishing to remain an option after that. The best fishing will occur in July and early August. 2:00 closures are possible in late July and August only if we see extreme heat in June and early July. Intense late season snow over the past few weeks will REALLY help the Stillwater this season and I encourage visitors coming in late July and August to fish it.
  • Missouri River: No appreciable runoff will occur. The carp/walleye/pike water upstream from Canyon Ferry Reservoir will as always fish best from late July through early September. Head-hunting carp here will be our preferred option for early August trips if we have a hot/dry summer. The trout water downstream of Canyon Ferry (including “Land of Giants”) will fish best from now through June. Both the trout water and the “other” water are less likely to have closures than any other water we fish.
  • Private Lakes: Day-to-day weather is more important on the lakes than snowmelt. These lakes should fish well from early April through at least mid-June, with hot/bright weather thereafter the determining factor on when things get slow.
  • Paradise Valley Spring Creeks: Fishing is always best on the creeks from early March through April, then again from about June 20 through July 20. Unfortunately, radically-increasing pressure on the creeks now means that many prime dates in June-July 2023 are now booked solid. We’re basically done guiding on these creeks except in March-April because of this.
  • Other Waters: The Gallatin River will likely drop out of runoff around June 20-25 and possibly get too warm by late July. The Jefferson River will drop from runoff by June 15-20 and probably be too warm the instant it does. We will not be offering floats on this river anymore, odds are. The fish populations are too low and too stressed by heat in the lower stretches of river close enough to Livingston. Mountain small streams in Montana will generally fish best from July 10 or so through about August 20, but may hang on into early September if summer is not too hot and dry. Public lakes in Montana will be best in May and June except for carp, which rise to hoppers on some lakes in late July and August.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: The Lake-Falls stretch always opens July 15. It will be best over the remainder of July thereafter. The Grand Canyon from the Falls to the Lamar confluence may not experience an unfishably-high runoff, though it probably will for ten days or so in early June. Given the likelihood of a late runoff and a forecast for below-normal temps until mid-May, it is possible runoff will not yet be fully underway during the first few days of the season. Can you say Mother’s Day Caddis? Conditions suitable for nymph and streamer fishing may be present throughout the first three weeks of the season, though more likely the river will begin coming into shape between June 10 and June 20. More consistent conditions will begin after that. While Salmonflies may pop anytime after June 20 sporadically, they will be heaviest in the first ten days of July. Good conditions should continue throughout the summer unless we experience an extreme heat wave that prompts the park to close all flowing waters at 2:00. The Black Canyon generally tracks similarly to the Yellowstone downstream in Montana, though the first half of July should still see Salmonflies at least in the upstream areas between the Lamar River and Hellroaring Creek confluences.
  • Gardner River: The lower Gardner downstream of Boiling River will be fishable on a day-to-day basis from the opening of the park season, joined by the stretch from Sheepeater Canyon to Boiling River around June 10-15. Consistent fishing will begin by June 20 and continue in both stretches through about July 20 and above Boiling River until early October. Below Boiling River will be too warm and weedy at the end of July and on through mid-September. The headwaters above Osprey Falls will come in between June 20 and July 4 depending on weather and remain good until at least early August.
  • Lamar River & Tributaries: Runoff will end between June 20 and July 4 depending on the water involved and the weather. The best fishing will occur in July and perhaps very early August. The water will be low and slow and the fish heavily-pressured and spooky thereafter.
  • Firehole River: The Firehole will not experience an appreciable runoff and will fish best between the park opener and June 15. The first hot/dry spell after June 15 will shut down fishing until after Labor Day. While conditions have improved in the Firehole drainage over the past few weeks, they’re still not ideal. In fact, snowpack is lower in this basin than anywhere else in the area. We did not guide on the Firehole in 2021 and almost certainly will not in 2022, either. If current climate models continue, the Firehole will cease to be a relevant fishery downstream of Old Faithful by 2030 due to repeated fish kills associated with high water temperatures.
  • Gibbon River: The Gibbon upstream of Norris Geyser Basin will be fishable sometime between the park opener and June 10 and will be best before mid-July. Areas downstream of Norris Geyser Basin are unlikely to experience an appreciable runoff and will be best between the season opener and June 20. After June 20, the first hot spell will shut the fishing off until September 1.
  • Upper Madison River: Generally similar to the Firehole but will hang on for a few days after the first hot spell.
  • Lakes in YNP: Ice-out will depend on day-to-day weather but should occur before or right around Opening Day. Travel to the lakes before mid-June might be a wet, sloppy mess due to mud and snowmelt, though all except high-elevation lakes and those in snowy areas (Lewis Lake, I’m looking at you) should be snow-free by the opener. All will fish best from ice-out (or Opening Day, whichever comes second) through June, then trail off through early July.
  • Creeks in YNP: Meadow-type streams will become fishable between June 10 and the end of June, with those draining lakes becoming fishable towards the earlier end and those draining mountains falling into shape later. All will be best for the first month after they come in. Rough, mountain creeks will come into shape around the beginning of July and be best for a month to six weeks starting about a week after they fall into shape.

