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.
Yesterday we woke to 35 below zero, for the second day in a row. Yes, that’s cold, but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a reason that this area was the last place, in the Rockies, to be civilized. This type of weather keeps the riff raff from really wanting to live here and those who are hearty enough to stick around are usually worth their salt. Today, New Year’s, is a bit warmer with five below at high noon. Still though, it’s too cold outside to hunt birds on the last day or venture out for the first fish of the new year. With any luck, I’ll get out for a ski with my better half in YNP later in the day. For now, I’ll settle to watch the English Premier League and catch up on next summer’s bookings. The Hot Spurs have Chelsea on the ropes thus far with a 4-1 lead.
Norris Geyser Basin has become my favorite hot spot in Yellowstone. With hardly ever a soul around, complete with geysers, hot springs and super heated steam vents, Norris has it all. Rarely do I see anyone XC ski here, but the Back Basin is one of the best little known ski trips in YNP. The next time you come to Yellowstone National Park, skip out on Old Faithful and take some time to visit Norris Geyser Basin.
The Fishing Life: An Angler’s Tales of Wild Rivers and Other Restless Metaphors (2013) compiles Paul Schullery’s best stories fish, flies, water, and the people who love them all. Including articles originally published from the 1980s and later, he adds previously unpublished pieces. Schullery fishes his way from Pennsylvania to Mexico, Yellowstone to Alaska, with stops in the Adirondacks and Ohio. These essays explore conservation, favorite rivers, beloved and scorned varieties of fish, non-traditional fly patterns, and the passion behind fly-fishing.
Schullery is a soft-spoken legend, well-known for his reflections about the natural world. He authored nearly 40 books about bears, fly-fishing, Yellowstone, and two works of fiction. Raised in Pennsylvania, he began his career as a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone in 1972. Much of his writing and research is devoted to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, editing the quarterly journal Yellowstone Science from 1992-2009. He also served as executive director of the American Museum of Fly Fishing from 1977 to 1982. I met Mr. Schullery at Montana State University in 2003, when he taught “History of Yellowstone.” I can’t remember most of the lectures, and my old notebooks were trashed along with the futon and PBR cans. I would surely relish the chance to travel back and time and reabsorb every word. Since then, I’ve consulted many of his books for program research. Among his writings outside of fishing, I recommend Mountain Time (1984), Searching for Yellowstone (1997), and Yellowstone’s Ski Pioneers (1995).
Through common goals of keeping fish plentiful and happy, wilderness advocates and fly fisherman usually find companionable ground. Protecting fish inevitably leads to preserving their natural ecosystems. Chapter 21, “How Can You Do That?” explores the wavy lines between catch and release and just…catching. Returning the trout alive to the stream is a conservation practice designed to prevent overharvest in the face of increasing pressure from anglers, environmental concerns, and habit degradation. All of the sport, yet unlike game hunters, none of the bloodshed. Ah, what a fine compromise fishermen made! However, naysayers of catch and release decry the intense pain fish feel from hooking, playing, and prying the hook from its jaws. Schullery relates his experiences amidst this debate. At a wilderness conference, he is approached by some of those in opposition of catch and release. Their claim is that anglers might as well kill the fish as instead of torturing it without ending its suffering. They kept asking, “How can you do that?!” He pauses to think it over, recalling days of glorious fish and wild water, and thinks, “Oh, but how can you not do that?!” Observant anglers are privy to various natural delights besides the pursuit of trout. Chapter Four, “Antlers Aweigh,” reminds us that fish, flies, and water are a small section of the outdoors. As Schullery is fishing Michigan’s Au Sable River, he encounters a deer swimming upstream. His mind immediately relates the doe to various flies crafted with deer hair, prized for its floatant nature. While pondering the creations possible from the deer’s body hair, he watches her make a 90-degree turn for the opposite shore. Startled, she is laboriously swimming away. Realizing he spooked her, he thinks maybe the value in that day on the river comes not from the fishing, but from the larger experience occurring in the ecosystem.
