Southwest Montana Fly-Fishing Calendar

In conjunction with "Waters I Guide", this page is created to illustrate how the fishing goes and what to expect in and around Livingston and I hope this will help visiting angers to plan when to visit. 

A few conditions and general ideas:

  • This is based on "average year" which is defined with average snowpacks during the previous winter, no extreme weather conditions in spring and summer months, average runoff (snow melt flows), and average water flows/heights from runoff through summer months. 

  • Livingston's spring creeks are available to fish through out the year, no runoff or freezing conditions. Below I will only mention major events on creeks. That being said, even creeks can be affected by weather patterns of the particular year. For example, when the rainy season in mid June persists or remains cold, it can delay PMD hatches for some days and affect the time of the day (compared to typical 10am-2pm). 

  • Our world-class tailwater fisheries, Bighorn and Missouri, would not have typical turbid waters (their freestone tributaries will affect certain sections) while freestone rivers are in the middle of runoff. Yet even these two rivers can experience high water flows. Fishing during this time can be good or so-so. It's still a viable option during the runoff period (most part of May and June). So over all these two are also year-around fisheries like spring creeks. 

 

With these in mind, let's take a look!!

Accompanied photos for each month are just one out of too many. 

December, January, & February

I wouldn't recommend to plan EARNEST fishing trips. Fishing can be planned as a part of activities during Yellowstone Park winter tours or ski/snowboard in Bozeman or Big Sky. During these months, Livingston's spring creeks are the most viable options as these creeks run without being frozen. Matter of fact, oftentimes their water temperatures are warmer than the air temp!! Speaking of which, where springs flow into rivers can be interesting spots. Visiting fishers might be able to gather local tips. 

  • In spring creeks, there are "Winter Run" of rainbows. This is not as big or visible as spring or fall runs but for real. 

  • It's possible to have midge dry-fly fishing in spring creeks or aforementioned very localized spots on the rivers. 

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March & April

It's spring for the most part. We can still have cold weathers with snows any time though. Spring creeks are still te best options with anticipations of baetis and midge hatches and rainbow trout's spawning run from the Yellowstone River. Locals start to launch their boats on rivers. Unless we see hatches & rises, nymphing is a way to go. Rivers are perhaps the least crowded and very enjoyable for sure. 

  • In rivers and spring creeks, main events are rainbows' spawning and baetis/midge hatches.

  • These events can be dictated by how warm the spring can be. I've seen Yellowstone River rainbow trout making their spawning runs as early as during the first week of March in the warm year. In average, late March would be  the time.

  • The same goes with insect hatches and rising fish. 

late April & early May

This short and "weather depending" period can be very interesting. 

  • Mother's Day Caddis hatch!! On Yellowstone River, this hatch is totally up to day-to-day weather patterns, which dictate water temp, height, and colors. Lower Madison, just outside of Bozeman, is more predictable.

  • Streamer fishing!! On Yellowstone River, oftentimes some of the biggest brown trout of the year can be caught during this time of year. As if those big boys just wake up from hibernations, they are known to bite streamers.

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May & June

It's the runoff time on freestone rivers. Yet we do have numbers of options around here. 

  • Spring creeks remain very good and enjoyable. 

  • Just like spring creeks, lakes and ponds in private ranches are very good options. 

  • Missouri and Bighorn Rivers offer good fishing.

  • Yellowstone National Park fishing season opens on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers offer good fishing from the opening through June. 

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late June & July

Now our  prime fishing time begins!! 

  • The world famous PMD hatches on spring creeks start around June 20th and go on through July

  • As July progresses, caddis, sulphur, and terrestrials mix in. 

  • Starting in late June, salmonfly hatches on the Madison is another world-class event. This event is followed by Goldenstone and caddis hatches in July.  

  • Yellowstone River is totally up to its runoff conditions, which are dictated by snow accumulation of the previous winter and weather conditions from April to early June. Typically my first float trip is around July 10th.

  • Salmonfly hatches on the Yellowstone can be expected, depending on runoff. This hatch is known to progress upstream all the way to the Park section through July.

  • Yellowstone National Park: Rivers we fish from the opening through June: Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers start to warm up as the July rolls due to geothermal features of those rivers. Trout become sluggish and better left them alone for a while.

  • Instead, Yellowstone River and its tributaries: Lamar, Soda Butte, Slough, and Gardner are starting to shape up.  

  • Missouri and Bighorn Rivers keep offering consistently good fishing. 

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August

Summer goes on. As long as we don't have extreme heat and/or low water flows, area streams remain good conditions and offer good fishing. 

  • Spring creeks start to become more challenging as the summer progresses.  

  • Float trips on the Yellowstone and the Madison remain good and enjoyable. Casting hopper imitations and rises of big trout (if you are lucky!) are always the summer highlight. 

  • Yellowstone National Park: Main Yellowstone River and its tributaries: Lamar, Soda Butte, Slough, and Gardner are all the best options.

  • It's time to hike up to high altitude streams and lakes, both in YNP and Montana!!

  • Bighorn River runs cold and the best dry-fly fishing is about to happen with PMD and caddis. 

September

Though we still have hot and bright days, we can feel summer is ending. Streams, trout, and insects are in the transitional period from summer to the fall.  

  • Spring creeks continue to challenge anglers. Though it's not as big numbers as the past two months, there are always something hatching, midges, PMD, Mystery Spinners.............. 

  • From the mid month and later, anglers might encounter "early wanderers" (run-up browns).......... 

  • On float trips on the Yellowstone and the Madison, we employ both nymphing and dry-flies (still hoppers). 

  • Yellowstone National Park:  Northeast streams: Lamar, Soda Butte, and Slough continue to offer good fishing with Green Drake hatches and terrestrials. 

  • Toward the end of the month, Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers start to be back in shape as the cool weathers of the fall approaches. 

  • Bighorn River continues to offer some of the best dry-fly fishing with caddis and Trico. 

  • Ponds/lakes in private ranches around Livingston cool down and offer great fishing again. This goes on till November. 

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October

It's officially the fall in Yellowstone Country. Definitely summer tourism is over. Indian Summer Days can be expected but most of the time, dress warm!!

  • On spring creeks midge hatches continue. As the month progress fall baetis hatches will happen. 

  • Fall-run brown trout enter creeks from Yellowstone River. 

  • Float trips on the Yellowstone and the Madison employ nymphs and streamers, while keeping our eyes on baetis hatches and pods of rising trout

  • Yellowstone National Park: Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers become very popular again with fall baetis hatches and fall-run big trout from Hebgen Lake.

  • Yellowstone River and its tributaries have limited hours of fishing. But hit right, there are superb baetis fishing.

  • Gardner River DOES have fall-run brown trout from Yellowstone River (Montana section), which is often overshadowed by the fame of Hebgen runs on the west side. 

  • Bighorn and Missouri: these destination fisheries start to be quiet. Certainly good fishing can be had on the uncrowded river!

November

I consider the time-change as the summer time ends is the wrap-up of the "practical fishing" for the season. Good fishing can be still done but I would focus on warm hours of the not-so-much windy day. 

  • On spring creeks, In good years, baetis and midge hatches go on till mid November.

  • Fall-run brown trout is over but good numbers of HUGE brown trout are still in creeks.  

  • I wouldn't plan float trips on rivers as it can be very windy and cold in November. I would focus on some walk-in spots where I expect baetis hatches and some nymphing holes.  

  • Yellowstone National Park fishing season ends on the first Sunday of November. 

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