Snowpack Update and Summer Streamflow and Fishing Forecast for April 21, 2022

Posted on April 22nd, 2022 in Season Forecasts, Weather & Water Conditions

Introduction, Current Conditions, and Long-Range Outlooks

Here in Yellowstone Country, winter snowpack and how this snowpack melts from late April through June play the most important roles in summer water supply for both fish and agriculture from early June through mid-September. June through mid-September temperatures and rainfall play a secondary role. Only after mid-September does day-to-day weather play the largest role in overall water levels and water quality. Winter weather is thus very helpful in planning summer fishing trips to the region.

On the heels of low snowpack in 2020-2021 followed by a record warm, dry summer that came early, we are currently in severe to extreme drought throughout the YCFF operations area. Most areas are in extreme drought, the second-worst category overall. Montana is in worse shape as far as drought than any other regions in the West except for Oregon east of the Cascade Range and southern Nevada. Unfortunately, we had a very dry winter. April has thus far been very cold and at least somewhat wet, though the heaviest snowfall has occurred east of our core operations area. Still, any help is better than none. Snowpack did increase since our last update at the end of March, the first bright spot we’ve had since early January.

As of right now, areas within our operations area are at 77% to 87% of normal. This is a huge increase from our last update, when things were at 68% to 80% of normal. The most important basins–the Yellowstone River Basin in WY and Yellowstone Park and the Yellowstone River Basin in Montana–are at 87% and 84%, respectively. While on paper these numbers don’t look too bad, they’re not great when the drought is taken into consideration. A lot of our snow will disappear straight into the ground during the spring melt, rather than actually contributing to streamflow.

We have enjoyed a cold and wet April, and current NOAA outlooks predict this will continue into early May. This is great news. At the very least, the spring melt this year should be normal, and if cold weather can continue until about May 10, runoff will be late. The longer the snow stays in the mountains, the longer water stays in the rivers in mid-late summer.

Long-range outlooks for May taken as a whole and the summer period are not so friendly. Warmer-than-normal and drier-than-normal conditions are predicted. We really don’t want this prediction to come true.

Summary of Anticipated Water & Fishing Conditions

In a general sense, here’s what we expect for June through mid-September streamflow and fishing conditions. This is based on current conditions and the longer-range outlooks. Think of the following as something like a weather forecast from a week out: it’s too early for specifics, but the general outline is probably accurate. We anticipate low and warm to extremely low and warm stream conditions for the June-September core season.

Here’s what this means for anticipated water and fishing conditions.

