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Montana Fishing Reports

Bozeman, Montana, weather forecast
Early spring fishing isn't rocket science. Just make sure to find the deeper water that still has steady current. Make frequent adjustments to the indicator and weights when nymping and focus on the prime hours after lunch. Some fisheries produce great late morning midge hatches and welcome dry fly fishing.

Mostly midges and a few skwalas

Fly selection
Eggs are still producing and will all winter. Same with san juan worms, big stoneflies and smaller midge larva or baetis nymphs trailed behind. Fly selection doesn't have to be too fancy in the early spring. Just make sure to find the fish.

Reading water
Look for longer runs with a few feet of depth - winter meat holes are few and far between but the fish will be stacked there. Skip all of the riffles and shallow glides.

Upper Madison - Fair
The Upper is starting to become a decent option. Trout are avoiding the fast water that makes up a lot of this section of the river so if you can find some slower runs they will be filled with trout. The water near Ennis is a little more diverse than the "50 mile riffle" upstream and has some great holding water. The water from Quake Lake to MacAtee bridge is closed until May 17th along with the Channels section downstream of Ennis. Nymphing stoneflies trailed by smaller baetis nymphs has been effective. Eggs and some of the larger midge larva patterns such as 3 dollar dips are also a good option.

Lower Madison - Very Good
The Lower has been outstanding on good days and good enough on slow days. This is always a good early spring choice as long as the wind isn't blowing too hard. Severe cold snaps can also cause the river to slush up but the weather has still been mild enough to produce good fishing and even a few rising fish over midge hatches.

Yellowstone River - Good
The Yellowstone has been fishing very well. Most anglers are still wade fishing and there are still some ice shelves to contend with. Nymph fishing has been the dominate source of action but the fishing has been quite good dead drifting wooley buggers and small stonefly patterns, hares ears and big princes. Make sure you are fishing the right kind of water that hold trout in the early spring. Once you find a good holding run you can get a lot of action in the after lunch hours.

Gallatin - Very Good
The Gallatin is low and gin clear right now. The fish are stacked up in the slower slicks and runs with some depth and slow to medium speed currents. Nymphing has been most productive most of the day with smaller baetis patterns offering the most productivity. Egg patterns are also producing with rainbows just a few weeks from spawning. On mild days we have observed some decent midge hatches that are bring a few trout to the surface so bring some small midge dries just in case.

Boulder - Fair
The Boulder is ultra low and very clear right now. Fishing is still good but requires a stealthier approach and a decent cast to get to fish before they see you. Nymphing smaller patterns can be productive. The Boulder is mostly a north facing drainage and the water is always very cold in the spring and it takes longer to wake up than other fisheries.

Jefferson - Good
The Jefferson can be an interesting option in the early spring. It is best to stop at just one or two productive early season runs and spend some time nymphing slow seams that hold a lot of trout. The standard spring patterns that work on the Lower Madison also work on the Jeff. A few skwalas can be found on the Jeff to spice up your early spring fishing.

East Gallatin - Good
The East fishes more like a spring creek than a freestone stream in the early spring. The numerous spring creeks and springs that feed the river in the lower valley keep ice shelves at bay and this is a decent early spring fishery for locals. Definitely focus on the bigger and deeper runs that will be holding all of the fish. Nymphing is usually the best option but slow stripping a streamer can sometimes produce as well.

Ruby River - Very Good
The Ruby is a fun option in the early spring. The water below the reservoirs stays open all year and can produce some decent dry fly fishing over midge hatches on a mild day. Nymphing or slow stripping dark streamers can also produce.

Missouri - Very Good
The upper river receives some rainbows coming up from the lake but it is very cold and ice can linger. The water near Craig is always a good bet. Nymphing the normal Missouri standards of scuds, sow bugs and smaller midge larva or baetis nymphs will produce. Just make sure you find the fish. Some dry fly action over midge hatches can also be a lot of fun in the late morning. Many of the rainbows move out of the main river into the spawning tributaries but the big browns are always there.

Lakes - Poor
This time of year most of us are still focusing on moving waters but for the stillwater crowd lakes are always a great option as the ice releases and retreats. Ice-out is anywhere from early April until late May depending on the elevation of the lake.

Spring Creeks - Red Hot (relatively compared to other winter options)
The Livingston creeks (Armstrong, Depuy and Nelson) are a great option in the early spring since these magical fisheries are fed by ground water they have higher than normal water temps in the cold weather months. Rainbows are moving in from the Yellowstone River and as we progress into the spring avoid the shallow riffles where the trout will be on their redds. These areas are easy to observe and you will see trout in very shallow water as well as areas of cleaned gravel. Nymphing is the best option with a sow bug and a midge larva a good combination. Fly selection isn't as important as presentation. Takes will be very delicate so consider a yarn indicator. Mild days can also produce a few rises over midges to the watchful eye. Winter rates are just $40 a day until April 15th which is still cheaper than a ski ticket.

