One of the most common questions we field from visiting anglers is “When is the best week to come fishing here?” The general response is “whenever you can get here”. With so many fisheries within an hour drive of the BSA world headquarters at 39 Madison Ave in West Yellowstone, Montana you can almost always find great fishing going on somewhere.
If you have a particular fishing situation that you’re dying to capitalize on, like Salmonflies on the Madison or Green Drakes on the Henry’s Fork, then that gets a little tricky. We have certain benchmarks that we use to help us plan. Such as, on an “average” year the Green Drakes are at the Railroad Ranch by June 15, and the Salmonflies are at $3 Bridge by the 4th of July. But, these benchmarks are often wrong as snowpack, runoff, and weather conditions can all affect the timing of our hatch cycles.
Most visiting anglers are planning their trip to Yellowstone Country months in advance when it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly how things will shape up. So, the theory of “come whenever you can” makes a lot of sense. If you miss the Madison Salmonflies on the 4th of July there’s a good chance that you will have plenty of other great hatches happening instead like Caddis, PMD’s, and Green Drakes. If the Green Drakes haven’t happened yet on the Ranch, then they are probably still going strong on the lower river. There’s almost always some great fishing going on somewhere.
With all that said, there is in fact a week, sometimes a month, that is the best time of the year to come fishing in Yellowstone Country. It’s impossible to predict from year to year, and it’s rarely the same two years in a row, but there is a time when there is great fishing going on everywhere. This magical window is fleeting. Some years it last for a few days, on others it lasts for weeks. There is a perfect storm where all of the dynamic variables come together to create great fishing situations across our whole area. You never really know when it’s going to happen until it happens, and this year it is happening now.
We are seeing great fishing across the entire area right now, and we expect to see things get only better over the upcoming week. Who knows how long this fleeting moment will last. We had an outstanding snowpack last winter and plenty of rain in June, both get indicators for a long and prosperous summer on the water.
Weather forecasts are showing near normal conditions for the upcoming week with daytime highs in the upper 70’s to low 80’s, and nighttime lows in the 40’s. With the exception of a slight chance of passing thunderstorms on Tues, the week looks dry.
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 Weather Forecast
The Ranch continues to test both the patience and skill of visiting anglers. Brown Drakes have come and gone, and they provided fun fishing for some and frustrating fishing for others…..sounds about par for the course on the Ranch. PMD’s, Caddis, Flavs, and a few Green Drakes will be on the menu for the upcoming week. Expect to see spinners in the am (Flavs too) with hordes of Caddis and Flav duns in the pm.
The Box Canyon flows have crept up this week as demands for irrigation increased slightly in the lower watershed. Levels remain very fishable at just over 1100 cfs, and there are still plenty of Caddis, PMD’s, and Golden Stones keeping the fish active. As always, the Box is mainly a nymphing ordeal, but a few good fish are still looking for the Golden Stone on the surface from time to time.
Yellowstone National Park
Salmonflies and Golden Stones are still flirting with the Park waters. There are a few flying here and there around Specimen Creek, and some randomly flying by Daily Creek, but it hasn’t been consistent. PMD’s, Caddis, and a spattering of Green Drakes have brought fish to the surface throughout the Park waters. If you go, be sure to cover up and bring your bug spray!
Salmonflies and Golden Stones are bringing good fish to the surface in this rough and tumble tributary to the Yellowstone. In addition to the big bugs, you will find some PMD’s, Caddis, and a few Green Drakes. Be on the lookout for rattlesnakes in this canyon country! It’s the only part of the Yellowstone with poisonous snakes, and hot, sunny afternoons are prime conditions for these snakes to be seen sunning themselves. Always look before you step or put your hand down on the rocky terrain next to the bank.
We’ve been waiting patiently for this gem in the Northeast corner of the Park to start fishing well, and it’s finally here. The water is still high, but clarity is great, and we’re seeing some good hatches. Gray Drakes, PMD’s, Caddis, and Salmonflies can all be found on Slough right now. As with all of our high country, meadow fisheries, the biting flies are ferocious right now. So, come prepared with bug spray, and keep as much skin covered as possible.