  • The fishing and guiding seasons began in mid-March and fishing has been good. The fishing is likely to remain consistent until at least May 5, and possibly mid-May. After the heavy melt hits and then recedes, the best fishing is likely to occur between mid-June and mid-July.
  • Below-normal snowpack and resulting summer streamflows are now certain. How low we go depends on how much moisture we get through mid-May and how the snow melts from late April onward. Record-low water in late summer is possible, but less likely than it was a few weeks ago.
  • We anticipate a light snowmelt and an early end to the snowmelt cycle. The end point will depend on when the snow starts melting in earnest.
  • Mid-June through mid-July will offer much better conditions than August and early September on all waters, including many small streams and areas within Yellowstone Park that are typically too high and muddy to fish before early July. Provided current outlooks through the first week of May are accurate, July fishing should be generally “safe.”
  • The fish are likely to be spooky and difficult from sometime in the latter half of July through mid-September more often than not, with steeper, faster, deeper water holding on longer.
  • 2:00PM fishing closures will be commonacross our operations area between sometime in the last ten days of July and late August. Closures outside of these timeframes are possible if we have an early extreme warmup in May-June as we did in 2021.
  • Complete fishing closures are possible on many waters in August if we have a repeat of last summer’s record heat and drought. This could include total fishing closures in Yellowstone Park. These are much less likely in Montana.
  • Very limited legal or at least ethical fishing opportunities are possible in August if we have a hot/dry summer.
  • The fishing opportunities will increase substantially with the first spell of cooler weather, usually in the last week or so of August, but the fishing will remain very difficult most days until the weather gets cold and gray sometime in the latter half of September.
  • Due to tinderbox conditions throughout most of the West, fires and smoke from both local and distant fires are likely to be very bad this year beginning in mid-July.
  • Due to anticipated very poor conditions in August, we now discourage fishing-specific travel to the area between August 1 and at least August 20. We are still accepting bookings for this period, but only if clients are willing to book “guide’s choice” trips in terms of duration (full-day vs half-day, the latter being much more likely if we’re targeting trout), trip type (walk or float), and target species. In regards to target species, high stress on trout and widespread closures on trout waters may mean that carp will be our preferred target species in August, particularly on full-day trips.
  • Due to the winding-down of COVID (we hope) prompting high tourism, as well as the rapidly increasing population in the region, fishing pressure will be intense from the end of runoff through early October, assuming fires and stream closures allow for it. The quality of the fishing will not play any role in how many people are on the water. We are already seeing much more fishing pressure than used to be typical, including record-high bookings for March and April.

Detailed Fishing Conditions by Water

The following information is coming into sharper focus now, since most of the snow that will accumulate has accumulated. The real X factors remaining are when the spring melt starts in earnest (early–>late April, normal–>first ten days of May, late–>anytime thereafter), how much June rain we receive, and how soon the first summer heat wave hits. In 2021 we were in much better shape for snowpack than we are this year prior to the end of April, but we had an early melt, an exceptionally dry June, and broiling-hot weather from mid-June through mid-July. These three factors crushed us last year.

If we have a normal or late start to the melt, a normal to wet June, and a normal to cool June and early July, we will be in good shape to avoid widespread closures. Right now, we’re heading the direction we want to head in. Hopefully this will continue. On the other hand, if we have a similar start to summer as we did last year, complete fishing closures in the vast majority of our operations area are very likely in late summer.

