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Fishing report: General season and paddlefish on Yellowstone open Saturday
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Fishing report: General season and paddlefish on Yellowstone open Saturday

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Yellowstone Challenge Catfish Tournament

Perry Vandersloot puts his catch into a basket to be weighed during the Montana Catfish Association’s Yellowstone Challenge Catfish Tournament at Voyagers Rest fishing access site near Worden on Saturday, May 8. To view more photos, log on to the Billings Gazette's Outdoors site.

BILLINGS — While it would seem there are less opportunities to fish because of runoff, that’s not necessarily the case.

That's because the general fishing season begins Saturday. This mostly affects the western fishing district, as rivers and streams are open year-round — unless noted in the regulations — in the central and eastern districts.

Paddlefish season on the Missouri River from Fort Peck Dam to North Dakota and on the Yellowstone River also begins Saturday.

Top picks

Beaverhead River — The Beaverhead River from Clark Canyon Dam downstream to Pipe Organ Bridge opens Saturday. To say that we are a little excited to have this incredible piece of big trout water open would be a massive understatement. The usual buffet that ranges from sowbugs, worms, and Baetis nymphs to eclectic streamers and midge larvae will all be in play. Play nice, there will be plenty of company. Poindexter Slough continues to fish well with some of the more reliable dry fly fishing in the area. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Bighorn River —Things are shaping up. Fishing has been excellent. There are a lot of big fish showing up. Nymphing is still your best bet. Try Carpet Bugs, Ray Charles, LBF, Black Quills, and McGruber Baetis. There are a lot of BWOs and midges on the surface, but water temps still need to come up a bit before the fish start looking up. — Bighorn Angler, Fort Smith. 

Fort Peck Reservoir, Big Dry Arm — Fishing has been amazing. Anglers are pitching minnows to shore and jigging back. The walleyes are in 3 to 10 feet of water. The fish were anywhere from eating-size to 30-plus inches. The pike bite is really on. Northerns are biting crankbaits or jigs being pitched to shore. The northerns are at depths of 10-feet and under. Water temperatures are running from 46 to 51 degrees on warmer days. The smallmouth bite is on while jigging rocky points. — Rock Creek Marina.

Lake Mary Ronan — Most anglers are targeting kokanee and some are limiting out rather quickly. Most of the kokanee are 9-10 inches with the occasional 12-14 incher being reeled in. Kokanee anglers are also catching fat perch. For perch, fish shallower with crawlers and perch jigs. — Zimmer Bait and Tackle, Pablo.

Missouri River, below Holter — The flows were at 3,800 cfs on Monday with water temperatures at 46 degrees. Fishing has been very good. Midges and baetis are out and we are seeing a few March browns. Nymphing is off the hook with olive patterns working well. Psycho May in olive is a good choice as is a 3T Mopendable. Streamer action is working. Olive Thin Mints (8) or a Nick’s Perch will produce. — Montana Fly Goods, Helena.


Ackley Lake — Action was pretty slow over the weekend with all the cold weather. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Big Hole River — The river has been stable for a week and is fishing well. Cold nights and cool days have kept any bug hatches to a minimum, but streamers and an assortment of San Juan Worms and stonefly nymphs have been catching fish.— Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Bighorn Lake, Ok-A-Beh — A few big brown trout are biting while trolling crankbaits. Smallmouth are hitting. Some fly anglers are using streamers for smallmouth. For sport fishing, fly anglers are targeting carp in the shallows. — Scheels, Billings.

Bitterroot River — Runoff continues. The warm weather caused the river to skyrocket. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Blackfoot River — Runoff is occurring. Some area lakes are fishing. With streams opening Saturday there will be more options to fish. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Boulder River — The Boulder is running high and muddy down low. Go above the West Boulder for better clarity. Fish stonefly nymphs and dark mayfly nymphs in slow, deep water. — Sweetcast Angler, Big Timber.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir — The stormy weather has made catching fish difficult. The rainbow trout bite is tapering off as the fish start to move offshore. A few rainbows are being caught from shore between the Outhouse and Kim’s Marina using Leech flies, beadhead nymphs, San Juan Worms or night crawlers. Boat anglers are having some success for rainbows while trolling cowbells or crankbaits around White Earth and Cemetery Island. The walleye bite was slow with some being caught around Ponds 1 and 2 on crankbaits or bottom bouncers. — FWP, Helena.

