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Mid-March Snowpack Update and Season Fishing Forecast

Posted on March 19th, 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 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. 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 the state of Nevada. Unfortunately, current snowpack is very low, so these conditions are not likely to improve much. Current snowpack ranges from 74% to 86% of normal for the date in our ops area, with the two most important basins (the Yellowstone River basins in Wyoming/YNP and Montana) at 83% and 81% of normal, respectively.

The culprit for the above low snowpack is simple: we had very little fall and early winter snow, lots of snow from about December 10 through New Year, almost none in January and most of February, and a little since. January and February snowfall were record-low in many areas throughout the region. The following graphic is from the Two Ocean Plateau Snotel, a high-elevation snow data sensor at 9240 feet near Yellowstone Park’s southern boundary, in the Wyoming portion of the Upper Yellowstone basin. Notice the flatline. That’s this year’s water. The smooth green line is mean snowpack for the date. The jerky green line is median snowpack for the date.

 

Unfortunately, the 6–10 and 8–14 day outlooks, the monthly outlook for March, and the 3-month outlook for April through June do not look promising for much improvement in the above numbers. The 8–14 day and three-month outlooks (the latter covers the entire spring runoff season) are provided below.8-14 day weather outlook for mid-march

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. Spring fishing conditions depend on day-to-day weather; we hope for a late and slow start to the spring snowmelt.

  • The fishing and guiding seasons have already begun. Now (mid-March) through mid-April will probably offer the most consistent float-fishing of the entire season, with the exception of about a month in June-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 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.
  • Late June and July fishing conditions will be better than August and early September conditions.
  • The fish are likely to be spooky and difficult for much of the season.
  • 2:00PM fishing closures will be common to universal across our operations area between July 25 and August 25. 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.
  • Fires and smoke from both local and distant fires are likely to be very bad this year beginning in mid-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 is typical for season, including record-high bookings for March.

Detailed Fishing Conditions by Water

The following information is still quite general, as we still don’t know exactly how much snow we will get or when and how this snow will melt. In general, more snow and a later melt will push things towards the latter end of the following date ranges, increase overall summer streamflows, improve the fishing in late July and August, and reduce fishing quality in June, while little moisture for the remainder of winter and early spring and an early start to the melt will have opposite effects.

Fishing beginning in early-mid September depends more on day-to-day weather than snowmelt. In general, the fishing AFTER September 15 will probably be better than the fishing BEFORE unless we see unusual weather. We DID see unusual weather in 2021; early September was cool and wet while late September was warm and bright, so fishing was much better in early September last year. This was very odd.

Montana Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: Runoff will end between June 10 and June 20. The fishing will be best for the month following. Hot, bright days in August and 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 until sometime in late August unless we are blessed with a late runoff and a cool, wet June.
  • Madison River: The Lower Madison will not experience any appreciable runoff and will be best prior to June 10. After June 15 it may be 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.
  • Boulder River: Runoff will end between June 10 and June 20, with June 15 most likely. The river is likely to get too low to float around 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.
  • Stillwater River: Runoff will end between June 10 and June 25, with June 15-20 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 late August. The best fishing will occur in July.
  • Missouri River: No appreciable runoff will occur. It’s actually pretty unlikely flows from Holter Dam will change much at all from the current 3000-odd CFS levels this spring. 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 imporant 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 mid-June 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 but will also be okay in August provided they don’t get TOO skinny. Public lakes in Montana will be best in May and June.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: The Lake-Falls stretch always opens July 15. It will be best for the two weeks thereafter. The Grand Canyon from the Falls to the Lamar confluence is unlikely to 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 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.
  • Lamar River & Tributaries: Runoff will end between June 15 and July 1 on Slough Creek and between June 20 and July 4 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 10 and June 20 will shut down fishing until after Labor Day. 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 is unlikely to experience an appreciable runoff and will be best between June 1 and June 15. After June 15, 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 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 July.
  • Creeks in YNP: Meadow-type streams will become fishable between June 5 and June 25, 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 4 and be best for a month starting about a week after they fall into shape.

