After enjoying nearly two weeks of balmy spring like weather, we got a mild reminder that it is, in fact, still technically winter here in SW Montana. But the damage to the ice gorge between Varney and town is already done. More and more water is opening up, though still somewhat challenging to access. Heavy and massive ice sheets still blanket the river valley so use extreme caution when walking over or around it to reach the water. A big chunk collapsed under me near 8 mile and although I escaped with only minor scrapes to my hands when falling, it was a scary reminder to be very careful where you step.
With each passing day more and more anglers are venturing to the Upper Madison to wade and float. The water looks amazing and has been fishing very well. Anglers familiar with the Upper Madison, specifically between Varney and Burnt Tree will notice quite a few changes to the river channel and structure along the banks. It's amazing the impact and importance that the ice gorge has to fish habitat along this reach.
I had a bump in streamer chases this week while fishing, so don’t be afraid to dust off your box of bunny fur soon. Black and olive Sculpzilla’s in size 4 brought a few fish to hand, with really slow retrieves downstream near undercut banks. Although we’re still weeks away from any additional major hatches, fish are still looking up for midges in calm water. Many of the side channels of the upper reaches of the Madison offer great winter dry fly fishing, particularly between Lyons and Three Dollar Bridge. Still the most readily available food source around this time of year, fish seem frantic to chow down midges when conditions are right. But one needs to have the right arsenal of dries to not get stood up. High-Viz Griffith’s Gnats, Crystal Midges, Parachute Midges, and you’re plain ‘ole standard Black Adams are worthwhile investments this time of year. Soon enough, we should start to see midge hatches getting a little larger and watching them form in clusters like teenage girls at a high school prom. When this happens, larger Griffith's Gnat patterns are great immitations for clusters, whereas smaller patterns like the Black Adams or Black Midge are better suited for sporadic hatches.
For those who are just too addicted to watching that bobber (I know the feeling), if you can’t get some action out of a Girdle bug or worm trailing a Zebra Midge, Black Beauty, or Brassie, it might be time to pull a u-turn at Pine Butte and head back to our neighbors at the G Bar to nurse your wounds and think about spring.
It’s almost here, right? We’re only weeks away from our first stonefly hatch of the season, with Skwala stoneflies on the horizon. Thought they're not exactly a species of stonefly that you target for rising fish much, it’s extremely satisfying to wave around your favorite stonefly dry pattern in late March/early April after a long winter of struggling to tie an improved clinch knot with frozen digits to a size 18 zebra midge, only to realize all of your guides are iced as well. The baetis will be here soon too, so keep your heads up boys and girls. The season will be here before you know it.
Don’t forget, March 1 is the first day of the new license year, so make sure to shake out some change from your piggy banks and pay the man.