Fishing report: Action is heating up on Firehole River

Fishing report: Action is heating up on Firehole River

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Gary Sturm

Helena angler Gary Sturm caught this rainbow on April 29 while fishing the Missouri River in full coronavirus quarantine attire. 

Fort Peck has consistently produced good numbers and fat walleye, pike and bass. Look to Big Dry Arm for a sporting chance at catching bass and Hell Creek for a decent-sized pike.

Salmonflies are hatching while water levels are dropping on the Blackfoot River for some trout action throughout the day.

Bighorn Lake's recent opening has many anglers looking to wet a line. The fish are hungry and biting on a variety of different lures.

Yellowstone National Park’s Firehole River is my pick of the week. The scenery and trout action are second to none.

Top picks

Bighorn Lake, Ok-A-Beh — Anglers are catching a lot of smallmouth bass at all depths. The fish are hungry and are biting plastics and poppers. Big trout (brown and rainbow) are being caught using crankbaits. A few walleye have also been caught, but not a lot. — Scheels, Billings.

Blackfoot River — There are salmonflies all the way up in the canyon at this point, mainly above Whitaker Bridge, and they’ll continue to move up. Darker salmonflies like Rogues, True Salmonflies, King Kongs and Chubbies are fishing better than the super orange bugs. Fish really tight to the willows and don’t be afraid to twitch it. Golden stoneflies and caddis are also out so make sure to have some Water Walkers, Golden Chubbies, Elk Hair Caddis and X-Caddis. Nymphing stonefly nymphs with a San Juan Worm is a good bet too if you don’t want to throw dries. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Firehole (YNP) — The river has been fishing well over the past week and the snowy, rainy conditions made for good emergences of PMDs and baetis. As the weather becomes nicer over the next few days watch for the caddis to emerge stronger. For dry flies make sure to have White Miller Razor Caddis (16), Firehole PMD Sparkle Duns (16-18), and Baetis Sparkle Duns (18). If you're swinging soft hackles try Micro Beeleys (16), March Brown Spiders (14), Peacock & Partridge (14), Partridge & Orange (14), Hot Spot Soft Hackles in orange, mint and purple, and White Miller Soft Hackles. — Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Big Dry Arm — The fishing has been great for bass and walleye. Sunday a 29-inch walleye was caught using plastics. Five-pound bass are a regular catch right now. The water clarity is good. The water temp is around 62 degrees. The pike action is getting better using Rapala SR-9 (crawdad colored). — Rock Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Hell Creek — The walleye and bass bite has been great from the mouth to Snow Creek in about 10-20 feet of water pulling bottom bouncers, leeches, and night crawlers. The northerns are hitting cranks in about 10-15 feet of water. — Hell Creek Marina.


Ackley Lake — Anglers are catching muskie using herring and big Rapalas. Trout fishing has been decent using PowerBait, streamers and night crawlers. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Beaverhead River — The transition between no bugs and prolific hatches is underway. We've been taking a few rising fish on pale morning duns the past few days. The hatches will become more prolific this week, and the river will become more predictable as the week moves forward. Check in for the latest on hot nymph and dry patterns. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Big Hole River — After a surreal amount of moisture last week, the water is on the drop and should be down to a very fishable level in just a few days. Multitudes of bugs — PMDs, golden stones, green drakes, yellow sallies, and caddis — will overlap over the next two weeks. Pick a cloudy day once the flows recede. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Bighorn River — The water levels are up at 2,300 cfs, which has made fishing better but not remarkable. Most of the rainbows are still spawning, but many are starting to return to the river and are feeding. In the late evenings there are still some baetis and midges around. Hopefully in the next couple of days PMDs and caddis will begin hatching. The nymphing has been pretty good. Nymphs: Green Weenie (16-18), Rootbeer Midge (16-18), Flashback Green Pheasant Tail (18 or 20), BH Poxyback Sowbug (16), Scud orange, tan or pink (14-18). Dries: The Student (16-22), Black Smoke Jumper (18-22), Cannon's Bunny Dun Baetis (18), Bucky's Klinkhammer Baetis (18), Adams Midge Cluster (20). Streamers: Li’L Kim (4), Dolly Llama (2), Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow light olive or brownie. — East Rosebud Fly Shop, Billings.

Bitterroot River­­ — The water is dropping. We should have good fishing for the weekend. The river will be big, but fishable. Not so much for dry fly fishing. We might see some golden stones, green drakes and PMDs, but only in certain spots. Stick to the side channels as all the fish will be in there. If you’re new to rowing don’t go. The river is too big and dangerous. The upper waters have some salmonflies as well as golden stones. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Boulder River — As the water drops the golden stones are beginning to hatch. Try a golden stone dry with a Rubberlegs dropper. Also, try a shallow nymph rig with a stonefly and worm combination for the best nymphing action. The browns are also chasing streamers, we like a beadheaded black and yellow Woolly Bugger. — Sweetcast Angler, Big Timber.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir — A few rainbows are being caught on the north end of the reservoir while trolling cowbells or crankbaits 20 to 30 feet deep. The walleye bite is improving with the best action being mid-reservoir from White Earth to Crittendon and Goose Bay to Hellgate. The best action is using bottom bouncers or Slow Death rigs in white, green or blue in 20 to 30 feet of water. Jigs with worms or leeches are also catching a few. An occasional perch is being caught. The carp spawn has slowed down considerably. — FWP, Helena.

Clark Fork River, Deer Lodge — Fishing is best with Scuds, Pheasant Tails and Midges. Good nymphs to use are Ray Charles (16), Sowbugs, Superflash Pheasant Tails (14-18). Streamers to use are Lemon Drop, Sculpzilla and Miller’s Brew Time. Dries to use are Missing Link Caddis (16-18), Purple Haze (16-18), and Rocky Mountain Mint (16-18). — The StoneFly Fly Shop, Butte.

Clark Fork River, Missoula — The river is dropping and clearing up. The tributaries are fishing great. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula

Clark Fork River, St. Regis — Fishing conditions are getting better. The water is still on the drop. We are almost there. — Joe Cantrell Outfitting, St. Regis.

Cooney Reservoir — This week we saw heavy boat traffic. We had a lot of rain before the weekend making the water cloudy. The water temperature ranged from 63 to 68 degrees. The walleye bite has been hit and miss. Leeches have been the most consistent bait for walleye and perch. Groups that are covering a lot of ground pulling Rapalas or worm harnesses are doing OK. We saw some fat trout caught from shore this week using worms and PowerBait. — Cooney State Park.

Deadman’s Basin — Anglers are catching trout using PowerBait, worms and marshmallows. — Cozy Corner Bar, Lavina.

Flathead Lake (North) — Anglers have been consistently pulling lake trout from the delta. — Snappys Sport Senter, Kalispell.

Flathead Lake (South) — Lake trout have been caught at the city docks using whole bait setups in about 70 feet of water. The delta has also been producing fish. — Zimmer Tackle, Pablo.

Flathead River — Bass and pike have been caught using silver Vibrax spinners below Kerr Dam to Buffalo Rapids. Backwater fishing with night crawlers has also been effective. Crappie, bull trout (released), and perch have also been caught above the lake near Sportsman’s Landing. — Zimmer Tackle, Pablo.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Crooked Creek — Bank fishing has been a little slow and boat anglers have been doing fairly well. Shoreline anglers are catching crappie and a few northern and catfish using crawlers and smelt. Boaters are doing well pulling crankbaits or bottom bouncing with leeches and crawlers. — Crooked Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, dam area — The walleye bite has been decent at 25-30 feet. The bigger pike are hitting cranks in about 25-40 feet of water. Anglers are jigging lake trout in about 70-100 feet down. Bass are being caught using jigs and minnows, crankbaits or slip bobbers with a minnow or leech attached. — Lakeridge Lodging & Bait Shop.

Gallatin River — The water was starting to shape up until this rain spiked the flows up to 3,000 cfs again. There is still no need to wade, the fish will be pushed to the softer water on the banks. Black and olive streamers, dark Stones and Worms are the ticket. Make sure you bring your split shot. Once you find one fish, most likely there will be a couple more willing to eat your bug. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Georgetown Lake — Best techniques are stripping leech patterns and dead-drifting Chironomids. The southeast shoreline is closed (check regulations). The wind has been picking up midday but calms down in the evenings. — Flint Creek Outdoors, Phillipsburg.

Glacier National Park — The west entrance to the park is open to Avalanche Creek. Expect temporary closures at either Lake McDonald Lodge or the foot of Lake McDonald due to full parking lots and congestion. Nonmotorized boats are allowed. Areas of the North Fork, including the roads to Kintla and Bowman Lakes, are open. — GNP.

Hauser Reservoir — A few rainbows are being picked up by boat anglers. Most are trolling cowbells and Wedding Rings around Black Sandy, York Bridge and Devil’s Elbow. Walleye anglers are catching a few in the late evening hours from shore at the Causeway with slip bobbers and leeches or floating jigs. Anglers vertical jigging or trolling bottom bouncers and crawler harnesses are doing pretty well in the Causeway Arm. — FWP, Helena.

Hebgen Lake — We still have some early season callibaetis on the Madison Arm and on the main body of the lake. Chironomid fishing is the most productive method right now. If you're going to fish the lake make sure to have a few Sparkle Dun Callibaetis (16), Callibaetis Tilt-Wing Duns (16) and Adams Parawulffs (14). If you're fishing subsurface, Traffic Light Diawl Bachs (12), Driskill's Midge (12) and Ice Cream Cones (12) are a few flies that you'll want to have along. — Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone.

