First Musings on Montana’s Snowpack – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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First Musings on Montana’s Snowpack

We’re barely into the new year, it’s still snowing regularly and cold outside, but some of us are already getting the itch for the coming summer. So, how does the water outlook look for summer look so far, and what does it mean for the fishing? Well honestly, any predictions now are just a shot in the dark. It’s almost impossible to know what we’re looking at, as far as snowpack, until well into March and early April. That’s when we usually see the last snow dumps that add a lot to the high mountain snowpack, and that can make or break a season.

But, how are we looking now?

Well most of the surrounding mountains are sitting about 75% of usual seasonal snowpack. The Upper Yellowstone watershed is the only one in Southwest Montana at 100%. Now, this isn’t the end of the world. Our fall was unseasonably mild and long (good for fishing at the time), but meant that we didn’t start building snowpack until later than usual. Lately, we’ve been getting good regular snow fall with cold temps, with more of the same in the foreseeable forecast. If this trend continues, and we get the later dumps, we should be in good shape.

100% isn’t enough.

The last couple of years the snowpack has been close or below average. However, the reason we’ve seen so many Hoot Owl closures and low water conditions in recent years is because the winters have been getting shorter and the summers longer and hotter. Forty degree weather in February is awesome for midge fishing, but extended periods like we saw last year killed our snowpack and we never got it back. A similar situation happened the year before, but very unusual amounts of rain in June saved us, for the most part. Because of this, the long-term average snowpack is no longer enough the carry us through a summer. Several years ago, we had a couple years in a row with ~120% snowpack’s that made fishing good and consistent throughout the summer. This is what we seem to need now.

Basically, no one really knows how things will playout between now and the summer. Again, no reason to worry about 75% snowpacks, yet. A couple big storms and those numbers will jump. So, here’s to a good finish to winter, and a good summer of water and happy trout. You can check snowpack levels for yourself across Montana here, and we will keep you update as the winter unfolds, so check back for updates.