Casey Watson

Casey Watson speared this 41-inch long, 17.5-pound northern pike to close out the ice-fishing season at Duck Creek on Fort Peck Reservoir. 

For lake and reservoir anglers the bad news is that many of the region’s lakes and reservoirs still had rotten ice when this report was compiled.

The good news is that ice is receding, and with warm temperatures and wind ice will soon be gone at many of these lakes and reservoirs. Ice-out can be one of the best times of the year to fish. 

Tongue River Reservoir was ice free, and a fat 8.2-pound walleye was caught by a bank fisherman there last week. Anglers were also launching boats at Ok-A-Beh and Barry’s Landing.

While it is still a little early for productive dry fly-fishing, fly anglers were having seasonal success and fun using nymphs and streamers.

Here’s this week’s Billings Gazette fishing report:

Top picks

Bighorn River —The river is on track for regular flows this spring. The water temps are still fairly cold so the fish are concentrated. Nymphing is the way to go. Try a Ray Charles in tan (16-18), Pete’s Carpet Bug in tan (16-18), a Cotton Candy (16), a Jelly Bean Sow Bug (16-18) a Wonder Nymph, or a LBF. Small Zebra Midges and red Midge Larva will also produce. It is about a week away from really good dry fly fishing with BWOs and Midges. — Bighorn Angler, Fort Smith. 

Boulder River — The river continues to flow cold and low with pretty good clarity. Short nymph rigs with small midge and mayfly imitations have been productive (size 18 PTs and Zebra Midges) combined with Golden Stone Nymphs. As the flows increase fish a San Juan Worm. Small streamers cast across and stripped slowly have also been effective; we like brown, black and yellow Buggers. Very limited dry fly action to report, although the Blue Wing Olives could hatch any day. — Sweetcast Angler, Big Timber.

Gallatin River — The river features some of the area's best water conditions. More fish are beginning to be caught in spots besides their winter holding places. Try putting some bugs along the soft edge of a riffle's tail-out. After 10 a.m. nymphing is good all day long. The water is in the green shade, which means it's time to try a worm or two. The 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. More average-size juvenile fish are feeding; this might be a sign that the bigger adults are shifting into spawn mode. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Rock Creek — Like most area freestone stream flows it has experienced an uptick over the last week. This has been caused by the warmer temperatures and rainfall. Go to the town of Roberts and possibly farther south to Red Lodge in order to find water clarity. Fly-fishing has been good over the last week with nymphs and streamers. Recommended Nymphs include San Juan Worms (8-10), red or chartreuse Copper Johns (12-16) Hare's Ears, or Pheasant Tails (10-18). Zebra Midges (16) in black, red or olive can also be effective. Stonefly nymphs like Rubber Legs in varied colors as well as a classic Girdle Bug (8-10) are basically a cheeseburger on a leader for a trout. Attractor nymphs like a Batman, Montana Prince in blue or a Lightning Bug (12-16) will appeal to trout looking for a bit of flash and excitement. It's also not too early to start fishing a tan Caddis Pupa (14) as we are only a short time away from the start of caddis season. Recommended streamers include Sparkle Minnows, especially in brown trout and sculpin patterns. Additional streamers to fish include standard Woolly Buggers in black or olive, as well as the Grinch. — East Rosebud Fly Shop, Billings.

Tongue River Reservoir — The reservoir is ice-free and open. An 8.2-pound walleye was landed by a bank fisherman with a jig and a Twister tail. A few crappie were reeled in while presenting minnows. The marina will be open daily starting Friday. — Tongue River Marina. 


Ackley Lake — It was still iced over on Monday. The ice is starting to recede from the shorelines. The remaining ice is not safe. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Beaverhead River — The water remains clear between Pipe Organ and Grasshopper Creek.  Sowbugs, Worms, and BWO nymphs remain the ticket with good action on streamers on cloudy days.  Remember, the river remains closed from the dam downstream to Pipe Organ Bridge until May 18. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Big Hole River —The river is rising a little each day. Worms, Pat’s Stone Rubber Legs, and streamers are the best options. The river below Melrose is fishing the best. Call for information regarding floats near Glen as there are some access and clarity issues. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Bighorn Lake, Ok-A-Beh — The ice is gone pretty much, with pockets of ice at the inlets. Anglers can launch boats at Ok-A-Beh and Barry’s Landing. Due to the low water level in preparation for snowmelt, the boat ramp at Horseshoe Bend is not open yet. The boat ramp at Horseshoe Bend is traditionally open around Memorial Day. Fishing is very good close to the anticline in the canyon. There are good reports for anglers catching ling. — Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Lovell, Wyo.

