On Monday, June 13th the Yellowstone River breached its banks to unprecedented levels. In April, we received an unusual amount of snow. Precipitation isn't unheard of in SW Montana in April, but with less than a great snowpack, we were happy to see the snow and rain to boost our lacking snowpack. We went from a miserable 70% of average to over 100%.
All of us in the fishing industry were giddy that after Covid, wildfires, and a super hot summer last year with fishing restrictions on all Montana waters, we were in the clear. Well, be careful what you wish for. With unprecedented rainfall this early summer on new snow, this Monday we witnessed unprecedented flooding in SW Montana.
I am originally from Nevada, and moved to Montana in 1992. I started my guiding career in 1994 and still going strong. In 1996 and '97 we had back to back 100 year floods on the Yellowstone. In 1997, the river peaked at about 32k cubic feet per second (CFS), causing major flooding. Livingston spring creeks flooded with plenty of destruction. What happened on Monday reached over 61k CFS. I have been guiding on the Missouri River the past few weeks. Monday evening, myself and the entire guiding community were huddled around our internet service at the Trout Shop watching the destruction. Many of the guides were from Livingston and were on the phone to loved ones making sure their houses were going to be all right. This took us all by surprise. We were expecting a longer than normal runoff, with plenty of water for the summer. What happened caught everyone off guard. Mother nature is a wicked person, with no regard for anyone.
The waters have receded, roads were washed away, and houses have been lost. Where do we go from here? We move on, the best we can. We have to think about the communities that have been effected, the people who have lost everything, The communities that thrive on tourism that is non-existent, and won't be for many, many, months, if not at least a year. The Yellowstone isn't the only area effected. This flooding has affected Red Lodge and many other communities on the Yellowstone corridor. If you would like to help, here is the link for donations to the effort if you are interested.
I am confident that the Yellowstone will thrive again. It may take weeks to understand the damage this flood has caused. We are witnessing a significant change in the mighty Yellowstone River and you can be rest assured as the Yellowstone cuts new channels into the river banks, we’ll find those resilient trout will return to their new habitat. What is unknown is where can we access the river? Will boat launches be stable? Will debris make the river unfishable in areas? Can we access the river at usual areas? We will need some time to asses the river, when it returns to normal levels, and then many of these questions can be answered. We will continue to closely monitor the Yellowstone River, and when it is safe to fish, we will be back on it. Until then, we will continue to guide on the Madison, Gallatin, Beaverhead, Missouri and Big Hole Rivers.