Clark Fork River, Missoula  Runoff conditions. The river probably won’t come back into shape for fishing until June. There are some good area lakes to target pike. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Cooney Reservoir — The water has continued to rise. Water temperatures have ranged from 47 to 52 degrees. With the recent runoff, the west and south ends of Cooney have become off-color. Before the colder weather came in the bite had improved. Look for the pockets of warmer water to target walleyes. The Rapala Shad Rap in silver and black caught some fish this week. Some groups had limited success with jigs and soft plastics. Slow presentations still seems to be best. The perch bite is nonexistent. Shore anglers are doing well catching trout. Worms on the bottom with a salmon egg did well in the Willow Creek arm this week. Other groups did well on the north shore using yellow PowerBait. — Cooney State Park.

Deadman’s Basin — Anglers are doing well for rainbows using bait and hardware. Anglers are still catching some fish at Broadview Pond. — Cozy Corner Bar, Lavina.

Flathead Lake (North) — Runoff has started. Lake trout are concentrating along the muddy water. Some of the best lake trout fishing on the lake happens when runoff is really heavy. — Zimmer Bait and Tackle, Pablo.

Flathead Lake (South) — Fishing has picked up in the East Bay with a few more perch and quite a few smallmouth being caught. Off the dock in Polson, lake trout, lake whitefish, northern pikeminnow and an occasional smallmouth are biting. — Zimmer Bait and Tackle, Pablo.

Flathead River, above the lake — The river is fast and muddy and hard to fish. There is some clear water coming in from the South Fork, but the North Fork and the Middle Fork are muddy. — Zimmer Bait and Tackle, Pablo.

Flathead River, below Kerr Dam — The river is running pretty high, but some anglers are catching smallmouth bass and brown trout. An occasional cutthroat or rainbow will also bite. — Zimmer Bait and Tackle, Pablo.

Flathead River sloughs — Crappie, bass and pike should be active. Perch fishing is hit or miss, with the possibility of a lot of small males. — Zimmer Bait and Tackle, Pablo.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Crooked Creek — The jig and minnow bite is pretty hot between 12 and 30 feet for walleyes. Pitch to the bank or dead stick out deep. Anglers are catching catfish off the bank with dead bait. Northern action is pretty quiet. It was rainy over the weekend, so fishing pressure was light. The Walleye Classic is set for May 15-16. As of Sunday, five spots were open. To register, call Tammy Pyrah at 406-366-0898 or the marina at 406-429-2999. — Crooked Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, dam area — Anglers are catching walleyes, pike and lake trout, along with a few smallmouth bass. Jigs and plastics or jigs and minnows will work for walleyes. Lake trout anglers are pulling crankbaits, jigging and using downriggers. Lake trout are all over the water column. For smallmouth target the rock piles. Walleye anglers are also picking up some smallmouth.   — Lakeridge Lodging & Bait Shop.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Fourchette Bay — Fishing is slow. The closer ones gets to Crooked Creek, the action improves and fishing is fair pulling crawler harnesses at 7 to 10 feet for walleyes.— Hardware Hank, Malta.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Hell Creek — Walleye and northern fishing remains good. The walleyes are biting primarily west, toward the narrows. The northerns are still in the bays and shallows. For northerns pitch spoons. For walleyes use a jig and a minnow. — Hell Creek Marina.

Fresno Reservoir — A few walleyes have been reeled in using a jig and salted minnow, but overall action is still slow. An occasional crappie has been caught. — Roberts Bait & Tackle, Great Falls.

Gallatin River — Runoff has begun. Cooler nights have helped keep the flows from increasing. That will change this weekend. Two warm days followed by a wet weekend will bump runoff again. If you decide to head this way don't bother wading, fish right off the bank with your big dark stoneflies, worms or a black streamer. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Georgetown Lake — There was still some ice on the lake last week. There were some free spots in the bays. Fishing season begins Saturday. Fishing usually seems to be good at the beginning of the year. The south and east shoreline area is open July 1 through March 31. — Flint Creek Outdoors, Philipsburg.

