Yellowstone River Fishing Report Stillwater Anglers

Things You Need To Know About Our Yellowstone River Fishing Report

The Yellowstone River in Montana is one of the most popular rivers for fly fishing because of its plethora of trout and because of the numerous areas you can fish. It is home to a strong population of various trout species like rainbow trout, brown trout, and even cutthroat trout. As the longest river in Montana, spanning over 700 miles, it presents multiple opportunities to be one of the best fishing vacations. Anglers from all over the country love to flock to this river because it is powerful, wide in most places, and is great for both floating and wading. Anglers who fish this river have nearly endless amounts of water to choose the ideal fishing spot, and crowding is almost never an issue. 

Though our name is Stillwater Anglers, named after the nearby Stillwater River, we are also very fond of The Yellowstone, which is why we provide Yellowstone river fishing reports every year. Here we go over how to read our fishing report and go through last year’s River Reports season by season so that you feel a little more prepared for this season!

How To Read Your Yellowstone River Fishing Report

We know that this time of year, if you’re not fishing already, you’re daydreaming about it. Though soon we’ll be posting a new Yellowstone River Fishing Report, we thought it might be helpful to summarize our reports from last year. Having information from previous years can help us predict similar patterns for this year. Reading fishing reports can be a little tricky if you’re unfamiliar with the vocabulary or terrain, but hopefully this month to month guide will help you better understand the Yellowstone River. 

Read on for excerpts from last year’s reports and feel free to call us if you have any questions. 

April Yellowstone River Fishing Report

At the beginning of April, the Yellowstone river runs a bit off color due to the weather. As soon as the water warms up a bit, you can look for March Browns and Midges. If you do decide to fish during the very early season, black and darker color streamer patterns are a good option in off color water conditions. You’ll see nymphing with black, brown and coffee colored rubber leg patterns like girdle bugs and Pat’s rubber legs, as well as similar colored stonefly patterns should produce, particularly in cloudy water.

For dry fly action to rising fish, try a smaller size Purple Haze, Parachute Adams, or Griffith’s Gnat. If looking to float, be sure and check the access sites ahead of time. While they should have cleared with the warmer weather, deep ice and snow jams accumulated at most access sites.

Towards the middle of April, water clarity is fairly inconsistent, which is typical for this time of year. It runs off color, which means we may not get the prime blue-green tinted water in the spring, but if there’s at least a foot or two of visibility, it’s fishable. With warmer weather, the river will get off color and soon runoff will be here to stay. There have been Midges and BWOs coming off once the day starts to warm up and the sun gets on the water. March Browns have begun to appear, and should do so in larger numbers this week.

If the water is clear enough, fish beadhead may fly nymph patterns like a hare’s ear, pheasant tail, or red copper john. Otherwise, nymphing with black, brown and coffee colored rubber leg patterns like girdle bugs and Pat’s rubber legs, or similar colored stonefly patterns is likely the best way to go unless there are actively feeding fish. There could be a short window to fish.

May 2019

The beginning of May usually brings high running and off color water through Columbus. It continues to be dangerous and is best to stay away from completely. If there are heavy localized rains, flows will likely rapidly increase again. Runoff is likely here to stay and the cottonwood hatch will get going and the river will be extremely hazardous. There may be some spots here and there to fish like side channels to fish, but unless one can find a safe spot, it’s best just to stay away from it. Search out lakes, smaller tributaries and tail waters until runoff subsides.

Through the middle of May, our Yellowstone River Fishing Report offers a small window with both caddis and march browns coming off, but the river runs higher and off color, which means it’s going to be tough to get the fish to key in on them now. There may be some occasional fluctuations, but runoff is likely here to stay and at some point the cottonwood hatch will get going and the river will be extremely hazardous. There may be some spots here and there to fish like side channels or slower water runs to fish, but unless one can find a safe spot, at some point it’s still best just to stay away from it.

The end of May is more promising. Flows usually drop and clear. If there are no heavy rains in the system, it should stay clear enough to fish. The water temperature is still very cold, but once the day starts to warm up and the sun gets on the water, look for Midges and BWOs to come off, particularly in the slacker water sections. Look for March Browns as well.

Overcast days should provide the best conditions for dry fly action. To rising fish, try a smaller size Purple Haze or Parachute Adams. Otherwise, if the water is clear enough, fish beadhead may fly nymph patterns like a hare’s ear, pheasant tail, or red copper john. For streamers, black and darker color streamer patterns like the Grinch or a black bugger are good, standard options. Thick caddis has yet to be seen.

June 2019

Unfortunately, the beginning of our June Yellowstone River Fishing Report is still running extremely high and off color through Columbus. Although on the drop, it continues to be dangerous and is best to stay away from completely. The time to get back on it will be as the color transitions from brown to a blue green tint. Primetime fishing is probably not to be expected til the middle or end of June. In the meantime, search out lakes, smaller tributaries and tail waters until runoff subsides.

