2017 Montana Fishing Outlook

2017 Montana Snow Pack levels

It’s the time of year when anglers start to see those longer days and turn their thoughts to the Montana fly fishing season. At Montana Fly Fishing Guides we’d like to offer some insight based on our nearly 20 years experience in the area. We’ll support this with a look at current snow pack levels, combine it with long term temperature and precipitation forecasts. While this all turns into a best guess scenario we’ve got time in between tying flies and skiing, so let’s dig in to the details regarding the 2017 Montana fishing outlook.

The latest snow pack levels are looking good. If you’re unfamiliar with snow pack and how it relates to fishing here’s the simplified version. Most rivers in Montana rely on the amount of snow and more importantly the amount of water locked in the snow, or snow water equivalent (SWE). If there is too much SWE and the rivers may flood, too little and drought conditions set in. Looking at the SWE image below shows the Upper Yellowstone River drainage leading the charge at 128% of normal for this time of year. Most other drainages in Montana are at near normal levels, with the exception of the Smith area drainage.


Now on to the 3 month forecast, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted near normal temperatures for SW Montana in February, March & April. Interesting to note is the 33%-50% chance of below average temperature forecast for the majority of Montana. Combined with good SWE this forecast bodes well for those planning their Montana fly fishing trips.

2017 Montana fishing outlook

Finally NOAA has forecast a 33% chance of above average precipitation for SW Montana and the eastern part of Montana looks to have a 40% chance. Montana is not currently in any major drought status, and this forecast, if it comes to fruition, will further protect us from it. Again this data supports a good 2017 Montana fishing outlook, especially those looking to take advantage of good water temperatures throughout the Spring season.

2017 Precipitation Forecast

Now for the challenging part, putting all this data and forecasts together with our expertise to get you our prediction for the 2017 Montana fishing outlook. First off, the current SWE combined with average 3 month temperature and precipitation forecasts looks excellent. Our take on this leads us to believe that the spring fishing season is looking very good. Anglers wishing to avoid the peak season and experience fewer crowds should take advantage of this timeframe and good forecast. Excellent spring fishing can be found on the Yellowstone River in April, the Madison River in April, May & June, and the Missouri River in April, May & June.

How will this influence our annual spring run-off, well that’s a really tricky question. At this point in the season we think it’s too early to guesstimate the start or length of run-off. Montana weather is tough enough to forecast from day to day, let alone 4 or 5 months out. However, at this point if we were pressed it looks as though run-off on many of our rivers should start close to their normal dates. For example the Yellowstone River typically starts run-off near the first week of May. The current data doesn’t seem to support an early, late or extended run-off.

To summarize the current data strongly supports an excellent 2017 Montana fishing outlook, especially for the spring season. We’ll revisit this in a few months to update the main summer season. In the meantime think snowy thoughts, hit the tying bench and feel free to contact us or comment below with any questions or thoughts on the 2017 Montana fishing outlook.

Yellowstone River Closure & 2016 Summary

Missouri River Brown Trout

Our 2016 fly fishing season certainly was dramatic with the temporary Yellowstone river closure. Let’s first discuss the actual fishing – which is always the easiest part. Our early season fished fantastic from April until early July on the Missouri River, Paradise Valley Spring Creek and the Yellowstone River.

– At times per usual from April through June the Missouri fished outrageously good. The lower, but consistent river flows made for steady nymphing (both deep and short leash). Dry fly fishing was a bit more variable as cooler weather and water temperatures made for limited opportunities.

Paradise Valley Creeks – DePuy Spring Creek in particular fished good as usual during this timeframe. Good numbers of fish and relatively consistent hatches provided excellent sight fishing opportunities. Baetis (Blue winged-olives) in the early season and PMD’s (Pale Morning Duns) throughout the latter part of June made it the reason most anglers return year after year.

Yellowstone River – the unusually early season run-off made for some excellent late season June fishing. Salmon flies were not prolific, however the summer caddis, Golden Stones and other less prolific hatches were quite good.

