The Madison has been fishing quite well this winter. Some days have been better than others, but hey, that’s fishing. Yesterday, I fished the West Fork area, Lyons Bridge and Reynolds Pass. I had to work a little bit, but caught plenty of fish on nymphs like the 3$ dip, prince nymph, rubber legs and the red worm. While I looked for heads, I didn’t see much at all. Midges were coming off in decent numbers, but the north wind and sunny conditions may have kept the fish down – at least where I was fishing. I did find a few nice brown trout in the shallow water sunning themselves, but I couldn’t get them to take a dry fly. With the lack of snow pack on the level in the Madison valley, getting around the river bottom is pretty easy. River left has more snow than river right, but once you get below the West Fork, both sides of the river are relatively free of snow. Today was nasty. I left Horse Butte with sunshine, broken clouds and hardly a breeze. Turning left at the Duck Creek Y the north wind had picked up and temp was dropping slightly. Rounding Quake Lake the wind was cranking up and I could see the wall of weather down in the Madison Valley. At Reynolds Pass it began. Blowing and drifting snow coupled with gusts that hit 30+ mph, made me sit in my rig and watch. Annoyed by this at first, I quickly felt a relief set in as this moisture was exactly what the river was in need of. Across the parking area I observed four 20 somethings rigging up bobbers and nymphs in this insane weather. I fondly remember being this way too but took comfort in knowing that it’s okay to sit and watch one’s surroundings and enjoy just that. It’s why I live thirty minutes from the Madison.
Coming into Hebgen Lake: about 800 cfs
Below Hebgen – 841 cfs…down quite a bit.
At Kirby Ranch – 882 cfs…down as well.
Below Holter Dam on the Missouri River – 4900 cfs
Hebgen Lake is 5 feet from full, full pond is the elevation 6534.5 feet.
Jefferson Drainage – 101%
Madison Drainage – 83%
Gallatin Drainage – 107%
Missouri Mainstem – 107%
A word or two on what all this means for us….
The flows have dropped quite a bit in the past few days and anglers should expect this flow or less for the rest of the winter season on the Madison River. Flows were dropped down as the snow pack for the Hebgen Basin is not up to snuff. While the snow is not deep, there is a ton of moisture in what we have on the ground. This is not the time to fret, rather it’s time to go fishing and let Mother Nature take care of the weather – remember we have no control over the weather. What we do have control over is the lake level at Hebgen Lake. Not that “we” control this, that’s left up to the folks at NW Energy. I’ve been watching this like a hawk and talking with NW Energy’s biologist every few weeks. He too is watching this closely, thus the reason for the drop in flows a couple days ago. As of right now, the lake is almost a foot higher than a year ago today. The in flows to Hebgen Lake are 800 cfs and at some point, NW Energy may drop the flows down to match out flows with in flows. Hebgen Lake is normally (we all know how this can turn out) full by the end of June, so while the snow pack on the Madison, Gibbon and Firehole Rivers is low, there is a significant amount to time ahead of us for more moisture to fall. Generally speaking, the months of March, April, May and June are when we get the moisture. Now if you’re a downhill skier, then you probably aren’t too happy with this season, but my point is that there is plenty of time to fill Hebgen Lake. Both the Gallatin and Jefferson drainages are holding slightly above normal snow pack and I’ll take 100% at this point in the winter any year. The Missouri low lands are still holding quite a bit snow as well, which is always good news.
For three weeks now, the Madison River drainage has seen mild daytime temps and hardly any snowfall. The valley is void of snow and it seems more like April than February. With that in mind, I must say, Winter will return. The boat ramps in the Madison Valley are free and floating is an option in the upper river till she closes in a couple weeks. My new boat from RO Drift Boats is not quite laid up yet, but next week I plan on spending some time with Robert at the boat shop. Yes! I’m getting a new boat for the 2015 season….exciting stuff is happening on this front. More to come in the next few months.