Hauser Reservoir — The weather over the weekend made things challenging, however, the rainbow bite was fantastic for most anglers. Fishing from shore has been productive around the Causeway, York Bridge and Riverside. Night crawlers, spawn sacks, and leech or egg patterns have been working well. The recent wind and rain slowed down most boaters and Lake Helena anglers significantly. — FWP, Helena.

Hebgen Lake — The lake was pretty much open as of Monday. There is some remaining ice by the dam. The Madison Arm Resort road is open. Fish have been caught slowly stripping leech patterns like black Boufaces, olive Super Squirrels and black Seal Buggers. Chironomid action should keep getting better and better every day. Be sure to have Ice Cream Cones (12-14), Driskill's Midges (12), and Perdigonomids (14) for this type of fishing. Depending on the weather, we are probably looking at about a week to 10 days before there is some good dry fly fishing on the main lake. — Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone.

Holter Reservoir — Rainbow trout action continues to be great even with the recent stormy weather. Shore anglers fishing on the lower end of the reservoir around most of the public boat ramps continue to find fish. Most are doing well with egg or leech patterns, spawn sacks or PowerBait. Boat anglers are catching rainbows while trolling around the Log Gulch to Split Rock area and the clay banks across from the boat loft. Running crankbaits, Thomas lures or cowbells tipped with a spinner and night crawler has been producing some trout. Not many walleyes or perch have been picked up recently. — FWP, Helena.

Kootenai River — The discharge from Libby Dam was 9,000 cfs on Monday. Flows are scheduled to increase to full power house capacity (25,000 cfs) on Wednesday. In-flows to Lake Koocanusa were 14,000 cfs on Monday and the water temperature was 40 degrees. Hatches were midges, blue-winged olives, March browns, early caddis and little stoneflies. Patterns to use were Zebra Midges, Parachute Adams, Purple Haze, Bugmeister, olive Sparkle Dun, purple Chubby, BH Prince, soft SJ Worm, BH Pheasant Tail, BH Rubber Legged Stonefly, big streamers in white, pink and olive, Circus Peanut and black Conehead Buggers. When the river is running at full power house capacity it's not that you can't fish, it's just really big. It may run clear, but for sure it's float fishing exclusively. When the river is big, look for fish in off-current areas, soft pockets below islands and walking speed current. — Linehan Outfitting, Troy.

Lake Frances — Not many were out with the poor weather, but for those who did fish action remained slow. — Roberts Bait & Tackle, Great Falls.

Lake Koocanusa — Rainbows are still biting. Action can be temperamental because of the weather. Dark blues and black are working the best. Some are using purple or gold or big trolling flies. Kokanee salmon are still at deep depths, so fishing is slow. There is a fishing derby on Saturday and Sunday. The cost is $20 per person with 100% payback in cash prizes. Registration is all day Friday at the marina. The derby will start Saturday at daylight and ends Sunday at 2 p.m. — Koocanusa Resort and Marina, Libby.

Madison RiverLower — Caddis are here. With the recent warm weather we have seen the caddis hatching in full force. Fish are taking notice. Don't be afraid to stay out till dark on this hatch. The lake has been a bit of a wild card with varying weather and high winds. It seems to be flipping every few days and adding some color to the water. The fishing has been good on these days still, it just changes to mostly a nymph or streamer game. It’s the time of year where flows are a bit unpredictable. Double nymph rigs have been the best way to get the numbers, typically consisting of Worms, Crayfish, Zirdle Bugs, soft hackles, Lil Spanker and Dirty Birds. If the clouds are in and the wind is calm, blue-winged olives have also been out in full force. Watch the edges of the river for heads coming up in the afternoon. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Madison River, Upper — Fishing is great with clarity and conditions near perfect. Small and flashy is the name of the game if you decide to nymph; Green Machines, $3 Dips, Purple Deaths, Worms, Shop Vacs, black and brown Rubberlegs and Zebra Midges are all good bets. You can also have some success dead drifting a Sculpin under a bobber. Dry fly fishing has been decent depending on the day. We have had good reports of anglers doing well on BWOs near Raynolds and Three Dollar Bridge when there is some clouds and low wind. Caddis should be popping over here any day now. There has been some fat fish taking streamers; cloudy days have been better. Streamer color has been variable, but typically black, olive and white are our favorites. We have had reports of anglers getting better streamer action near Lyons Bridge and below. In between the lakes will have some deep snow in spots but you can get in easily below the dam. The sweet spot seems to be the Three Dollar area with excellent streamer, dry and nymph opportunities. Wind can be the kiss of death for the dry fly fishing up this way. Also, be sure to leave those redds alone.  — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Marias River — In the Loma area anglers continue to catch catfish, a few drum and an occasional sturgeon. Anglers are also catching a few smallmouth bass. — Roberts Bait & Tackle, Great Falls.

