Montana fishing report: Salmonfly hatch nears on Big Hole River

Montana fishing report: Salmonfly hatch nears on Big Hole River

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Family fishing

A family tries their luck fishing below the highway bridge east of Livingston recently. High water has made fly fishing difficult on many rivers, but bait soaking should still catch fish where regulations allow.

Along with the Mother’s Day caddis hatch, another highlight for fly anglers is the salmonfly hatch.

On the Big Hole River “the salmonfly watch is on” according to Frontier Anglers in Dillon. The big bugs have also made an appearance on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Idaho.

Anglers continue to have luck at Fort Peck Reservoir in the Crooked Creek section, however bank fishing for northern pike has started to slow down. Also at Fort Peck, the walleye bite in the dam area and Big Dry Arm is starting to turn on.

Here’s the weekly fishing report:

Top picks

Bighorn River — Flows are up to 6,500 cfs after the deluge we received this past week and higher inflows in the top end of the lake. The good news is the river still looks great, water temps are on the climb and the fish are eating way better than they were. Nymphing was very solid this week as guides reported higher than average rates of fish in the net. Little Sowbugs, Big Sowbugs, Midges and Baetis nymphs are all good offerings. With the temps on the climb (46 degrees on Monday), worm season should be right around the corner. Run a bit more weight and a little deeper with these increased flows. — Bighorn Angler, Fort Smith. 

Fort Peck Reservoir, Crooked Creek — It is fishing very well bottom bouncing. All colors seem to be working. The walleye being caught are 16 to 28 inches and are at depths of 8 to 10 feet of water. Crappie, drum and perch are also biting. Some are jigging with minnows, but worms are the favorite bait. Surface water temps are 74 degrees. Pike are still being caught by shore anglers, although anglers are not having the success rate they were having earlier from the bank. — Crooked Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, dam area — At the walleye tourney over the weekend the bite was good in the Dry Arm pitching jigs tipped with minnows or plastics in the shallows. Overall, 14 teams each caught more than 40 pounds of walleye. Lake trout are being caught in 15 to 40 feet of water. The bass bite in the shallows has picked up. Pike are very active. — Lakeridge Lodging & Bait Shop.

Holter Reservoir — Rainbow fishing from shore is good around Gates of the Mountains while using flies, worms or marshmallows. Boat anglers are finding rainbows while trolling dark crankbaits or cowbells in the lower reservoir around Split Rock and the clay banks. The perch bite is picking up around Cottonwood Creek, Oxbow Bend, the boat ramps and in the canyon around Sleeping Giant. A few walleye are being caught along with the perch. — FWP, Helena.

Upper and Lower Sunshine Reservoirs — Anglers did well on both lakes, but the upper fished better. Anglers did well from the bank sinking a worm to the bottom or drifting a worm on a bobber. From boats, anglers did well trolling lures. — Wea Market, Meeteetse.


Ackley Lake — Anglers are catching tiger muskie from shore using herring and a big bobber. Some decent trout are being caught while trolling crayfish pattern lures. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Beaverhead River — Our own experience and that of other anglers confirms that the browns and rainbows are in fantastic shape this season. The water right below the dam is consistently producing fish from 18-22 inches. We’ve seen a few bigger than that, but very few smaller. After a week of below average flows we are now seeing discharges from the dam that will benefit floating anglers. Small Sowbug patterns (16-18), Zebra Midges, and Split Backs (18-20) are the ticket. Look for fish to return to the worm bite with increasing flows. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Big Hole River — The salmonfly watch is on. The big bugs should be moving toward the banks soon, with adults showing up in a week to 10 days. Pat’s Rubber Legs in brown, black, and orange will be the ticket for the next week. Cloudy days over the past week have provided some excellent streamer fishing. You can’t go wrong with yellow. The fish are in excellent shape. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Bighorn Lake, Ok-A-Beh — The smallmouth bite is good jigging minnows. A lot of anglers are fly fishing for carp using beetles and cicadas on top. Walleye fishing is slow. A few trout have been caught while trolling crankbaits. — Scheels, Billings.

Boulder River — Recent warm temperatures have started to bring the water down from the hills. With several 80 degree days forecast for this week, runoff will prevail and fishing will be very difficult.— Sweetcast Angler, Big Timber.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir — Rainbow trout are being caught on the north end of the reservoir trolling spoons and cowbells tipped with a worm. Walleye and yellow perch are being caught throughout the south end and mid-reservoir trolling worm harnesses, tipped with worms or leeches, or crankbaits. Rainbows, walleye, and perch are being caught from shore throughout the reservoir using jigs tipped with worms. — FWP, Helena.

Cooney Reservoir — Due to the recent flooding Cooney State Park is still closed to the public. — Cooney State Park.

