Touring through the West Gate has provided for some interesting wild life viewing thus far.  Wolf packs have been seen on multiple occasions and the bobcat is out cruising the Madison River as well.  It seems as if the trumpeter swan numbers are up, but maybe some of the their other water sources are frozen over, pushing more of them into the thermally charged rivers of Yellowstone National Park.

Yesterday morning there was a fresh elk kill near 7 Mile bridge, but not a wolf was seen at the time we came in and out.  There were plenty of ravens and other scavengers around, but the wolves must have been off in the trees, hiding out and waiting for darkness to return.  About 90% of the time, wolves don’t get what they’re after.  Winter gives them a huge advantage as they almost walk across the snow without punching through too deep, where as elk punch all the way down due to their small hooves and larger weight.  The elk near 7 mile Bridge was most likely running for the Madison, but ended up being about 40 yards short.  Elk use the river as a safe haven and will stand chest deep in the river for as long as possible to fend off a wolf attack.

This big bull bison(below) has been hanging around Biscuit Basin with a few others for the past several weeks.   As winter progresses, these large mammals love the warmth provided by the geyser basins.   Geysers, hot springs and fumaroles along the Firehole River act like radiant heat in a house, warming the ground, and helps to keep the snow at bay allowing an easier time foraging for grass.

Back and Forth

Double. Lisa & Jerry on the Missouri.

I arrived home from the Missouri yesterday afternoon to excited dogs and a plethera of mosquitoes.  The warm temps have cranked up the biting flies and rivers have risen slightly as well.  The Missouri is stable at 21,800 out of Holter Dam.  Some folks think it will get even bigger.  HUGE is about the only word for it.  Notice the willows sticking out to the left of Jerry’s trout in the photo above.  That willow is normally about 8 feets tall.  The island it lives on is completely under water……but the trout don’t care.  On my last two days of guiding, we fished 10 ft and change to the split shot.  While casting this rig was difficult, it worked rather well.  The afternoon bite went to shit about 3 pm as the sunshine was pounding down on us.  We could have lengthened the leader and added one more BB split shot – to the 3 already on the rig- but that would have been extremely tough to cast let alone land a fish on.  The Missouri is fishing well – in spots – and not that well on the run.    Hooking fish with this rig is difficult to say the least.  “Was that bottom or did a fish eat my fly?” was a common question the past week on the Missouri.  My answer – ” hit’em all and hit’em hard…..strip line….get it tight….let’em run.”   At the Dam, I was fishing double sow bugs – 1 pink and 1 grey and doing pretty darn well.  Otherwise the worm and crayfish patterns were king throughout the entire river.  

Flooded....Craig Campground.

There are three closures on the Missouri as of yesterday.  Camping in Craig is now closed until the water recedes.  Prewett Creek Boat Ramp and Campground are closed as is Spite Hill Boat Ramp.   The river is dangerous in some sections and experience behind the oars is a necessity if venturing through Lone Pine Rapids – formally known as Half Breed Rapids.    Stay right above the Hwy Bridge and take the first right channel below Sheep Creek……a much safer bet.  The roller below the zig-zag is pretty big too, but not that scary.  Be careful, the Missouri at these flows is very powerful.

Windy Point Boat Ramp.

Upon crossing the river in Ennis, I witnessed the Madison completely blown out.  At Windy Point, river right is still fishable.  Guides are getting their boats under Shelton’s Bridge, but one needs to be very careful when doing this.  The wade stretch is greening up, but still off color.  Can you catch fish down there?  Of course, but it will be in just a few spots where the water is slow enough to hold a fish.  The West Fork is pumping mud and might be for awhile.  Cabin and Beaver Creeks are muddy and this recent warm weather has them ragging.  Quake Lake is going to get a little dirtier before it greens up and we all hope this happens in the next week.  There are a few big bugs below Beartrap Canyon, but the river down there is also flowing rather big.  Your guess is as good as mine for salmonflies above Ennis lake. We are alteast 10 days from seeing salmonflies above Ennis.  If they come off before, it will be in the mud.  Cross your fingers and your toes for big bugs and a green Madison……it could happen. 

Catching up with the boys. HCR Style.

West Yellowstone is busy with tourists and YNP visitors.  Lots of strollers and poor driving skills……..but it feels good to be back home as this season has me on the road more than usual.  Back to the Mo I go, in early July and then again in mid July. 

More water than…..

…..you can shake a fish at.   This is an epic, all world year for snow and rain.  A friend of ours is skiing on Beartooth Pass today and she says there is atleast 16 feet of snow up there.   On and off rain today, but the sun is shining and the wind is cranking up as well.  More rain and cooler overnight temps are in the forecast for the next week. 

Will the Madison be clear during the first week of July, you ask?  Well……..shit, who knows at this point.  All we need is some clarity – a little green in the river – and she will fish just fine. 

Be prepared for a higher than normal Madison River for next several weeks – well into July, the river be running higher than normal.  Clarity will lead to consistent fishing.  Long floats will be the ticket as slowing the boat down will be next to impossible.  Getting under the bridges will be tight and most of the traffic will be above Lyons or below Palisades….depending on just about every variable known to man.  The West Fork of the Madison and Indian Creek are going to either make us or break us as far as float fishing is concerned.  Several years ago in early July, maybe 5 years ago, I remember fishing below McAtee Bridge for what seemed like an eternity.  We would float from Story Ditch to Ennis everyday, as the West Fork was blowing mud.  Once the river flowed for a while, the mud from the West Fork would fall out and the river was very sexy down to Ennis.  The most flies we lost in one day was 40……all stoneflies nymphs. 40 flies is a crazy amount of flies to loose in one day.  Flyshops love it….guides hate it. 

Be prepared to nymph when you come out in early July.  There could be some dry fly activity with caddis and stoneflies, but when that starts is anyones guess right now.  

Currently, the Madison below Quake has about 6-8 inches of visibility.  The fishing is day to day, but there have been some great opportunties for those who believe in the mud.  YES, you can catch fish in the muddy water.  Really, no bullshit, believe in it.  Fish the soft water and set the hook on everything.  I hooked what I though was a log about 4 days ago and when pointing the rod at the log to breakoff my flies, out jumped a huge 20 inch Brown Trout.  Upon landing it, with 8 lb Maxima, I noticed how nice of a trout it was with not one hook scar or line mark on it.  Go fishing and quit whining about the muddy water.

TIm W. fishes Salmonflies in the Firehole Canyon.

It’s still wet….and getting wetter

Grey Willis with a Hebgen Lake Rainbow.

It might take a few years to dry out from all the rain which keeps falling.  I saw Noah’s Ark yesterday on the Firehole.  There were moose, bears, wolves, bison, deer and elk hanging out on the bow.  I think they were drinking Budweiser cans out of an ice cold Yeti Cooler which they probably stole from Headhunter’s front porch.  The rain is coming down right now as hard as it can, pounding the roof of the cabin as lightning erupts in the sky.

 I spent the past two days on the Firehole River looking for Salmonflies and swinging soft hackles with Tim & Grey Willis from Texas.  Spending most of the time with Grey made me think about growing up and all my experiences fishing with my own father.  Do your kid a favor – take him or her fishing.  It doesn’t have to be fly fishing, the point is to kids outside and experience the out of doors.