Yellowstone’s winter season in the Interior is now a month from shutting down. Where does all the time go? I have been guiding five days a week again this season for Yellowstone Alpen Guides, making this my 9th year and never have I enjoyed guiding as much as this winter. Luckily, this season, we have decent snow. Truth be told, after last years bleak winter, I was not looking forward to guiding in YNP. Mother Nature was providing us with almost weekly snow storms, but now that February has hit, she’s as dry as dirt. And it’s unseasonably warm to boot. The past few days have seen the snow melting from my roof and piling up as ice on the ground, then running into our garage as I frantically try to chip away the glacial mound in front of the door.
Is this the new norm? Currently, its 33 degrees at 11am…it’s not even noon yet! A week or so ago, the morning temp was -33 degrees. I took a break for a couple hours and tended to our roof and the melting snow, now the temps are reading almost 45 degrees. I should be fishing but adulting is getting in the way. The roads in West Yellowstone are showing signs of spring and spring in these parts is normally a couple months away.
Overall, there has been plenty of wildlife along way to Old Faithful and of course the scenery never gets old. The Canyon runs have been little void of life from time to time, but recently there have been bison on the move in the Gibbon Canyon, which means that coyotes and foxes are making an appearance as well. Wolves have not had much of a presence this season along the Madison, Gibbon and Firehole. There’s been a few sightings, but overall they have been non existent. I would say that has something do with the 94% snow pack and the fact that there are more elk around Big Sky, Gardiner and in the Madison Valley around Cameron, MT. Wolves chase elk and the elk population is down to just a couple dozen, if that, animals on the west side of the park along the Madison drainage. There are two small bull elk and one giant bull living along the Madison River around 7 Mile bridge. So far, they look very healthy. While winter is not over just yet, this break from the cold is nice for every single living thing in these parts.
I’m off to town for a while, with any luck it will be nice enough to drink a beer outside this evening. Pray for snow.
The Madison has been fishing quite well this winter. Some days have been better than others, but hey, that’s fishing. Yesterday, I fished the West Fork area, Lyons Bridge and Reynolds Pass. I had to work a little bit, but caught plenty of fish on nymphs like the 3$ dip, prince nymph, rubber legs and the red worm. While I looked for heads, I didn’t see much at all. Midges were coming off in decent numbers, but the north wind and sunny conditions may have kept the fish down – at least where I was fishing. I did find a few nice brown trout in the shallow water sunning themselves, but I couldn’t get them to take a dry fly. With the lack of snow pack on the level in the Madison valley, getting around the river bottom is pretty easy. River left has more snow than river right, but once you get below the West Fork, both sides of the river are relatively free of snow. Today was nasty. I left Horse Butte with sunshine, broken clouds and hardly a breeze. Turning left at the Duck Creek Y the north wind had picked up and temp was dropping slightly. Rounding Quake Lake the wind was cranking up and I could see the wall of weather down in the Madison Valley. At Reynolds Pass it began. Blowing and drifting snow coupled with gusts that hit 30+ mph, made me sit in my rig and watch. Annoyed by this at first, I quickly felt a relief set in as this moisture was exactly what the river was in need of. Across the parking area I observed four 20 somethings rigging up bobbers and nymphs in this insane weather. I fondly remember being this way too but took comfort in knowing that it’s okay to sit and watch one’s surroundings and enjoy just that. It’s why I live thirty minutes from the Madison.
Coming into Hebgen Lake: about 800 cfs
Below Hebgen – 841 cfs…down quite a bit.
At Kirby Ranch – 882 cfs…down as well.
Below Holter Dam on the Missouri River – 4900 cfs
Hebgen Lake is 5 feet from full, full pond is the elevation 6534.5 feet.
Jefferson Drainage – 101%
Madison Drainage – 83%
Gallatin Drainage – 107%
Missouri Mainstem – 107%
A word or two on what all this means for us….
The flows have dropped quite a bit in the past few days and anglers should expect this flow or less for the rest of the winter season on the Madison River. Flows were dropped down as the snow pack for the Hebgen Basin is not up to snuff. While the snow is not deep, there is a ton of moisture in what we have on the ground. This is not the time to fret, rather it’s time to go fishing and let Mother Nature take care of the weather – remember we have no control over the weather. What we do have control over is the lake level at Hebgen Lake. Not that “we” control this, that’s left up to the folks at NW Energy. I’ve been watching this like a hawk and talking with NW Energy’s biologist every few weeks. He too is watching this closely, thus the reason for the drop in flows a couple days ago. As of right now, the lake is almost a foot higher than a year ago today. The in flows to Hebgen Lake are 800 cfs and at some point, NW Energy may drop the flows down to match out flows with in flows. Hebgen Lake is normally (we all know how this can turn out) full by the end of June, so while the snow pack on the Madison, Gibbon and Firehole Rivers is low, there is a significant amount to time ahead of us for more moisture to fall. Generally speaking, the months of March, April, May and June are when we get the moisture. Now if you’re a downhill skier, then you probably aren’t too happy with this season, but my point is that there is plenty of time to fill Hebgen Lake. Both the Gallatin and Jefferson drainages are holding slightly above normal snow pack and I’ll take 100% at this point in the winter any year. The Missouri low lands are still holding quite a bit snow as well, which is always good news.
