Anglers are a lot like skiers. When the weather and water (snow) conditions are just right, you have to get out and experience the beauty of nature. With Yellowstone smack dab in the middle of our nation's greatest repositories of rivers and reservoirs, there are ample opportunities to wet a line and have stellar days in the process...even in the Spring!
For those familiar with our weather, spring generally means snow runoff and off-color water, but these suggested waters below should provide you good and consistent clarity from Mid May - Mid June.
Hebgen Lake (West Yellowstone, MT)
As ice comes off this reservoir, hungry rainbow and brown trout cruise the shallower depths looking for baitfish, scuds and early hatches of mayflies. Known for its legendary ‘gulper' fishing (when you can literally hear large fish ‘gulp' down emerging insects just below the surface), anglers can catch fish either from shore or on boats just off shore in the shallower bays. Early to mid-morning finds the most active fishing with sculpin, muddlers and scud imitations slowly stripped in the weed beds along the Madison and West Madison arms of the lake. Occasional winds can get gusty so don't be too far off shore if you don't have sufficient power to get back. Best places to fish the lake include launchng from public camgrounds along the West Madison arm, the boat ramps at Madison Arm Resort and Kirkwood Resorts, as well as shore fishing near Hebgen Lake Dam.
Green River on the Seedskadee Wildlife Refuge (southeast of Pinedale and north of Green River, WY)
Ever dream of catching BIG brown trout, rainbow, and cutthroat trout? Well, wake up….it's not a dream, but your reality! A 36 mile stretch of the Green River in Southwestern Wyoming floats through a pristine area called the Seedskadee Wildlife Refuge. This stretch of river flows out of the Fontenelle Reservoir near La Barge, Wyoming and provides some of the best spring fishing in the west. Spring brings prolific baetis hatches, and trout can group up for spawning. This is the best time of the year to catch BIG trout, as they have been through a long winter with little to no fishing pressure. Fish small nymphs, San Juan Worms, scuds, and egg patterns to nymphing trout and olive duns, emergers, and midges to risers. You just might even see a few caddis or terrestrials, depending on how late in the spring you are fishing. Be prepared for anything! Typically, the best fishing is between 11am – 4pm. There are numerous boat launches, public campgrounds, and foot trails that provide access to the river along HWY 372. For guided fishing trips and more info on this great trout fishery, visit these pages and consult with your local outfitter! Pictured is Scott Smith, a guide at Jack Dennis Shop in Jackson, which you can find on the Fishing Guides link below.
Bighorn River (Ft. Smith, MT and Thermopolis, WY)
Starting off as the Wind River in west central Wyoming, this waterway flows east off the Continental Divide near Dubois, through the farmland of Riverton, into Boysen Reservoir, and exits this impoundment renamed as the Bighorn River for the duration of its flow. This tailwater fishery, which now flows through the town of Thermopolis, is excellent nymph and dry fly water for baetis and PMD hatches, along with caddis starting to get active toward the end of May. Local fly shops and outfitters can provide up-to-the-minute reports on this section of the river. Continuing about 150 miles further downstream, the Bighorn then flows into the Bighorn National Recreation Area and reservoir, once again re-emerging as a blue-ribbon fishing river in Ft. Smith, MT. For spring fishing, you'll utilize a combination of blue winged olive emergers and dries, scud and midge patterns and San Juan worm patterns. This is also spawning time, so be aware of your footing and try not to step on active redds.
The lower Madison River (near Bozeman and Three Forks, MT)
Related to the #1 recommendation on our list, the Madison River flows out of Hebgen Lake for about 60 miles until entering Ennis Reservoir. As it leaves this reservoir, it enters the Beartrap Wilderness area which offers incredible whitewater rafting opportunities as well as exceptional fishing for trout. This time of year, anglers do well dead drifting crayfish and muddler patterns, having a variety of caddis on hand (especially to match the Mother's Day hatch), baetis and PMD imitations and giant salmonfly nymphs and dries for early June action.
Henry's Fork of the Snake River (near Ashton, ID)
With the exception of 2 miles of water below Ashton Dam, the Henry's Fork is open to fishing in and around Ashton. This lower section of the river is plentiful with aquatic weeds and insects making it as productive as its more well-known section up in the Last Chance/Railroad Ranch area. Fly patterns that work well in spring include baetis emergers and nymphs, salmonfly rubber leg nymphs, scud and midge patterns and eventually, the famed PMD and Green Drake emergences in early June. Though there are plenty of free fishing access points provided by Idaho Fish & Game, much of the waterway flows through private farmland so make sure you are not inadvertently trespassing to gain river access. Favorite spots include the islands just upstream of the Hwy 20 bridge in Ashton, the deep runs about ¾ of a mile downstream of the Vernon Bridge FAS, and the riffles and pools 1.5 miles upstream of the Chester Diversion dam parking access.