Today I sat and watched a pair of golden eagles play on the thermal air around Palisades. Nothing says, sit back and watch, like two giant birds soaring hundreds of feet above you; cupping their wings, diving straight down and then pulling out, ascending back above the cliffs. At that point, who cares about the fishing, the trout. They will still be there in five minutes. It makes one realize how important these open spaces are to us all. Palisades is BLM ground – Federal land that belongs to each of us. Let’s keep it that way.
The Firehole has been alive with rising trout, some of which I watch prolonged and then realize that all but a few folks on my snow coach tour could care less about them. With the warmer than normal winter, I can’t help but fish on days away from Yellowstone National Park . Lots of anglers are drifting flies throughout the work week from Reynolds Pass down to Ennis and through the Beartrap Canyon. Go downstream for solitude, being alone on the Madison does wonders for each of us. Stella has become quite the fishing dog, sitting beside me to observe the scene no matter how deep the water I wade. She loves to sit in my wake and stall out on a boulder just large enough to get her chest above water.. Today she snapped up a large whitefish from the river as it was released. Her head went full on under the river and she was udderly proud of her catch, looking at me as the tail smacker her fury cheek.
While the snowpack is low, there is still plenty fo time for it stack up…keep up the snow dancing though, we need every inch. Stay tuned for more updates on snowpack and winter fishing reports. We are bound for Cody, Wyoming once again this Spring for a little golf and March/April angling. Cody is a little gem that is getting harder to keep under the hat.
Guiding for Yellowstone Alpen Guides during the winter months provides ample opportunities for photo graphs. While I am in no ways a professional, I thoroughly enjoy keeping my camera on hand everyday and taking advantage of my time in Yellowstone National Park’s Interior. If I could spend a little less money on fishing and hunting gear and little more money on higher quality lens’, I’d be in better shape for taking pictures. Each day that goes by allows me to see shots that I would like to take depending on where wildlife pops up in the right light or if the sunset or sunrise presents itself. I have a shot in mind, with a great subject of a bison skull, but just haven’t had the opportunity yet to sneak away from the coach and get it.
The Winter Season in YNP is half over and if the white stuff doesn’t start to fall here in headwaters of the Madison, the season could come to an early end in March. However, we do live in once of the snowiest places on earth and are bound to get some February snow fall. Is it time for a snow dance? We started out the day with a drizzle of snow and warmish temps, but it petered out and we got a skiff…just enough to cover the ice and make it slippery than the bottom of the Madison River in the Big Bend.
This week’s daytime highs for West Yellowstone are forecast to be in the 40s. Really, the 40s? If the air displacement doesn’t come up too much, the fishing in the Madison Valley should be really good. Down in the Valley, the river temps have been hovering around 36-39 degrees and slightly cooler in betwix the lakes. Hebgen Lake is 4.4 feet down at this point and the flows out of Hebgen Dam are higher than normal as well. Hopefully, someone with PPL over in Butte is watching this closely as we might just need all the water we can get to fill Hebgen on time, which as some of you know, can be a problem.
Madison River below Hebgen – 985 cfs
Madison River at Kirby – 1050 cfs
Madison – 84%…this would be like getting a “D” in fourth grade math. Sad really…pray for snow.
Jefferson – 103%…slightly above average
Gallatin – 107%…better than the Jefferson
Missouri Mainstem – 118%…great lowland slow pack for this time of the year. It will melt in a couple weeks as the weather continues to warm up come February.
The valley is void of snow. Not trout though, they are there. It’s been warm thus far in December and the rest of the week looks to be fabulous fishing weather. All this snow melting and general warmness has given me the itch to fish and with a world class trout stream like the Madison, just a short drive away, I figured it would be a good plan. The river was empty today, as it is so often this time of the year. Rigged with a single dry, I walked way down below Three Dollar and poked around for an hour or longer and found not a head – the hatch was light too. After fishing blind for a bit longer, I made the switch to a shallow nymph rig and caught fish till I felt that everything was right again.
