Fishing report: Free fishing for Father’s Day weekend and other reasons to be optimistic

June 15, 2017 GMT

There’s reason to be optimistic.

For starters, there is free fishing for Father’s Day weekend Saturday and Sunday. According to a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks press release, the promotion allows people to fish without a license Saturday and Sunday, however, all fishing regulations still apply.

For starters, it’s that time of year where fishermen can do well both from the shore and boat at their favorite fishing hole. And secondly, flows are starting to decrease on some area rivers as runoff appears to have peaked and be on a downward trend. That surely does not mean runoff is over, but anglers are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Hot spots include Fort Peck Reservoir in the Crooked Creek and dam areas and Nelson Reservoir. The Bighorn River’s flows are dropping and nymph fishing is good and streamer fishing remains excellent.

Top picks


Bighorn River — The flows were decreased again last week and as of Monday are currently at 11,587 cfs. Possibly we have seen the peak of runoff. The water temp has risen dramatically to 59.4 degrees. With the huge influx of water into Bighorn Lake, water clarity is down to 3-4 feet, but still quite fishable. Soap Creek remains a non-issue. Nymphing has been good and streamer fishing remains excellent. Patterns will pretty much remain the same with the continued high waters. Any crustacean pattern, such as Firebead Soft Hackle Ray Charles (12-16) or Firebead Soft Hackle Sowbug, in either pink or tan, are working. Trail these behind a wire San Juan Worm (8-10) in either red or orange. Streamer fishing has remained good as emerald shiner minnows are still being washed over the spillway into the river. White Zonkers with pearl or silver bodies and either white or ghost Cousin It’s are the top patterns. — Bighorn Fly and Tackle Shop, Fort Smith.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Crooked Creek — It is fishing well in 12 to 20 feet of water for walleye. Use leeches and crawlers on bottom bouncers or jigs. The northern are everywhere. — Don’s, Lewistown.

Fort Peck Reservoir, dam area — Northern are active. Lake trout are in the deeper water (75 to 115 feet). A few salmon are being caught at 130 to 150 feet using down riggers. Walleye fishing has been decent pitching jigs in 4 to 12 feet of water or using bottom bouncers with crawlers or leeches. Smallmouth bass fishermen are targeting rock piles, including in the marina bay, with some fish running 4 to 6 pounds. — Lakeridge Motel and Tackle.

Nelson Reservoir — Walleye fishing remains good in 16 to 24 feet of water pulling bouncers with worms or leeches. Perch are starting to become very active in the deep water. Smallmouth bass and northerns are biting in the shallows near weed lines. Try using a swimbait tipped with a worm or leech. — Westside Sports, Malta.


Tongue River Reservoir — Walleye fishing has been great pitching jigs tipped with a crawler, minnow, or a leech or fishing points casting and retrieving to and from the shore in up to 20 feet of water. The crappie bite has been terrific trolling Road Runner jigs tipped with live bait or tube jigs behind boats in 20 to 30 feet of water. Crappie might be suspended, so go to the fish. Bass have been hitting just about anything from live bait to crankbaits and plastics. — Tongue River Marina.


Ackley Lake — It was still fishing well from boat and shore. The trout are averaging 1.5 pounds. Even fly fishermen were catching fish using damsel nymphs from boat and shore. — Don’s, Lewistown.

Beaverhead River — It is fishing well on nymphs. Zebra Midges, split back PMD nymphs, Ray Charles, Yellow Sallies, caddis larvae and caddis pupae in both green and pink, and Craneflies will work. A lot of PMD and mayflies in general are hatching and the trout are sipping them in lower-light conditions. Streamers in olive and white are also working on overcast days. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Big Hole River — It is fishing OK. There have been quite a few fishermen as salmonflies are hatching. Caddis are working. An elk-hair caddis will work for dry flies and a caddis larvae and caddis pupae in both green and pink for nymphs. Rubber-leg nymphs will produce. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Boulder River — The river is still in full runoff stage, although current flows could be very good to rafters casting a fly. Current flows will still make the wade fishing difficult and dangerous. The best way to fish in high water is with nymphs and streamers. Recommended nymphs include Rubber Legs, larger Prince Nymphs and San Juan Worms. If and angler wants to throw some “meat”, try Sparkle Minnows, Crystal Flash Buggers or The Grinch. — East Rosebud Fly Shop, Billings.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir — The rainbow trout bite has slowed a bit, but a few fish continue to be caught throughout the reservoir. Successful shoreline trout anglers are finding fish at traditional locations using spinners, worms, and PowerBait. Boat anglers are having success for trout trolling cowbells and crankbaits throughout the reservoir. Walleye are biting throughout the south half of the reservoir trolling crankbaits, worm harnesses, and Lindy Rigs in 10 to 35 feet of water using worms or leeches on spinner harnesses. A few yellow perch are being caught while trolling for walleye. Bow fishing for carp continues to be excellent throughout the reservoir. — FWP, Helena.