It’s cold, but it’s clear. The Cutthroat here are still a little sluggish, but we’re finding some willing fish during the heat of the day with attractor dries and PMD imitations. Conditions will continue to improve here in the coming weeks as flows continue to drop and the water warms up.
Flows on the Lamar are still big at around 1500cfs, and the clarity is the fishy-green that we’re accustomed to seeing on the Lamar. Afternoons and evenings have had the best activity with PMD’s, Caddis, Green Drakes, and Salmonflies bringing fish to the surface once the water temps rise.
Our stellar snowpack from last winter is still influencing the flows on the Lamar River. The remaining snow continues to melt off slowly each day adding cold water to the watershed and increasing streamflow. At night the temps in the high country are getting close to, or below freezing. So, the snow solidifies and streamflow decreases. With the ebb and flow of the streamflow comes a rise and fall of water temps. This cyclical streamflow cycle is common in the high country, and great for our fisheries as it adds a supply of cold water to the rivers and streams each day when the air temps reach their peak. You can expect to see water temps reach their max in the mid to late afternoons just before the heat of the day has had time to increase snowmelt, and in turn raise streamflow and decrease water temps. You can follow the trends of water temp and streamflow on the USGS sites HERE. Coincidentally, you will find activity levels of the resident Cuttthroat Trout generally follow the same graph as the water temps. So, if you’re wondering when you should hit the Lamar to find the best fishing, check out the temperature charts, and plan your day around the peak water temps.
Opening Day for the upper reaches of the Yellowstone River in the park is this Sunday July 15. The river will be big for opening day, but clarity is good and we’re excited to see how many fish are in the river this year. Early reports from places like Lehardy Rapids (no fishing here at the “Greatest Cutthroat Trout Spectacle on Earth”) are of strong number of fish seen eating Salmonflies in the rough water. This is always a great indicator for the number of fish we will have to play with in the rest of the system.
We’re expecting to see an assortment of bugs in classic reaches near Nez Perce Ford, Sulphur Cladron, and Cascade Picnic area like PMD’s, Caddis, Green Drakes, Salmonflies, and Golden Stones.
Be careful wading with these big, early season flows. The river probably won’t be crossable for sometime.
In the canyon sections of the Yellowstone you will find Salmonflies and Golden Stones flying. The river is obviously big here as well, and access is limited in the canyon. So, wade with caution!
Firehole / Madison
We’ve had a great early season here on the West side of the Park, but water temps are on the rise, and it’s time to give these classic fisheries a rest until things begin to cool off again in the Fall.
The flows, the water temps, the hatches are all perfect right now on the Madison, and that has made for both happy trout and happy anglers alike.
Flows at Kirby have been steady around 1500 cfs, and it’s great to see the river full of water in July.
Salmonflies have made their way through the valley. There are still a few big bugs around Raynold’s and $3 Bridge, as well as between the lakes. Golden Stones can still be found randomly throughout the entire system.
Caddis are the main story these days with monstrous flights of both mating and egg-laying Hydropsyche (size 16 tan) Caddis in the mornings and evenings.
Warm, sunny days are producing strong spinner falls of several different mayflies right now on clam mornings and evenings. Spinners from both species of PMD’s (size 16 Ephemerella invaria, and size 18-20 Ephemerella excrucians), as well as size 14-16 Flavs, and size 12 Green Drakes can all be found flying at the same time.
Early season Callibaetis are happening in all of their usual early season spots. Rising fish on the other hand have been a bit tougher to come by. This fishing will slowly get better and better as the weed beds grow and water temps warm. Calm mornings and evenings are best for Gulpers.
Chironomid and Bugger fishing has also been hit or miss. If you hit it, it’s been great. It you miss it, well, you know how that goes….
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!
