The annual opening day for the North Fork of the Shoshone is Monday. Since April 1, the river has had a closure from the Red Pole Bridge all the way up the river to Newton Creek inside the Shoshone National Forest. That closure ends July 1, officially opening up miles of the North Fork that was closed to protect spawning rainbow and native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
Most anglers would agree this year has been interesting on the North Fork. Since the closure April 1, the weather has been the coldest on record in decades. Due to the colder than average weather, including the month of June, the spring runoff on the North Fork has yet to get serious. The river has only hit flows above 7,000 cubic feet per second for a few days last week before another cold front blew in late last week and cut the flows in half by Friday due to very cold temperatures and snow at the higher elevations.
Typically the North Fork of the Shoshone runs hard late May through June with high flows and dirty, if not muddy, conditions and doesn’t offer anglers much in the way of clear, fishable waters above the annual closure until after July 1, when the river typically peaks in runoff, then its flow slowly recedes the rest of the summer. Going back and looking at past flow data on the North Fork, this year’s runoff cycle seems to mirror that of 2011, when the runoff came late and the river had higher than normal flows through July into early September.
Ambient temperatures are to climb into the 80s by the middle of this coming week. There is still plenty of snow to come down on yet, not just the North Fork, but also the South Fork, Greybull, Wood and Clarks Fork rivers. Given the spike in air temps to more summer-like weather in the days ahead, this year’s opening day might find the North Fork high and chocolate, since there are also heavy thunderstorm events predicted to go with the heat. Combine warm rains with melting snow and everyone might see historically high flows on all the rivers draining the east side of Yellowstone over the Fourth of July celebration. Not good for fishing, but certainly something to see.
My advice is to enjoy the upper North Fork’s fishing early this week before the heat spikes Wednesday. The fishing has been very good above Gunbarrel Creek’s confluence for anglers using size 6 or 8 stonefly nymphs fished deep, with a size 10 or smaller beadhead nymph such as a prince, pheasant tail, gold-ribbed hare’s ear, North Fork Special in standard ties or tied on jig hooks. There have also been some large golden stoneflies showing up in this area of the North Fork, so a dry-dropper rig could perform well until flows increase again later in the week.
The lakes and streams in the Beartooth and Bighorn mountains have also fished well during the recent cool down. The North and South forks of the Tongue River in the Bighorns has been good to hot, depending on time of day. Upper Shell and Tensleep creeks have also done well as the flows in these creeks also dropped dramatically last week. Dead Indian, Little Sunlight and Crandall creeks have been the bright spots in the Absaroka-Beartooths, while the lake fishing has been slow to turn on due to water temps, snow and even road closures the closer one gets to the Montana line.
Remember to purchase a fishing license if you have been waiting for the North Fork of the Shoshone to open. Also read the current Wyoming Game and Fish 2019 Regulations before you begin loading a stringer with trout from the river. For whatever reason, fish hogs seem to show up opening day and appear to have disdain and a blatant disregard for obeying the established limits on the lower North Fork every year when it opens.
This river, as well as many others in Park County, are not stocked but managed as wild trout fisheries. Respect this resource if you don’t want limits to be further reduced or closed to fishing due to angler excess and greed. Buffalo Bill Reservoir is still closed to fishing until July 15 east of Red Pole Bridge, all the way to where Rattlesnake and Sheep Creeks enter the reservoir.