Rain, snowmelt create muddy fishing conditions


BOZEMAN, Mont. - Rain and melting snow are creating frustration for some local anglers.

NBC Montana has been following snowpack that's well above average across southwest Montana.

Recent data show that into May, snowpack in the mountains that feed the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson rivers range from 135 percent to 145 percent of average.

The warmer temperatures and rain have helped unlock some of the snow from the higher elevations and created fast, muddy conditions on the water. That has left anglers high and dry during a normally busy time of the spring fishing season.

Avid fisherman Chip Lenihan was out on the Madison River Friday. He got his fly rod ready and hoped to get few casts in between rain showers Friday afternoon.

"Hopefully the fish are hungry," said Lenihan.

Lenihan tells us he hit the Gallatin River Thursday. He says this time of year you have to check weather and fishing reports often, as conditions can change day to day.

He explained, "Weather, stream conditions, and obviously, as you well know, your streams have been going up and down with the rain and the snowpack."

Snowmelt makes the river dirty and brown. More water creates a faster current, stirring up sediments on the bottom. The dirtier the water, the worse the fishing.

Lenihan says, "They've got to have at least, you know, 12 inches of visibility to make fly-fishing work."

Daniel Uter owns the Rivers Edge, a fly-fishing shop in Four Corners. He tells NBC Montana it's a widespread problem faced by fisherman, "This time of the year when the rivers are high and off-color they're almost impossible to fish."

Uter says the Madison River West of Bozeman can be more reliable.

River flows are controlled in part by a dam near Ennis. The dam and reservoir can act like a filter, leaving the Madison fishable when other rivers are too dirty.

"The water levels don't get quite as high," said Uter. "The water doesn't get quite as dirty."

While deepsnow pack and slow melt can be frustrating this time of year, there is an upside.

"Fortunately with that higher snowpack, the later on in the summer we will have good fishing." Uter said.

But even now, for anglers willing to test the cold, fast water, spring fishing can be worth the work.

Lenihan told us, "Been a long winter. They're hungry and there certainly hasn't been much pressure on the stream."

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks says that anglers out on the river need to be alert.

When river waters are murky it can be easy to accidentally wade into an especially deep spot or fast moving current. Also, water runoff can push trees and boulders into the path of those floating.

Experts recommend checking in with local fly shops or surveying the river beforehand in order to stay safe.

Andrea Jones with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks told us, "Always wear your life jacket if there's concerns of high flows or whatnot. Also, another thing folks might not think about is to check for obstacles in rivers, whether man-made or nature-made. We're talking large twigs, trees that could compromise your ability to get down the river."

FWP says water levels and river speeds tend to stabilize around July, making fishing more manageable.