The Fishing Life: An Angler’s Tales of Wild Rivers and Other Restless Metaphors (2013) compiles Paul Schullery’s best stories fish, flies, water, and the people who love them all. Including articles originally published from the 1980s and later, he adds previously unpublished pieces. Schullery fishes his way from Pennsylvania to Mexico, Yellowstone to Alaska, with stops in the Adirondacks and Ohio. These essays explore conservation, favorite rivers, beloved and scorned varieties of fish, non-traditional fly patterns, and the passion behind fly-fishing.
Schullery is a soft-spoken legend, well-known for his reflections about the natural world. He authored nearly 40 books about bears, fly-fishing, Yellowstone, and two works of fiction. Raised in Pennsylvania, he began his career as a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone in 1972. Much of his writing and research is devoted to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, editing the quarterly journal Yellowstone Science from 1992-2009. He also served as executive director of the American Museum of Fly Fishing from 1977 to 1982. I met Mr. Schullery at Montana State University in 2003, when he taught “History of Yellowstone.” I can’t remember most of the lectures, and my old notebooks were trashed along with the futon and PBR cans. I would surely relish the chance to travel back and time and reabsorb every word. Since then, I’ve consulted many of his books for program research. Among his writings outside of fishing, I recommend Mountain Time (1984), Searching for Yellowstone (1997), and Yellowstone’s Ski Pioneers (1995).
Through common goals of keeping fish plentiful and happy, wilderness advocates and fly fisherman usually find companionable ground. Protecting fish inevitably leads to preserving their natural ecosystems. Chapter 21, “How Can You Do That?” explores the wavy lines between catch and release and just…catching. Returning the trout alive to the stream is a conservation practice designed to prevent overharvest in the face of increasing pressure from anglers, environmental concerns, and habit degradation. All of the sport, yet unlike game hunters, none of the bloodshed. Ah, what a fine compromise fishermen made! However, naysayers of catch and release decry the intense pain fish feel from hooking, playing, and prying the hook from its jaws. Schullery relates his experiences amidst this debate. At a wilderness conference, he is approached by some of those in opposition of catch and release. Their claim is that anglers might as well kill the fish as instead of torturing it without ending its suffering. They kept asking, “How can you do that?!” He pauses to think it over, recalling days of glorious fish and wild water, and thinks, “Oh, but how can you not do that?!” Observant anglers are privy to various natural delights besides the pursuit of trout. Chapter Four, “Antlers Aweigh,” reminds us that fish, flies, and water are a small section of the outdoors. As Schullery is fishing Michigan’s Au Sable River, he encounters a deer swimming upstream. His mind immediately relates the doe to various flies crafted with deer hair, prized for its floatant nature. While pondering the creations possible from the deer’s body hair, he watches her make a 90-degree turn for the opposite shore. Startled, she is laboriously swimming away. Realizing he spooked her, he thinks maybe the value in that day on the river comes not from the fishing, but from the larger experience occurring in the ecosystem.
Fish are as important as those searching for them. Schullery introduces us to different fish, and helps define them according to a sort of anglers’ social class. Reigning supreme are the browns and rainbows of the Gardner, Gallatin, and Yellowstone. In “Home River” he describes the Gardner River as a magic stretch of water that can mark an angler’s soul forever. Catching his first trout on a fly rod there, Schullery discovers hatches, currents, and a whole world the tour busses whizzing past never see. I immediately understood this perspective, if not as an angler, but as a Yellowstone visitor looking for more than bears and geysers. A whole world exists underneath the surface, whether that of the fish in the water, the birds in the trees, or the thriving bacteria mats next to flashy erupting geysers. “So Long, Sucker,” acknowledges that not all fish are created equal. Suckers, for one. The name sucker comes from their tendency to live along the bottoms of rivers and lakes, vacuuming up plants and insects. If suckers were people, they would have weak chins, bug eyes, and wear Cheetos-stained sweatpants. Schullery notes they are often known as trashfish, forage fish, and amongst Vermont anglers, shitfish.