Mid Summer fishing (July through early August) – the Boulder River, Stillwater River, Yellowstone were rather inconsistent at times, but our veteran MFG guides made the best of the opportunities. Highlights were probably the early season in Yellowstone Park on the Lamar and Soda Butte Rivers. Productive, consistent hatches with larger than average Cutthroat numbers made for memorable highlights for nearly all of our anglers.

Now to the dramatic events of the 2016 season. On August 19th the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks (FWP) closed the Yellowstone River and all of the tributaries connecting to the river. This action was unprecedented in Montana and the West in general, and based on the unusual die off of an estimated 4,000 Mountain Whitefish. In the subsequent research it was found the die off was attributed to an invasive parasite that effects both trout and whitefish. The river and tributaries remained closed for about 2 weeks until it was revealed that only a few trout failed to resist and died from the parasite. Let’s emphasize that last statement – only a handful of trout died. In light of that research and cooler water temperatures, in which the parasite does not thrive, Montana FWP lifted the closure on the majority of tributaries and the Yellowstone River itself.

Yellowstone River ClosureTo summarize the Yellowstone River closure of 2016 – few trout were effected and the majority of fishing restrictions were lifted within a couple weeks time. How did this effect fishing? Other than some limited float fishing options for anglers it really wasn’t much of an issue. At Montana Fly Fishing Guides, llc. we take you to the best possible fishing – so as the Yellowstone hadn’t been the best option in the week leading up to the closure we’d already started taking anglers to other waters that had been fishing well. This TripAdvisor Review pretty much sums up our time during the Yellowstone River closure:

5 of 5 starsSep 7, 2016Reviewed by mbdonovan1
My husband and I had a great time fly fishing with our guide Zach!!! He is awesome!! Eric set everything up for us and he was so helpful with everything. He quickly calls you back and answers e-mails. With the Yellowstone closing several days prior to our trip we were a little nervous about what to expect. Both Eric and Zach helped to make the trip amazing. We will def. be back!!!!

So as the winter season progresses and we get some more data on fish populations this spring we’ll keep you posted. However, in the mean time make sure to start planning your 2017 Montana fly fishing trip now so you don’t miss out on your preferred guide, lodging or fishing location. We’ll look forward to seeing you this coming fishing season.

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout Increasing

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout Increasing

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout are making a slow but steady comeback in Yellowstone National Park, which is good news for anglers and trout alike. According to Yellowstone National Park Fisheries biologist Dr. Todd Koel, this is due in large part to the Cutthroat Trout Restoration Project. A project which includes gill netting and potentially electroshocking of non-native Lake Trout. These large, aggressive trout are a major predator to juvenile Cutthroat. Over 1 million Lake Trout have been killed since 1994, half that number between 2012-2014 alone. It’s suspected the invasive Lake Trout were illegally dumped into Yellowstone Lake decades ago and the battle has raged ever since.

Yellowstone Lake is the largest, highest elevation lake in North America and one of the primary breeding and juvenile rearing areas for Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. This is where most of the project’s efforts have been focused.

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout impacts

Yellowstone National Park wildlife biologist Dr. Doug Smith states that additional factors leading to the increase in Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout numbers included the reduced impacts of avian predators such as Bald Eagles, Osprey, White Pelicans, and Cormorants. All of which prefer to dine on the more accessible Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout as opposed to the Lake Trout. This is due in part to the different behavioral patterns between the species. As the Cutthroat Trout numbers declined over the years so did their winged predators. As trout numbers increase, bird numbers should follow in the near future.

As Dr. Koel remarks, “Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout continue to see a rebound in Yellowstone Lake. And we again saw an abundance of young juvenile fish recruiting back to the ecosystem.”

Great news indeed for the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, nature enthusiasts and particularly fly fishing anglers. We can look forward to sustainable native trout populations in the near future.

To read a full article of this blog please visit Wyoming Public Media.