Canyon Ferry Reservoir — On our end it was halfway open as of Monday. Ice fishing is done for the year as the remaining ice is unstable. Anglers are doing well shore fishing for perch, walleye and rainbow. Try everything from worms and bobbers to throwing out a jig. — The Silos KOA Store.

Clark Canyon Reservoir — The ice is receding. The South end is open and fishing well with more open water around the edges every day. We are about a week away from some fantastic ice-out fishing. — Frontier Anglers, Dillon.

Cooney Reservoir — The ice is pulling away from shore. There is approximately 20 feet (with variations) of open water around the shore. The majority of the lake still has ice on it. — Cooney State Park.

Deadman’s Basin — There is some ice gone around the edges, but it was still iced in as of Monday. Nobody is ice fishing. — Cozy Corner Bar, Lavina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Big Dry Arm — There was still ice on the lake as of Monday, but it is breaking up and getting weak. — Rock Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Crooked Creek — It was completely ice-free as of Monday. There were some bank anglers over the weekend fishing for northerns, but it was pretty slow as the water is dirty. — Crooked Creek Marina.

Fort Peck Reservoir, dam area — The lake is opening up with boats being launched at Duck Creek. Ice remains in the center of the reservoir and is still going across the breaks as of Monday. With warm weather and high winds the remaining ice will be off soon. — Lakeridge Lodging & Bait Shop.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Fourchette Bay — No new reports. — Westside Sports, Malta.

Fort Peck Reservoir, Hell Creek — On Sunday the first half of the bay opened up. The main lake is still iced up but could be open in four to five days depending on the wind. The Tough Guy fishing tournament is set for April 20. For information call 406-557-2209. — Hell Creek Marina.

Fresno Reservoir — No reports on the reservoir. Below the dam on the Milk River anglers are catching walleye, rainbow and whitefish using worms and minnows. At Beaver Creek Park, Bear Paw Lake is open. — Stromberg Sinclair, Havre.

Hauser Reservoir — It still has ice on it by the Hauser Dam. There is a big chunk of ice at Lakeside. Anglers can launch below Canyon Ferry Dam, at Devil’s Elbow and York Bridge. At Lake Helena there is still ice in the middle of it, but it is starting to break loose around the edges. Overall a few trout have been caught but action has been pretty slow. — Sportsman’s Warehouse, Helena.

Holter Reservoir — The Gates of the Mountains opened last Thursday. It is extremely busy. Trout are active. Try Marabou Jigs, leech or egg patterns. Both fly and spin anglers can have a fun time catching trout. The north end of the lake was still iced up as of Monday. — Sportsman’s Warehouse, Helena.

Madison RiverLower — This is the place a lot of anglers have begun to fish and float. The road up to Beartrap Canyon is also clear at this point. The one area you cannot get into is Grey Cliff north. The mornings are starting off slow, but after lunch the temps and fishing are picking up. Nymping is the best way to get into the fish. Crayfish with a mayfly nymph have been two good patterns. The midges are hatching 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. Keep an eye on the dam flow; the more consistent the flow the more consistent the fishing. With the changing weather  the flow has been going up and down. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Madison River, Upper — From Windy Point to Varney Bridge the ramps are usable. Be careful at Varney, the new bridge construction is underway and may close down that ramp on occasion. Most of the snow and ice in the middle sections of the river has melted. Mayflies and midges are the two nymphs to be fishing. It's also still the time of year for winter stoneflies to be active. Big Pheasant Tails fished along the bottom were one of the hot flies over the weekend. 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. The bridge construction at Varney access will run through Dec. 2019. Text Varney to 22828 for construction email updates. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Martinsdale Reservoir — The road is a muddy mess and some rotten ice remains. Bair and Sutherlin both have rotten ice with a little bit of shore exposed. The Musselshell River is in good shape and looks fishable. — Ray’s Sport and Western Wear, Harlowton.

Missouri River, below Holter — The river was at 6,500 cfs on Monday and the water temp was 38 degrees. It is fishing, but not off the hook. Nymphing and streamer fishing is the best. If the wind isn’t blowing there are some dry fly opportunities. The Little Prickly Pear and the Dearborn, both tributaries, are dirty. Mountain Palace and Pelican Point boat ramps are still closed. Some of the lake water is starting to open up, and people are catching fish at York Bridge on Hauser Reservoir and Gates of the Mountains at Holter. Try egg patterns, pink nymphs and balanced leeches. — Montana Fly Goods, Helena.

Missouri River, Fred Robinson Bridge — Fishing is slow. The river has a lot of ice around the edges, and it is off-color. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Nelson Reservoir — The ice was 80 feet from shore as of Monday and should probably be blown off by the weekend. On the Milk River anglers are catching walleye, northerns and catfish from shore sinking a worm or minnow. — Westside Sports, Malta.

Spring Creek — The water is off-color. Those wanting to fish would have to use a spinner. — Sport Center, Lewistown.

Stillwater River — With rain, snow and temperature fluctuations this week look for a bump in flows and some off-color water. If the lower river is a little off-color consider wade fishing the upper river or fish some of the tributaries. The water temperature is still cold, but as the day warms up and sun hits the water fishing should pick up. Look for midges to be coming off as well as BWOs. March Browns shouldn’t be too far off from hatching, so fishing basic mayfly nymphs like Pheasant Tails, Hare’s Ear, and Copper Johns is a good option. The streamer bite has been pretty fair fishing the Grinch or black Buggers. If nymphing the off-color water try black, brown and coffee colored rubber leg patterns like Girdle Bugs and Pat’s Rubber Legs, as well as similar colored stonefly patterns along with a beadhead trailer fly like a Prince Nymph, Hare’s Ear, Batman or Pheasant Tail. For dry fly action try a smaller size Purple Haze, Parachute Adams or a Griffith’s Gnat. A larger size Purple Haze or Parachute Adams with a Zebra Midge or Pheasant Tail on a short dropper is a good tactic too. Spawning rainbows are starting to make their way upriver. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Yellowstone River, Columbus — Flows are running off-color due to the recent weather events. Look for Midges and BWOs to be hatching once the day starts to warm up and the sun hits the water. March Browns should be appearing soon, as well. Watch foam lines for sipping fish. Nymphing with black, brown and coffee colored rubber leg patterns like Girdle Bugs and Pat’s Rubber Legs, as well as similar colored stonefly patterns should produce, particularly in cloudy water. Black and darker color streamer patterns like the Grinch or a black Bugger are a good option, as well. For dry fly action to rising fish try a smaller size Purple Haze, Parachute Adams, or Griffith’s Gnat. — Stillwater Anglers, Columbus.

Yellowstone River, Huntley — East of Waco anglers are catching some catfish using minnows or sucker meat. — 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 two sections we know for sure are floatable are from Brogans to Joe Brown or from Pine to Carters. The flows are still low. Some color is now in the river, which means food is also 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 feisty. Once there is a surge of water they will sense it's time to begin moving to spawning grounds. The Shields River is dumping dirty water into the Yellowstone and the bridge across Convict Grade Road washed away. — Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman.

Yellowstone River, Miles City — The river has dropped and isn’t as dirty as last week. If conditions continue to improve anglers might be able to catch some walleye. Anglers continue to reel in catfish presenting worms or minnows if available. — Red Rock Sporting Goods, Miles City.


Bighorn River, Thermopolis — The flow was 1,000 cfs on Monday and the water was crystal clear. The river is fishing well. San Juan Worms with droppers are working. Try a little midge as a dropper. Streamers will also work. — White Horse Country Store & Canyon Sporting Goods, Thermopolis.

Boysen Reservoir — The ice was on its way out on Monday. Below the dam on the river fishing has been slow for walleye. On the river a few big trout are being caught. Upper and Lower Sunshine Reservoirs are still covered in rotten ice. — White Horse Country Store & Canyon Sporting Goods, Thermopolis.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir — It is starting to open up. Ice fishing is no longer an option. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Clarks Fork — The flow is at 318 cfs and the water is clear, but fishing pressure has been light. Anglers can only use artificial flies and lures on the lower river coming out of the canyon. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Cody-area lakes — East Newton Lake is completely open. Small chironomids under an indicator are working well. West Newton, Luce and Hogan aren’t open yet. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.

Lake DeSmet — The ice is starting to recede from the shoreline. The remaining ice is not safe to fish on. — The Lake Stop, Buffalo.  

Lower Shoshone — The flows were 1,386 cfs as of Monday and visibility isn’t very good. Because of the high flows there is a lot of moss in the water. Anglers can still catch fish, but will be cleaning their flies. — 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 fairly well on basic smaller nymphs. — North Fork Anglers, Cody.


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Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at john.letasky@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL