After a cool and wet spring we currently have higher than average water conditions around parts of the state. Higher flows are being experienced on rivers coming out of Yellowstone Park and in Western Montana. Central Montana flows are at or slightly below average. On June 13th there the Yellowstone River experienced significant flooding and the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner was washed out in the Gardner River Canyon. Rivers such as the Madison rose but did not flood. The flooding event occurred over a 24 hour window when melting snow combined with a strong warm rain event inside Yellowstone Park.
While the Yellowstone River is normally not a mid June option it is now back to more historic flows (which are normally still high as snow melts out). We do expect the Yellowstone River to fish well in July and later once the remaining snow melts out.
Currently the Madison River is high but within fishable levels on the Lower River and up high. Outflows from Hebgen remain above average although inflows to the lake are dropping fast. We expect outflows to remain near 3100 for a few more days to clear some room in the reservoir. There is still color in most of the Madison. The big water event brought some sediment through Ennis Lake and the Lower Madison is still off color although we have some guides out checking the fishing. Often the Upper part of the Madison fishes even with some color in it.
The Missouri River continues to fish well below the lakes. We are also enjoying some good fishing on several of the area lakes. The spring creeks near Livingston did receive some river water from the Yellowstone on June 13th but now that the river has dropped the creeks have cleared. We will have some fresh reports soon on the spring creeks but we are hopeful they faired much better than the high water event in the 1997.
As temperatures warm the mountain snowpack melts and brings up water levels on all fisheries except spring creeks and stillwaters. In general, freestone fisheries are a tough option right now. Freestone rivers and streams are those that rely heavily on overland flow from rain and snowmelt. These streams and rivers (Think the Gallatin and Yellowstone) become high and dirty with sediment during late spring run off and are not fishable most of the time (but not all of the time! – see notes below). Spring creeks are fed by groundwater and are completely unaffected by runoff and it appears they should still be an option even though the river breached and entered the creeks during the flooding on June 13th. Some rivers are also fed from reservoirs that trap sediment. These tailwaters (Bighorn, Missouri, Madison etc) do increase in flows during spring run off but they retain good water clarity and often great fishing. Stillwater reservoirs, ponds and lakes are also a very good option this time of year.
There is no shortage of insects available to trout in our local waters this time of year. We are just entering the early summer hatch window. PMDs and caddis are making regularly appearances on the Missouri. We should see a parade of hatches over the next few weeks including salmon flies, golden stones, yellow sallies, caddis, pmds, brown drakes and green drakes.
The safe bets right now are the waters that are protected by runoff. These include tailwaters below reservoirs, spring creeks and still waters. The good news is that these three categories of fisheries are lights out right now and occur in abundance across Southwest Montana. Spring creeks will have consistent PMD hatches on a daily basis and are a very safe bet for dry fly fishing. Tailwaters are also coming alive right now as water temps rise and the trout put on their feed bags. Dry fly fishing is variable and depends on flows and if they are bumping the dam releases or not. Nymph fishing is predictably good. If flows are on the rise, fishing closer to the dam is often better because moss can often get dislodged and if you are too far downstream it can foul hooks. Stillwaters are also a great option and catch rates can be very high slow stripping streamers. Early Callibaetis mayflies begin showing up in early summer and can also produce good dry fly action on some waters.