The Fishing Life is a fantastic book. It can sit with pride on any diehard anglers’ shelf next to Richard & Swisher’s Selective Trout. However, if you are interested in the broader aspects of the sport like myself, an evening spent with Selective Trout would find you not understanding much, or dying of boredom. The humor, honesty, and detail of this writing offers more than enough to keep fishermen of any breed well engaged. Bearing in mind this idea that not all anglers are alike, so it stands to reason most will find a good laugh or a moment of reflection. Schullery says,
Fishing-in my case fly fishing- is an opportunity to exercise our intellects and emotions in a realm of inexhaustible wonder. At any given moment we may think we’re in this for just one thing, say the challenge of a difficult fish or the companionships of a fishing trip. But I suspect that most of the time we’re in it for everything we can get, and we’re out there just to see what will develop.
I doubt I will ever wake up one fine July morning and say, “Let’s go float L to P and rip some lips. A dozen over 20” in the boat by noon!” But meandering along small streams in Yellowstone’s backcountry, or fishing for brookies in the pothole lakes of the Beartooths are activities I’ve enjoyed since childhood. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to picking out colors for my new wine bar. Those of you who know Joe may have heard about our recent home remodel. He is busy installing my new Jacuzzi, and will hopefully make it to my custom cedar closet by tomorrow. Happy fall.
– Molly Moore
For other book reviews, click here.
Next week, there will be a VERY interesting lecture in Bozeman given by the Super himself, Dan Wenk. Native Fish Conservation has been a hot topic the past few years with ongoing discussions on Yellowstone Cutthroats, Grayling and the other non-native species of trout….AKA….lake trout, rainbows, browns and brookies. I find it interesting as to why there isn’t talk what so ever about Mountain White Fish. They are native as well, but not one word on this species and how it’s faring in Yellowstone’s waters.
The Native Fish Plan has been taking some heat over the past year and just recently, an article has been penned by Jess McGlothlin, a friend of BSA, in American Angler’s March/April issue. Everyone should read this article, so head out to your local flyshop, buy the shop rats a sixer and read it in the shop.
While this lecture is probably a little too late, one should commend the National Park Service for taking some heat and then responding with some much needed education on the topic. It will be interesting to see if Superintendent Wenk takes questions about the Native Fish Plan as I believe this lecture is more on the history of native fish conservation in YNP than that of the current Native Fish Conservation Plan, however, there is some overlap here, so I would think this will come up anyway.
I personally want to see native fish thrive in YNP, but I am not sold on the way this particular plan was rolled out to the general public. The lack of education by YNP and the NPS has resulted in rumors flying and facts which have been hard to find. I will not write about the rumors I’ve heard as they are alarming to say the least. Why wasn’t there a well thought out plan laid out to inform the public about the Native Fish Plan? Catch & Release has been pushed hard by many different conservation organizations, did YNP expect folks to just go along with the process of killing trout?
If you live in SW Montana or close by and have the time, this would be a good lecture to attend.
You can find YNP‘s Native Fish Plan here. Oh ya, today is YNP’s 142 birthday.
………and therefore there will be no fishing in Yellowstone National Park.
Yes, that’s right, our elected officials who “run” this country have failed to do their jobs and pass a budget (and they are still getting paid). The employees of YNP and the concessionaires will not get paid. Not only will the Park be closed to fishing, it will be closed to everything – hiking the trails and driving through the Yellowstone will not be possible. How long will this last, you ask? Nobody knows…….
Click the links below for contact information and give them a piece of your mind – I did.
house of Reps.
The Madison in YNP went big today after over night rain and high country snow pummeled Hebgen and Firehole Basins. The flows on the Firehole jumped up as did the Madison, by 2:30, I could hardly see my boots in thigh deep water. There were a few logs freed up as well and grass drifting through out the river.
It felt more like late May or early June…..fishing was just okay as the river went from around 370 cfs to 697 cfs in just s few hours. The best bite was in the morning, go figure, as the winds pounded us with rain. I heard the crack of one big lodge pole and looked downstream to see it tumble into the river. Five minutes later, the lodge pole directly behind us cracked as well, but failed to fall. We exited the run soon after.
Right now, at 10 pm, the clouds have cleared out and the temps are dropping. Tomorrow we are headed for Lyons Bridge…..and we could use a little sunshine.