A nice 17 inch brown trout caught last week on a Rubber Legs nymph above the Yellowstone River’s Yankee Jim Canyon.
The calendar claims that it’s still February, but the air temperature in Southwestern Montana feels much more like spring. My Pennsylvania family members have been suffering through their coldest temps of the winter while the gauge on my Toyota FJ touched to magical 60 degree mark last week in Paradise Valley.
Unusually warm February temperatures have created some pretty good fishing.
Now I know that temps this warm in February are generally not a good omen for the Yellowstone River’s summer flows. We need chilly air and snow to have enough cold water to keep the fish safe and happy, and the fishing hot, in July and August. But the one thing I’ve learned after 20 years in the fly fishing business is that worrying about future water conditions does very little to impact them. In fact, most of the time I’ve worried about the fishing, its turned out just fine. So knowing that I can’t control the weather, and that hoping for snow can’t actually make it snow, I guess I’ll just enjoy these nice days and wait to see where we end up.
As we stand now, Two Oceans Plateau, the genesis of much of the Upper Yellowstone’s water, has received 89% of its average precipitation. And 90% of its snow water equivalent. Not bad, and a little better than what we had at this point last year. But I am hoping for a snowy second half of February and a March and April that brings a lot of mountain snow. We’ll see what happens. But, again, we’ll get what we get.
The river’s current flow at the Livingston gauge is 1,200 cfs, and oddly enough, its median flow for February 15 is also 1,200 cfs. So the river’s current flow is normal. It’s low–about as easy to wade as it gets. And with the river nearly ice free (except along some of its banks), we’re also seeing some of the first drift boats and rafts of the season gliding down the river. The fishing has been good, and it looks like that should continue.
The National Weather Services’ forecasted highs for the next five days in Livingston are 55, 57, 56, 49, and 49 degrees. That’s pretty warm for February. And definitely warm enough to keep your guides from freezing, which is all you can hope for when fishing during a Montana winter. It’s a great time to get on the water.
Last week, Rubber Legs nymphs and Pheasant Tails did the trick. I even had a grand slam by catching rainbows, a brown trout, a cuttie, a cutt-bow, and a few white fish all on the same day. There have been decent midge hatches, and I’ve seen a couple fish rise every time I’ve been on the water. Though these fish haven’t really eaten consistently enough to target just yet. Last week, Dusty Smith (a friend and shop employee) set his mind to catching a fish on a dry fly, and he found one that cooperated when it took his Griffith Gnat. So with a little persistence, you might be able to find a fishing willing to eat on the surface. Customers have been asking if we’ve seen Blue Winged Olives yet, and we haven’t. But I’ve heard a couple of first hand reports of a few BWO’s showing on the Big Horn.
A twelve inch rainbow
And an eleven inch Cutthroat. All part of last week’s grand slam.
As you can tell by the photos, it’s difficult to get decent fish pics when fishing by yourself. But it least it gives you an idea of what you can expect from the river this week. If it’s going to be warm, you might as well fish. Good luck!