Plan Your Next Fly Fishing Trip To West Yellowstone Montana

by John Schilling February 18, 2019 2 Comments

February 2019 

Plan Your Next Fly Fishing Trip To West Yellowstone, Montana 

Brown Trout on the Madison River below Hebgen Lake

A non-guide perspective

With our 2018 fishing season in the rear view mirror, we are looking forward to another spectacular season in 2019.   We are looking forward to seeing everyone again in 2019, renewing old friendships and making new ones.

Our prime season is definitely June through October, but there other times that offer awesome fly-fishing here in the West Yellowstone area.

Typically beginning in February, as the days become longer and the water temps begin to warm up, dry fly fishing with midges can be very good on the Upper Madison River, especially on an overcast day. I often take a dry fly rod and a nymph rod with me. If nothing is rising to midges I’ll nymph until the risers start poking their noses out. When they do I’ll be ready with my dry fly rod. This time of year my choice of dry fly rod is a Sage 7’ 9” 3 weight Circa.


Winter midge dry fly fishing on the Upper Madison River


This time of year your biggest challenge may be just getting to the river because of the snow. Be prepared to do some post-holing if you don’t bring along your cross-country skis or snowshoes. It has its rewards as you may just have the entire river to yourself. 

As we begin rolling into March and April the nymph fishing is phenomenal on the Upper Madison River. It can be the best of the year. Access to the river is starting to get easier but the competition on the river is still light. There are still some midge hatches that you can target with dry flies, but the nymphs are where it’s happening until mid-June.   As we move into April the water may begin to turn a little green but don’t let that scare you away, it certainly doesn’t scare the fish away. Typically with the cold water temps you’ll find the fish hanging right on the banks making wade fishing between the lakes and through the wade section a lot of fun.


Spring floating on the Upper Madison River below Varney Bridge


This time of year we are also floating the Upper Madison but down towards Ennis because the water temps are a little warmer. Again nymph fishing is very productive and it’s just a lot fun to finally start floating again. Be sure to check out MRO Guide Jake Schilling’s article on spring floating here.

As we roll into May we’re starting to see more runoff and the Upper Madison can begin to change to a milky green color. Do not let this scare you off from coming to the Madison River. Nymph fishing is as strong now as any other time of year. The water is warming up and the trout are becoming more active. Heck, it can even be fun and productive to throw a streamer or stonefly dry-dropper around this time of year.


Spring runoff on the Upper Madison River In Montana


Finally Memorial Day weekend is here and Yellowstone National Park opens for fishing. The Firehole, Madison and Gibbon Rivers never disappoint. Here you’re going to find trout hungry for nymphs, PMD & Caddis dry flies and swinging soft hackles. And don’t forget the Firehole has our areas first salmon fly hatch of the year! 

Now it’s June and depending on what kind of snowpack we had we could still be experiencing runoff but the fishing is still great. You can’t go wrong nymphing but we’re starting to see hatches of Blue Wing Olives and PMD’s. They may not be heavy hatches but they’re sure fun when you hit them.


Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park


As we more towards the end of June things are really beginning to ratchet up. Our famous Salmon Fly hatch begins to move up the Madison River. If you’ve never experienced the Salmon Fly hatch you need to move this up on our fishing bucket list.  This hatch is mixed in with Yellow Sally’s and the Caddis who will be predominant over the next month.

Salmon Fly Hatch on the Madison River


Next we move into July. The Salmon Flies are continuing to hatch through the first week or so and the Caddis are everywhere on the Upper Madison.   Little Green Drakes and PMD’s join them. It’s also time to get a head start on ants!

Depending on the weather we usually stop fishing the Northwest Section of the Park (Firehole, Madison and Gibbon Rivers) the first week of July due to high water temperatures until the beginning of September. Do not despair because the Yellowstone River opens to fishing on July 15th and the Northeast Section of the Park (Lamar, Soda Butte & Slough Creek) are usually post runoff by the second week of July. It’s Cutty time in the park.


Yellowstone Cutthroat


With August come hotter temperatures that tend to slow down the fishing somewhat on the Upper Madison. Caddis and PMD’s are still hatching but I often find that mornings and late evenings are more productive when fishing dries. However this doesn’t hold true as we’re in the middle of terrestrial season. It’s time to start chucking the hoppers and chubbies on all the rivers around West. Once again nymphing is still very productive. The Northeast section of the park is still very productive this time of year. I also find myself focusing more on the Gallatin River inside the park just north of West Yellowstone. The Gallatin is one of the colder rivers in this area and fishing well with dries or nymphs. As the Gallatin is so cold it’s a great option after fishing late morning gulpers on the lake.

 Gallatin River in Yellowstone National Park


September we begin transitioning into fall here in West Yellowstone. The crowds in town thin out a bit and the fishing continues to be strong. We’re still seeing terrestrials and Blue Wing Olives are hatching on the Madison.   The biggest change is that sometime from the middle of September on the Brown Trout are beginning to run out of Hebgen Lake into the Madison River inside Yellowstone.   This can crank up the heat inside the park. I mean really, who doesn’t want an opportunity to catch a big Brown Trout on a streamer or swinging soft hackles? 

In October the Brown Trout run is now typically in full force. You may not be catching a lot of trout but the ones you do catch can be remarkable. There can be a lot of pressure in the park so if you’re looking for some solitude and great fishing I suggest you head back to the Upper Madison in Montana. Whether floating or wading the fishing can be spectacular.


Brown Trout on the Gibbon River


The first Sunday in November Yellowstone National Park closes its gates. Just because the park is closed doesn’t mean you can’t continue to enjoy some great winter fly-fishing in Montana on the Upper Madison and Gallatin Rivers.

Clients often ask me “when is the best time to come fly fish in West Yellowstone?” I love the fly-fishing here so much I can only answer Right Now, no matter what month I’m asked that question.

And then the cycle repeats itself.

 MRO Team Member John Schilling

About John Schilling – John has worked at Madison River Outfitters since 2016 and manages marketing and on-line sales. In his free time you’ll find him out fly fishing on one of our area rivers or dirt bike riding with his son’s.


John Schilling
John Schilling



2 Responses

John Schilling
John Schilling

February 21, 2019

Hi Julian, Yes we do. We are in the process of posting updated information on our Instructional Guide Trips to our web site. Hopefully it’ll be up by tomorrow. In the mean time I email you some information on it.


Julian Jr Olivares
Julian Jr Olivares

February 21, 2019

Do you have fly fishing schools/instruction?

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