Other fisheries - Poor
Most of the smaller waters around the state will be closed until the general opener in May.

Yellowstone Park - closed

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Montana Fishing Report

Upper Madison River
Lower Madison River
Yellowstone River
Gallatin River
East Gallatin River
Missouri River
Jefferson River
Boulder River
Ruby River
Stillwater River
Spring Creeks
Other Waters

Montana River Flows

Upper Madison
Lower Madison
East Gallatin
Missouri/ Townsend
Missouri/ Holter Dam
Yellowstone/ Livingston
Yellowstone/ Gardiner
Lamar River
Willow Creek

Snowpack Levels
Montana Fishing Report Overview
Fishing on local waters is still following a predictable late winter/early spring pattern but as we creeping into spring we are definitely seeing signs of renewed life and the fishing is definitely on the upswing. The trout are still in their winter lies and easy to locate. Some early season midge hatches have already started to produce some dry fly action for lucky anglers that are in the right place at the right time. Rainbows are beginning to move in preparation for the spring spawn producing some exciting action in spring creeks. The major cold snaps are largely a thing of the past and even the most stubborn rivers are beginning to release their ice dams and ice shelves allowing for safer fishing and even some floating. Small streams are still closed until May 18th but most larger and medium sized rivers are open (with the exception of some parts of the Madison) along with the Livingston spring creeks of DePuy, Armstrong and Nelson.

Trout are still in the mode of a maintenance diet and their metabolism is directly tied to the water temperature which means it is slow. Trout are still in their winter runs and will be there for most of the early spring. This time of year you need to be have laser focus on where you fish and target the deeper runs with slow to medium currents. Trout will no longer be found in the fast riffles or bustling pocket water that was so productive in the warmer months. The good news is that once you find some of these winter time honey holes they will be packed with trout. Fish densities in the best winter runs can be staggering with dozens upon dozens of trout packed together.

Nymphing is hands down the most effective technique in the early spring months (although streamers and even dries can still be an option). The fly selection doesn't have to be fancy but will very from fishery to fishery. On the bigger freestone rivers such as the Yellowstone, Gallatin and Madison it is nice to still fish something larger as the top fly such as a stonefly nymph, crayfish pattern or sculpin trailed by a smaller nymph. For small nymphs think small with hooks in the 18-20 range. Patterns that produce include small baetis emergers, pheasant tails and midge larva. San Juan worms and eggs are also good patterns to try and if you are fishing a tail water or spring creek a sow bug can produce (especially pink). On spring creeks the big/small rule for nymphing can still apply but the "big fly" might be a size 14 sow bug trailed by a size 22 midge larva. Takes in the cold weather months are always very "soft". The fact that trout are not moving much for flies along with the slow water that they are found in produces a very light reaction on a strike indicator. It is important to experiment with weighting to ensure flies are right on the bottom. Many of our guides also prefer a yarn indicator in the winter which makes it easier to see subtle ticks and changes of speed. If your indicator tilts, slows down, speeds up, or looks "funny" set the hook and ask questions later.

On a mild winter day you might be lucky enough to run into some rising trout feeding on midges. The midge hatches often peak in March and extend into April. One of our guides recently reported some epic dry fly fishing on the Upper Madison with hundreds of trout greedily feeding on a strong midge hatch in the late morning hours. Even freestone streams like the Gallatin will produce some sporadic midge hatches. If the hatch isn't too strong dries that imitate single midges are more productive such as a palomino pattern. On tail waters like the Bighorn the midge hatches in the winter can be thick in the late morning and the insects will cluster together so many of the patterns such as the Griffith's gnat that imitate these "rafts" of insects can out produce single insect patterns.

Time of day is also important this time of year. Early mornings can be very tough fishing. The midge hatches are a late morning event often beginning around 10-11am and that will sometimes kick the trout into the feeding mode. On other days you can't buy a trout until after lunch when the water temperatures hit their peak for the day.

Rainbow trout are spring spawners and often prefer smaller tributaries over the larger rivers. The Livingston spring creeks (DePuy, Armstrong and Nelson) are all open in the spring. Trout from the Yellowstone river are already moving into the spring creeks prior to the spawn and this is one of the few times of the year where you can expect higher catch rates on the "creeks" do the the large influx of "river" fish. As we move farther into the spring please try to avoid the shallow gravel riffles where the trout will be spawning. The large "clean" circles in the gravel are the nests or redds. Wading across the redds can crush delicate eggs buried just a few inches below the surface. Trout expend a lot of energy when spawning so please avoid casting to trout that are actively on redds in the spring months.