For three weeks now, the Madison River drainage has seen mild daytime temps and hardly any snowfall. The valley is void of snow and it seems more like April than February. With that in mind, I must say, Winter will return. The boat ramps in the Madison Valley are free and floating is an option in the upper river till she closes in a couple weeks. My new boat from RO Drift Boats is not quite laid up yet, but next week I plan on spending some time with Robert at the boat shop. Yes! I’m getting a new boat for the 2015 season….exciting stuff is happening on this front. More to come in the next few months.
Today I sat and watched a pair of golden eagles play on the thermal air around Palisades. Nothing says, sit back and watch, like two giant birds soaring hundreds of feet above you; cupping their wings, diving straight down and then pulling out, ascending back above the cliffs. At that point, who cares about the fishing, the trout. They will still be there in five minutes. It makes one realize how important these open spaces are to us all. Palisades is BLM ground – Federal land that belongs to each of us. Let’s keep it that way.
The Firehole has been alive with rising trout, some of which I watch prolonged and then realize that all but a few folks on my snow coach tour could care less about them. With the warmer than normal winter, I can’t help but fish on days away from Yellowstone National Park . Lots of anglers are drifting flies throughout the work week from Reynolds Pass down to Ennis and through the Beartrap Canyon. Go downstream for solitude, being alone on the Madison does wonders for each of us. Stella has become quite the fishing dog, sitting beside me to observe the scene no matter how deep the water I wade. She loves to sit in my wake and stall out on a boulder just large enough to get her chest above water.. Today she snapped up a large whitefish from the river as it was released. Her head went full on under the river and she was udderly proud of her catch, looking at me as the tail smacker her fury cheek.
While the snowpack is low, there is still plenty fo time for it stack up…keep up the snow dancing though, we need every inch. Stay tuned for more updates on snowpack and winter fishing reports. We are bound for Cody, Wyoming once again this Spring for a little golf and March/April angling. Cody is a little gem that is getting harder to keep under the hat.
Guiding for Yellowstone Alpen Guides during the winter months provides ample opportunities for photo graphs. While I am in no ways a professional, I thoroughly enjoy keeping my camera on hand everyday and taking advantage of my time in Yellowstone National Park’s Interior. If I could spend a little less money on fishing and hunting gear and little more money on higher quality lens’, I’d be in better shape for taking pictures. Each day that goes by allows me to see shots that I would like to take depending on where wildlife pops up in the right light or if the sunset or sunrise presents itself. I have a shot in mind, with a great subject of a bison skull, but just haven’t had the opportunity yet to sneak away from the coach and get it.
The Winter Season in YNP is half over and if the white stuff doesn’t start to fall here in headwaters of the Madison, the season could come to an early end in March. However, we do live in once of the snowiest places on earth and are bound to get some February snow fall. Is it time for a snow dance? We started out the day with a drizzle of snow and warmish temps, but it petered out and we got a skiff…just enough to cover the ice and make it slippery than the bottom of the Madison River in the Big Bend.
This week’s daytime highs for West Yellowstone are forecast to be in the 40s. Really, the 40s? If the air displacement doesn’t come up too much, the fishing in the Madison Valley should be really good. Down in the Valley, the river temps have been hovering around 36-39 degrees and slightly cooler in betwix the lakes. Hebgen Lake is 4.4 feet down at this point and the flows out of Hebgen Dam are higher than normal as well. Hopefully, someone with PPL over in Butte is watching this closely as we might just need all the water we can get to fill Hebgen on time, which as some of you know, can be a problem.
Madison River below Hebgen – 985 cfs
Madison River at Kirby – 1050 cfs
Madison – 84%…this would be like getting a “D” in fourth grade math. Sad really…pray for snow.
Jefferson – 103%…slightly above average
Gallatin – 107%…better than the Jefferson
Missouri Mainstem – 118%…great lowland slow pack for this time of the year. It will melt in a couple weeks as the weather continues to warm up come February.
Yesterday we woke to 35 below zero, for the second day in a row. Yes, that’s cold, but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a reason that this area was the last place, in the Rockies, to be civilized. This type of weather keeps the riff raff from really wanting to live here and those who are hearty enough to stick around are usually worth their salt. Today, New Year’s, is a bit warmer with five below at high noon. Still though, it’s too cold outside to hunt birds on the last day or venture out for the first fish of the new year. With any luck, I’ll get out for a ski with my better half in YNP later in the day. For now, I’ll settle to watch the English Premier League and catch up on next summer’s bookings. The Hot Spurs have Chelsea on the ropes thus far with a 4-1 lead.
Norris Geyser Basin has become my favorite hot spot in Yellowstone. With hardly ever a soul around, complete with geysers, hot springs and super heated steam vents, Norris has it all. Rarely do I see anyone XC ski here, but the Back Basin is one of the best little known ski trips in YNP. The next time you come to Yellowstone National Park, skip out on Old Faithful and take some time to visit Norris Geyser Basin.