Montana Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: Runoff will end between June 10 and June 20, with June 15 most likely. The fishing will be best for the month following. One of my long-time clients booked for June 20-21 and I suspect he hit his dates perfectly. Hot, bright days from about July 20-25 through early September will be very difficult, particularly in shallow, gentle sections of river. 2:00PM fishing closures are possible on the entire Yellowstone River from YNP to Laurel from sometime in late July or early August until sometime in late August. They are probable east of Livingston. Complete fishing closures are possible in the first three weeks of August.
  • Madison River: The Lower Madison will not experience any appreciable runoff and will be best prior to June 10. After June 20 it will generally run too warm after noon depending on day-to-day weather. The Upper Madison (really outside my ops area) will likewise probably not experience much of a runoff. It will be best from mid-June through late July. 2:00 closures are certain on the Lower Madison beginning no later than early July and possible but much less likely on the upper Madison beginning in late July.
  • Boulder River: Runoff will end between June 10 and June 20, with June 10-15 most likely. The river will get too low to float by July 10-15, and perhaps sooner. High water temps and low flows will almost certainly be a problem even for wade-fishing in August due to this small river’s intense irrigation drawdowns. The Boulder seldom sees any fishing restrictions due to water levels or temperature, but in all honesty I expect areas downstream of Natural Bridge should be closed 24 hours a day in August this year, due as much to irrigation drawdowns as water temps.
  • Stillwater River: Runoff will end between June 15 and June 25, with June 20 most likely. Upper sections will be too low to float around July 10-15. Lower portions downstream of the Rosebud confluence will be high enough to float through sometime in August, probably the 20th. The best fishing will occur in July. 2:00 closures are possible in late July and August.
  • Missouri River: No appreciable runoff will occur. The carp/walleye/pike water upstream from Canyon Ferry Reservoir will as always fish best from late July through early September. Head-hunting carp here will be our preferred option for early August trips if we have a hot/dry summer. The trout water downstream of Canyon Ferry (including “Land of Giants”) will fish best from now through June. Both the trout water and the “other” water are less likely to have closures than any other water we fish.
  • Private Lakes: Day-to-day weather is more important on the lakes than snowmelt. These lakes should fish well from early April through at least mid-June, with hot/bright weather thereafter the determining factor on when things get slow.
  • Paradise Valley Spring Creeks: Fishing is always best on the creeks from early March through April, then again from about June 20 through July 20. Unfortunately, radically-increasing pressure on the creeks now means that many prime dates in June-July 2023 are now booked solid. We’re basically done guiding on these creeks except in March-April because of this.
  • Other Waters: The Gallatin River will likely drop out of runoff in mid-June and possibly get too warm by late July. The Jefferson River will drop from runoff by June 10-15 and probably be too warm the instant it does. Immense fish kills occurred on this river in 2021 and this year will be no better. Many portions may honestly never recover, given the likely future flows and water temps current climate models predict. Montana small streams will generally fish best in July and perhaps early August if they don’t drop TOO fast. Public lakes in Montana will be best in May and early June except for carp, which rise to hoppers on some lakes in late July and August.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: The Lake-Falls stretch always opens July 15. It will be best for the week thereafter. The Grand Canyon from the Falls to the Lamar confluence will not experience an unfishably-high runoff. It should fish well with nymphs and streamers as soon as it opens on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, though it won’t necessarily be “pretty.” 2:00 closures are likely in August, though only because YNP tends to use a hammer as its only tool in fisheries management–in reality, this section of the Yellowstone stays under 70 degrees and is deep enough to offer good cover even in awful drought years. The Grand Canyon will probably offer the best fishing of any stretch of the Yellowstone this year averaged out over the whole season, including sections both inside and outside the park. The Black Canyon section downstream of the Lamar confluence tracks similarly to the Yellowstone River outside the park.
  • Gardner River: The Gardner will be fishable on a day-to-day basis from the park opener through mid-June, then be good through early July throughout and after early July only upstream from Boiling River. Downstream of Boiling River will be too warm until mid-September. Note that the Gardner saw overwhelming pressure in 2021 and generally fished poorly because of it except in June and October.
  • Lamar River & Tributaries: Runoff will end around June 20 on Slough Creek and between June 20 and July 1 elsewhere. The best fishing will be for the month thereafter. Late August and early September will see low water and spooky fish, particularly on Slough Creek. Roadside areas saw overwhelming pressure in 2021 and 2022 might well be worse.
  • Firehole River: The Firehole will not experience an appreciable runoff and will fish best between the park opener and June 10. The first hot/dry spell between June 5 and June 20 will shut down fishing until after Labor Day. Overall, this will be a very grim season for the Firehole. We did not guide on the Firehole in 2021 and almost certainly will not in 2022, either. If current climate models continue, the Firehole will cease to be a relevant fishery downstream of Old Faithful by 2030 due to repeated fish kills associated with high water temperatures.
  • Gibbon River: The Gibbon upstream of Norris Geyser Basin will be fishable sometime between the park opener and June 5 and will be best before mid-July. Areas downstream of Norris Geyser Basin are unlikely to experience an appreciable runoff and will be best between the season opener and June 10. After June 10, the first hot spell will shut the fishing off until September 1. This is going to be a bad year for the lower Gibbon.
  • Upper Madison River: Generally similar to the Firehole but will hang on for a few days after the first hot spell. This is going to be a bad year for the Park section of the Madison.
  • Lakes in YNP: Ice-out will depend on day-to-day weather but should occur before or right around Opening Day. All should be accessible from this point onward due to limited snow on the trails. All will fish best from ice-out (or Opening Day, whichever comes second) through June, then trail off through early July.
  • Creeks in YNP: Meadow-type streams will become fishable between June 10 and June 20, with those draining lakes becoming fishable towards the earlier end and those draining mountains falling into shape later. All will be best for the first month after they come in. Rough, mountain creeks will come into shape between June 20 and July 1 and be best for a month starting about a week after they fall into shape.

