Memorial Day weekend was the last of the cool weather that has kept rivers and creeks fishable almost to the first of June. The sudden change from temperatures in the 50s to temperatures near 90 degrees has truly blown out all rivers and creeks that are flowing out of the Absaroka, Beartooth and Bighorn mountains the past week.
The good news is Yellowstone Park’s fishing season opened last Saturday and the west side of Yellowstone has great water and fishing found in the Firehole, Gibbon and Madison rivers. It is a rare opening day not to find all of the above rivers stacked and crowded with anglers vying for the better areas to ply their skills. Due to COVID-19 closures and restrictions in Montana, anglers could not access the west side of Yellowstone this year for opening day except through the east and south gates.
West Yellowstone has long been a fly fishing mecca for many out-of-state anglers. Because the North, Northeast and West entrances to Yellowstone could not open until June 1, that left plenty of water for those of us from Cody to enjoy unimpeded for an entire week. That all changed Monday, I am certain. Now, competition on the Park’s waters will once again go to the angler, or early bird, fortunate enough to beat the others who will be coming in from the West and North entrances until the first weekend in November, the Park’s official closing day for anglers.
Since our rivers and creeks are high and muddy from snowmelt, now is the perfect year to explore Yellowstone if you have not done so due to crowded conditions or the fear of fighting traffic on both road loops within the Park. The lack of tour buses has made it easier to find places to park and so far there have been few interruptions by non-fisher types wanting to take your picture while fishing the Fountain Flat area on the Firehole River or the meadows on the lower Gibbon River near Madison Junction.
Hatches are outstanding on the west side of Yellowstone. Caddis are abundant throughout the headwaters of the Missouri River from the upper reaches of the Firehole and Gibbon all the way to West Yellowstone. Mayflies are also hatching in good numbers, too. I recommend carrying a fly box full of size 18 and 20 blue winged olive adults – olive sparkle duns, parachute Adams, standard blue-wing dry flies and rusty spinners. Pale morning duns are not olive, but a cream to yellow color, and are a true size 16. Sparkle duns with deer or snowshoe rabbit hair and spotlight PMD emergers are highly recommended especially on the Firehole, Madison and Nez Perce Creek.
Your caddis fly patterns should be white, gray, tan, brown and olive. Elk hair caddis in size 12 through 18 in those colors will work well for dry flies. Caddis soft hackle or bead head soft hackle in tan, gray or olive in the same sizes will perform below the surface should the trout not be rising to the caddis (looks like a small moth) not be flying off the river or along streamside foliage.
In the next week or two, large stoneflies, also called salmon flies, will be crawling out along the lower Firehole canyon, the Gibbon below Gibbon Falls and also on the Madison River that is formed by the joining of the Firehole and Gibbon. Orange stimulators, orange Ho Candy, red madame X and other size 6 and 8 salmon fly imitations work well when the trout are gorging on these large chunks of insect protein.
See? There is good news to be had even during the midst of COVID-19 and high muddy waters in throughout the Big Horn Basin. Make sure you get out and enjoy the late spring fishing. Summer will be here in three weeks and then we can talk about wet wading the miles and miles of water found in the Beartooth, Bighorn and Absaroka Mountains. Oh, one more thing, if fishing rivers not your thing, local lakes are fishing well. So are Yellowstone and Lewis lakes inside Yellowstone National Park. Just make sure you have a 2020 Wyoming or Yellowstone fishing license before you head off to get some fishing distance.