Holter Reservoir — A few walleyes and perch are being picked up by boat anglers around Cottonwood Creek. Most are having luck using slip bobbers and leeches or jigs and crawlers in shallow water. A few are also being picked up from the docks at the boat ramps while pitching jigs tipped with crawlers or leeches. A few rainbows are being caught while trolling cowbells or Ford Fenders and Wedding Rings between Black Beach and Split Rock. The cowbell tactic is also working in the canyon around the Mann Gulch area for some fat rainbows. — FWP, Helena.

Kootenai River — The water is high. The river can be fished decently in the afternoons or try fishing the soft backwater eddies. — Kootenai River Outfitters, Troy.

Lake Frances — Anglers will find a variety of fish including perch, rainbow trout, walleye and northern pike. Best times to fish are early mornings (5-8 a.m.). — Hook and Bullet.

Lake Koocanusa — Wedding Rings and Kokanee Killers have been used successfully. Reds and pinks are the hot colors right now. The rainbows are biting on darker colors at about 20-40 feet down. The warmer weather will bring in more kokanee and the rainbow fishing will slow down. — Koocanusa Resort and Marina, Libby.

Lake Mary — The salmon bite has been decent close to the shore at about 25-35 feet using shrimp, corn and worm combinations. Perch have been reported off the ramp of the dock. — Zimmer Tackle, Pablo.

Madison RiverLower and Upper — The lower bumped 600 cfs. This will slow fishing down a bit for the next couple days until the fish adjust. Nymphs will be your best bet. Crayfish, worms, soft hackles, caddis pupa, and attractor mayfly patterns are your best option when nymphing the lower. If you see heads popping, try throwing a Chubby with a Purple Haze behind it. If you're not having any luck fishing the banks, try casting your bugs over the weedbeds. Streamer fishing has been decent with not too many numbers but some very quality brown trout hitting the net. Black, white and yellow are the hot colors. We will start seeing caddis in the evenings again once the weather comes back into shape. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Missouri River, Fred Robinson Bridge — Catfish have been reported along with sauger using cut bait and night crawlers. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Pablo Reservoir Pike have been caught on the west end of the dam near the gate using red and black Dardevles with smelt setups. — Zimmer Tackle, Pablo.

Polson Bay — Smallmouth bass (15 limit) have been caught at the shoreline using night crawlers on a wacky setup or a worm and hook (smile setup). — Zimmer Tackle, Pablo.

Rock Creek (East) — The water flows are down significantly at around 350 cfs near Red Lodge. PMDs and yellow sallies are hatching in the mid to late afternoons, followed by large caddis hatches in the evenings. The fish have moved out of their winter holding holes and now can be found in shallower waters. They are lurking in undercut banks, near submerged logs and in flat ripples. Streamers: Tungsten Thin Mint, Complex Twist Bugger and Yuk Bug. Nymphs: Kyle’s BH Flash Pupa (12-14), Silverman’s BH Epoxy Black Red Tag Sally (14). Dries: Galloup’s Butch Caddis olive (14), Headlight Sally (14), Hemingway Caddis (20) and Parachute Adams (16). — East Rosebud Fly Shop, Billings.

­Rock Creek (West) — The water went up the last couple of days, but it’s on the drop and should fish this weekend.  It’s still big, so wade fishing is tough, but doable in the right spots. You are more walking banks than wading.  Salmonflies are all the way at the top and darker salmonflies seem to be working better. Goldens, yellow sallies and green drakes are on the lower end of the creek so there’s lots of great dry fly opportunities. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula

Spring Creek — The water conditions are clear. The caddis hatch is coming off. Rainbow and browns have been caught uising Panther Martin Spinners or your choice of caddis patterns. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Stillwater River — The river is on the drop, warming and clearing. It’s rounding into primo post runoff shape. Salmonflies have started to be seen here and there, so start to look to fish them. Fishing stonefly nymphs and Rubberleg patterns like a Girdle Bug or Pat’s Rubberleg has been successful for most anglers. Also fishing a San Juan or Jiggly Worm or dark color Woolly Bugger dead drifting with a sink tip line or with enough weight to get it down is a good tactic in heavier water. Also try fishing a big dry like a Chubby with a long dropper to a Rubberleg pattern. The major salmonfly and golden stone hatch should be going off anytime and catching the leading edge of it can make for some fantastic fishing. Once that happens, fish the big bugs. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Swan Lake — The pike bite has been improving. Zimmer Tackle, Pablo.