Cliff and Wade lakes — Sparse hatches of Callibaetis have started. Cooler temperatures could slow these hatches down, but leech and nymph fishing would likely improve as a result. Be sure to fish these lakes when the wind is low. — Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone.

Cooney Reservoir — The water is quite high. Fishing has been slow. Some walleye have been caught on crankbaits trolling in 10-12 feet of water. Some fish have been caught from shore using a leech. Trout have been slow, but a few have been caught trolling with cowbells and a crawler or small crankbaits. — Boyd Store and Trading Post.

Deadman’s Basin — Fishing is slow. The reservoir is full. Try trolling the shorelines. — Cozy Corner Bar, Lavina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Big Dry Arm — The biggest smallmouth bass caught over the weekend 18 ¼ inches and the biggest walleye was 26 ¾ inches. Bottom bouncing worms or leeches is best for walleye, while northern pike are taking most presentations. For smallmouth, use crankbaits. — Rock Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Fourchette Bay — Fishing continues to be productive on bouncers and worms for walleye, northerns and crappie. Key in on long points. Smallmouth fishing is excellent on rock piles throwing jigs with Gulp!. — Westside Sports, Malta.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Hell Creek — Fishing is fairly decent for walleye and northerns between the J Marker and Bone Trail. In the morning, most are jigging minnows, leeches or worms and in the afternoon they pull bottom bouncers or crankbaits. Purple, blue and pink are good colors. — Hell Creek Marina.

Fresno Reservoir — Pre-reports from the tourney were pretty good. Other than having trouble locating fish due to the high water, most methods were working for walleye. The key is finding the fish and then an angler will do well. — Stromberg Sinclair, Havre.

Gallatin River — Mud, Mud, and more mud in the lower river. The best option is above the Taylor Fork where a Pat’s Rubber Legs and flashy attractor nymph like a Lightning Bug will get it done. Work the slow seams and soft water. The water up here is still running with quite a bit of color. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Hauser Reservoir — Rainbows are being caught by boat anglers around the Black Sandy and White Sandy areas while trolling cowbells 20-feet deep. Rainbows are also being caught below Canyon Ferry Dam on jigs or crankbaits. Rainbow fishing is slow from shore. Walleye are being caught in the Causeway while using bottom bouncers or jigs and leeches or worms. Perch fishing is slow. — FWP, Helena.

Hebgen Lake — Fishing has been fair to good as low pressure troughs affect the weather. Fly aficionados will find success casting into and along shorelines in the Madison Arm and south shore east of Firehole. Trolling fishermen have been successful on the north shore along gravel beds. Spoons and spinners with white and pink seem to do well. Bait fishermen have reported limits in the Grayling Arm and near the narrows with night crawlers. Hebgen Lake is 98 percent full and the water temperature is 52 degrees. — Kirkwood Marina.

Holter Reservoir — A few rainbows are being caught from shore at Departure Point while using worms or marshmallows. Boat anglers are finding rainbows while trolling green crankbaits or cowbells in the lower reservoir at 15 to 20 feet deep and in the canyon around Gates of the Mountains. Walleye are being caught while using jigs and worms or leeches in 8 to 15 feet of water. The best walleye action is happening in the lower reservoir and in the canyon around Gates of the Mountains. Perch action is good around the docks, Oxbow Bend and by the clay banks while using a jig and worm in 8 to 10 feet of water. — FWP, Helena.

Lake Frances — Like most central Montana lakes and reservoirs, fishing remains slow with vertical jigging still the most effective way to catch fish. — Scheels, Great Falls.

Madison River, Lower — A Woolly Bugger with a crayfish trailer has been producing. A big Prince Nymph with a Hare’s Ear behind it has also been picking up quite a few fish in the slower buckets and pools. Dry flies are getting a little more predictable. PMDs have been appearing consistently in the early afternoon, sometimes earlier on cloudy days. There are also been a lot of caddis and brown drakes are beginning to bounce around on warmer evenings. An Adams Parachute trailed by a tan caddis has been a good dry fly rig all day. During midday Yellow Sallies have been out and about as well. Fishing a two fly rig such as a Yellow Humpy with a PMD Emerger or a Pheasant Tail behind it along the bank has been productive. Try throwing streamers when the pressure changes. Higher water conditions have pushed those fish to the banks and that’s also where you’ll find the dries. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Madison River, Upper — It’s still fishable but mostly above the west fork, which is pumping mud into the river and causing low visibility for the lower reaches near Ennis. Up high, beaver and camp creek are also cranking some mud into Quake Lake and the water coming out is pretty dirty. The best bet is to go high, up near Three Dollar Bridge and Raynold’s Pass. Nymphing will be the most consistent producer but streamer fishing is a good option. Working a heavy black or white streamer tight to the banks or in the soft edges is a good way to tie into a few of the bigger fish. There have been a few baetis with a few small PMDs mixed in. There is a good number of green and brown caddis when the sun pops out, especially in the bushes on the sunny evenings. Golden stones are also a good option as they are starting to make an appearance, especially as nymphs. A good rig would be working a big Golden Chubby with a heavy rubber legs dropper right along the banks. A solid nymph rig would be running rubber legs and a worm deep under an indicator. A Three Dollar dip is also a good trailer pattern behind the bigger rubber legs. A Zirdle Bug will also pick up a few fish under the indicator. Be aware, this river is flowing high and is difficult to wade. Be careful if planning to wade fish or float here. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Martinsdale Reservoir — It’s full. Some have caught 3-plus pound rainbows from shore, while others have not experienced any luck. Try fishing early in the morning. When the wind comes up, fishing seems to slow. — Cozy Corner Bar, Lavina.

