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Montana Fishing Reports

Bozeman, Montana, weather forecast
Upper Madison - Good
The Upper continues to be a good 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. 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 winter 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 - Fair
The Yellowstone is fishing OK but there are already large ice shelves forming. Float fishing isn't as productive and can be dangerousas. Nymphing the slower deeper runs with stoneflies, small attractor nymphs and egg patterns will produce trout as long as you find where they are holding. As soon as more severe cold snaps arrive the ice shelves will form fast.

Gallatin - Very Good
The Gallatin is low and gin clear right now. The fish are starting to stack 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 in wake of the whitefish spawn and before the brown trout spawn. 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 - Poor
The Boulder is 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. Ice is forming and making the river difficult to fish in many places. Nymphing smaller patterns has been productive and there are afternoon risers over the baetis hatch.

Jefferson - Poor
The Jefferson gets significant ice shelves in the winter but these still haven't developed and the Jeff should be still producing some nice options. We haven't been over there recently but I bet it is pretty decent right now. This will be off the market as soon as some colder nights make ice more of a problem.

East Gallatin - Good
The East fishes more like a spring creek than a freestone stream in the winter months. The numerous spring creeks and springs that feed the river in the lower valley keep ice shelves at bay and this is a decent winter 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 - Good
The Ruby is a fun option in the winter. 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 is tough with ice forming but the tail water section around Craig is a good winter bet. Floating is an option even in the winter but plan a very slow float and try to find some slower seems that will hold fish. 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 afternoon.

Lakes - Poor
Auger time

Spring Creeks - Very Good
The Livingston creeks (Armstrong, Depuy and Nelson) are a great option in the winter. Since these magical fisheries are fed by ground water they have higher than normal water temps in the cold weather months. 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 which is still cheaper than a ski ticket.

Other fisheries - Closed
Most small streams in Montana are closed until the third saturday of May.

Yellowstone Park - Closed
Yellowstone Park opens Memorial Day weekend

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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 is starting to settle into a very predictable winter pattern. The fall spawn is largely over or coming to an end soon depending on the fishery and water temperatures are falling quickly with long nights and short days. The hard cold snaps of mid winter have not yet arrived and most of the big fisheries are still ice free and providing good access. Small streams will be closed for the winter but most larger and medium sized rivers stay open along with the Livingston spring creeks of DePuy, Armstrong and Nelson.

Trout are now in the mode of a maintenance diet and their metabolism is directly tied to the water temperature which means it is slow. Most of the fish in our local waters have already moved into their winter runs. 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 cold weather 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. 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 Griffiths 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 magic window in the winter is from around 1pm until 4:30 or so each day when water temperatures are peaking.

As we progress farther into the winter months it will pay to seek out waters that have some thermal protection from frigid air temperatures. Waters that are great producers even during cold snaps include the spring creeks, tail waters and certain freestone waters that have significant spring fed influences. Big freestone waters like the Yellowstone River will develop large ice shelves resulting in dangerous wading conditions.

Winter time water levels are always on the low side and there is a lot of definition to the water. The key to winter fishing is finding slower holding water and fishing in the afternoon when water temperatures are at their peak.

Midge hatches can be strong in some locations in the late morning and early afternoon when warmer mild weather settles in. Otherwise the fishing is a nymphing game.

Fly selection
Fly selection is simple in the colder months. If there is a midge hatch choose your favorite midge dry or cluster pattern. Palamino midges and Griffith's gnats are good enough. For sub surface try a rubber legs, egg or worm pattern on top and a smaller midge larva or baetis nymph on bottom.

Reading water
Water temps are cooler and trout have moved out of the heavy water and riffles in favor of softer holding water. Trout will be very heavily concentrated in large, slow runs and nearly absent everywhere else. It pays to skip a lot of water and only focus on these slower runs. Fish slow and deep in the peak afternoon hours.