There’s a reason springtime in Montana is considered among many veteran guides to be the best season to come tight to a trout on a fly rod. Heightened energy demands for spring spawning drives rainbows to eat hard. Magnum kype-jawed browns start peeking out from cutbanks looking for sculpins and chunky stonefly nymphs. And when the stars align, the trifecta is complete when the sun comes out and the wind dies down to make for some truly magical Montana fishing.
Sandhill Cranes were spotted this week, arriving back from their winter vacation in friendlier climes. Redwing Blackbirds are now chirping from the willows. And, adult aquatic insects like Midges, BWOs, and Skwala Stoneflies are dancing on the riffles of the Madison for those hardy anglers willing to wet a line early enough in the day. Spring is definitely in the air, and apparently the water too...
As I write this, it’s early in the morning and already 50 degrees, sunny, and wait for it…….calm winds. After a long cold winter, we’re soaking up any and all available sun rays right now, especially after the gray, soggy weather this past week. But it's fishing season, and we're all systems go now!
Everyday, more and more boat launches are seeing drift boats and rusty trailering skills on display along the Upper Madison. Red winged black birds have been spotted already and the fishing is picking up substantially, as the water temps have finally stopped bottoming out. The fish have seemed to key in on that and really started pounding those all important Skwala nymphs that are becoming more prevalent with each passing week.
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.
It's been an incredibly spring-like February so far. We've seen the mid-50's a few times this week and the ice gorge is quickly breaking up between Varney and Ennis Lake. The water just looked too sexy this week to ignore any longer and we just had to float it. But with 8 Mile, Burnt Tree, and Ennis ramps still locked in ice, drift boats were out of the question.
The recent warm spell has a lot of anglers scrounging around their garages and closets searching for rod tubes and tippet. It's also led to an increase in phone calls to the shop requesting up to date information on which boat ramps are useable on the Madison right now. And in a winter where we've had a significant ice gorge along with plenty of snow and wind, it's a wise man who stops to consider these conditions before departing for the river. Legally speaking, they are all "open" however Mother Nature has rendered several of them unusable right now. Here’s an update on the Upper Madison:
It’s all downhill from here folks. Although December 21st marked the beginning of winter with the Solstice, today officially marks the middle of winter. So, we thought this would be a good time to provide you with some interesting notes about how our January winter conditions compare to long term averages (thanks to our good friend Tom DiMeola), and the phenomenon that occurs on the Madison, locally known as “the gorge.”
Montana winters can be long and hard, but they are much more tolerable if you have a plane ticket or two to the tropics. This year my family decided to break with tradition and forego a white Christmas for a trip to a fishing lodge in Belize! It had been almost 30 years since my last trip to Ambergris Caye and had yet to visit the stalwart Belizean lodge: El Pescador.
I’ve heard and read for years that El Pescador is a good family destination and wanted to see for myself. When I asked my daughters Elina (13) and Noni (11) back in September if they wanted to skip the Christmas tree and all the gifts this year in favor of this trip, they leapt at the idea with great enthusiasm. ‘Nuf said!!
There is no doubt that S.W. Montana has been firmly in the grip of Old Man Winter for the past month or more, and many of us have taken a little hiatus from our fly fishing lifestyles. Temperatures have been well below zero many days, and the Madison River near Ennis has been locked up in the gorge for about 3 weeks now. The high-country snowpack is looking good, but it’s much too early to declare victory on that front.