When rancher friends complain about the cold and the wind, and skiers start to say they would like to see warmer days—and not another big dump of snow at Bridger Bowl or Big Sky—I know it has been a long winter in Montana.
I managed to miss some of the worst winter weather by sneaking off to New Zealand in January, but having the chance to wade wet and eat ice cream at every opportunity for three weeks made it even tougher to come back to shoveling snow and working in bitter winds. (Although I’ve been careful not to complain around my house or to local friends in those terms.)
And this winter has been very slow to loosen its grip. March definitely came in like a lion, so we expected it to go out like a lamb. I guess lambs are white and fluffy, but not as cold as the snow we saw at the end of the month.
I drove to Wyoming the day after I returned from NZ to pick up a new Labrador puppy, and young Willow was forced to figure out house training when the snow was often up to her chest or higher.
We are now in the third week of April, and the thoughts of most locals are turning to the heavy snowpack sitting in the mountains around the region. Our snowpack is now up to the levels we saw in the flood years of 1996-97, and continued snowfall and cold temperatures has meant that the snowpack hasn’t really started to run off yet. Anglers who experienced recent low water years should be prepared for very different conditions this season, so I thought I should offer some educated guesses for those making plans to fish the Livingston area in the coming weeks and months.
The spring creeks should offer dependable fishing, with hatches of midges and Baetis mayflies in April and May, and—barring any catastrophic flooding on the Yellowstone—PMD hatches in mid-June will usher in some of the best fishing of the season.
Tailwaters like the Bighorn and Missouri are experiencing very high flows, as water managers try to make room in the reservoirs for the coming runoff. This has meant less early season dry fly fishing, but the nymph fishing can be very productive. If you don’t mind lobbing a deep indicator rig, this fishing will continue to be an option right through the very high flows expected in late spring and early summer.
I predict the Yellowstone will be, well, unpredictable. The spring fishing was slow to get rolling due to cold water temperatures. April saw the start of good fishing, especially in the foam pockets and in the warmer water downstream from the spring creeks. Flows came up and visibility went down mid-month, but it has been unfishable for only a few days. A period of glorious warm weather over this last weekend has tripled the flows on the Lamar, so we may see some mud for a few days, but another cold front is predicted to bring more snow to the mountains later this week. That should mean better visibility for a while, but looking ahead to summer fishing, we should probably be hoping for an end to the snow and the start of runoff. We always hope for decent visibility at the end of the month for the Mother’s Day caddis hatch, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it this year, as a stretch of warmer days will likely get the Yellowstone high and muddy. On the other end of runoff, summer visitors should expect the Yellowstone to clear fairly late this year—no earlier than mid-July—and flows are likely to be high even after it clears.
The good news is that this year’s snowpack should mean better flows and lower water temps in August and September, so the late season fishing should be better this season. High water will provide flushing flows to clean stream bottoms, a good thing for bugs and spawning fish, so let’s look on the bright side of this winter’s snow and cold. Get in touch if you need an update on current water conditions.