Spring runoff has hit the east side of Yellowstone. Rivers like the North and South forks of the Shoshone, Greybull, Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone and the Stillwater are increasing in flow as temperatures neared 80 degrees this past Sunday.
Larger tributaries to these rivers are also blowing out, changing water conditions from fishable to practicing one’s casting.
Those new to the area or visiting this time of year always ask if our rivers and streams are normally muddy. Sadly, we can’t tell them anything except what they see is an annual event that occurs sometime in the month of May, especially when we do not have a cold, wet spring.
This spring was one of those years with little moisture in the form of rain or wet snow in the low or high country like we typically experience. The abundant moisture March-May can do wonders in prolonging the inevitable spring runoff until Memorial Day, or even as late as mid-June.
All is not doom and gloom though. Some rivers are still in great shape thanks to dams. The lower Shoshone River below Buffalo Bill Dam and the Wind-Bighorn River below Boysen Dam are clear and in great shape for fishing while rivers and streams not controlled by dams are carrying large volumes of snowmelt downstream to be stored in these reservoirs for irrigation and the production of electricity through the summer and following low flow seasons of fall and winter.
Yellowstone Park’s annual fishing season begins Memorial Day weekend. This year’s opening weekend inside the Park might be different due to the coronavirus which has reduced the number of travelers through Wyoming and certainly through Idaho and Montana to visit America’s first national park. There has been no discussion about closing any of Yellowstone’s rivers and lakes to fishing so we should expect some sort of “normalcy” inside the Park, which opened noon Monday. A drive to check out the rivers mentioned above would be a great day trip because Memorial Day weekend is not that far into the future.
While rivers on the east side of the Park will be raging as 12,000 foot mountain peaks shed this past winter’s meager snowpack, rivers like the Firehole, Madison and Gibbon rivers inside Yellowstone will be in prime condition for anglers to enjoy until rivers surrounding Yellowstone come into shape around the first of July.
Other rivers inside the Park will be raging like those on Cody’s side of the Absaroka Mountains until later in the year, but Yellowstone and Lewis lakes will be open for angling. Remember, a Wyoming fishing license is not valid inside Yellowstone Park.
The Northeast Entrance, North and West entrances aren’t open yet, so a fishing license can only be obtained at the east gate where one has a better chance of winning the lottery than purchasing a Park fishing license, or at Bridge Bay Marina, the better option.
Until the high water recedes, anglers will be limited to fishing lakes or still waters if they don’t want to fish the lower Shoshone or Wind-Bighorn rivers. Popular local lakes and reservoirs are East (special regulations apply) or West Newton, Hogan, Luce, Beck, New Cody, Buffalo Bill, Boysen and Bighorn lake aka Yellowtail. The Beartooth and Bighorn mountains also have plenty of high country lakes to fish, although not all of them will be ice free just yet to enjoy.
In case one is curious, Shell, Nowood, Canyon and Tensleep creeks in the Big Horn Mountains are rising and are off color at the lower elevations just like those draining the Absaroka Mountains west of Cody.
The North Tongue is fishable up high, but the road is not completely open on U.S. 14A in the Big Horns. As an angler searches the east side of the Bighorns for clean water, good luck. Reports are that Big Goose, Clear, Crazy Woman and other creeks on that side look just like ours here.