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!6
6 Comments On A Little Spring Fishing Forecast
Hey there! Thanks for the report!! We are coming out to the Livingston area at the end of a May. If the runoff is late and long, can you still fly fish the creeks and lakes without a problem? Sorry for the naive sounding question, but it will be our first time fishing in Montana and on the Yellowstone.
The Yellowstone River, as with most of the rivers in Montana, will almost certainly be unfishable in late May, as that’s during runoff in even a more “average” year. Most smaller creeks will also be high and muddy. The exception would be the spring creeks in the area, which come directly out of the ground and are therefore not subject to snowmelt runoff. They do arise in and run through private ranches, and the landowners charge a “rod fee” to anglers who fish them (around $100/person). The number of anglers is limited, so it pays to make reservations as soon as you are able. There are also a few private ranch ponds around that are a bit easier to fish, but otherwise similar. Finally, there are some publicly accessible lakes, but there’s a good chance the higher altitude ones will still be ice-covered at that time. So there are options, but relatively limited ones. Please don’t hesitate to give me a call at the shop (406-222-9393) if you’d like to discuss things.
Now be fair, one can always hit a tailwater fishery, ie bighorn, Missouri @ Craig when everything else is blown out, and I have had some really good fishing. That’s where I go when I can only get away during that time of year.
I was certainly not being unfair, Richard. The tailwaters may be a possible option, and one I had intended to mention to Jillian when I was able to talk to her in more detail. On a “normal” year, I would be optimistic about the possibility of fishing the Missouri or Big Horn in late May. This year, with as much snow as we have statewide, I wouldn’t be shocked if they’re dumping a ton of water through those dams at that point to prepare for what’s to come. I’d rather be cautionary than make uncertain promises, and I’d never withhold information intentionally.
Thanks for the reply…..even tho we are super bummed about that fact. We will think about the Spring creek options and hope for the best for everywhere else. Definitely going to stop by the shop and say hello to you guys., but I’ll let you know if I have any other questions before that.
Is this the typical conditions in the Paradise Valley? My sons and I are looking for a good spot to fish in early April, preferably near Livingston. We are looking for some good wading areas to stand around in and enjoy your valley!