Fishing Report: Conditions improving on Montana rivers

Justin Post

Did someone say salmonflies?

Indeed, after a long, cold and windy winter there’s nothing area anglers would enjoy more than a wind-free day on the Yellowstone with the big, orange bugs in the sky.

While it’s never too early to dream about those days, the fact remains we’re still a few, or more, months from a salmonfly invasion, but fishing is picking up in the region and boats are beginning to emerge from garages across the Treasure State. 

Water temperatures are rising, snow is receding and wind speeds are slowing.

Average daily wind speeds for the Livingston area are no longer in the mid-to-upper 20s, but are forecasted in the teens for the rest of this week and throughout the weekend — with the exception of Thursday’s forecast of 25-mph winds. That’s good news for both boaters and those who ply the Yellowstone on foot.

Matt Nispel, of Dan Bailey Fly Shop in Livingston, said water temperatures rose early last week into the mid-40s, sparking a blue wing olive hatch. Fly flingers reported catching fish on blue wing olives in town and creeks with some action below town. Nispel said the blue wing olive hatch has since stalled with falling water and nighttime temperatures, however.

Nispel on Monday recorded the river water temperature at 41 degrees below Livingston and said temps are likely several degrees colder in the upper river valley.

Colder temperatures will help hold upper elevation snowpack in place, which he said promotes a healthy river as longer, sunnier days approach.

Anglers should expect the blue wing olive hatch to pick up in the coming weeks as river temperatures rise. Streamers are also effective, Nispel said.

“In late March and early April that streamer bite can really pick up,” Nispel said.

For this week, anglers are finding fish by dead-drifting or dragging streamers, and with nymphs, he said.

Flashback pheasant tails and baetis nymphs in sizes 14 to 18 are “going to be hot” in addition to dark stonefly nymphs in sizes ranging from 10 to 4, Nispel said.

Anglers should look to streamers in black, white and olive patterns, with flashy patterns on bright days and dark patterns on dark, cloudy days.

“Try to match the sky,” he said.

Dean Reiner, of Hatch Finders Fly Shop in Livingston, also recommended baetis nymphs. He said midges and San Juan worms are another option in the weeks before the pale morning dun and caddis hatches arrive.

Reiner said smaller nymphs are a good bet this time of year. 

“I wouldn’t go any bigger than a size 18,” he said. “They are looking for the small stuff right now.”

March browns in sizes 12 to 16 are another option for fishing dry flies, Reiner said. PMDs and any dry fly attractor pattern in sizes 14 or 16 will be effective in April, he added.

If you can find them, Reiner said anglers may find rainbows and browns lurking under scum patches in the river.

“Rainbows and browns like to lay under there and eat the midges and baetis,” he said.

The Yellowstone River is currently at 1,260 cubic feet per second at Livingston, and Reiner said the river is accessible to boaters throughout the region with ice and snow receding onto the banks.

The river is currently low, and a stretch just below Carter’s Bridge can be challenging for boaters, as the river pinches into a narrow channel, Reiner said.

“I suspect we’re going to have a short runoff because we didn’t get that much moisture in the park,” he said. “It should be a short runoff, and if it is, come June we’re going to start to see salmonflies.”