If I didn’t have guide training for YNP beginning on Friday, I would pack up Stella and head to eastern Montana till the snow fell. Most of us are wondering when Winter will actually begin. The West Gate of the Park opens on the 15th, but we won’t be driving a bombardier in Yellowstone anytime soon. Recently, I’ve come to the realization that Cody would be a grand place for Molly and I to live, however, this would only be for the months of November and December…the bird hunter in me has come up with this plan, but at this point it’s just conceptual. I also want a second draht, an airstream that comes with big sacks of money and another shotgun. It’s not that Cody is a bird hunter’s paradise, it just happens to be a bit closer to bird hunting paradise.
I woke this morning in a haze of confusion, unaware of where my head had fallen the night before. Something had just bumped into my legs and was hovering over me. My eyes opened up to see the shaggy face of a dog, now inches from my nose. Moments later Stella wet the side of my face and put her down on my chest. It was then I realized …. I was in West Yellowstone, at home. Shooing away Stella at 5 am, I rolled over for a couple more hours and enjoyed some much needed rest.
The 2014 Guide Season is officially over. All that remains is the boat load of paperwork sitting in my office. Most of that isn’t due for two months, which makes plenty of time for getting outside and enjoying what’s left of Fall. To all those who came out to fish with us this year, we would like to extend a huge THANK YOU! Without folks like you, Greg, Earl and myself would not be able call Montana home. We appreciate the business and are already looking forward to 2015 – which just so happens to be our 10th year of providing top shelf fly fishing trips in Montana. Ten years…..let’s hope the next ten takes longer than the last ten.
The fire next to the kitchen table is keeping all of us, both hounds, a kitty and myself warm on this ultra wet chilly morning. Once again, we slept all night through the pouring rain and woke to the same soaking from above this AM. In a couple hours I will be packed up and ready for the four hour drive to Craig, the self proclaimed fly fishing capital of the world, (however we all know that West Yellowstone will forever hold this title) for my last push of guide trips of the 2014 season. The next month will find me living with Kuhnert and Courtney….tying flies at night, watching play off baseball mixed with some EPL and rowing a boat during the day. Twenty-two trips in total and I can only hope that cloudy weather and cool temps continue to be in the forecast through late October. Greg Falls has been working nearly everyday up north and providing me with weekly reports – they’ve had solid fishing and each day it get’s more Fall-like. The Missouri gives me a chill, it always has and it always will……
An old friend, exceptional fly tyier and fellow guide passed away a few days ago after a two year battle with cancer. Nick, you will be missed by us all….over ten years ago you showed me the $3 dip – that fly changed my outlook on flies and guiding. You were a ghost amongst the rest of us and I very rarely knew where you were fishing. When I did happen upon your rig, I always made a mental note but never went back there with clients. Thanks for being a friend to young guide trying to figure out the way down the river.
August and September were wet as wet as anyone can remember in recent history. The photo above was from early September and our first snow of the year on the level. That was a particularly windy day, out of the north, and I don’t think I ever made a back stroke on the oars all day long. The fish have stayed hungry through September, mostly eating nymphs and streamers, but there were several days of solid dry fly fishing. Small flies like $3 dip, Black Crystal Dip, the DOB, #12 Prince, Olive Serendipities, Pink SJW and #10 black rubber legs were my best flies down in the Madison valley over the past few weeks.
Big Trout are running up the Madison in YNP as I write this. The flows have been higher than normal and the daytime temps cooler as well. What that really translates to is more trout in the system for a longer period of time. October will provide some solid fishing opportunities around West Yellowstone and I look forward to seeing photos of big browns in the month to come. While I love guiding and fishing the Missouri River in October, I will miss swinging flies for the grab of a migratory brown who has been lurking in Hebgen Lake all summer long.
You will very rarely see me all tuxed out like this……my wife is stunning….me? Well, I just look good cause she is standing by my side.. See ya soon Molly! Can’t wait to fish with you on the Missouri.