Green up is a really special time on the Madison. In a valley that receives only 12-14 inches of rainfall annually, and most of that coming in March and April, any moisture is good moisture to help sustain our rivers through the dry summer months. And it brings a beautiful green blanket to the valley. We’ve been very fortunate this winter and spring in that regard.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Snotel sites in the Madison Basin indicate that snowpack levels are at 119 percent of median and the precipitation to date for the month of April is 154 percent of average. The high-elevation sites above Hebgen Lake have continued to build snow, while the lower-elevation sites have declined.
An update from Northwestern Energy told us that the current reservoir elevation at Hebgen is 6,528.22 feet, which is 6.65 feet below full pool. Inflows for the month of April have averaged 113 percent of average. Outflow has increased to the level of 1,410 cubic feet per second due to the high-elevation snowpack and the continual above-average precipitation. The Climate Prediction Centers indicates an above-average probability for moisture through May. Thus, the above-normal snowpack and April precipitation will likely push the start of work on the outlet pipe to late May or early June.
The fishing right now, honestly, is hit or miss. I think it has a lot to do with the ping pong-like weather system pressure we’ve been seeing. One day it’s sunny and the next it pukes snow.
I had back-to-back days of fishing this week. The first was incredible, on white streamers. The next day was much tougher. But, I’m still a major proponent of the size 4 Sculpzilla as an all-pro streamer. Sinks super fast, lively articulated action, and an awfully sticky stinger hook. White, Olive, and Black are my staples.
Nymphing has been a tad more reliable, and with the increased flows we’ve seen, split shot has become more useful for wading anglers. The usual suspects like worm patterns and girdle bugs are still staples. I’ve also starting picking up fish on the Rainbow Czech Nymph, beadhead Prince Nymphs, Psycho Prince Nymphs, and dead drifting white and copper Zonkers. If you’re a wading angler, I think it’s important to add a split shot to your rig before changing flies. Sometimes it’s just a matter of slowing your rig down enough to get into the zone. No need for 4X tippet right now on nymph rigs. Two and 3X is much more appropriate in these swifter flows.
Plenty of dry flies around now. Midges, Baetis, and Caddis too! Just last evening I had a pretty nice time with my daughter tossing single size 12 royal Chubbies to eager fish in slower water. An hour or so in the afternoon with a single dry, either a small chubby or an Elk Hair Caddis for the rest of the summer, is just a therapeutic experience. Those size 10 and 12 chubbies soaked in a little FlyAgra will stay on top all day, easy to see, and a pretty fishy Caddis look-a-like. A 7 ½ 3X leader right to the chubby. Maybe a little tippet if I’m not in a hurry. I’ve noticed that letting the Chubby swing at the bottom of my drifts has become effective.
Keep an eye out for calm weather on the Madison, stock up on Elk Hair Caddis and smaller Chubbies, and pack a rain jacket. Great dry fly action is approaching rapidly. Be ready!