July 2019

The beginning of July brings much of the same news as June. Although improving, it’s still running on the high side and a bit off color. It’s not too far off, but still needs to drop a bit more and gain a little more clarity for fishing. 

However, the middle and end of July has finally rounded the Yellowstone into shape and the fish are on the bite! Clarity is good and flows have dropped. Some wade fishing spots are still a bit on the high side, but improving daily. Try fishing a big rubber leg nymph like a girdle bug, Pat’s rubber leg on a long dropper off of a Chubby in the softer water between the main current and the bank. You can get streamer fish using the Grinch, Kreelex, Bow River bugger, Sparkle Minnow patterns, Sculpin patterns and basic black buggers. Use a long enough leader and weight to get it down in the heavy water sections.

For dry fly anglers, fish a Jack Cabe, stimulator, PMX or Chubby. If they’re not hitting the big dry, drop a bead head nymph off of it. Keep a Purple Haze, Parachute Adams and Caddis handy for any rising fish. Hopper fishing isn’t too far off and it’s not a bad idea to start fishing them now.

August 2019

For our August Yellowstone River Fishing Report, nymphing is usually a good way to start out the month. Try fishing a big rubber leg nymph like a girdle bug, Pat’s rubber leg or bitch creek. Make sure to use a long enough leader and weight to get it down in the heavy water. For streamer fishing, using the Grinch, Kreelex, Bow River bugger, Sparkle Minnow patterns, Sculpin patterns and basic black buggers. For dry fly anglers, fish a Jack Cabe, stimulator, PMX or Chubby.

Fish are hitting the hopper patterns by late morning. Try the Yellowstoner Chubby, Yeti Hopper, or Fat Frank in pink, olive or grape body colors in size 10-14, If they’re not hitting the big dry, drop a bead head nymph off of it. Also, keep a Purple Haze, Parachute Adams and Caddis handy for any rising fish. With the recent hot weather, the water temperature has been climbing. It’s time to consider fishing earlier in the day so as not to stress the fish in the warmer weather. 

For the middle of August, Hopper fishing is on and it’s probably the best it’s been in years. From mid to late morning on, fish are on the hopper. All types of hoppers are taking fish in all types of water. Don’t be content to merely pound the bank. Fish have seen a zillion artificial flies as well as the real ones by now, so don’t hesitate to vary it up with your fly choices.

Fish are eating the dry fly early too, so fish a Jack Cabe, stimulator, PMX or Purple Haze. Tricos have also started making their appearance in the early mornings. Look for rising fish in the slick water tailouts and foam lines. If fish are on them and rising, a smaller size purple haze or parachute adams will usually get the job done. Cooler mornings have helped the water temperature, but it’s still best to use as heavy of tackle as possible, play and land fish promptly and minimize their handling.

Though the end of August brings cooler temperatures, hopper fishing is still going strong. From mid to late morning on, fish are on the hopper. Paired with our advice above, we also suggest searching out different water too. All types of hoppers are taking fish in all types of water. Look for rising fish in the slick water tailouts and foam lines. If fish are on them and rising, a smaller size purple haze or parachute adams will usually get the job done.

September 2019 Yellowstone River Fishing Report

Early September means the gradual slowing of Hopper fishing in our Yellowstone River fishing report. From mid to late morning on, fish are on the hopper. It’s also not a bad idea to break out the streamer rod first thing in the day using the Grinch, Kreelex, Bow River bugger, Sparkle Minnow patterns, Sculpin patterns and basic black buggers. Fish are eating the dry fly early too, so fish a Jack Cabe, stimulator, PMX or Purple Haze. The cloudy, overcast and showery weather days are producing some nice BWO hatches. Use a smaller size Purple Haze or Parachute Adams for those opportunities.

Mid to late September is the perfect time to float fish in Yellowstone. Fall colors have come on, crowds are thinned, and fishing can be excellent. The river has started to clear back up after being off color following fall rain patterns. Hopper fishing has slowed from what it was, but is still active on most days. It’s a good time to consider streamer fishing using the Grinch, Kreelex, Bow River bugger, Sparkle Minnow patterns, and basic black buggers. Pre spawn Brown Trout will start being aggressive. The cloudy and overcast weather days should produce some nice BWO hatches so be sure to look for pods of rising fish in the tailouts and slicks. Use a smaller size Purple Haze or Parachute Adams towards the end of the fly fishing season.

Conclusion

When we boil it down, we’ll never be able to completely predict any Yellowstone River fishing report. But when we look at past data and keep in mind that weather in Montana greatly influences what the river conditions will be, we can be better prepared for the current fishing season. 

Keep an eye out for our 2020 River Reports, and feel free to call with questions. Chris Fleck, owner of Stillwater Anglers, is constantly out on the water and so are all of his certified guides. We try to keep updated on what’s happening on all of our favorite local rivers, and in turn we want to pass that knowledge on to our fellow anglers. Let’s make this year the best fly fishing year yet!

By Stillwater Anglers General Fly Fishing Articles