17 April, 2023 - Yellowstone River and Livingston Area Fly Fishing Report

Things are heating up both literally and figuratively, and spring is finally on the way. There is a definite hint of green in the grass, and everywhere you look spring flowers are starting to grow. Ahhhhhhhh. It’s been a long winter here in Montana, and across the West.

Our snowpack is still well above average, and any moisture we get in the valley and lowlands over the next few weeks is sure to boost that in the mountains. At this point it all depends on how quickly it comes out of the mountains, but we could be looking at an absolutely incredible summer of water in the rivers. 

Here’s what’s happening in the rivers: 

Yellowstone River 

The Yellowstone has seen quite a bit of color over the past week. Warm temps, melting snow, and additional falling moisture midweek pumped quite a bit of dirty water from the Gardiner and various tributaries into the river, and for much of the week it was too dirty to fish effectively. However, the river is clearing as of today and is looking really good and fishable!

The Shields River had a flooding event last week, and was at one point running 4 times the volume of the Yellowstone. Flood waters have since receded, and we will see what happens this coming week. Even with the Shields running at lower flows, it is still pumping dirty water into the Yellowstone. 

As water temps come up, we’re seeing decent BWO action when the wind isn’t blowing. There are still a few midges around, and it’s a bit early for caddis, but they are on the horizon! Fish are getting more active and more aggressive presentations such as stripping streamers are beginning to work a lot better. In the murkier water, a bigger fly that stands out in the gloom can be your friend. 

If you’re looking for dry fly only all day, now is not the time. Chase a bobber until you’re seeing rising fish. A bigger point fly such as a big prince, rubberleg, or dead drifted streamer will attract attention and hang a Perdigon or Baetis nymph behind it 12-18”. Is it too early for caddis pupa? Probably… 

Fish are still keeping mainly to the slower, calmer water and don’t be afraid of adding some weight to get your flies into their zone. If you just want to get outside and feel a tug on the line, fish something smaller and flashy all day and hope for whitefish. Spring fishing is just getting going here and it’s only going to get better. 

Madison River 

The Upper Madison has been picking up, like everywhere in the state. You can still find midges around Reynolds Pass, and be on the lookout for BWOs as well on the cloudier and warmer days. The mid valley accesses can make for a great day, but be sure to check the lower ramps for ice before launching. 

The Lower Madison is where we are hearing a lot more people from our area fishing, and with good reason. The Lower in spring is pretty fantastic, and you don’t have to deal with the summer tubers. Warm to Blacks is a great “get the boat out for a pre-season shakedown cruise” spot and can yield some solid fish. Fish the buckets, focus on subsurface, and be methodical. 

Even though it’s the off season these fish get a decent amount of pressure and require a bit more finesse and thought than elsewhere right now. Crayfish patterns with a Baetis nymph behind it can be deadly. If you’re after dry flies, take a stroll up Bear Trap Canyon until you find a nice rock garden without a lot of people in it. Wait for midday on a warmer and cloudy day and you should have a good BWO hatch. 

Gallatin River 

Not a lot has changed on the Gallatin River lately. The canyon is still fishing the best, and it’s slowly starting to look less like winter up there. Look for some Baetis around on the cloudy days, and midges as well. Standard nymphs like Copper Johns, Princes, Hares’ Ears and Zebra Midges are all a solid bet. 

Lower in the valley the ice is melting, but there is still quite a bit around. Be very careful when you’re out and about. Things will continue to improve here during the coming weeks, at least until the start of actual run off.

Paradise Valley Spring Creeks 

The Spring Creeks are all off their lower winter rates, but are well worth every penny at this point. If you want technical dry fly fishing for large fish and consistent, good hatches of midges and BWOs, here’s where you need to be. Be patient, be sneaky, and be ready to be humbled. 

Livingston and the Shop 

As we mentioned earlier, spring is oh so close to springing onto Livingston. In the next couple of weeks we should be seeing our first flowers, leaves and green growth as winter is slowly peeled back. It’s a great time of year to be in Montana! 

The shop is turning over into our summer seasons and we are full of great apparel, gear, information and more. From waders and boots to technical fishing gear, new fly rods, reels and lines, and of course all the flies you’ll need, we’ve got it! 

We hope to see you in the shop this week, tight lines!