Fall is finally here in Montana. The weather is variable, but if you can handle all 4 seasons in an hour, the fishing is worth every moment. Waders are back in season, along with gloves, rain jackets, and maybe a down layer underneath that. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. As the spawning season for browns picks up, so does the fishing.
Late summer in the Madison Valley. Things here are about what you’d expect, maybe a little stranger than usual but then again nothing’s really all that surprising any more. Fishing is stranger than truth! It’s been hot and dry for weeks/months now. There have been threats here and there of some afternoon thunderstorms…none have materialized.
If there are any doubts about whether or not summer arrived when the solstice rolled around recently, they should take a look at my cherry red knee caps right now from sitting in a boat. It’s hot, dry, and summer flows are here. That holds significance for many things fishing related, but none more plainly obvious than this: put away that damn bobber for a minute!
With the weather in seemingly a constant state of flux, the flows and clarity on the upper Madison have been kind of all over the map in recent weeks. That being said, when the river has had a chance to level off for a few days we are seeing marked improvement in clarity and the fish are hungry. Cold weather and north winds the past few days have led to one of these stabilizing trends changing the color of the water back to greenish and the fish have responded with ferocity. Higher flows push more and different types of food into the river which gives both the trout and the angler lots of optionsto try ranging from high water classics like San Juan and squirmy worms, to big dark sculpin patterns or salmon fly nymphs with a smattering of caddis and mayfly nymphs in between.
The past week gave a preview of runoff, only to be chased off quickly by chilly nights and strong North winds. Varney flows briefly touched 1,900 CFS in the early hours of Monday morning and have precipitously dropped since then. Initially fishing was tough during the rising tide and muddy waters as both fish and anglers were quickly removed from their comfort zones. But, what goes up must come down, and the fishing has steadily been improving with the flows tapering off. Water clarity is a nice juicy green color right now, and around 1,370 CFS. Those are some saucy conditions for the Madison.
As fly anglers we are not generally disposed to do things the easy way. Our sport isn’t generally about efficiency. Part of the draw is in the difficulty of the doing rather than the attainment of the goal (such as it may be). Whether we choose the presentation of dry flies as the epitome of our art, dragging streamers for the drug of the tug or drifting bead heads under bobbers we tend to choose our preferred technique based on personal preference rather than efficacy. At least more so than other forms of angling. If all we wanted was to catch fish a worm would do nicely.
If you are in Montana right now there’s probably a good chance you’ve contracted an illness, a fever actually, and it’s called Spring Fever! It’s a serious conditions for everyone involved. People are skiing, mountain biking, hiking and sunbathing. But for us at Trout Stalkers it is all about spring fishing! With temps in the high 60’s and low 70’s this weekend the fever is pretty much an epidemic at this point, and rightfully so.
Fishing on the Upper Madison has been nothing short of spectacular ever since the first warmup in early February. With steady flows of about 950 CFS, the river is in good shape for both wading and floating. Although there has been some intermittent winter weather that’s kept us off the water, we have been out doing a lot of “research” and a lot of guiding in the past 2 months. And we've found the action to be very consistent. Lots of healthy Bows and Browns.
The only fly fishermen that don’t love flats fishing are those who haven’t tried it yet. It is one of the greatest things in the sporting world, and just what the Dr. ordered on the heels of another Montana winter!
In recent years most of my friends have been taking salt trips to Mexico, Belize, Bahamas and now Cuba. I am fortunate to have traveled extensively in all of these places many times (except Cuba) and they are all wonderful destinations for flats fishing that offer plenty of angling opportunity in addition to a cross-cultural experience.
But don’t forget your Keys!