Snowpack Report and Summer Streamflow and Fishing Outlook: Early March Update

Posted on March 3rd, 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 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. Montana is in worse shape as far as drought than any other region in the West except for Oregon east of the Cascade Range. Unfortunately, current snowpack is very low, so these conditions are not likely to improve much. Current snowpack ranges from 77% to 85% of normal for the date in our ops area, with the two most important basins (the Yellowstone River basins in Wyoming and Montana) at 85% and 81% of normal, respectively.

Montana snowpack for March 3, 2022

Montana snowpack as of March 3, 2022. Our operations area is circled in red.

The culprit for the above low snowpack is simple: we had very little fall and early winter snow, lots of snow from about December 10 through New Year, and almost none since. January and February snowfall were record-low in many areas throughout the region. The following graphic is from the Two Ocean Plateau Snotel, a high-elevation snow data sensor at 9240 feet near Yellowstone Park’s southern boundary, in the Wyoming portion of the Upper Yellowstone basin. Notice the flatline. That’s this year’s water. The smooth green line is mean snowpack for the date. The jerky green line is median snowpack for the date.

 

The past week has been awful for snowpack, with temperatures reaching into the 40s even in the mountains and touching the mid-50s at valley level. Low-elevation snow is almost gone. Things do look to improve between now and mid-March, however. Cold, wet weather is in the forecast more or less as far as the eye can see. We hope it materializes. Such outlooks have been present throughout most of the winter but have rarely come to pass. The following graphics show the composite temperature and precip outlooks for the 6–10 day period and through March. This information is at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

6-10 day weather outlook for Montana long range weather outlook for March

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. Spring fishing conditions depend on day-to-day weather; we hope for a late and slow start to the spring snowmelt.

  • Below-normal snowpack and resulting summer streamflows are now basically 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.
  • Late June and July fishing conditions will generally be better than August and early September conditions.
  • The fish are likely to be spooky and difficult for much of the season.
  • If we have a hot/dry summer, 2:00PM fishing closures will be common to universal across our operations area between July 25 and August 25. Closures outside of these timeframes are possible if we have an early extreme warmup as we did in 2021.
  • Fires and smoke from both local and distant fires are likely to be very bad this year beginning in mid-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.

Detailed Fishing Conditions by Water

The following information is still quite general, as we still don’t know exactly how much snow we will get or when and how this snow will melt. In general, more snow and a later melt will push things towards the latter end of the following date ranges, increase overall summer streamflows, improve the fishing in late July and August, and reduce fishing quality in June, while little moisture for the remainder of winter and early spring and an early start to the melt will have opposite effects.

Fishing beginning in early-mid September depends more on day-to-day weather than snowmelt. In general, the fishing AFTER September 15 will probably be better than the fishing BEFORE unless we see unusual weather. We DID see unusual weather in 2021; early September was cool and wet while late September was warm and bright, so fishing was much better in early September last year. This was very odd.

Montana Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: Runoff will end between June 5 and June 25, with June 15-20 now most likely. The fishing will be best for the month to six weeks after runoff starts to trail off. Hot, bright days in August and early September will be very difficult, particularly in shallow, gentle sections of river.
  • Madison River: The Lower Madison will not experience any appreciable runoff and will be best prior to June 15. After June 20 it may be 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.
  • Boulder River: Runoff will end between June 1 and June 20, with June 15 most likely. The river is likely to get too low to float no later than July 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.
  • Stillwater River: Runoff will end between June 1 and June 25, with June 15-20 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 late August. The best fishing will occur in July.
  • Missouri River: No appreciable runoff will occur. It’s actually pretty unlikely flows from Holter Dam will change much at all from the current 3000-odd CFS levels this spring. 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 imporant 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 mid-June 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 but will also be okay in August provided they don’t get TOO skinny. Public lakes in Montana will be best in May and June.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: The Lake-Falls stretch always opens July 15. It will be best for the two weeks thereafter. The Grand Canyon from the Falls to the Lamar confluence may not experience an unfishable runoff. If it does become too high, it will clear no later than June 10-15. It will be best in late June and July but should produce for the remainder of the season if it does not get too warm. 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.
  • Lamar River & Tributaries: Runoff will end between June 15 and July 1 on Slough Creek and between June 20 and July 4 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 10 and June 25 will shut down fishing until after Labor Day.
  • Gibbon River: The Gibbon is unlikely to experience an appreciable runoff and will be best between June 1 and June 15. After June 15, 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 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 July.
  • Creeks in YNP: Meadow-type streams will become fishable between June 5 and June 25, 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 4 and be best for a month starting about a week after they fall into shape.