Martinsdale Reservoir — Anglers did fairly well from boats last week. — Mint Bar, Martinsdale.

Missouri River, Fort Benton — The river is still way low. — Roberts Bait & Tackle, Great Falls.

Missouri River, Fred Robinson Bridge — Paddlefish action is still slow because the river is down. Northerns, walleyes, catfish and sauger are hitting minnows and crawlers. — Roberts Bait & Tackle, Great Falls.

Nelson Reservoir — The bite is slow for walleyes and northerns. Anglers are starting to pick up a few pulling crawler harnesses. — Hardware Hank, Malta.

Noxon Rapids Reservoir — Water levels are coming up and boats are being launched. Anglers have been catching northern pike. — Lakeside Motel and Resort.

Pablo Reservoir— The bass should be ready to enter spawning season. Some of the female bass are protective at that time and aggressive. Many anglers will release fish that are spawning in a conservation effort. — Zimmer Bait and Tackle, Pablo.

Rock Creek (East) — Watch for the lower section from Boyd to Joliet to lose some clarity. We are starting to see a couple different hatches. Caddis can be seen popping off on warmer days, along with small black mayflies and some March browns. Look for rising fish in deeper pools as well as along undercut banks. The streamer bite is holding up well; swinging Grinches or Sparkle Minnows has been effective. Dries: Black Elk-Hair Caddis (16-18), March Browns (14-16), Parachute Adams (16-18). Nymphs: BH Rubberleg Prince (14), BH Sparkle Pupa olive (14), BH RL Flash Epoxy Hare's Ears (14-16). Streamers: Tungsten Thin Mint, Kory’s Grinch, Coffey's Sparkle Minnow Sculpin. — East Rosebud Fly Shop, Red Lodge.

Rock Creek (West) — Runoff has started. There are windows of fishing that sometimes open during runoff. — Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop, Missoula.

Spring Creek — Anglers are having luck using spinners. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Swan Lake — Lake trout fishing is good. Anglers can also catch lake trout at Holland Lake and Lindbergh Lake, which are on the headwaters of the Swan drainage. — Zimmer Bait and Tackle, Pablo.

Stillwater River — The river has maintained steady flows and water clarity, still giving fly anglers early to mid-May opportunities. The river is higher than it was two weeks ago, but has yet to blow out. With continuing colder water temperatures, nymph fishing is the most productive. Standard springtime nymphs like Stoneflies, San Juan Worms and other Stillwater classics should all produce some results. Stoneflies like Rubberlegs, Girdle Bugs and Bitch Creeks (8-10), as well as San Juan Worms in similar sizing are excellent lead fly recommendations. Worms, or as we like to call them “Dirt Snakes,” can be fished in red, tan, pink or purple. Caddis Pupa in tan or olive (14), Zebra Midges in red or black (16-18), or the always “fishy” Pheasant Tails, or Hare’s Ears (10-16) can be as productive as any of the new “hot” flies. Of course a beadhead or Hot Head Prince Nymph (10-14) is always tough to beat. As previously reported, if you are a Euro nymph angler, now is the time to get your Perdigon and Red Tag flies going. Being able to penetrate the water column quickly with Euro nymphs on a short drift can really give this style of fly fishing an advantage during increased flows. If you are in the right place at the right time there can be some dry fly fishing even during the up and down water conditions of early May. March Browns or Caddis dry (12-14) are what you fish this time of year on the Stillwater if you are a top-water angler. A Parachute Adams, Purple Haze, or Royal Wulff in similar sizing can work as well as any natural dry fly when fished in sizes 12-14. Now is also the time to start fishing a dry/dropper rig. The value to fishing streamers this time of year is any soft patch of water will hold trout. If you put a Sparkle Minnow, Grinch, Thin Mint or Slump Buster on that soft patch of water, get ready for your rod to get yanked from your hand. — East Rosebud Fly Shop, Columbus.

