Alternatives To Fly Fishing In Southwest Montana During Snow Melt – Montana Treasures


May is here; and, every fly fisherman in southwest Montana knows that it is a waiting game now.

Just yesterday, I was looking to do some fly fishing on one of the local rivers. Unsure of how the Gallatin River was looking, I headed down to the canyon entrance. Exactly, as I had feared, our recent spate of warm weather has started what I like to call the ‘big melt.’ The mountain snows were melting and the river’s feeder creeks were turning the river a coffee color and raising its level.

Spring on House Rock, Gallatin River Canyon, photo by Montana Treasures

House Rock, Gallatin River

No problem. I turned my rig around and headed towards Norris and the lower Madison. Because the lower Madison’s level is affected by the Ennis Lake dam, I knew that this stretch of the Madison would be good to go, at least for today. Who knows when they will start releasing water through the damn?…It may be in a few short weeks; and, then all bets are off.


So goes the ‘waiting game.’ For some rivers, like the Gallatin, the next month (and sometimes two months) is simply an unrealistic time to try to fish the river. 

For those willing to look and perhaps even drive a little further, there are still fly fishing alternatives, however. 

American White Pelicans on the Lower Madison River, photo by Montana Treasures

I have already mentioned the lower Madison as an ideal alternative, right now. If your willing to drive a little further, however, I would consider the extreme upper Madison River a good bet right now too. The stretch of river below Hebgen Dam all the way down to Ghost Village should be good to go for the next few weeks. 

By the middle of May, the aforementioned alternatives may have become null and void, as well. At this time, its best to look at location extremes…Either look right in Bozeman’s back yard or look into a longer day trip.

Bozeman’s back yard houses the Hyalite Canyon and its creek. The fish in Hyalite Creek are never very big; but, they are as wild and beautiful as your surroundings. The creek is not at all big; so, bring your seven foot rod and be prepared for a lot of roll casting.

If a longer day trip from Bozeman does not bother you, then consider driving to Dillon, Montana and the Beaverhead River. The stretch of river below the Clark Canyon Dam will look and fish mighty fine, this time of year. I have met many tourists on this river who expected to fish other area rivers, like the Gallatin; but, because those rivers were ‘blown out’ with snow melt, they found themselves on this fantastic fishery instead.

The Beaverhead River, Southwest Montana, photo by Montana Treasures

Beaverhead River

The month of May can be mighty long when your only sustenance is fishing tiny, local creeks. That’s why many locals look forward to Memorial Day weekend and the opening of fishing season in Yellowstone National Park. 

The Park has great fishing prospects, particularly near the West Yellowstone entrance. 

Immediately upon entering The Park from West Yellowstone, you’ll encounter the incomparable Madison River. 

Follow the Madison River all the way up to Madison Junction. At Madison Junction, turn left to pursue the Gibbon River; or, turn right to pursue the Firehole River.

I am partial to fly fishing the Firehole River. Not only is the fishing great, but, you can work your way over to the Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful Lodge. There’s nothing like sipping a beer on the Lodge’s deck after a fun day of fishing the Firehole River.

Note: If you’re planning to fly fish Yellowstone National Park this year, then be aware of the new felt sole boots ban. You don’t want to get all the way into The Park only to discover that the boots you brought with you are no good. You want to bring your rubber sole boots to The Park. Some of the rivers, like the Firehole River, are slimy in some sections; so, I prefer to use rubber sole boots with little spikes embedded into them.

Explore Yellowstone National Park and the other spring time fly fishing ‘alternatives’ listed here on the Montana Treasures web site. Drop me a line and ask questions, if you like. Enjoy! :)

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