20 January, 2023 - Yellowstone River and Livingston Area Fly Fishing Report

Happy Friday folks. We made it another week into the new year. Our mild weather has persisted here in Southwest Montana and here in Livingston it looks and feels more like March than January. What does this mean for fishermen? 

Couple things. First off, don’t get too concerned about snowpack just yet. I mean, it’s always something to be concerned about these days, but we aren’t in dire straights just yet. As shown on the map below, our snowpack is in pretty decent shape. Could we use more snow? Always. Fingers crossed the winter turns more wintry soon. 

The second thing about the mild weather is that it opens a lot of water to fishable access that you might otherwise overlook in late January. Shelf ice is still present, but there is a lot less of it around. Slush and anchor ice is basically non-existent, except on cold mornings. The rivers and trout are still in winter mode, but there are places to go. 

Yellowstone River

The Yellowstone River isn’t well known as a winter fishery. Two things primarily contribute to that: ice and wind. While the ice isn’t as much of an issue this year, the wind sure is. The warmer weather we’ve had over the last few weeks has got it HOWLING. However, you can always go out on the calmer days when we get them or try to find a sheltered spot. 

There isn’t much going on up top these days, bar some scattered midges. We’d stick to subsurface presentations - something big up front like a wooly bugger, mega prince, or rubber legs, with a midge behind it. Smaller attractor nymphs like Copper Johns, Lightning Bugs, and Tung Darts would work as well. 

The real key this time of year (whether on the Yellowstone or anywhere else) is finding the deep and slow water. The fish are trying to hold in the water that lets them spend the least amount of energy they possibly can, which is often the slowest and deepest spots. Keep adding weight until you either find fish or snag bottom. 

If you are planning on floating, be sure to double check that the ramp you want to take out at is still open! 

Paradise Valley Spring Creeks 

The Spring Creeks continue to be a great option, especially for those of us located here in Livingston. We haven’t yet seen the really good winter hatches of midges, but they are out for sure. Midge larva should be your go to subsurface fly, and keep a few dries in the box just in case. You’ll have the best odds of fish eating midges on top on the warmer and less windy days (good luck getting that haha). 

All the spring creeks remain on winter rates, and are well worth the money to scratch the itch and have a more controlled, and highly challenging, fishing environment this winter. 

Madison River 

The Lower Madison River is a consistent and easily accessible winter fishery for our area. If you want to get the boat out for a quick float, here’s about your best option. Watch the wind, as the Lower can be very windy this time of year. If you want to get away from people a hike up Bear Trap is always nice. 

Stay subsurface with midges, crayfish, and dead drifted streamers until you see fish eating midges on top during the calmer days. The numerous rock gardens upstream of Warm Springs offer fertile territory for head hunting. Swinging streamers isn’t a bad idea either. Again, find the deeper and slower water and you’ll likely find the trout. 

The Upper Madison has more issues with ice jams and shelf ice than the Lower, but good winter fishing can still be had. To avoid most of the challenges, head upstream. The $3 Bridge and Reynolds Pass area host some of the best winter fishing of the region, if you’re willing to post hole through some snow to reach it. Look for midges on the calm days and enjoy the incredible scenery. Ennis is a completely different town in the winter too, and well worth the trip. 

Gallatin River 

As we have said before, the Gallatin River is a really neat winter fishing experience. Being in the canyon with the trees all snowy, the mountains loaded with snow, and the winter conditions muffling the road noise is pretty special. The fish in the canyon won’t be big, but access is plentiful and the experience makes up for the size. Many good spots are within a quick walk from the parking area. 

Broken record here, but find the deep and slow water. If you’re wondering if it’s deep and slow enough, it’s probably too fast. Go slower, go deeper. Attractor nymphs and midges are the name of the game. Fishing in the valley can be pretty good this time of year, but you’re more likely to run into ice down there. 

Livingston and the Shop

This is the slow season here in Livingston. There are plenty of things to do - local theater, live music, good food and drink, etc, and the town is taking a much needed reprieve before it starts ramping up again. We are fully expecting the 2023 season to be very busy with the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park open again. 

It’s also the time of year to be planning your summer trips! If you have any questions about fishing or guide trips, hatches, when to come, etc don’t hesitate to reach out. We are more than happy to help out. 

In the meantime, get outside and go skiing. Enjoy Montana in a different way. There is no time like the present to tie some flies and fill some boxes! Tight lines this week.