Tiber Reservoir — Fishing pressure was light due to the weather. Overall, fishing is slow. Smaller walleyes are hitting jigs and minnows. — Roberts Bait & Tackle, Great Falls.

Tongue River Reservoir — Fishing is starting to pick up. The water levels are rising. Crappie, perch and pike are biting. Minnows seem to work best. The crappie are at depths of 20 feet. The pike are in the shallows. Some walleyes have been caught in the shallow bay areas. — Tongue River Marina.

Yellowstone River, Columbus — The Yellowstone is big and dirty; and will continue to rise throughout May and June. If you do plan on fishing the mighty Stone, there will be fish wherever there is soft, slower water. Although conditions are not ideal, if you stick with fishing the slower water, you can be rewarded. Stripping streamers and nymphing with big stonefly patterns and San Juan Worms will still be your best bet. Streamers like Sparkle Minnows or bigger articulated streamers will be your most effective patterns. Same goes with nymphs; big and sparkly will be your best bet. Nymph patterns would include San Juan and Gummy Worms, Pat's Rubberlegs and Prince Nymphs (8-10), blue Montana Prince Nymphs and Red Copper Johns (12-14). — East Rosebud Fly Shop, Columbus.

Yellowstone River, Huntley — The catfish bite is good. Minnows and cut bait will work. — Scheels, Billings.

Yellowstone River, Livingston — She's bumping up in flows and turning to mud. The Stone is most likely KO'd till July, but possibly will have a window early next week. The Carbella boat ramp is closed. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Yellowstone River, Miles City — The river has started to rise a bit, and the water is getting muddy. Anglers are catching some catfish on crawlers, minnows and cut bait. It may be awhile until the bass and sauger bite starts again. — Red Rock Sporting Goods, Miles City.


Bighorn River, Thermopolis — The flows are 900 cfs, and drift boat anglers are doing well. Shore action is slow. Try Woolly Buggers, San Juan Worms and Scuds. — White Horse Country Store & Canyon Sporting Goods, Thermopolis.

Boysen Reservoir — Anglers are starting to catch decent eating-size walleyes. Boat fishers are jigging worms. A few anglers are using minnows. Anglers are catching plenty of trout. The walleyes and rainbows are done spawning and moved to a little deeper water. — Boysen Marina.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir — The only big change this week is anglers are starting to chase walleyes. Crawler harness rigs with spinners would be a good choice. Troll slowly on the bottom with a crawler. Some guys are throwing plastics, too. One can use Countdown Rapalas and have a chance for a walleye, lake trout or trout. At Beck Lake, trout are striking Panther Martin or Mepps lures. A crawler and a marshmallow would also work. — Rocky Mountain Discount Sports, Cody.

Clarks Fork — It is running high and the flows were 1,460 cfs on Monday. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Cody-area lakes — Anglers can do well in boats with extra-long leaders fishing Chironomids deep. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Lake DeSmet — It has been rainy, cold and windy and most anglers have stayed off the water. The Buffalo Lions Club is hosting its annual fishing derby Memorial Day weekend. — The Lake Stop, Buffalo.  

Lower Shoshone — The river has a tea stain to it. Streamers or Woolly Buggers along the edges of the bank would be the best method. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

North Fork of the Shoshone — It fished well last week and flows were at 1,190 cfs on Monday. Anglers are using March Browns and Caddisflies. If the weather warms, the water could get dirty again. Anglers should pack bear spray. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

South Fork of the Shoshone— The flows were 416 cfs on Monday. The water has a tea stain. Streamers are working. Woolly Buggers, Pheasant Tails and Bloody Marys would work.— North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Upper and Lower Sunshine Reservoirs — Anglers are doing well on the lower reservoir using crawlers and shrimp. Upper should be fishing well, too, but we’ve had no new reports there. — Wea Market, Meeteetse.

Email Gazette Sports Editor John Letasky at or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL


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