I recently read that January was one of the coldest on record since 1949 in Fremont County. Parts of the Henrys Fork iced up. Fall River, a freestone stream, looked like an Alaskan glacier. My only urge to fish was to get out of here and go somewhere warm. Unfortunately it didn’t happen. Now that the weather has moderated it’s time to start fishing our local waters.
Upper Henry’s Fork
Access is tough but the fishing is good above Mack’s Inn. If you have a snow machine you can get to some great water. Cross country skis or snowshoes are another option if you’re in shape and adventurous. There are some big trout in this part of the river. You can expect to find trout feeding on midges, especially if it’s cloudy. You can also rig an indicator with a double nymph rig with Prince, Pheasant Tail, and Zebra Nymphs the top choice. Streamers will also work. I favor buggers and leeches fished deep in the slow runs.
You’ll need to negotiate over 3 feet of snow to get to the river. We’ve had some great reports from several anglers who have snow shoed up from Last Chance. You can also get in at the dam. We’ve also heard from a few groups that have slid their boat in at the dam and pulled out at Last Chance. It’s tough but it can be done and fishing has been very productive. Best action has been with nymphs. Use black or brown Rubberlegs, Prince, Pheasant Tail, Olive or Red Zebra Nymphs.
The best access on the Upper Henry’s Fork is at Last Chance. Midge fishing has been good to great, depending upon the weather. You normally won’t find the largest trout feeding on midges. I like to use a Griffith’s Gnat as the top fly with a midge pupa dropper. Nymphs are also producing some nice fish. Remember, until recently this water was closed to fishing during the winter months. It’s great to have the Upper Henry’s Fork as an option during the winter months. Look for good fishing to continue through the remainder of the winter and into the spring.
Closed to fish until June 15.
Middle Henry’s Fork – Pinehaven to Warm River
Much of this water will not be accessible until the snow is gone unless you’re lucky enough to own a home in Pinehaven or have a good friend who does.
Warm River to Ashton
There is good walk/wade access below Warm River along the river road but parking is limited as a result of plowed snow. Walk/wade access is also very good upstream from the U. S. 20 highway bridge along the Fisherman’s Drive road for several miles. As of this date the boating access is non-existent unless you have a one person pontoon boat that you can drag over the snow. There are steep ice banks along most of the river as a result of ice that was jammed up above the Ashton Reservoir. Fishing has been productive with nymphs and streamers. Look for midge fishing to pick up over the next few weeks. We also expect the boating accesses to open up with milder weather.
Lower Henry’s Fork – Ashton Dam to St. Anthony
The river is closed to fishing from the Ashton Dam to Vernon Bridge from December 1 until the Saturday prior to Memorial Day. (May 25) The reason for this closure is to protect spawning Rainbow Trout. We’re very happy to report that the work to rebuild the Ashton Dam was completed and the river is back to normal. It will be great to have clean water again after two years of dealing with turbid, off-color water.
The Henry’s Fork has been fishing very well with nymphs from the Vernon Bridge to St. Anthony. Up to now the best water has been near the Vernon Bridge because ice had been hampering the options further down. With milder weather the river is opening up at the Fun Farm and below. Midges are producing some good dry fly fishing for small to medium sized trout as well as whitefish. If you’re in search of larger fish you’ll likely need to get deep with nymphs or streamers.
Boating access is limited if not impossible. You could get a drift boat in at the Vernon Bridge access but snow and ice still block the boating access at the Chester Dam. It is possible to drive all the way to the Chester Dam access for walk/wade access. The road is narrow offering limited parking opportunities. Walk/wade access is also available at the Vernon Bridge and the Henry’s Fork Ranch near Seeley’s. There is also good walk/wade access from the West River Road upstream from the Fun Farm to the Chester Wetlands headquarters.
Lower Henry’s Fork – St. Anthony to Confluence
The water is high for this time of year so wading is difficult. Access can also be a little tough as it normally is on this part of the river. I haven’t talked to anybody who has floated this section recently but floating is the best way to get good access to most of this water. Zebra, Prince, and Pheasant Tail Nymphs have been productive as well as large black or brown Rubberlegs. Browns make up the highest percentage of the trout population in this water. Streamers are a good choice to try to connect with a big brown.
Henry’s Fork Tributaries
Henry’s Lake Outlet, Warm River and Fall River are now open year round. However, they are only open to catch-and-release fishing from December 1 through the Friday prior to Memorial Day. We like these regulations because the tributaries can produce great fishing during winter and early spring. Lower Fall River is still jammed with ice. There is some limited fishing upstream near the Highway 32 Bridge but we would recommend waiting a few weeks until the ice clears to fish Fall River.
There is good access to lower Warm River near the campground. There is a snow machine parking area near the campground. Warm River is a good option with nymphs and streamers. There are a few small hold over hatchery fish from the previous year and also some larger wild rainbows and browns up from the Henry’s Fork. Most of these larger trout move back downstream when the summer season arrives or end up in the cooler of a bait fisherman.
The stretch from Hebgen Dam to Quake Lake is open on a year round basis. Fishing has been good with nymphs and streamers. Look for improvement with milder weather. This section between the lakes can be very good in March and April.
We've also had some great reports below Quake Lake downstream to Mac Atee Bridge. The road into the 3 dollar bridge area is only open to snow mobiles. You'll need to park out on the highway and walk in for about a half mile but it can be worth it. The best fishing has been with nymphs. Other options include Lyons Bridge, Reynolds Pass and Slide Inn. This section of the Madison will be closed to fishing at the end of February and will not open again to fishing until the third Saturday in May.
Remember, you’ll need a Montana fishing license to fish the Madison
All of the lakes are frozen. Henry’s Lake is now closed to all fishing until the Saturday prior to Memorial Day. Island Park Reservoir and Hebgen Lake are open year round and are popular for ice fishing. I don’t know much about ice fishing since I’ve never done it and have no intention of trying.
South Fork of the Snake
Palisades Reservoir is only 32% of capacity and the outflow is less than 1000 cfs turning the South Fork from a large tailwater to a manageable stream to wade. Some of the boating accesses are open but you don’t need a boat with such low water. In fact, boating can be difficult. There is good walk/wade access below Palisades Dam to Swan Valley and on the Lower South Fork below Heise. The river road upstream from Kelly Canyon is closed for wintering wildlife.
Nymph fishing has been productive with Zebra Nymphs and Beadhead Pheasant Tails. Buggers and streamers have also been productive. The low water creates a lot of slicks and quiet runs that are perfect for midge fishing. We expect the fishing on the South Fork to improve over the coming weeks.
Yellowstone National Park
Closed to fishing. Will open on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.