Late March Update on Snowpack and Likely Summer Water and Fishing Conditions

Posted on March 31st, 2022 in Season Forecasts, Weather & Water Conditions

Introduction, Current Conditions, and Long-Range Outlooks

Here in Yellowstone Country, winter snowpack and how this snowpack melts from late April through June play the most important roles in summer water supply for both fish and agriculture from early June through mid-September. June through mid-September temperatures and rainfall play a secondary role. Only after mid-September does day-to-day weather play the largest role in overall water levels and water quality. Winter weather is thus very helpful in planning summer fishing trips to the region.

On the heels of low snowpack in 2020-2021 followed by a record warm, dry summer that came early, we are currently in severe to extreme drought throughout the YCFF operations area. Most areas are in extreme drought, the second-worst category overall. Montana is in worse shape as far as drought than any other regions in the West except for Oregon east of the Cascade Range and southern Nevada. Unfortunately, we have had a very dry winter and had record warmth (now thankfully over) in the latter half of March. This record warmth ripped the guts out of what meager snowpack we do have and primed this snow to melt.

As of right now, areas within our operations area are at 68% to 80% of normal, with the most important basins–the Yellowstone River Basin in WY and Yellowstone Park and the Yellowstone River Basin in Montana–at 80% and 75%, respectively. Combine the drought and the low snowpack and you get a recipe for exceptionally low water through much of the peak mid/late summer season. I would not be surprised if most of the snowpack disappears straight into the ground as it did in California last year.

Long-range outlooks offer some hope for cooler weather through April, but none for much late-season snowfall.

Summary of Anticipated Water & Fishing Conditions

In a general sense, here’s what we expect for June through mid-September streamflow and fishing conditions. This is based on current conditions and the longer-range outlooks. Think of the following as something like a weather forecast from a week out: it’s too early for specifics, but the general outline is probably accurate. Absent an exceptionally cold and wet second quarter to the year, we now anticipate extreme low water conditions starting in mid-July and lasting until the fall rains come sometime in mid-September.

  • The fishing and guiding seasons began a couple weeks ago and fishing has been good. The period from now through about April 20 as well as June and the first two or three weeks of July are almost certain to offer the most consistent fishing of the year.
  • Below-normal snowpack and resulting summer streamflows are now certain. How low we go depends on how much moisture we get through mid-May and how the snow melts from late April onward. Record-low water in late summer is very possible.
  • We anticipate a light snowmelt and an early end to the snowmelt cycle. The end point will depend on when the snow starts melting in earnest.
  • Mid-June through mid-July will offer much better conditions than August and early September on all waters, including many small streams and areas within Yellowstone Park that are typically too high and muddy to fish before early July. An early start to the spring melt will put the latter half of July in jeopardy as well.
  • The fish are likely to be spooky and difficult from mid-July through mid-September more often than not, with steeper, faster, deeper water holding on longer.
  • 2:00PM fishing closures will be common to almost universal across our operations area between sometime in the last ten days of July and late August. Closures outside of these timeframes are possible if we have an early extreme warmup as we did in 2021.
  • Complete fishing closures are possible on many waters in August if we have a repeat of last summer’s record heat and drought. This could include total fishing closures in Yellowstone Park. These are much less likely in Montana.
  • Very limited legal or at least ethical fishing opportunities are possible in August if we have a hot/dry summer.
  • The fishing opportunities will increase substantially with the first spell of cooler weather, usually in the last week or so of August, but the fishing will remain very difficult most days until the weather gets cold and gray sometime in the latter half of September.
  • Due to tinderbox conditions throughout most of the West, fires and smoke from both local and distant fires are likely to be very bad this year beginning in mid-July.
  • Due to anticipated very poor conditions in August, we now discourage fishing-specific travel to the area between August 1 and at least August 20. We are still accepting bookings for this period, but only if clients are willing to book “guide’s choice” trips in terms of duration (full-day vs half-day, the latter being much more likely if we’re targeting trout), trip type (walk or float), and target species. In regards to target species, high stress on trout and widespread closures on trout waters may mean that carp will be our preferred target species in August, particularly on full-day trips.
  • Due to the winding-down of COVID (we hope) prompting high tourism, as well as the rapidly increasing population in the region, fishing pressure will be intense from the end of runoff through early October, assuming fires and stream closures allow for it. The quality of the fishing will not play any role in how many people are on the water. We are already seeing much more fishing pressure than used to be typical, including record-high bookings for March and April.

Detailed Fishing Conditions by Water

The following information is coming into sharper focus now, since most of the snow that will accumulate has accumulated. The real X factors remaining are when the spring melt starts in earnest (early–>late April, normal–>first ten days of May, late–>anytime thereafter), how much June rain we receive, and how soon the first summer heat wave hits. In 2021 we were in much better shape for snowpack than we are this year prior to the end of April, but we had an early melt, an exceptionally dry June, and broiling-hot weather from mid-June through mid-July. These three factors crushed us last year.

If we have a normal or late start to the melt, a normal to wet June, and a normal to cool June and early July, we will be in good shape to avoid widespread closures. If we have a similar start to summer as we did last year, complete fishing closures in the vast majority of our operations area are very likely in late summer.

Montana Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: While it’s conceivably we won’t have an unfishable runoff on the Yellowstone, only a few muddy days here and there, it’s more likely runoff will end between June 5 and June 20, with June 10-15 most likely. The fishing will be best for the month following. One of my long-time clients booked for June 20-21 and I suspect he hit his dates perfectly. Hot, bright days from about July 20-25 through early September will be very difficult, particularly in shallow, gentle sections of river. 2:00PM fishing closures are very likely on the entire Yellowstone River from YNP to Laurel from sometime in late July or early August until sometime in late August. Complete fishing closures are possible in the first three weeks of August.
  • Madison River: The Lower Madison will not experience any appreciable runoff and will be best prior to June 10. After June 15 it will generally run too warm after noon depending on day-to-day weather. The Upper Madison (really outside my ops area) will likewise probably not experience much of a runoff. It will be best from mid-June through mid-July. 2:00 closures are certain on the Lower Madison beginning no later than early July and possible on the upper Madison beginning in late July.
  • Boulder River: Runoff will end between June 5 and June 20, with June 10-15 most likely. The river will get too low to float by July 10, and perhaps sooner. High water temps and low flows will almost certainly be a problem even for wade-fishing in August due to this small river’s intense irrigation drawdowns. The Boulder seldom sees any fishing restrictions due to water levels or temperature, but in all honesty I expect areas downstream of Natural Bridge should be closed 24 hours a day in August this year, due as much to irrigation drawdowns as water temps.
  • Stillwater River: Runoff will end between June 10 and June 20, with June 15 most likely. Upper sections will be too low to float around July 10. Lower portions downstream of the Rosebud confluence will be high enough to float through sometime in August, probably the 15th-25th. The best fishing will occur in July. 2:00 closures are possible in late July and August.
  • Missouri River: No appreciable runoff will occur. The carp/walleye/pike water upstream from Canyon Ferry Reservoir will as always fish best from late July through early September. Head-hunting carp here will be our preferred option for early August trips if we have a hot/dry summer. The trout water downstream of Canyon Ferry (including “Land of Giants”) will fish best from now through June. Both the trout water and the “other” water are less likely to have closures than any other water we fish.
  • Private Lakes: Day-to-day weather is more important on the lakes than snowmelt. These lakes should fish well from early April through at least mid-June, with hot/bright weather thereafter the determining factor on when things get slow.
  • Paradise Valley Spring Creeks: Fishing is always best on the creeks from early March through April, then again from about June 20 through July 20. Unfortunately, radically-increasing pressure on the creeks now means that many prime dates in June-July 2023 are now booked solid. We’re basically done guiding on these creeks except in March-April because of this.
  • Other Waters: The Gallatin River will likely drop out of runoff in mid-June and possibly get too warm by late July. The Jefferson River will drop from runoff by June 10-15 and probably be too warm the instant it does. Immense fish kills occurred on this river in 2021 and this year will be no better. Many portions may honestly never recover, given the likely future flows and water temps current climate models predict. Montana small streams will generally fish best in July and perhaps early August if they don’t drop TOO fast. Public lakes in Montana will be best in May and early June except for carp, which rise to hoppers on some lakes in late July and August.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: The Lake-Falls stretch always opens July 15. It will be best for the week thereafter. The Grand Canyon from the Falls to the Lamar confluence will not experience an unfishably-high runoff. It should fish well with nymphs and streamers as soon as it opens on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, though it won’t necessarily be “pretty.” 2:00 closures are likely in August, though only because YNP tends to use a hammer as its only tool in fisheries management–in reality, this section of the Yellowstone stays under 70 degrees and is deep enough to offer good cover even in awful drought years. The Grand Canyon will probably offer the best fishing of any stretch of the Yellowstone this year averaged out over the whole season, including sections both inside and outside the park. The Black Canyon section downstream of the Lamar confluence tracks similarly to the Yellowstone River outside the park.
  • Gardner River: The Gardner will be fishable on a day-to-day basis from the park opener through mid-June, then be good through early July throughout and after early July only upstream from Boiling River. Downstream of Boiling River will be too warm until mid-September. Note that the Gardner saw overwhelming pressure in 2021 and generally fished poorly because of it except in June and October.
  • Lamar River & Tributaries: Runoff will end between June 15 and June 25 on Slough Creek and between June 15 and July 1 elsewhere. The best fishing will be for the month thereafter. Late August and early September will see low water and spooky fish, particularly on Slough Creek. Roadside areas saw overwhelming pressure in 2021 and 2022 might well be worse.
  • Firehole River: The Firehole will not experience an appreciable runoff and will fish best between the park opener and June 10. The first hot/dry spell between June 5 and June 20 will shut down fishing until after Labor Day. Overall, this will be a very grim season for the Firehole. We did not guide on the Firehole in 2021 and almost certainly will not in 2022, either. If current climate models continue, the Firehole will cease to be a relevant fishery downstream of Old Faithful by 2030 due to repeated fish kills associated with high water temperatures.
  • Gibbon River: The Gibbon upstream of Norris Geyser Basin will be fishable sometime between the park opener and June 5 and will be best before mid-July. Areas downstream of Norris Geyser Basin are unlikely to experience an appreciable runoff and will be best between the season opener and June 10. After June 10, the first hot spell will shut the fishing off until September 1. This is going to be a bad year for the lower Gibbon.
  • Upper Madison River: Generally similar to the Firehole but will hang on for a few days after the first hot spell. This is going to be a bad year for the Park section of the Madison.
  • Lakes in YNP: Ice-out will depend on day-to-day weather but should occur before or right around Opening Day. All should be accessible from this point onward due to limited snow on the trails. All will fish best from ice-out (or Opening Day, whichever comes second) through June, then trail off through early July.
  • Creeks in YNP: Meadow-type streams will become fishable between June 5 and June 20, with those draining lakes becoming fishable towards the earlier end and those draining mountains falling into shape later. All will be best for the first month after they come in. Rough, mountain creeks will come into shape between June 15 and July 1 and be best for a month starting about a week after they fall into shape.

Brief Update on Late-Summer Conditions and Guided Trip Availability

Posted on March 30th, 2022 in Season Forecasts, Weather & Water Conditions

Our next full update on snowpack and current summer water conditions should drop on Friday. That said, recent continued degradation to our already scant snowpack means that we are now certain to experience extreme drought conditions in late summer. Record low flows and the worst late-summer fishing conditions since 1988 are now likely.

As such, we now actively DISCOURAGE potential clients from planning fishing trips to Montana from August 1 through August 20. We are likely to face broad and extreme fishing restrictions to protect trout at this time, possibly including full fishing closures in Yellowstone Park and on most or all large rivers outside it. 2:00 closures on all major trout waters are now almost certain.

For clients who are planning general family vacations and still want to get a day of guided fishing in, we will accept August bookings only on a “guide’s choice” basis as far as trip type, duration, and target species. We heartily encourage arranging “peak season” travel to fish in June and the first three weeks of July or after September 15.

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