Summer water-flow and temperature setting up for optimal fishing

Chris Fleck
Thursday, June 13, 2019
Article Image Alt Text

It’s been a wacky spring so far.

We’ve seen wide fluctuations on the rivers. Last weekend, things came up significantly, but then cooler weather prevailed for a few days and flows dropped back down and cleared up quite a bit. But, as one look to the mountains will tell you, runoff is nowhere near over.

It sure was a heck of a winter, particularly the second half. Although not as great as the previous year, the snowpack was still excellent and we continued to add to it in the spring longer than normal. So, there’s good potential for all water users and consumers to have a good year.

From a fishing perspective, there should be sustained flows throughout the summer in terms of volume, and also lower temperatures. That all translates into optimal and healthy habitat for all aquatic and riparian life, which is good news for our fish population. Good water and good bugs means a good environment for trout.

Runoff flows have fluctuated in reaction to temperatures and rain events. We haven’t yet had any sustained heat; only a day or two here or there, generally followed by a cooler day or two. That has kept runoff at a generally manageable level.

Runoff on freestone rivers like the Stillwater and Yellowstone is a part of the natural order of things. (Freestone rivers are those that are undammed or unregulated, so flows are susceptible to fluctuations in volume, clarity and temperature due to natural events.) It helps to scour and scrub the river bottom of silt and such, which is helpful for aquatic insect life to thrive. New structure is also created that fish will occupy as the river recedes.

The fish are bred, born and raised in a wild environment, and unlike hatchery fish, they are able to adapt and survive even in extreme high water conditions. That’s the thing about Mother Nature — while she may operate on her own schedule from time to time, she always seems to find a way for the annual occurrences to happen.

While the freestone rivers fluctuate and run high and off color, it’s best to seek out smaller tributaries, lakes and tailwaters until things subside and flows are more manageable to fish from both a safety and fishing conditions standpoint.

In the upcoming weeks, when the Stillwater drops and clears, we’ll begin what some of us refer to as “combat fishing.” That’s when we fish the large dry flies and dropper nymphs on short, heavy leaders while floating down the river at a fairly high speed.

This is a fun time for the angler as the big dry flies are appealing to the fish, and a decently placed cast will often get rewarded with a quick strike as the fish must act fast before the fly passes them by. So, leave the 9-foot 4x and 5x leaders in the gear bag and fish the shorter 2x and 3x leaders. It’s too difficult to adequately turnover the big dry flies with those smaller size leaders, plus it helps to shorten up the entire rig in the faster water to try and minimize drag and be in a better position to set the hook.

I’m looking forward to another exciting and fun filled season of fly fishing here in the Stillwater Valley and Yellowstone country. We have some excellent trout rivers and streams to enjoy right here in our own back yard. As so called freestone rivers, they are subject to fluctuations of nature, but in my mind that also makes for a greater angling challenge and experience. So, get ready to get out and enjoy what they have to offer.

Tight lines!