Bozeman Fly Fishing | 2018 Outlook – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Bozeman Fly Fishing | 2018 Outlook

I’m sitting in my home office this morning (Mother’s Day) thinking about all of the water we have this year while being grateful that my grass is green, rather than white. The winter was too long for most of us and the days of flip flops and shorts can’t get here soon enough. All of that snow in the mountains of Southwest Montana is going to pay huge dividends whenever the summer heat and dry days do finally arrive. We expect the rivers to be in great shape and forest fire concerns are at their lowest in several years as well. The summer of 2018 should shape out to be a great one in terms of fly fishing around the Bozeman area, but expect the start to be a bit later than we have become accustomed to.

The early summer/late spring will be unpredictable and variable – depending on new moisture and ambient temperatures. May through early June will be the most difficult time in the Bozeman area as the Yellowstone and Gallatin rivers will be too high and off-color to offer reliable fly fishing conditions. The Madison River typically offers limited opportunities during this time with a week or two being very marginal (which week or two is the question!). Small streams, spring creeks, and private water options will be available for our guide trips, but even these will not be great choices during this time.

Our Bozeman fly fishing guides will be focusing our efforts on the Madison River during this early season period with nymph-fishing and limited streamer opportunities as well. Anglers should expect high-water conditions throughout the region meaning that wade fishing will be extremely challenging through June.

The first hatch of significance that we will be watching for now is the arrival of Salmonflies. Typically, they start to show up in early June on the lower Madison River and become important on the upper Madison River by mid-June. We expect to see this delayed 2-3 weeks this year due to the significant runoff and cooler water temperatures. We have seen this happen in previous high-water years in our 18 years of guiding and operating our Bozeman fly shop so these thoughts are based on our experiences.

Early July should kick off prime season on the Madison in 2018 for both the upper and lower river stretches. In addition to having great water levels and flow forecasts from the winter snow pack, Hebgen Dam repairs are now complete as well. This translates to cold water feeding the upper Madison throughout the summer heat for the first time in nearly a decade! Cold water and stable flows should make for some happy trout in late July, August, and September on the Madison River.

The Yellowstone River (below Yellowstone National Park) is in for a long run off period as it’s headwater drainages are at or above record levels. Although it will be difficult to know for sure, we are leaning towards mid-late July as being the initial timeframe for our guides to start trips in the drainage. When flows get below 10000 cfs in Livingston and there are a couple feet of visibility, we will start paying close attention to the river. Although we can certainly fish it at higher levels the fishing really starts to stabilize when flows drop to the 7000 cfs level. So, although the river might be “fishable” in early to mid July, we most likely won’t see optimal conditions until the 3rdor 4thweek of the month.

As far as the other rivers go, we are expecting most of them and the small streams to start fishing well in early to mid-July. These include the Boulder, Jefferson, Gallatin, Shields, rivers along various small streams. Most of these rivers and streams are too low and warm by late July, so we are looking forward to having a lot more water to choose from in late July and August in 2018.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind regarding the various times of the summer for 2018 and what to expect in terms of angling opportunities around Bozeman.

Mid-May through late June, angler should expect plenty of options for 1-2 days of fishing around Bozeman. If you don’t mind fishing the same stretch of river a few days, then we should have no problems. If you are looking to fish multiple days, this would be a good time to add a day of stillwater (public and private options are available) fishing to your itinerary. The focus will be on the Madison River drainage.

Early July should see things shaping up very well on the Madison and some of the smaller rivers in the area. Expect difficult wade fishing conditions throughout the region through mid-July. Salmonfly hatches and other dry fly opportunities will start to become important in early July.

All things should be good and hitting their peak stride by late July and early August. This is typically the “dog days” of summer period but this will NOT be the case in 2018. If you have flexibility in terms of scheduling a fly fishing specific vacation to Bozeman, August and September will most likely be very good relative to the last several years. We will be fishing a lot of water in August that we typically don’t fish that time of year due to water flow and temperature concerns. The lower Madison, lower Gallatin, Jefferson, and lower Yellowstone rivers will all be hitting their stride in August versus early July for most years.

Overall, we are very excited for the angling prospects around Bozeman for the 2018 season. Conditions and planning will be a little “bumpy” through May and June, but we have been through high water, low water, warm-water, fire seasons, fish kills, and dirty water conditions many times. Our Bozeman fly fishing guides are well adept to making last minute changes to ensure that our guest are getting the best opportunity available. Call our Bozeman fly shop at 1-406-586-2188 for help with planning your fly fishsing trip to Bozeman in 2018 or to reserve a guided fly fishing trip in Bozeman.