First fish

Time to plan an outing to the nearest river for a little fishing before runoff hits full flow.

It will be a little easier to choose where to fish this week because with rotten and unsafe ice still on most area lakes and reservoirs it’s best to stick to the rivers when venturing out.

If you haven't wetted a line yet this year it's time to sort through your creel, tackle and fly boxes and make sure you have all your gear ready.

It might also be a good idea to check the condition of your line and re-spool your reel if the line is frayed or worn. And make sure you buy a current fishing license and pick up a copy of the regulations.

Then you must decide where to go. Hopefully the first Billings Gazette fishing report of the 2019 season will help you choose a destination. Good luck, and welcome back for another season of fishing.

Top picks

Beaverhead River — The river below Pipe Organ Bridge is fishing well with Sow Bugs, San Juan Worms, and BWO nymphs. Remember, the river from Clark Canyon Dam downstream to Pipe Organ Bridge remains closed until May 18. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Gallatin River — This is still the best local river to be fishing. The majority of it has opened up. The only section with ice left to break apart is above Big Sky. The nymphing is good after about 10 a.m. The water is in the green shade, which means it's time to have a worm or two with you. Mayflies are crawling around in the rocks getting more active. Big Hare's Ears and Pheasant Tails rolling along the bottom have been working very well in tandem with a worm or a stonefly. Get some wading in before the big runoff begins. The flow is still low for now, but it's going to change soon. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Madison River, Upper — From Windy Point to Varney Bridge the ramps are usable. Most of the snow and ice in the middle sections of the river has melted. Mayflies and midges are the two nymphs to be using. It's also still the time of year for Winter Stones to be active. Big Pheasant Tails fished along the bottom will work. Clarity and flows are great prior to runoff. The crowds aren't on this river, and you can get a day of fishing without seeing many other anglers. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Missouri River, below Holter — The flow is 5,640 cfs and water temps are 37 degrees. Fishing has been OK. Streamer fishing will work in the morning. Deep water nymphing has been iffy. A dry-dropper rig has been good. Pink jig Mosassins and Pink Scuds are working. By the dam, rainbow Czech Nymph and Zebra Midges are taking fish. Dry fly midges are working on the right day. Not all the boat launches are open due to ice and snow. Pelican and Mountain Palace are closed. — Montana Fly Goods, Helena.

Stillwater River — After a spike in flows and off-color water in the lower river due to a rapid melt of lowland snow, spring fishing conditions are starting to round into shape. Conditions are running a little bit behind normal this spring due to the extended cold weather in March. The water temperature is still cold. Midges have been coming off occasionally, and BWOs should be starting to appear as well, particularly on the cloudy, overcast days when it’s not too windy. It’s still a tad cold for March Browns. The streamer bite has been pretty fair fishing the Grinch and olive or black Buggers. Nymphing has also been good with rubber leg and stonefly patterns along with a beadhead trailer fly. For dry fly action try a smaller Purple Haze or Parachute Adams. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.


Ackley Lake — As of Sunday it was open at the inlet. The ice is no longer safe and the remaining ice should go out soon. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Big Hole River — There is still a lot of ice on the edges and many of the boat ramps are snowed in. Floaters should focus on the Melrose area. Pat’s Rubber Legs and San Juan Worms are the ticket. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Bighorn River — The river looks great. Some feeder streams have been high and muddy, but now are coming down. The water temps are cold and, depending on the day, nymph action is slow to fair. Nymphs like the orange Scud, Ray Charles Sowbugs (gray and tan), red Midge Larva, Green Weenie Midge Pupa, Tung Teaser, and Flashback Quill are effective. — Bighorn Trout Shop, Fort Smith. 

Bighorn Lake, Ok-A-Beh — It still has ice, but it is starting to rot and has water and slush on top of it. The ice is not safe and noboby is fishing. — Pryor Creek Bait Co., Laurel.