Missouri River, below Holter — It is fishing well. There are PMDs. Match it with a DOA Cripple PMD. There are a few caddis out. Nymphing with hot bead scuds or tailwater sowbugs has worked. Wire worms will work. The cfs is 8,700 on Monday and temps are 57 degrees. — Montana Fly Goods, Helena.

Missouri River, Fort Benton: Fishing on the upper river continues to pick up on jigs, plastics and lipless crankbaits for bass, northern pike and walleye. — Scheels, Great Falls.

Missouri River, Fred Robinson Bridge — The catfish bite is good on cut bait or crawlers. — Don’s, Lewistown.

Rock Creek — Although flows dropped with cooler temperatures, it’s important to be clear the creek is still high and fast. However, the three forks are also slowing down making angling with a fly remotely possible. On the west, lake and main forks water clarity is almost assured, although expect water there to still be high and fast. However, wherever one finds a pool this time of year one can count on trout holding there. Recommended nymphs include red Copper Johns, San Juan Worms or Lightning Bugs. Casting and retrieving Woolly Buggers, Home Invaders and Sparkle Minnows can be a lot of fun and very effective. — East Rosebud Fly Shop, Billings.

Spring Creek — It’s fishing well with virtually all nymphs. Copper John are fairly hot. There is some action on PMD dries and BWO. — Don’s, Lewistown.

Stillwater River — With cooler weather, flows have dropped and clarity improved. However, it’s still running high and can rapidly blow out with rain and/or warmer weather. There may be some fishing to be had along the edges, particularly up higher. Dead-drifted dark buggers, rubber legs and San Juan Worms are good high-water patterns. The volume, speed and temperature of the water can still be hazardous. Use caution near the banks. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Tiber Reservoir — Fishing remains slow with vertical jigging still the most effective way to catch fish. — Scheels, Great Falls.

Yellowstone River, Columbus — It remains blown out, but flows have dropped to near normal levels. The river is unfishable. It is flowing at a level that is hazardous. Use caution if near the banks. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Yellowstone River, Huntley — The river is still blown out. For catfish, try backed-up feeder creeks using cut bait. —

Yellowstone River, Livingston — The river is absolutely cranking. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.


Bighorn Lake, Horseshoe Bend — It is now open to launching boats.The lake has a lot of debris, logs and driftwood so boaters need to be really careful. The smallmouth bass fishing is good north of Barry’s Landing. The north end of the lake is clear, but driftwood will be floating down soon. The Black Canyon docks are not in yet, but should be sometime in the next few weeks. — Bighorn Canyon Visitor Center, Lovell, Wyo.

Bighorn River, Thermopolis — It is high and dirty. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Boysen Reservoir — Fishing is picking up. People are mainly jigging for walleye and trout. Bright colors are best for both. The lake is filling up and 5 feet from full. The water is dirty. All ramps are good to go. — Boysen Lake Marina.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir — It is dirty and low and fishing is poor. Anglers are fishing at Upper and Lower Sunshine reservoirs using money clip lures for trout from shore. At Beck Lake, try jig heads with tails for crappie. — Rocky Mountain Discount Sports, Cody.

Clarks Fork — It is rolling. Black or gold stoneflies, Bitch Creeks, halfbacks or streamers will work. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Cody-area lakes — East and West Newton lakes and Luce and Hogan reservoirs are fishing well. Beck Lake is fishing great. Damsel Nymphs, leeches, buggers, Slump Busters and midges will all do the trick. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Lower Shoshone — Flows are high. Anglers can fish the edges down deep with North Fork Specials in black or tan or Bloody Mary. Princes will also work. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

North Fork of the Shoshone — It is dirty, but try fishing the edges with North Fork Specials, dark streamers, stonefly nymphs and Copper John. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Yellowstone National Park — The Firehole is still high, but its flows are dropping, and it should soon be in fine shape. With a good number of PMDs emerging, fish aren’t likely to care about high water. On sunny days, the best dry-fly fishing is likely to be in the evening when White Millers are buzzing about, as well as emerging. One may find a trout sipping PMDs. The Gibbon is still high and a bit off-color. It’s primarily a streamer fishery right now, though, PMDs do hatch here. As the water drops, keep an eye out for a few risers in the softer water. — Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone.

Henry’s Fork of the Snake River (Idaho) — PMD and caddis are beginning to hatch in Ashton as well as in Last Chance. We anxiously await the opening of the Railroad Ranch section on Thursday. — Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone.