Welcome to the first Weekly Fishing Report from Big Sky Anglers for 2018!
We had a great snow pack throughout Yellowstone Country this winter, and that means that in this first report we will be talking a lot about run off. It comes with the territory, and we’re used to dealing with high water around here. In fact, we hope for it every year. From rainbow trout and caddis flies to elk antlers and wild flowers, everything benefits from a good snow pack.
It might be a little touch and go for a few weeks, but with more fishable water in a 90 mile radius than arguably anywhere else in the planet, there is always some fun fishing to be had somewhere around Big Sky Anglers world headquarters in West Yellowstone, Montana. Between the Henry’s Fork and the local stillwaters, we always have GREAT options for fishing. Even in the highest water years.
Read on to see our take on this week’s fishing, and check out the links below to stay current on area forecasts and flows.
Stay tuned as we report each week on hatches, flows, weather, and more. For the most up to date info stop by the shop, give us a call, or drop us a line.
West Yellowstone Forecast
This weekend marks the beginning of another fishing season in Yellowstone National Park. While we have already been fishing for weeks outside the park, the YNP opener serves as the official start to the 2018 season, and it’s a weekend that we all look forward to.
The fishing season officially begins this Saturday, and there are some important new regulations in place for 2018. Most notably, all felt soled wading boots have been banned from park waters to limit the spread of aquatic invasive species. So, if you haven’t already, make sure you pick up a pair of rubber soled wading boots before you head into the park this Saturday. While you’re at it, be sure to have your new 2018 YNP fishing license and a copy of the fishing regulations too.
This year we’ll be dealing with high water, and run-off conditions for opening weekend. Each winter we keep our fingers crossed, and hope for a solid snow-pack, and a slow spring melt. Our fishing season,and the health of our fisheries depends on it. Fortunately, we got what we wished for this year, and that means we have to deal with less than ideal conditions for the first few weeks of the season.
The best bets for fishing on opening weekend in the park are traditionally the Firehole and Madison Rivers, and that remains the case on high water years too. The Firehole has been flowing right around 1,000 cfs all week, and the water is a tannic, tea-stained brown that is customary here. With rain this week, and warmer temps over the weekend, there’s a good chance flows will increase, and clarity will go from tea-stained to chocolate milk. If the clarity remains reasonable you can expect some fun fishing with streamers and soft-hackles, as well as the random (and we stress random) fish rising to PMD’s, Baetis, and Caddis. The Madison will have similar conditions and fishing opportunities as the Firehole. Stay tuned to these legendary fisheries for some great hatches and classic fishing in the weeks to come as water conditions improve. Give us a call here in the shop for up to the minute reports on water conditions and fishing reports for opening weekend
The Henry’s Fork has fished well so far this season, and remains one of the best bets for reasonable water conditions and good fishing. With 70 miles of fishable water open right now, there are a variety of solid early-season fishing opportunities available.
The Box Canyon currently has some of the best conditions in the area with clear water, and flows between 750 and 800 cfs this week. We have enjoyed the low flows here while they try to save storage space lower in the system for runoff water coming from drainages with heavy snow pack in the Tetons. However, Island Park Reservoir has reached full capacity and flows will be raised to roughly match inflows (currently around 1200 cfs) by this weekend. With warmer weather predicted, look for the first signs of Salmonflies over Memorial Day weekend in the Box.
The Railroad Ranch is still closed and will be through June 15. Great water conditions this winter and spring have us feeling optimistic for fishing and hatches on the Ranch this year here. Overall fish populations will be down from the last 5 years, but this usually has the effect of making the big fish bigger. Fish are rising a bit from Wood Rd 16 downstream. We are not seeing huge numbers of trout up, but those desperate to fish to big picky ones can find decent game down there for a few hours each day. March browns and caddis are predominantly driving the dry fly bite here.
The Lower River has seen a lot of early-season action, and more than its fair share of attention lately. Salmon flies are active throughout the lower river system, and some good fish have been looking for them. The Falls River is running high but not too off color currently, but as both daytime high and evening low temps rise, this will get dirtier and dirtier affecting the river from Chester down.
It’s full on run off season on the Madison right now, and with rain, and then warm temps forecasted that’s not going to change anytime soon. Flows have been on the rise this week with 1,500-2,000 cfs at Hebgen and 2,000-3,000 cfs at Kirby. A “Flushing Flow” is scheduled for sometime from the end of May to the beginning of June. That means flows will be raised to 3500 cfs at Kirby and kept there for a minimum of three days. Montana FWP has issued a press release with more info on the specifics. Click Here to read a blog post about FWP’s Press Release.
All of the usual suspects are adding mud to the Madison River. Cabin Cr., Beaver Cr., and the West Fork of the Madison are swollen and running brown. The Carrot Basin snotel site is still reading 60” of snow on the ground with more than 30” of snow water equivalent. That’s a whole lot of brown water yet to come down.
The good news is that with a great snow pack, a good flushing flow during run off, and a full season of cold water thanks to the decade-long repair on Hebgen Dam finally being completed, we’re looking forward to a great water year and some awesome fishing this summer on the Madison.
In the meantime, some productive fishing can be found with nymphs and streamers in the muddy water at classic spots like $3 Bridge and Raynold’s Pass.
Always a great bet during run off, Hebgen Lake is seeing some good fishing right now for those looking for strip leeches, hang chironomids, or hunt heads. Good numbers of Hebgen’s giant midges (size 12), and the occasional gulping trout can be found in the Madison Arm and along the North Shore. Chironomids and leeches have produced well throughout the whole lake.
Joe has been staked out up on the Mighty Mo for a few weeks as he always does this time of year. Here’s a report from his last week of guiding…
At Toston – 18,900 cfs
Below Holter – 14,000 cfs
Dearborn River – 1410 cfs
At Ulm, MT – 18,800
It’s been raining steady since yesterday evening and continued all night long. 44 degrees and raining makes for a cold day here on the Missouri River. Saturday looks to be cloudy and a slight chance of rain. On Sunday and Monday things should be drying out with warmer day time temps reaching the high 70’s.
As for the fishing…
For the past two weeks we have been rowing high water here on the Missouri River. We haven’t seen flows like this since 2011 and prior to that it was back in 1996 and 1997. High water is here to stay for at least another 4-5 weeks. Late June up here is gonna be really good! Downstream of Holter Dam are two tributaries that are tossing in quite a bit of mud, the Prickly Pear coming in about 3 miles down and then roughly 13 miles down the Dearborn merges with the Missouri at the head of the Canyon. The Pear had settled down from last week’s rain but will come back up after today. For years there had been a CFS gauge on the Prickly Pear but funding for that has gone away as of this season. My guess is that it’s flowing about 1500+ CFS. The Dearborn has dropped as well but it too will come back up after today’s rain. Most of the river traffic has been in the upper reaches of the river, anywhere from the Dam to Dearborn has been fishing pretty well most of the time. Mid Canon boat ramp is closed for now as the river is flowing through the boat ramp. Just in the past four to five days has the canyon stretch cleared up enough to catch some nice trout in green water.
Most of us up here have been rigging two nymph rigs per angler. One is set up deep, about 8-9 feet from bobber to 2-3 BB split shot with sows bugs variations for the flies. The other is rigged with a wire worm and a sow bug with a total length of about 7 feet. The latter rig is tossed at the banks/submerged willows, plan on loosing plenty of flies when fishing this way, but there are quite a few fish hanging out in this type of habitat. The deep rig has been the go to for many boats out there on the water. One must get the flies down and leave them there for as long as humanly possible. Throw left and let it roll…marinate them bugs and set the hook on anything that bumps, pauses or twitches the bobber. Hook sets are free – set often and make the hook set a back cast when nothing is attached to your line. Wait forever on the back cast and don’t forget to mend.
The super bright sunny days make the Missourui a little moody. Even at these flows, the fish don’t really like the sunshine. The past two days have been cloudy and the fishing has been very good.
I have been seeing a few more fish rise here in the past several days, but targeting them is close to impossible. I’d wager that a savvy angler could fish dry/dropper along the banks and find a couple fish willing to rise; most would take the dropper fly. Caddis are starting to show up in the canyon but not in huge numbers just yet. There are March Browns emerging as well as Blue Winged Olives. Midges too. We won’t really see much for rising fish until the river gets around 8,000 CFS. If I was fishing dry flies, it would be a #10 Parachute Adams with a worm or #12 PT dropper. One might also try a small Chubby with the nymph droppers. Most of the subsurface flies that seem to be working are sow bugs, worm patterns, a #12 PT and from time to time a BWO nymph such as the Little Green Machine. For me, I rarely take off the sow bugs above Craig, but when I get below, the previously mentioned patterns are all working.
Welcome to the information page of the
West Yellowstone Trout Spey Days!
Please, save the date: September 21-23, 2018. We are thrilled to be partnering again with the Custer Gallatin National Forest and hosting our second annual Trout Spey Days event right here in West Yellowstone. Check back in the coming months for details on event schedule, presenters, and party times! Be sure to sign up for our email newsletter for updates on this event and more.
Email Newsletter Signup
Are you already into Spey casting and fishing for trout? Maybe you have heard of it, but have never picked up a Spey rod, and are interested in getting involved in this super fun way to fish for trout? This event is open to everyone, regardless of skill/experience level, age, fly shop or industry affiliation, etc. We had a great turnout last year and have plans to expand the format and add even more opportunities for you to hang out and talk Spey with experienced pros and spend time on the water perfecting your technique.
I’ve always had a bit of fascination with any living thing I encounter during my time afield. Growing up fishing and exploring around Yellowstone might do that to a person. Or maybe I just have an innate interest in other living creatures. In Yellowstone’s wilderness, fishing comes with the legitimate chance of encountering creatures as diverse as chipmunks, marmots, bison, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, elk, and pronghorn – just to name a few mammals. While not every angling setting offers up the chance of a grizzly encounter, every place I have fished does have its own unique ecosystem to enjoy. And in my experience, every fishing spot is also home to at least a few species of birds.
I have memories of birds while fishing going way back into my childhood, but thinking back on it now, there was a moment in my life where I recognized that I was truly fascinated with the feathered friends I encountered while angling. It was in May 2004 on the Rio Malleo in Argentina. Looking up from the river at a set of towering rock spires, I caught my first glimpse of an Andean condor riding the thermals. Even soaring hundreds of feet overhead I could see the telltale white collar, and I could tell that the thing was absolutely huge! It made me want to learn more about it. On that same trip I also saw my first crested caracara, chimango caracara, and an eagle even more robust than the golden eagles in Montana. All of these birds were similar to birds from back home, but not really. I was enthralled.
Fast forward a decade +/- and I found myself becoming more and more interested in the birds I was seeing during my time on the water. I was enjoying these unique creatures (the last living dinosaurs, in fact), and having fun learning more about them. Birding was enhancing my everyday routine as well as my angling adventures.
The legendary Bud Lilly often spoke of “The Total Experience”, when it came to finding joy through fishing. It’s not only catching fish that draws us to angling, it’s the love of the fish and the rivers. Enjoying our natural surroundings and unique geology, experiencing the local birds and wildlife, participating in unique cultures, and doing it all in chosen solitude or in the company of friends and loved ones, is what completes the angling experience and keeps our passion strong.
Birding has now become a favorite part of my own “Total Experience”. I’ve accumulated a small stack of bird books, and gotten pretty handy using the web to do more research. I’ve learned some of the key ways to identify similar species that I come across often, and even started to learn a few of the “songs” they sing.
What I’ve also found is that I now equate certain bird species with specific angling locations and situations, the same way I have done with insect hatches for many years. I’ll always equate streamer fishing in Argentina with those giant Andean condors soaring on the ever present Patagonia winds. Similarly, I equate winter fishing on my local home water, the Missouri River, with the flocks of bufflehead and common goldeneye that spend the chilly months diving for insects in the calm flats. I also think of the resident bald eagles that are always happy to make a meal of one of the aforementioned waterfowl.