Snowpack Report and Predictions for Summer Streamflow and Fishing Conditions – Mid-February Update

Posted on February 17th, 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. Montana is in worse shape as far as drought than any other region in the West except for Oregon east of the Cascade Range. Unfortunately, current snowpack is very low, so these conditions are not likely to improve much. Current snowpack ranges from 80% to 89% of normal in our ops area, with the two most important basins (the Yellowstone River basins in Wyoming and Montana) at 85% and 82% of normal, respectively.

Montana snowpack as of February 17, 2022

Snowpack as of Feb 17. Our operations area is circled in red. Snowpack for Wyoming and YNP basins in our operations area is noted at bottom left.

The culprit for the above low snowpack is simple: we had very little fall and early winter snow, lots of snow from about December 10 through New Year, and almost none since. January and early February snowfall may very well have been record-low in many areas throughout the region. Bridger Bowl, the closest ski area, only has a bit over half of its normal snowbase for the date, and much of that fell in the past two days. The following graphic is from the Two Ocean Plateau Snotel, a high-elevation snow data sensor at 9240 feet near Yellowstone Park’s southern boundary, in the Wyoming portion of the Upper Yellowstone basin. Notice the flatline. That’s this year’s water. The smooth green line is mean snowpack for the date. The jerky green line is median snowpack for the date.

Two Ocean Plateau Snotel data.

We are currently in a slightly wetter phase, with a potentially substantial storm likely over the Presidents’ Day Weekend coming up. This storm should move the needle in a positive direction. After that, intermediate-term outlooks as of February 17 call for cold but dry conditions over the 6-10 and 8-14 day periods. The monthly outlook for March calls for above normal precipitation. Let’s hope this is correct. The three-month outlook for March through May is inconclusive, with equal chances of above normal, normal, and below normal temps and precip. We hope things slant cool and wet. Unfortunately, summer outlooks are calling for hot and dry conditions.

April outlooks
JJA outlooks

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. Spring fishing conditions depend on day-to-day weather; we hope for a late and slow start to the spring snowmelt.

  • Below-normal snowpack and resulting summer streamflows are now basically 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 to normal end to the snowmelt cycle. The end point will depend on when the snow starts melting in earnest.
  • Late June and July fishing conditions will generally be better than August and early September conditions.
  • The fish are likely to be spooky and difficult for much of the season.
  • If we have a hot/dry summer, 2:00PM fishing closures will be common to universal across our operations area between July 25 and August 25. Closures outside of these timeframes are possible if we have an early extreme warmup as we did in 2021.
  • Fires and smoke from both local and distant fires are likely to be very bad this year beginning in mid-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.

Detailed Fishing Conditions by Water

The following information is still quite general, as we still don’t know exactly how much snow we will get or when and how this snow will melt. In general, more snow and a later melt will push things towards the latter end of the following date ranges, increase overall summer streamflows, improve the fishing in late July and August, and reduce fishing quality in June, while little moisture for the remainder of winter and early spring and an early start to the melt will have opposite effects.

Fishing beginning in early-mid September depends more on day-to-day weather than snowmelt. In general, the fishing AFTER September 15 will probably be better than the fishing BEFORE unless we see unusual weather. We DID see unusual weather in 2021; early September was cool and wet while late September was warm and bright, so fishing was much better in early September last year. This was very odd.

Montana Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: Runoff will end between June 5 and June 25, with June 15-20 now most likely. The fishing will be best for the month to six weeks after runoff starts to trail off. Hot, bright days in August and early September will be very difficult, particularly in shallow, gentle sections of river.
  • Madison River: The Lower Madison will not experience any appreciable runoff and will be best prior to June 15. After June 20 it may be 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.
  • Boulder River: Runoff will end between June 1 and June 20, with June 15 most likely. The river is likely to get too low to float no later than July 15. 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.
  • Stillwater River: Runoff will end between June 1 and June 25, with June 15-20 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 late August. The best fishing will occur in July.
  • Missouri River: No appreciable runoff will occur. It’s actually pretty unlikely flows from Holter Dam will change much at all from the current 3000-odd CFS levels this spring. 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 imporant 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 mid-June 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 but will also be okay in August provided they don’t get TOO skinny. Public lakes in Montana will be best in May and June.

Yellowstone Park Fisheries

  • Yellowstone River: The Lake-Falls stretch always opens July 15. It will be best for the two weeks thereafter. The Grand Canyon from the Falls to the Lamar confluence may not experience an unfishable runoff. If it does become too high, it will clear no later than June 10-15. It will be best in late June and July but should produce for the remainder of the season if it does not get too warm. 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.
  • Lamar River & Tributaries: Runoff will end between June 15 and July 1 on Slough Creek and between June 20 and July 4 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 10 and June 25 will shut down fishing until after Labor Day.
  • Gibbon River: The Gibbon is unlikely to experience an appreciable runoff and will be best between June 1 and June 15. After June 15, 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 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 July.
  • Creeks in YNP: Meadow-type streams will become fishable between June 5 and June 25, 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 4 and be best for a month starting about a week after they fall into shape.

Early February Snowpack Report – Do Your Snow Dances

Posted on February 2nd, 2022 in Area Fishing News, Season Forecasts, Weather & Water Conditions

I won’t bury the lede. We have had a warm, dry winter in Montana. Coming on the heels of record heat and drought last summer and a warm, dry winter in 2020-2021, we desperately need snow.

As of right now, the numbers don’t look too bad. I’ll let the following map do the talking. Our operations area is outlined in red:Feb 2 2022 Montana Snowpack

The problem is that these numbers are showing across the board declines over the past month. While the east has been getting pummeled by storm after storm, we have been in a horrific dry spell. The above are percentages of normal for the date, meaning that here in Livingston we’re at 85% of normal accumulated snowpack for this time of year, since we’re in the Upper Yellowstone basin.  In early January, we were 15 points higher. The Madison/Gallatin basin in YNP was more like 30 points higher. The basic problem is that January is historically one of our three snowiest months, along with March and April. For all intents and purposes, it has not snowed at all in the past month.

Long-range outlooks through February 10 or so suggest continued warm and dry conditions. After February 10, a possible shift to cold/wet conditions is possible. We want this shift. In general, we prefer normal to slightly high snowpack to keep our waters running cold through the summer. To have any hope of getting such conditions for summer, we really need to shift during February rather than later, since we have such a debt to make up after last year. All of Montana and western Wyoming is in severe, extreme, or exceptional drought, the three worst categories. Without substantial improvement to snowpack, our drought situation and therefore summer/fall streamflows will not improve.

It is still early enough we can’t make set-in-stone predictions about summer streamflows and fishing conditions. Our first in-depth predictions will come around March 1. Even so, the following conditions seem likely given our drought situation and current snowpack numbers:

  • We anticipate an early end to the spring snowmelt and low flows overall. Even if snowpack improves to near-normal, this still seems likely.
  • Water conditions will be better from sometime in the latter half of June through July than they are in August and early September. Precise dates will depend on how much snowpack changes (hopefully improves) and when this snow melts.
  • Low, warm water is likely. Poor fishing conditions on some low-elevation waters are basically certain, and at least some 2:00PM fishing closures are probable. Last summer such closures were universal between late July and late August. Without substantial improvement, we are headed for similar closures in 2022.

We will put up another update in mid-February, hopefully with an improvement in snowpack or at least better prospects for snow to report.

Newsletter for Winter 21-22

Posted on December 26th, 2021 in Newsletters

Got an hour to kill? Want to read a truly massive fishing newsletter?

Go ahead and click this link, if you dare…

Hebgen Dam Malfunction Effects on the 2022 Fly Fishing Season

Posted on December 3rd, 2021 in Area Fishing News, Season Forecasts, Weather & Water Conditions

As many readers will know, Hebgen Dam on the Madison River malfunctioned the morning of November 30. In this post, we give a summary of the problem, immediate efforts to rescue stranded fish, and impacts. We then make some guesses on the effects of Hebgen Dam malfunction on the 2022 Montana fly fishing season.

Summary of the Hebgen Dam Malfunction

Around midnight on Tuesday the 30th, a dam component broke and caused the dam’s outlet gate to immediately shut. This Hebgen Dam malfunction reduced the river’s flow from just under 700cfs to under 200cfs (half the record low flow) in about 30 seconds. Imagine the latch that keeps an extendable ladder extended suddenly breaking and the ladder collapsing abruptly to its folded length.

madison river flow graph

Madison River flow graph showing the abrupt drop (and recovery) in flows.

This abrupt cut in flows did not leave time for fish (trout and forage both) in side channels and other shallow areas to flee to deeper areas and left brown trout redds full of fertilized eggs from the recent spawn high and dry. Here are more details on the problem. Repairs on the dam were completed just after midnight on Thursday December 2, meaning fish in side channels were trapped and eggs left exposed for about 48 hours. The impacts were highest between Hebgen and Quake Lakes, where the drop in flows was most abrupt and only a couple tiny tributaries enter to keep flows slightly higher.

dry madison river

The channel at left is usually a couple feet deep and is full of brown trout redds.

On Wednesday December 1, volunteers coordinated by Montana FWP staff conducted a salvage operation to move fish trapped in deep spots in cut-off side channels to the main channel while avoiding redds that were still damp. Most fish moved were sculpins and some small trout. Most dead fish found were small trout. It seems that most larger trout were already in deeper water (typical for winter water conditions) or were strong enough to wriggle over the shallow gravel while it still had any water at all flowing over it. That said, the largest trout rescued were over 24 inches in length.

Immediate Impacts

Despite the above efforts and the relatively short period before flows returned to normal, a fish kill of unknown proportions is certain. Additionally, a substantial loss of the 2021 brown trout spawn is also certain. The worst fish kill seems likely to have occurred immediately below the dam. The worst egg loss is likely the entire section between Hebgen Dam and natural Quake Lake downstream. Both impacts gradually decrease the further downstream you travel, with the trout kill in particular much lower by Cameron, Montana, about halfway between Quake Lake and Ennis Lake. Impacts on redds are likely present throughout the Madison between Hebgen Dam and Ennis Lake.

Several factors probably help reduce the overall impacts of the dam failure:

  • The weather: It has been extremely warm in Montana lately. This means that most isolated side channels did not freeze overnight, even at the surface. In effect, the side channels cut off from the main river were briefly turned into shallow ponds in which fish were trapped. While stressful, since these areas did not freeze, most fish trapped in the deep spots in side channels did and will survive.
  • The season: Most fish, adult trout in particular, were already in winter holding areas of deep areas of the main channel or – in the case of fish “Between the Lakes” between Hebgen Dam and Quake Lake – down in Quake Lake. Compared to summer, when many fish move into side channels to get out of heavier currents in the mainstem and/or to feed, many fewer fish were trapped.
  • Prompt and massive recovery efforts: A huge turnout on Wednesday December 1 from Ennis, West Yellowstone, and Bozeman fishing guides, anglers, and concerned locals to help FWP relocate trapped fish meant that many fish, particularly trapped sculpins, were moved to safety in the mainstem. So many volunteers turned out that many were not required to join recovery efforts since all publicly-accessible areas were covered.

Montana FWP instituted an immediate emergency fishing closure on the entire Madison River from Hebgen Dam to Ennis Lake when notified of the crisis. To our surprise, this closure was lifted as of Friday, December 3. We expected it would be continued for quite some time and honestly are a bit horrified that it was lifted.

We encourage all anglers to AVOID this stretch of the Madison through the winter and spring months to allow the fish time to recover and to ensure no angler impacts on remaining brown trout redds and the upcoming rainbow trout spawn. The lower Madison near Bozeman is below Ennis Lake and was unaffected by the dam malfunction. The Yellowstone Park section was likewise unaffected.

Volunteers rescuing trout and sculpins on the Madison River

Volunteers rescuing trout and sculpins on the Madison River. Photo by Washingtonflyfishing.com message board member (and Bozeman-area local) user “Swimmy.”

