31 October, 2022 - Yellowstone River and Livingston Area Fly Fishing Report

Fall has hit with a vengeance, finally! Gone are the days in the 70s and 80s, and gone are a lot of the incredible leaves we’ve had with the mild weather. We got our first snow in town of the season a few days ago and that heralded a big change in the weather pattern. We’re seeing colder temps, more wind, and more cloudy days. BWOs anyone? 

Please be aware that there is still spawning activity going on. Leave redds alone, don’t target spawning fish, and watch your step in gravelly areas. You want a healthy river with a stable and virulent fish population? Leave spawners alone! 

Also keep in mind that the fishing season in Yellowstone National Park closes today. This is a bit earlier than in years past. We are super stoked to hear that the road from Gardiner to Mammoth and the North Entrance to Yellowstone is open! This is great news for our local communities. More to come on that on the blog soon.

Here’s what’s happening on our local waters recently.

Yellowstone River 

Things on the Yellowstone River have moved solidly into a more “normal” fall pattern. “Normal” conditions on all our rivers are kind of up in the air these days, but you get the gist. Temps are cooler, water is colder, skies are cloudier. While the leaves were incredible during the warmer temps we had for most of October and being in a boat during that was about as pleasant as it gets, now the fishing is going to get more serious. 

The streamer bite will only get better with more cloudy days. Get out there and fish the big stuff. Carry a wide array of sizes, colors, materials, and profiles. This gives you options to keep switching until you find what they like. Try different flies, depths, and retrieves until they start eating it. 

These conditions are great for dry fly anglers. Fall BWOs will be popping off on cloudy days. The fall baetis are smaller and more technical than their spring counterparts, but they are well worth the effort. Look for the hatch starting around 11am in back eddies, foam, and slower pieces of water. Fish a nymph leading up to the hatch, and an emerger behind the adult can be deadly. 

When you aren’t seeing BWOs, keep an eye out for midges. These tiny bugs have been hatching in pretty good numbers even on the sunny days. Fishing a midge nymph like a Zebra Midge or Rainbow Warrior behind a slightly larger fly (14-16) like a Perdigon, Prince, Hare’s Ear or Lightning Bug is the way to go when the fish aren’t rising. Don’t be afraid of fishing a bigger point fly on your nymph rig, the Zirdle Bug is a really good option this time of year. 

The river from Mayor’s Landing to Sheep Mountain remains closed to all use. We keep hearing reports of people driving down the dry river bed at Sheep Mountain to launch boats, don’t do that. It’s signed, it’s illegal, just don’t. 

Madison River

Fall on the Madison River, both Upper and Lower, is awesome. The same logic from the Yellowstone applies here: the change in weather is making things better. Watch your step with spawning fish and redds, fish big stuff for big fish, watch for BWOs and midges. It’s pretty great out there right now. 

The Lower Madison in the fall is a great, close option. The recreational floaters are pretty much all gone at this point, leaving the river to more serious fishermen. Water temps have recovered from summer highs, but you’ll still have to deal with some weeds and moss leftover from the hotter months. 

You’ll find most of the boat traffic from Warm Springs to Black’s Ford. It thins out from Black’s to Grey Cliff, and even more below that. Wade anglers have tons of opportunity right off the highway, and even more if headed toward Bear Trap Canyon. If you feel like a hike and want to fish without any boats going by, walk up Bear Trap as far as you want. 

Crayfish are still great subsurface options, as are streamers. Streamer fishing on the Lower Madison yields some impressive fish every fall. Dry fly guys will find midges, as well as BWOs on cloudy days. Chasing BWOs in the rock gardens in Bear Trap can be a ton of fun. 

The Upper Madison is doing really well. Streamers can do extremely well this time of year. Fishing them from a boat will allow you to cover a lot more water, but wade anglers can do very well too. Varney to the Lake and upstream of Lyon’s are always great spots with lots of hidey holes to work. 

Dry fly folks are loving this weather, and the hatch that comes with it. Bring your a-game, and fish the entire life cycle of the hatch. It’s worth it. 

Gallatin River 

The Gallatin River isn’t as well known a fall fishery as other places in our region. The fish aren’t quite as large, and while you can fish streamers on the Gallatin it’s just not quite as good as other rivers. That being said, it’s still a lot of fun. 

The Canyon has been getting a little wintry lately! Nighttime temps are dropping way down, and there is still snow persisting in spots from our recent storm. Be mindful of road conditions as well. The Gallatin in Yellowstone Park is closing with the rest of the park on Oct 31. You’ll be able to find midges and even a few BWOs in the canyon if you’re chasing dries. A more productive method would be fishing a two nymph rig with a standard attractor nymph like a Lightning Bug or Hare’s Ear followed by a BWO nymph or Zebra Midge. 

Lower on the Gallatin, through the valley, has been fishing well. Access is pretty limited, but if you’re willing to walk in the river bed (stay legal while doing so) you can cover a lot of great water. Floating the way lower Gallatin can be pretty decent…

Other Waters 

With the arrival of our first big snow of the fall, the high country is pretty much done. Time to move on to other pursuits in the mountains, and start planning next year’s hiking and backpacking! 

The spring creeks of Paradise Valley are a ton of fun this time of year. They offer incredibly technical fishing for big trout, and can have the best and most consistent dry fly fishing in our local area. All of them offer discounted fall and winter rates and the warming huts on Depuy’s are worth the price of admission in and of themselves. 

We are recommending people steer clear of the Shields to let it rest after an incredibly bad water year for several years in a row. The Boulder is slowing down, but does offer good days still. If you want some technical dry fly fishing take the drive to Craig or Cascade on the Missouri. Fall in Montana is pretty much an open book. Go enjoy it! 

Livingston and The Shop 

You can tell it's fall in Livingston. We’re in that little breather space between summer and the holidays, even though those are coming up fast! There’s still a lot to do around town - great food and beer, live music, events here and there. This is a great, quiet time to visit. 

The shop is moving toward our winter mode and shifting away from bikes and more toward skis. We know a lot of our customers do it all, so get your skis tuned before things start getting good and get your boot fitting appointments booked now. Don’t forget our Backcountry Film Festival is coming back on Friday, November 18th! This free event is a ton of fun and a great benefit for Loaves and Fishes, our local soup kitchen. 

We will continue to stock all our fly fishing gear and equipment all winter long and have everything you need to enjoy fall and winter fishing here in Montana, including lots to help you stay warm and dry. 

Tight lines this week!