Friday, June 24, 2011

Peak Flows

The Gallatin River at 7,000 cfs on June 24, 2011
It's June 24th, and most of Montana's freestone rivers are still far from fishable. In fact many rivers recorded their highest flows of the year last night!

This is a year with the potential to set records, both in terms of maximum discharge and late dates for peak flow.

A couple of untamed rivers in southwest Montana are perfect examples: the Yellowstone and the Gallatin. The Yellowstone near Livingston went over 30,000 cfs last night and is still climbing. The river hasn't recorded flows that high since 1997 when it measured 38,000 cfs on June 6th - a peak flow nearly three weeks earlier than what the river is experiencing this year... assuming today's flows are the peak. The Gallatin River near Gateway touched 7,000 cfs last night, it hasn't seen those levels since - you guessed it - 1997 when it hit 9,160 cfs on June 2nd. Those high flow events in 1997 were the highest measured discharge (at said location) on record for each river.

Only once in over 100 years of recorded data has the Gallatin River peaked as late as July - an event that occurred on July 4, 1975. Similarly the Yellowstone River's latest recorded date for peak flow came on July 6, 1975. The calendar is creeping toward those dates and considering the abundant snowpack remaining at high elevations, some of Montana's rivers could come awfully close to setting 100 year records for the latest date of peak flow.

This late runoff is a frustrating prospect for anglers, but with the bigger picture in mind these extended flushing flows are great for the fisheries. For those who just have to fish, most of the tailwater rivers (ie: Bighorn, Missouri, Beaverhead, etc.) are fishing pretty well. The Big Hole is dropping and clearing just in time for the salmon fly hatch. Countless headwater streams are an option, as are numerous spring creeks and a myriad of mid- to high-elevation lakes.


  1. Tell me that's not where the broccoli tree used to be! I'm devastated.

  2. That's the spot... that's the tree laying in the river right there. It's going to be a different river once all is said and done (which might be August at this point). The gauge at Gateway recorded approximately 8,500cfs last night! That's the 3rd highest measurement on record, ever. Crazy.