When I’m fishing any one of the small brushy creeks around SW Montana in the late spring, I’m always entertained by the migratory songbirds that return each year to nest in the riparian areas and feast on emerging insects. Not even a bumbling angler stops them from singing. The holy grail of bird sightings in that time and place is a male western tanager in full breeding plumage. If you ever are lucky enough to see one, you’ll remember him for sure.
In the early summer on some of my favorite lakes, I enjoy seeing the blackbirds – both the red winged and, especially, the yellow headed varieties. Again, the males are the show stoppers, full of color set off by the contrast with their predominantly black bodies. They nest in the emergent wetland vegetation along the lake margins. What I really hope to see are small groups of yellow headed blackbirds patrolling the beaches right along the water’s edge. That almost surely means that the damsel nymphs are migrating ashore to hatch, and that I need to get my fly choice sorted and the line in the water.
A swooping frigate bird makes me think of baja, the dorado, tuna, or roosterfish that might be pushing the bait up the the surface, the salt air as the boat flies foward to investigate, and the margaritas we’ll have to celebrate another great day on the sea.
And, I’ll always equate an osprey nest on top of a telephone pole with a section of the Madison River where I spent so many summers camping and fishing with my family during my childhood. That bird always caught a few whitefish from the riffle behind camp while we were hoping for a trout to rise to our dry flies.
I could go on, the more I scour my memory banks, but I will end it here. Like the title said, fishing is, at least for me, for the birds as well as the fish. Thanks, as always, for reading. Your feedback is always enjoyable, and I hope that there are others out there who enjoy my words but remain unheard.
Take Care and Fish On,
As snow piles up here at Big Sky Anglers World Headquarters in West Yellowstone, MT (the Geographic Center of the Fly Fishing Universe) our sights are locked on to the 2018 fishing season. Guide Trip reservations are pouring in, and we’re busy planning fishing adventures throughout Yellowstone Country and beyond. We’ve fielded a lot of questions over the last few weeks about times to take a guide trip. So, we decided to share some of our recommendations for a few overlooked options.
#1 – Springtime (April – May)
When most anglers think of Springtime in the Rockies they conjure up images of our big, Western rivers running wild with brown water flooding the banks and stream-side vegetation. In much of the region, that’s an accurate description. But, on two of our favorite rivers, the Henry’s Fork and the Missouri you can find a much different experience in the early-season months of April and May. You see, both of these rivers are tail-waters with strategic dam releases, and are situated at relatively low elevations compared to other big rivers like the Madison or Yellowstone. Warm weather comes much earlier to places like Ashton, ID and Cascade, MT then it does to West Yellowstone. With warm temps comes the onslaught of Spring hatches like Mother’s Day Caddis, Baetis, and Stoneflies. While no river in our region is completely immune to Spring run-off, the Henry’s Fork and Missouri Rivers generally have sections that continue to fish well through the “mud-season” because of the clean releases coming from dams on both systems. April and May weather in the Rockies can range from 70 degrees and sunny to 30 degrees and snowing, and anglers need to be prepared for any combination of weather conditions. It’s always an adventure in the Spring as our best fishing occasionally occurs when the weather is at its worst! So, if you want to experience some of our area’s best fishing at an adventurous time of year when few other anglers are thinking about trout fishing out West, consider April and May on the Henry’s Fork and Missouri Rivers.
#2 – August
The “Dog Days of Summer” can be a bear on many fisheries. That hot August sun dries out the countryside, and heats up water temps. “Hoot Owl” closures (angling restrictions placed on bodies of water when water temps are too high and flows fall below critical levels) plague many Montana rivers like the Big Hole and Jefferson. This might be the time when many anglers would consider taking a break until the Fall, or dusting off the old golf clubs. But, in fact this is prime time for one of the angling world’s premiere destinations – Yellowstone’s Backcountry. The high alpine environment in YNP has a much different seasonal calendar than the surrounding region. Lush, green, hillsides covered in wild-flowers, and snow-capped peaks are common sight in Yellowstone’s high country well into August. Daytime temps are generally in the high 70’s to low 80’s and nighttime lows will routinely drop below freezing. This is the perfect recipe for cold, clean water. By August the backcountry has dried out, and most of the biting flies are done for the season making it the most comfortable time of year to hit the trail and explore some of the best kept secrets in our area. Our veteran guides have decades of experience wandering through the backcountry of Yellowstone in search of trout. They have more overlooked and under-fished spots in their quiver than you could fish in a lifetime. If the backcountry isn’t your thing or you’re looking for a little diversity, August is also the best time for Gulpers on Hebgen lake, and some of the most consistent dry fly fishing on the Railroad Ranch at the Henry’s Fork. Combining the backcountry of Yellowstone with some time on Hebgen, and a visit to the Ranch is a program that’s hard to beat any time of the season!
