Gallatin River Fly Fishing

A man fly fishes in a patch of sun on the Gallatin River on March 11 in Gallatin Canyon near Big Sky.

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Southwestern Montana felt winter’s love last month, with plenty of snow falling and boosting the region’s snowpack levels ahead of spring.

Snow-water equivalent levels were above normal in the Madison, Gallatin and upper Yellowstone river basins on April 1, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Water Supply Outlook Report. Each basin received at least 115% of its normal precipitation for the month of March.

Lucas Zukiewicz, a water supply specialist for NRCS, said favorable weather patterns produced decent snowfall in this part of the state in the middle of March and again at the end of the month.

That’s made for rosy summer streamflow predictions across the region, a good sign for river users and irrigators. But that doesn’t mean the state couldn’t use more snow.

Zukiewicz said the region’s river basins normally peak later in April, and that adding more moisture will be helpful in making sure the water supply lasts long into the summer.

“We’re not done with winter yet,” Zukiewicz said.

Snowfall was much higher in the basins on the east side of the Continental Divide in March, with southwestern and south central Montana getting the biggest boost. The river basins west of the divide didn’t receive quite the same boost, but most of the basins are still close to normal.

Snowpack in the Gallatin River basin was at 115% of normal for April 1, according to the report. Streamflow forecasts for the Gallatin this summer are optimistic. Inflows to Hyalite Reservoir are expected to be well above normal, a reflection of the Hyalite area’s high snowpack — 128% of normal.

The upper Yellowstone had 119% of its normal snowpack on April 1. The southern part of the basin — the Yellowstone above Livingston and the streams coming out of the Absaroka and Beartooth ranges — fared slightly better than the northern part.

Sub-basins beginning in the Absaroka and Beartooth ranges — like the Boulder and Stillwater rivers — had snowpack levels above 115% of normal. Meanwhile, The Shields River, which begins in the the Crazy Mountains, had 108% of its normal snowpack.

The Madison River drainage was at 106% of its normal snowpack for April 1.

Zukiewicz said those numbers set the region up well for the coming months, when low elevation snow will begin to melt. He added that it also protects the basins somewhat if the weather completely dries up.

“It gives us a little bit of insulation should the transition of spring into summer end up being dry,” he said.

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Michael Wright can be reached at or at 582-2638.

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