Boulder River — The river is finally free of ice and is fishable. The flows are quite low and the water temperature is still very cold, so the action is predictably a little slow. A light dry-dropper rig can work in the slow, shallow water and a deeper nymph rig will catch fish in the slower, deeper water. Single midges and a few clusters are the predominate hatches seen so far, although the Blue Winged Olives shouldn't be far off.  Try a Midge Cluster (18) with a red or black Zebra Midge dropper and keep an eye out for BWOs and March Browns. When nymph fishing we suggest a Pat's Rubberlegs or a San Juan Worm with a Zebra Midge or a small Pheasant Tail dropper. — Sweetcast Angler, Big Timber.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir — There are not many people fishing because the ice has pulled away from the shore, and the ice is becoming unsafe. — The Silos KOA Store.

Clark Canyon Reservoir — The lake is still iced over with minuscule pieces of open water on the edges. The Red Rock end has some open water and is fishing well. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Cooney Reservoir — The ice on the reservoir is melting and conditions are constantly changing. Shore fishing was not possible as of Sunday. — Cooney State Park.

Deadman’s Basin — Ice fishing season was slow. A week ago Sunday there was very little open water and the remaining ice wasn’t safe to be on. The ice is off the Musselshell River, which is running high. — Cozy Corner Bar, Lavina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Big Dry Arm — The marina will open on May 1. There is still ice, although there is water along the edge but not enough open to shore fish as of Monday. — Rock Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Crooked Creek — Ice conditions are terrible but the water should be open soon. The Crooked Creek Classic is May 4-5. — Crooked Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, dam area — Ice remains, but it is not safe for anybody to fish as of Monday. There is some action on the Missouri River below the dam for some rainbow, walleye and catfish. Some lake trout are being caught below the power plant. Tip a jig with a minnow or plastic bait for catfish and walleye. Crankbaits, spoons and flies will work for rainbows. The boat ramps open on the river are Boy Scout and School Trust. — Lakeridge Lodging & Bait Shop.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Fourchette Bay — There is still ice, but it is starting to open up on the edges. — Westside Sports, Malta.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Hell Creek — According to the most recent post on the marina’s Facebook page ice fishing is “officially done.” The post says to check back for updates when the ice goes out. The Jerry Johnston Memorial Tough Guy Tournament is April 20. — Hell Creek Marina.

Fresno Reservoir — The ice is receding along the shorelines, but there is not enough open water to cast. — Stromberg Sinclair, Havre.

Hauser Reservoir — A few rainbows are being caught in open water below Canyon Ferry Dam, at York Bridge and the Causeway on egg sacks or worms. Boat ramps at Devil’s Elbow and Riverside are open. The only remaining accessible ice is at Black Sandy and that is deteriorating rapidly. — FWP, Helena.

Hebgen Lake — There is still ice on Hebgen. It will probably be early to mid May before there is open water fishing. — Kirkwood Marina.

Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir — Kokanee are being caught 10 to 20 feet below the ice on jigs and maggots or corn. A few small perch are being caught just off the bottom in 15 to 25 feet of water throughout the reservoir. There is still 16 to 18 inches of good, fishable ice with slush on top.  — FWP, Helena.

Holter Reservoir — A little bit of ice remains at Gates of the Mountains and the ramp, but it should be very soon that the ramp is open and usable. The lower reservoir does not have accessible ice and anglers should not attempt going out on it. Rainbows are being caught in open water between shore and the receding ice pack while using worms, flies or spawn sacks. — FWP, Helena.

Madison RiverLower — This is the place a lot of anglers have begun to fish and float because the ramps and parking areas are clear enough. The dirt road up to Beartrap Canyon is the one thing that is still a soupy mess. The mornings are starting off slow. Water temps are cold in the morning, but after lunch the temps and fishing are picking up. Nymphing is the best way to get into fish. Crayfish with a mayfly nymph have been two good patterns. The midges hatch in thick amounts in the afternoon. Midafternoon has been the best time to try a streamer pattern. Water temps are still cold enough to keep the fish from moving too much. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Martinsdale Reservoir — Rotten ice remains as of Monday. Anglers would have a tough time accessing the reservoir due to muddy conditions. — Ray’s Sport and Western Wear, Harlowton.

Missouri River, Fred Robinson Bridge — Fishing would be difficult as there is lots of big chunks of ice on the shore. The river is open. — Sport Center, Lewistown (According to the Bureau of Land Management, the James Kipp Recreation Area is closed as of Monday due to flooding caused by snowmelt and ice jams. The boat ramp was not usable).

Nelson Reservoir — The ice is breaking up and is rotten. It might by open sometime next week. — Westside Sports, Malta.

Rock Creek — Our extremely cold February, coupled with our too warm mid-March, made the first half of March difficult to fish. However, there is finally some decent water clarity and less floating ice. Look for the best clarity between Roberts and Red Lodge as there is more color in the water near Joliet. Dry flies have yet to get going, so the best fishing is with nymphs and streamers. Recommended nymphs include San Juan Worms in red or wine (8-10), Zebra Midges in red or black (16-18) and standard natural beadhead nymphs like a Hare's Ear, Prince Nymphs or Pheasant Tail (12-16). Attractor nymphs like a Batman, Copper John in red as well as a Psycho Princes in varied colors are all proven freestone fishery patterns. An excellent way to fish is with a streamer. Trout get more active as we enter spring and that makes them much more eager to chase something. Recommended streamers include Sparkle Minnows, Grinch's, Krystal Flash Buggers in black or olive, Thin Mints and Slump Busters. Most streamers can be fished in sizes 4-8. — East Rosebud Fly Shop, Billings.

Spring Creek — Anglers are using spinners. The creek is high and muddy. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Tongue River Reservoir — The ice has broken away from the edges 20 to 30 feet and is going quick as of Monday. We could have open water by next week. There are now shore fishing opportunities. From shore try minnows or worms, or throw some cranks. Watch the Tongue River Marina Facebook page for updates. — Tongue River Marina.

Yellowstone River, Columbus — Running a bit off color. Look for Midges to be coming off along with some BWOs. Once the water warms a bit more look for March Browns to start appearing. Nymphing with rubber-leg patterns has been producing. Black and darker streamers are a good option in off-color water conditions. If looking to float be sure and check the access sites ahead of time. While they should have cleared with the warmer weather, deep ice and snow jams accumulated at most access sites. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Yellowstone River, Huntley — Anglers are catching a few ling below Custer and Hysham. Fish with minnows. A few catfish have also been caught. An occasional walleye has been reeled in. — Pryor Creek Bait Co., Laurel.

Yellowstone River, Livingston — There are a few people who have floated but it is still a little early. It's the time of year when shelf ice can form ice jams at any point in the river. Some sections still have a lot of ice to break apart. The flows are still low and super wadeable. Some color is now in the river, which means food is getting stirred. A spring nymph selection of stoneflies, mayflies, midges and worms are catching fish. The second half of a slow dump out or a soft seam is where the fish are holding. Rainbows are starting to get fiesty. Once we get a surge of water they will sense it's time to begin moving to spawning grounds. They will spawn before runoff.  — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Yellowstone River, Miles City — Fishing pressure is light. The river is muddy but fishable. Anglers might catch some catfish. — Red Rock Sporting Goods, Miles City.


Bighorn Lake, Horseshoe Bend  The lake still has ice. The marina will open May 15. — Horseshoe Bend Marina.

Bighorn River, Thermopolis — Fishing is slow. There are a lot of boats going down. Most are fly fishing. There is a little activity beginning at the spillway for walleye using jigs with bait or Shad Raps or Flicker Shad. Both Upper and Lower Sunshine Reservoirs have a lot of ice, but the ice isn’t safe. — White Horse Country Store & Canyon Sporting Goods, Thermopolis.

Boysen Reservoir — The ice is starting to recede and ice quality is poor. — White Horse Country Store & Canyon Sporting Goods, Thermopolis.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir — It is not open yet and still has ice, but it is not recommended to ice fish as the ice is thinning and dangerous. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Clarks Fork — The river is muddy and the flows are low. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Cody-area lakes — East Newton Lake, West Newton Lake, Luce Reservoir and Hogan Reservoir still have ice. The ice is starting to thaw and recede from the shore. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Lake DeSmet — We will be opening for the season on April 12. As of Saturday, ice is still on the lake. — The Lake Stop, Buffalo.  

Lower Shoshone — The flows went up and it’s really mossy and off-colored. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

North Fork of the Shoshone — The river is closed from Buffalo Bill upstream to Newton Creek in the Shoshone Forest through June 30. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

South Fork of the Shoshone — It is fishing OK on nymphs. Use North Fork Specials, Bloody Mary and Prince Nymphs. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

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