#3 – Anytime you can get here!
In this day and age, time is the one thing no one has enough of. Everyone struggles to maximize their time, especially when it comes to vacations. Visiting anglers are always in search of the “perfect time” to plan their fishing trip. The truth is, there is no perfect time. From our location in West Yellowstone (the Geographic Center of the Fly Fishing Universe) we are blessed with arguably the greatest diversity of fishing locations and authentic angling situations found anywhere. Now, Mother Nature is a fickle temptress, and often she reminds us that planning can be an exercise in futility. But, on most years with somewhat “normal” conditions we can find awesome fishing somewhere in our area every day of the season. If you have your heart set on experiencing a specific hatch on a specific fishery, say the Green Drakes on the Henry’s Fork, then, you better get here in mid-June. But, if you’re less focused, or just have an opening in your schedule, get here whenever you can! We’ll find you some awesome fishing!
Words and Photos Thanks to Mikey Shanahan, guide, Aussie Fly Fisher, Canberra, Australia
I come from A Land Downunder
This year I had the opportunity to head stateside for the summer, something that I’ve been dreaming of since I picked up a fly-rod. Although the trout fishing in Australia is wild, free, and spectacular (look it up if you haven’t already), nothing can really ever compare to making the pilgrimage to rivers like Madison and Yellowstone, or the privilege of being able to catch wild trout in their native environment. That and the local beers (which are delicious) pretty much make Montana a must on most serious trout bum’s lists.
I was lucky enough to be based in West Yellowstone. I had a bunch of irreplaceable and radical experiences there. Here are a few of my impressions and a few tips for any other international or domestic trout bum that is thinking of packing up and heading west, although in my case I actually had to head north-east for several thousand miles.
First World Problems
The main problem confronting any angler arriving in West Yellowstone, a place with seemingly more rivers than roads, more lakes than parking lots, and more fly shops than McDonalds, is where to go first? Well, one of the many fly shops is usually a good option, and I was extremely lucky in this case. My good friend Tom serendipitously introduced me to his good friend Justin Spence, who is a part owner and guide of the best option, Big Sky Anglers.
Luckily for me and everyone else who’s had the pleasure of meeting, fishing, or dancing with Justin, he is, as we would say back home, “an absolute #$%^&ing total legend” and all around ultra stand-up-guy. He is also indicative of the whole BSA crew in my opinion.
Justin not only went out of his way to help me, but he also introduced me to everyone at BSA. That was not only the best possible thing that could’ve happened on my fishing trip, but it was also one of the best things in my life.
Focusing on people so much might seem odd for what is essentially a destination fishing blog post (I can see Matt, the awesome guy who asked me to write this, instantly regretting his decision…). I mean one group of people who fly fish religiously in a town where everyone fly fishes religiously isn’t anything special right? Chances are you go somewhere like that you’re gonna find a group of people who you connect with and help you out to a certain extent, correct? I’m not so sure.
You see, there are fishing trips, and then there are times when the universe plucks you out of the inky, sticky depths of the Great Southern Continent and plunges you into the centre of a group of people who are doing something awesome and exciting at an exact time in an exact place. And when that happens, you just gotta roll with it.
Adapt, or Die #neverforgetyourshell
When travelling to a place that has such varied and excellent fishing as Montana it’s important to have goals to focus your trip. A list of species, rivers, or certain experiences is always a good idea and there’s plenty of info out there too research through before a trip, which is half the fun! However it’s also vital to be adaptable to get most out your fishing.
Weather, hatches (both insect and bikini), along with heaps of other variables, can affect your best made plans, but luckily there’s usually another option. Most of the best fishing I had was a result of being open to whatever happened to be the best fishing on the day.
Listen to advice and act on it, sticking with a plan through thick and thin can come through, but if the guys at the shop who have their finger on the pulse tell you something can wait a week or that you’ve got a better option, go with it, make the most of the short time you have.
One perfect day – Every day of the week
The problem about spending a whole summer in Montana is that you end up with too many good stories. Everybody in Australia (and I mean everyone, I haven’t shut up since I got back) are already pretty sick of me stating sentences with ‘in Montana…’
There was opening day on the Yellowstone, hiking into the back end of River X, sliding down the Madison, or rowing around drowned trees, trying to pull psycho rainbows on big dries. My advice – Go make your own memories and bore your own mates with them.
That being said one of the days that really stood out for me was floating around on Hebgen Lake with my buddies Belen and Miles, shamelessly bobber fishing, eating cheeseburgers, drinking beers and listening to house music. It’s because of the great people I had the privilege of fishing with in Montana that made my trip what it was.
I’m writing this for them now (ya’ll know who you are) as an open invitation to get outta the freezing cold and 100 foot of snow that guys get and to get over here ASAP. Bring your board shorts, thongs [Aussie for flipflops. Maybe], sunnies [Aussie for sunglasses], and stubbies [Aussie for who knows what], and let’s party over in this summer until your next one.
My one piece of advice, though, for folks headed to Yellowstone Country, is to get your butt into BSA the moment you’ve touched down, driven up, or walked into West Yellowstone. Those guys are dinky-die Aussie legends in my book.
It’s that time of the year again folks. The Holidays! The waders are hung by the chimney with care. Give love first, and then if you want to add a stocking stuffer or two into the mix, we came up with a few ideas for the fishing folks on your “NICE” list. Just call the shop and we’ll set you up. 406-646-7801. And, please do it soon so there is time for Santa to deliver in time.
BSA Ouray Ball Caps You could fish while wearing a Houston Astros hat, but why bother? $24.95
BSA logo RTIC stainless Koozie Ever see a sign advertising warm beer? Yeah, didn’t think so. $19.95
THE NZ Strike Indicator System Deadly when you are nymphing slow, clear water for super spooky fish. A top secret option for running double nymphs in the surface film for fussy risers. $16.95
Mimi Matsuda Art Cards Local artist and legendary fish whisperer puts beautiful art on greeting cards, perfect for any occasion. $4.95
BSA Logo Snowflake Holiday Ornament Sarah and Rachel nailed the design on this one $12
Gamakatsu SL12S Big Game Saltwater Hooks Golden dorado, huge stripers, grande roosterfish, marlin on fly? These are simply the best. $8
Trouthunter Leaders and Tippet This stuff is the ticket. So strong. From the Henry’s Fork to the rivers of Patagonia, this is many of our guides first choice. $4.95 to $21.95
BSA Mega Stickers For the coolest coolers, boats, and fishing rigs. The fish is 16 inches long… bigger than the one your buddy caught last time out. $9.50
BSA logo Fly Boxes They come empty, but we are happy to fill ’em up for you too, if you’d like. $10.95 to $15.95
Hand Warmers Winter fishing and skiing essentials. $2.50
Smith Creek Tippet Tamer Keeps all those loose bits of tippet out of the river. Recommended by Jon “The Professor” Heames $15.95
Fishpond Koozie Already attached to a lanyard to hang from your neck, or a boat seat. Stay hydrated. $29.95
Fishpond Gadgets Headgate Tippet Holder holds all your spools. Swift Current Thermometer so you know what’s up out there. Dry Shake Holder controls your powdered floatant. $19.95, $18.95, $9.95
20/20 Magnetic Tippet Threader 6x tippet, and a #22 trico spinner. Those days are long gone for many of us. $10.95
Hatch Nippers With the BSA Logo, it’s just over the top. These babies will last forever. $100
Simms Stainless Pint Glass I heard there was a keg around here somewhere. $14.95