Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report – May 24, 2018

by | May 24, 2018 | 0 comments

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

MT Streamflows

ID Streamflows

Yellowstone Park

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

Henry’s Fork

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.

Madison River

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.

Hebgen Lake

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.

Missouri River

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.