It’s opening weekend, a special time around West Yellowstone. As soon as the Park closes in the fall and snow starts piling high, we look forward to our first chance to see bugs hatching and fish rising on rivers like the Firehole, Madison, and Gibbon in the Spring. It was a long, snowy winter this year, and those bugs and rising fish will be a sight for sore eyes.
While much of the Park’s rivers, lakes, and streams open to fishing this weekend, the best opportunities to find fishable water will be on the Madison, Firehole, and Gibbon Rivers. Situated among the highest concentration of geo-thermal activity in the park, these watersheds are always the first to lose low-lying snow, and begin to clear from run-off.
Like most year’s, the Firehole River will be the main attraction on opening weekend, and this year you can expect to find decent water conditions and good fishing. Flows on the Firehole bumped up briefly over 1,000 cfs earlier this week in response to several warm nights with low temps remaining above the freezing mark, and localized rain. Slightly cooler weather has slowed the melt, and flows are now back down below 800 cfs. Cool temps are forecasted to remain through the weekend and into early next week keeping the melt gradual, and water conditions very fishable.
A good portion of this year’s heavy snowpack remains in the high elevations throughout the park. The Black Bear Snotel Site is a good reference for the snowpack in the high plateau above the the Firehole River. Currently, Black Bear shows 67 inches of snow remaining on the ground with a Snow Water Equivalent of 35.3 inches. With that much snow (and water) still on the ground, any periods of warm, sunny weather, or rain on snow events, will likely bump the Firehole back up over 1,000 cfs, making fishing, especially with dry flies, difficult. So, keep a close watch on the weather, and follow the Firehole River flows HERE.
Weather conditions for opening weekend look great for hatches of size # 18-20 Baetis and size #14-16 Pale Morning Dun mayflies. Cool, cloudy weather with a chance of rain is ideal for these mayfly hatches in the Spring. With daytime highs predicted to be in the upper 50’s and low 60’s, mayfly hatches could begin as early as 11:00 am on the Firehole. It’s important to keep in mind that both air and water temperatures play a big role in the timing of mayfly hatches, and water temps will vary drastically from one section to another on the Firehole depending on the proximity to thermal areas. There are many micro-climates on the river. So, if conditions look good, and you’re not seeing bugs and rising fish where you are at, don’t be afraid to jump in your vehicle and move up or down stream to a different section.
The Firehole may be the main attraction this weekend, but the Madison in the Park can have some fun fishing as well. Flows on the Madison are naturally higher than the Firehole (a tributary to the Madison), and water clarity may be a bit worse, but the same mayflies you find on the Firehole (Beatis and PMD’s) will hatch on the Madison, usually later in the day creating some good dry fly opportunities in select spots.
For all you streamer junkies out there who finished up last season chasing migratory fish on the Madison in the Park, many of those fish are still in the river, and can also be a ton of fun in the Spring when levels are high and there is a little bit of color to the water.
Have a fun weekend, here's to a great 2023 season!