Deadman’s Basin — Scheels in Billings reports to try trolling crankbaits in 10 to 15 feet of water for kokanee salmon and the occasional trout. The Cozy Corner in Lavina reports the basin is full. Anglers were using PowerBait and catching fat rainbow trout at the Broadview Pond. The pond might start getting mossy with the warmer weather. — Scheels, Billings / Cozy Corner Bar, Lavina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Big Dry Arm — Anglers did well on walleye. Ken Schmidt of Glasgow and Mark Jones of Billings won the Montana Walleye Circuit tourney over the weekend with a winning weight of 63.28 pounds over two days. — Rock Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Fourchette Bay — Fishing is hit-or-miss for walleye, crappie or pike. For walleye, jigging with minnows is a good option. — Westside Sports, Malta.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Hell Creek — In the bay fishing is slow, but the farther west one goes fishing improves for walleye and pike. Purple and white, purple, chartreuse, or dark green and white are good colors for walleye. Minnows are the best bait. Pull perch crankbaits for northerns, or pitch jigs to the bank. Bass are hitting in the Snow Creek area. — Hell Creek Marina.

Gallatin River — It looks like chocolate milk. If you do feel as if you need to fish here, try big Woolly Buggers, big stones, or streamers worked tight to the banks in the soft water. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Hauser Reservoir — Rainbows are being caught from shore below Canyon Ferry Dam bouncing and drifting jigs with a worm. Rainbows are also being caught in the White Sandy area and below Canyon Ferry Dam while trolling cowbells or crankbaits. Walleye are being caught in Lake Helena and the Causeway on crankbaits or bottom bouncers. Some walleye are being caught in the slow water below Canyon Ferry Dam. — FWP, Helena.

Hebgen Lake — Fishing continues to be robust from boats on Hebgen Lake. The water level is slowly coming up as the snow melt starts making its way into the lake. (The annual runoff in Kirkwood Creek that usually starts in late May just started trickling last night.) Fish will hover near those stream inlets looking for food — tip to anglers! Lots of rainbows coming out of the lake; some browns. Still seeing many in the 19- to 20-inch range, with a couple of 3-4 pounders seen late last week. Red/gold, yellow/gold and worms are working for boat anglers. — Kirkwood Marina, West Yellowstone.

Madison RiverLower — With the resurgence of summer weather the caddis are back and ready for action. The fish have been feeding on the dries moreso in the evenings, but along the banks there is action with a small Chubby or a March Brown throughout the day. Nymph and streamer fishing has been good, too. The crayfish bite has picked up with fish holding over the weed beds. Look for fish in the shallow water where transitions between the buckets are. If you're not picking fish up in the shallows add a bit of weight and begin to dredge the buckets throughout the beds. Make sure to cast above the bucket and allow the crayfish to fall in with a natural dead drift. Fish are also hanging on the banks looking for March brown nymphs, caddis pupas and crayfish. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Madison River, Upper — The upper river has been fishing great with the consistent flows and warmer weather. Down lower, fish big stones, big caddis pupa, and streamers. Keep an eye out for caddis popping throughout the day and into the evening. An olive Elk-Hair Caddis will get the job done for the rising fish. Up high, clarity is still holding relatively strong. Nymphing has been the most consistent producer with worms, stones, and smaller mayfly nymphs being the best producers. There are also some caddis up this way so keep an eye on the soft water and you may be rewarded with some great dry fly fishing. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Martinsdale Reservoir — Anglers did well from shore and boats. From boats, use cowbells and pull spinners behind them. From the bank, use PowerBait and crawlers. — Ray’s Sport and Western Wear, Harlowton.

Missouri River, below Holter — The flows were 6,250 cfs on Monday. Water temps were 54 degrees. There is some Baetis and a few caddis out. March browns are around on gloomy days. Nymph fishing is fine and streamer fishing is good on cloudy days. — Montana Fly Goods, Helena.

Missouri River, Fred Robinson Bridge — The river is really high. A few paddlefish have been caught but it is a little tougher. Catfish action is good on stink bait, minnows or crawlers. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Nelson Reservoir — In the deeper parts of the reservoir it is fishing well for walleye and perch. Worms and minnows are the best baits. Fishing is hit-or-miss for pike. — Westside Sports, Malta.

Rock Creek — Over the last week flows have increased substantially, making most of this fishery very difficult to fish with a fly. There may be some holding water on the Main Fork, Lake Fork or West Fork of Rock Creek. Should an angler find some approachable “holding water” recommended nymphs include San Juan Worms, Girdle Bugs and larger Copper John, Hare’s Ears, or Pheasant Tails. Be very careful wading. On Monday it was running at 700 cfs. One could fish at Luce or Hogan reservoirs located southeast of Clark, Wyoming. Recommended bugs include Damsel adults and Callibaetis dry on top and Leeches and Ice Cream Cones down below. — East Rosebud Fly Shop.