Yellowstone River, Columbus — The water is improving, but still running high and a bit off-color through Columbus. Once it turns blue green in color, it’s time to jump on it. The fish will be in a feeding mode for Rubberleg nymphs and streamers. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Yellowstone River, Huntley — The water is still big and dirty. The catfish are biting very well with minnows, cut bait and shrimp. — Huntley Bait and Tackle.

Yellowstone River, Livingston — Dirty! The river was dropping but we still have a little longer to wait thanks to these recent storms. The park is getting pounded with snow which will likely be melting this weekend putting more mud into the river. If we're lucky, the Stone will be ready to fish by the end of next week. 11,000 cfs is when we start fishing this river. Anything above that makes fishing tough and floating dangerous. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Yellowstone River, Miles City — The sturgeon have started to bite on worms. The catfish bite has been decent but the water conditions are still very high and fast. — Red Rock Sporting Goods, Miles City.


Bighorn Lake, Horseshoe Bend — Big walleye reports have come in recently. — Horseshoe Bend Marina.

Bighorn River, Thermopolis — Nymph and streamer fishing is the name of the game with some dries later in the day on caddis and midges. There are still some rainbows spawning. Please leave these fish alone. The water flows are at 1,604 cfs. Nymphs: Zebra Midges, San Juan Worms, Yum Yum Scud, small Pheasant Tails, Scuds, pink Soft Hackle Sowbug, Yuk Bugs, Pat's Rubberlegs, Jig-head nymphs, Midge Pupa, Wire Worm. Streamer patterns: Leeches, Woolly Buggers, Conehead Zonkers, Double Bunnies, Sex Dungeons and Muddler Minnows. The hatches popping right now are caddis and midges. Cicadas and hoppers are getting attention in the Wind River Canyon area. Dries: Griffith’s Gnats, Rojo Midge, Parachute Adams, Hemingway Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir — The southern part of the reservoir is really fishing well. Access this site using the South Fork Rood. Dardevles have been working well. Water conditions are still pretty clear. — Rocky Mountain Discount Sports, Cody.

Clarks Fork — The water flows are coming down and the clarity is improving. Tributaries that are still high and stained are Sunlight, Crandall and Crazy creeks. Anglers should fish the higher elevation lakes until the runoff is over. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Lower Shoshone — Downstream from Buffalo Bill Dam the water quality is stained. The water flows are very high due to irrigation demands. The trout are holding on the edges and slower tailouts. Anglers should fish with larger weighted nymphs trailed by smaller ones under an indicator. There is no dry action yet. Streamers: Woolly Buggers, Zonkers and Peanut Envy. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

North Fork of the Shoshone — The water flows are coming down. The cool weather should clear the river this week. There is an annual closure on the North Fork from Buffalo Bill Reservoir west of Newton Creek in the Shoshone National Forest on the North Fork Highway, April 1 – July 1. Fishing has been good above the closure on the upper North Fork. Fish large Pat’s Rubberlegs (4-10), Prince Nymphs, North Fork Specials, Epoxy Stones and Girdle Bugs during high water. The hatches are golden stones and caddis. Dry fly action depends on the water clarity. Dries: Stimulators, Ho Candy, Chubby Chuck, Horrors and Royal Trudes in sizes 6-12. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

South Fork of the Shoshone — There is limited access to due to private property laws. Do your homework and ask permission. Anglers should hike into the Shoshone National Forrest for the best fishing experience. The water flows are still high and swift. Wading may be difficult. The water clarity is improving. Fish the same flies as recommended for the North Fork of the Shoshone. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Upper and Lower Sunshine Reservoirs — Leech patterns have been very effective this time of year. Beadhead nymphs stripped or slow trolled behind a kick boat or float tube also works well. Midges will be out, but the cutthroat have their minds on spawning. Do not expect much dry fly or emerger action. On the lower, larger streamers are effective on splake and tiger trout. In shallower water, Leeches, Scuds, beadhead nymphs, Zebra Midges and Wire Worms are working well. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Yellowstone National Park — Yellowstone River in the Fishing Bridge to Mud Volcano area is closed until July 15. Yellowstone Lake opened last week. Shorelines and bays should be mostly ice free. Lake trout caught must be killed to protect native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Surface water temps are at 52 degrees. Streamers: Woolly Buggers, Zonkers, Muddlers and typical baitfish or leech imitations along the shore line. Beadhead nymphs (8-12) are working well cast out and stripped back. Prince, black North Fork Specials, Bloody Mary’s, Gold-Ribbed Hares Ear soft hackles and soft hackled or standard Pheasant Tail Nymphs also are working this week. Wear insulation and fish a stout 5-7 weight 9-10 foot fly rod. Floating lines are OK right now since a lot of trout are cruising water that is 1-6 feet deep. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.


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