Fish are as important as those searching for them. Schullery introduces us to different fish, and helps define them according to a sort of anglers’ social class. Reigning supreme are the browns and rainbows of the Gardner, Gallatin, and Yellowstone. In “Home River” he describes the Gardner River as a magic stretch of water that can mark an angler’s soul forever. Catching his first trout on a fly rod there, Schullery discovers hatches, currents, and a whole world the tour busses whizzing past never see. I immediately understood this perspective, if not as an angler, but as a Yellowstone visitor looking for more than bears and geysers. A whole world exists underneath the surface, whether that of the fish in the water, the birds in the trees, or the thriving bacteria mats next to flashy erupting geysers. “So Long, Sucker,” acknowledges that not all fish are created equal. Suckers, for one. The name sucker comes from their tendency to live along the bottoms of rivers and lakes, vacuuming up plants and insects. If suckers were people, they would have weak chins, bug eyes, and wear Cheetos-stained sweatpants. Schullery notes they are often known as trashfish, forage fish, and amongst Vermont anglers, shitfish.
The Fishing Life is a fantastic book. It can sit with pride on any diehard anglers’ shelf next to Richard & Swisher’s Selective Trout. However, if you are interested in the broader aspects of the sport like myself, an evening spent with Selective Trout would find you not understanding much, or dying of boredom. The humor, honesty, and detail of this writing offers more than enough to keep fishermen of any breed well engaged. Bearing in mind this idea that not all anglers are alike, so it stands to reason most will find a good laugh or a moment of reflection. Schullery says,
Fishing-in my case fly fishing- is an opportunity to exercise our intellects and emotions in a realm of inexhaustible wonder. At any given moment we may think we’re in this for just one thing, say the challenge of a difficult fish or the companionships of a fishing trip. But I suspect that most of the time we’re in it for everything we can get, and we’re out there just to see what will develop.
I doubt I will ever wake up one fine July morning and say, “Let’s go float L to P and rip some lips. A dozen over 20” in the boat by noon!” But meandering along small streams in Yellowstone’s backcountry, or fishing for brookies in the pothole lakes of the Beartooths are activities I’ve enjoyed since childhood. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to picking out colors for my new wine bar. Those of you who know Joe may have heard about our recent home remodel. He is busy installing my new Jacuzzi, and will hopefully make it to my custom cedar closet by tomorrow. Happy fall.
– Molly Moore
For other book reviews, click here.
Next week, there will be a VERY interesting lecture in Bozeman given by the Super himself, Dan Wenk. Native Fish Conservation has been a hot topic the past few years with ongoing discussions on Yellowstone Cutthroats, Grayling and the other non-native species of trout….AKA….lake trout, rainbows, browns and brookies. I find it interesting as to why there isn’t talk what so ever about Mountain White Fish. They are native as well, but not one word on this species and how it’s faring in Yellowstone’s waters.
The Native Fish Plan has been taking some heat over the past year and just recently, an article has been penned by Jess McGlothlin, a friend of BSA, in American Angler’s March/April issue. Everyone should read this article, so head out to your local flyshop, buy the shop rats a sixer and read it in the shop.
While this lecture is probably a little too late, one should commend the National Park Service for taking some heat and then responding with some much needed education on the topic. It will be interesting to see if Superintendent Wenk takes questions about the Native Fish Plan as I believe this lecture is more on the history of native fish conservation in YNP than that of the current Native Fish Conservation Plan, however, there is some overlap here, so I would think this will come up anyway.
I personally want to see native fish thrive in YNP, but I am not sold on the way this particular plan was rolled out to the general public. The lack of education by YNP and the NPS has resulted in rumors flying and facts which have been hard to find. I will not write about the rumors I’ve heard as they are alarming to say the least. Why wasn’t there a well thought out plan laid out to inform the public about the Native Fish Plan? Catch & Release has been pushed hard by many different conservation organizations, did YNP expect folks to just go along with the process of killing trout?
If you live in SW Montana or close by and have the time, this would be a good lecture to attend.
You can find YNP‘s Native Fish Plan here. Oh ya, today is YNP’s 142 birthday.