Montana Snowpack Preface:
Why does everyone harp on the Montana snowpack? Well, if trout live in cool waters then trout anglers should have a keen interest in researching how much cool water might be in store for the upcoming fishing season. Cool water lends itself to happy, healthy trout – and what Montana fly fishing aficionado wouldn’t want that. So let the harping continue…
One thing we should point out is that in 17 years of professional guiding and piscatorial acumen (define as “fish freak”) the weather trumps all snowpack conditions. A couple of weeks of seasonally high temperatures can turn high snowpack into below average. Likewise, 1 week of cold snowy weather in May and the Montana snowpack is 150% of normal. One thing we know for sure at Montana Fly Fishing Guides is that we can only take an educated guess based on experience and some research. Guess we could have been getting paid more being the weatherman.
Don’t make a dramatic change to your Montana fly fishing trip just because you read something on the internet about the Montana snowpack (yes including this). Instead, stay in contact with your local fishing outfitter or well informed local fly shop and follow the trends.
If you are going to make an adjustment to your trip do it based on the latest actual information, not wild speculation. Fortunately, in SW Montana we have a variety of waters that hold their own during big runoff events or low water years such as the DePuy spring Creek, the Missouri River in early season and even Yellowstone National Park‘s many waters.
Current Montana Snowpack Conditions:
As of February, the Montana snowpack is at or about average in the SW region of Montana with some minor variation. The image below shows each river drainage and the corresponding water in the snow or snow water equivalent (SWE). In other words, if you melted the snow how much water would you produce. As we can see most of SW Montana is in the green, good news as that’s about normal. The upper Yellowstone is a bit lower than normal at 88%, but this is pretty typical coming out of our normal January dry spell. We expect those numbers to rise with the wetter months of February and March on the way.
What Does the Montana Snowpack Mean to You?
IF everything stays the same at this point we should be looking at a normal moisture year. So private water (lakes & spring creeks) and many of the tailwaters like the Madison River and Missouri River will fish just fine in the early season and throughout July. The freestone streams like the Yellowstone, Boulder, Stillwater, Smith and others will likely be fish-able earlier than normal, maybe late June. For example the Yellowstone over the past 100+ years has typically started fishing around the 4th of July. This year depending on the weather and run-off it will likely be about the same time. However, it’s way too early in the snow season to make any plans based on current information.
If you typically fish freestone streams our recommendation would be twofold. If you haven’t yet booked your Montana fly fishing trip we’d recommend coming whenever it works best for you. Don’t make plans around the weather and water. The water levels should be fairly normal and this is likely not your fishing outfitter’s first rodeo (if it is you should rethink your choice). Veteran Montana fly fishing guides have dealt with fluctuating water levels their entire guiding career and they have options when levels or temperatures fluctuate. The best guides will do all they can to get you on the best fishing for that day. As the angler be understanding and flexible and remember the whole idea behind your fishing trip is to have an enjoyable day on the water.