Spring Creek — It is dropping and clearing. Spinners and crawlers are producing. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Stillwater River — Warmer weather and rain events have resulted in a significant increase in flows and lack of clarity. Runoff is here to stay and it’s likely to continue to climb with warm weather. There’s a lot of snow melt to come out. If the upper river stays clear enough to fish, fish the edge seams. Nymphing is likely the best option, with black, brown and coffee rubber leg patterns like Girdle Bugs and Pat’s Rubber Legs, or a San Juan Worm. Darker streamers like black Buggers dead drifted are an option. When it reaches a certain point it’s best to just stay away from it and search out smaller tributaries, tailwaters and lakes to fish. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Tiber Reservoir — The best action is in the Willow Creek arm for walleye. Target 4 to 8 feet. Jigs and bottom bouncers are working. Some are using Slow Death Hooks. Minnows seem to be the most popular bait, but leeches are also working. Northern pike fishing is OK and anglers are finding them in the weedy bays. Spoons are a good bet. The water levels are high and still rising. — Ru’s Tiber Marina.

Tongue River Reservoir — Tongue River Reservoir State Park is open and never was closed; only the camping spots below the spillway were closed. Those walk-in spots at Riverview Campground are still closed as of Monday and will open when they dry out. Fishing was tough over the weekend for walleye and crappie because water temperatures dropped due to runoff. The surface-water temperature increased 10 degrees over the weekend to 66 degrees as of Monday. With the water being darker, try minnows or leeches for walleye and crappie. For bass, fishing was OK and anglers were pitching regular bass gear. — Tongue River Marina.

Yellowstone River, Columbus — Running extremely high and off-color. It’s dangerous and now best to stay away from completely. Search out lakes, smaller tributaries and tailwaters until runoff subsides. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Yellowstone River, Huntley — Catfish action remains steady. Evening hours are better than the daytime. Use cut bait and target the pools. The walleye and smallmouth bite is slow. The ling bite has slowed down. Fishing at Castle Rock Lake is slow. — Huntley Bait and Tackle.

Yellowstone River, Intake — Paddlefish season closed Saturday on the Yellowstone River and the Missouri River downstream of Fort Peck Dam. Anticipating that the harvest target of 1,000 fish to be approached on Saturday, the Fish and Wildlife Commission authorized the season closure to prevent exceeding the harvest target. Following the harvest closure, catch-and-release fishing will be allowed only at Intake for 10 consecutive days, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Region 7.

Yellowstone River, Livingston — The river is a muddy mess. We should see clarity and better fishing conditions return in July. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Yellowstone River, Miles City — Anglers are catching some catfish and a few shovelnose sturgeon. Cut bait is working well for catfish and crawlers for sturgeon. — Red Rock Sporting Goods, Miles City.


Bighorn River, Thermopolis — The water is kind of murky and flows were at 2,400 cfs on Monday. Fishing is hit-or-miss. Fishing at Upper and Lower Sunshine reservoirs was productive over the weekend. Try using bright-colored spinners from the bank. — White Horse Country Store & Canyon Sporting Goods, Thermopolis.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir — One could try a Buoyant Minnow for lake trout. — Rocky Mountain Discount Sports, Cody.

Cody-area lakes — The area rivers are blown out, so anglers are headed to the lakes. When the damsel nymphs start showing up fishing will get really good. At East Newton and West Newton lakes use an olive Zebra Midge with a copper bead. Woolly Buggers and olive or gray Scuds will work. There are little black midges hatching; try a size 22 or 24 black dry Midge to match. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Yellowstone National Park — PMD and Baetis hatches have provided solid dry fly opportunities in the afternoon on the Firehole and Madison rivers. Soft hackles like our Micro Beeley and White Miller Soft Hackle have consistently caught trout throughout the day. Nymph anglers on the Firehole are having great success with PMD and Baetis nymphs like the Split Case PMD (16) and olive Micro Mayflies (18). Black and Olive Woolly Buggers are also a good bet and several anglers have reported catching fish in the 16- to 18-inch range while fishing them. With warmer weather predicted in the forecast the flows are going to bump up and water clarity will decline. Nymph and steamer fishing will still be productive when the flows bump but expect to see fewer rising fish. If you are really itching to fish the Gallatin, you could nymph the upper sections in the park. The water is not as dirty as below Taylor Fork but it is frigid, so there will be no rush to get there early. Try Rubber Legs, Prince Nymphs, and red Copper Johns. — Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone.

Henry’s Fork of the Snake River (Idaho) — The big bugs are flying around on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River. The salmonflies have been flying around for a few days between Vernon Bridge and Chester. The fish in the Ora to Chester sections are eating Rubber Legs (6) and Hot Spot Pheasant Tail Jigs (14). It has been a struggle the last few days in this stretch to find many fish that are willing to eat adult salmonfly patterns. The salmonflies just started in the Warm River to Ashton stretch. This is in your favor because the fish tend to gorge themselves after the salmonflies have been around for a few days. — Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone.

Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL



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