Looking at this morning’s panoramic vista of the Yellowstone River, it seems like it might be a little while before the fishing is gangbusters. But that’s far from the whole story! Yes, we’ve gotten a great deal of snow this winter (and now “spring”). The mountain snowpack in the Yellowstone River basin is over 150% of the longterm average and runoff, once it gets going, could last for a while. More on that in a future report.
On the other hand, there’s still more than a month to fish before runoff is likely to hit (it usually starts around the end of the second week of May) and the spring fishing can be phenomenal, both on the Yellowstone and on the Paradise Valley spring creeks. If you can get here, and are willing to accept some uncertainty in the weather, then you definitely should!
Blue-winged olive (baetis) mayflies are starting to appear on the spring creeks and on the Yellowstone itself, and the little guys are just getting going. They can supply good dry fly fishing on the main river and the hatch is one of our favorites on the creeks. A size 18 Parachute Adams will fool fish on the Yellowstone, but you’ll probably want to go with something a bit more imitative for the selective spring creek trout. A couple of our go-to dry flies are the Sprout Baetis (again, in size 18) and the CDC Biot Dun. Bigger March Brown (shouldn’t they really be April Brown?) mayflies will soon join their smaller cousins on the Yellowstone, and they are a nice meaty meal for the fish. We like a Copper Haze in size 14 for that bug.
Then there’s the streamer fishing! Dedicated streamer-chuckers consistently land some of the biggest trophy trout of the year during the pre-runoff period. And fishing with smaller streamers, either stripped (slower strips than during the summer or fall, given the lower water temperatures) or dead-drifted, can be very effective. If the water’s a little colored up from low-altitude snowmelt, I prefer to fish a darker-colored streamer or nymph. It’s far from scientific, but my belief is that in dirty water the fish can spot blacks, browns, and dark olives better than lighter-colored flies. And don’t be ashamed to drift a nymph combo, particularly if low visibility or bright sun are shutting down the surface and streamer action. My usual rig right now is a stonefly pattern (such as a size 6 or 8 Rubberlegs) with a smaller beadhead nymph dropper. Something resembling a baetis nymph, such as a size 18 Pheasant Tail, black Copper John, or Little Green Machine, should do you well as a dropper.
Finally, we’re not that far from the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch! But more on that in another post. The big message – don’t let Montana’s “spring” keep you away from the river or the spring creeks. You’ll be missing out on some of the best fishing of the year!5