Effects of the Hebgen Dam Malfunction on the Madison River

Effects on the Madison River itself remain to be seen but are likely to be substantial and last through the 2022 season and beyond. These impacts will be highest between Hebgen and Quake Lakes and lowest between Varney Bridge and Ennis Lake. The lower Madison River downstream of Ennis Dam (including the Beartrap Canyon) will be unaffected since Ennis Dam had normal water releases during the crisis.

Likely effects include:

  • Slightly reduced overall trout counts: While the overall fish kill is probably not as bad as initially feared, some trout certainly died after their holding areas dried up and others will die because of the immense stress they underwent between suddenly being trapped in shallow, exposed areas and the stress of being trapped and moved to refuge in the main channel. Immediate fish kills will be concentrated on smaller trout and sculpins, while stress-related mortality will be heavier among larger trout.
  • A substantial loss of the 2021 year-class of brown trout: While not a total loss, we expect the 2021 brown trout spawn to be a disaster, especially in the “Between the Lakes” stretch and probably down to Lyons Bridge. This loss will be more and more apparent as time progresses and this year’s eggs reach catchable and then spawning size. Another poor spawn is likely in about 2026 since fewer spawning-size brown trout will be present. This impact comes on the heels of an unexplained reduction in brown trout numbers across SW Montana that has occurred over the past several seasons.
  • Reduced sculpin populations: Sculpins are big trout food and there will be a lot less of them in 2022. Maybe the trout will eat flies better? Maybe they’ll shift more to stoneflies or smaller forage? Maybe they’ll just be skinny?
  • Reduced insect populations: Almost all insects trapped in channels that went dry will have died. Like the sculpins they should bounce back quickly, but see above about potential impacts to the trout.

When the Hebgen dam malfunction first occurred, we anticipated widespread and long-term angling closures on the river. At the moment, it does not seem that these will be instituted. We believe some closures SHOULD take place. We will be writing a letter to Montana FWP as a permitted outfitter on the river and thus a stakeholder suggesting as such. We believe:

  • The Madison should be closed between Hebgen Dam and Ennis Lake from now through the third Saturday in May, 2022 to give the fish a break and to allow an unimpeded rainbow trout spawn.
  • The Madison should be closed either between Hebgen and Lyons Bridge or between Hebgen Dam and Ennis Lake from October 15, 2022 and the third Saturday in May, 2023, to allow unimpeded brown and rainbow trout spawns.

The above changes would allow populations to return to normal for the future without unduly hurting area anglers and guides. Note that the traditional season opener from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge was historically the third Saturday in May. This date was only changed about five years ago.

Effects of the Malfunction on Other Waters

We must first note that the “Between the Lakes” and “Fifty Mile Riffle” sections of the Madison River impacted by this disaster are not in our core operations area. In fact we are not authorized to guide between Hebgen Dam and Quake Lake and only run about one or two trips per season between Quake Lake and Ennis Lake. So the direct impacts of the Hebgen Dam malfunction, fish kill, and damage to the brown trout spawn on our operations and most of our Livingston-based clientele will be nonexistent.

Impacts on other waters will not be direct. Even the Missouri River of which the Madison is a source was and will remain unimpacted, since Ennis Lake downstream had normal water releases into the Missouri downstream.

Indirect effects may be present. These are all “possibilities,” rather than certainties:

  • Increased guide traffic on other waters: With reduced fish numbers on the Madison, many Bozeman-area guides may opt to float the Yellowstone River instead. Other waters like the Gallatin, Ruby, Jefferson, or other stretches of the Madison may see similar changes for a year or two.
  • Reduced angler traffic to the region overall: A small but noticeable drop in visiting anglers occurred on the Yellowstone River due to oil spills FAR downstream that occurred several years ago. These oil spills had no impact whatsoever on the Yellowstone as a trout fishery since they occurred far downstream, but bad publicity is bad publicity.  A few visitors may stay away because of this.
  • Widespread regulations changes to protect spawning trout: With proposals already being floated to reduce angling pressure during the brown trout spawn due to the aforementioned reduction in brown trout numbers region-wide, it’s possible FWP will implement widespread October-spring closures to protect this spawn not just on the Madison, but on most rivers.
  • Increased oversight of public utilities: Let’s hope… This isn’t the first time Hebgen Dam has failed, a pipeline has ruptured, sewage has been dumped directly into rivers, etc. etc.

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