The fish gods must be looking out for me, as I have managed to convince another group of anglers to travel down to the Argentina for a visit with the good folks at Pesca Patagonia. Some of you know my buddy Justin Spence from his famed fly shop here in West Yellowstone – The West Yellowstone Fly Shop and some of you know Justin from our trips together here in Montana. He also operates a top shelf outfitting company in and around Junin de los Andes. Justin, his wife Rachel and their lovely little girls spend the entire winter and spring in Junin. Half of the year in Montana and half of the year in Patagonia, what an amazing life!
In early April, five of us will make the big trip from North America to South America. We’ll all meet up in BA, take a ride across the city and jump a airplane to Bariloche. From there we’ll meet up with Justin and head towards San Martin. We’ll fish the Malleo, possibly the Chimehuin or Alumine, the Collen Cura for a couple and then who knows where we’ll end up for last couple of days.
Some folks give me a hard time about traveling that far for trout, especially when it’s a solid time frame for chasing salt water species, but Argentina gets in one’s blood and its hard to shake. Their rivers are like our rivers, only different. There are moments when when I wake up from day dreaming of fight with a big brown trout that had just tossed the hooked. Those are memories from my time down south in 2013 and some of those fish were true giants. But it’s not just the quality angling that makes me want to return; the fishing culture is more laid back, it’s the “let it happen” attitude when you’re submersed in fishing and everything is right in the world. Getting after it and putting in day after day on the water is like Spring Training in the MLB. Everyday spent on the river gets you prepped for the next day, if you’ve got the time, stay as long as possible. And then there’s the locality of where you are fishing. Argentine Patagonia is remote and not populous at all. Some folks like to compare it to stepping back in time, to the old days of fishing out West when hardly a soul actually could point out the Missouri and it’s tributaries on a map of the United States.
Right now, I’ve got a busy couple of months ahead. There will be late nights at the tying bench, picking over lines for the trip and the lovely little process of laying out all your gear as you prep for a world class fishing trip. I’m excited about heading back down to Argentina.
Yellowstone’s winter season in the Interior is now a month from shutting down. Where does all the time go? I have been guiding five days a week again this season for Yellowstone Alpen Guides, making this my 9th year and never have I enjoyed guiding as much as this winter. Luckily, this season, we have decent snow. Truth be told, after last years bleak winter, I was not looking forward to guiding in YNP. Mother Nature was providing us with almost weekly snow storms, but now that February has hit, she’s as dry as dirt. And it’s unseasonably warm to boot. The past few days have seen the snow melting from my roof and piling up as ice on the ground, then running into our garage as I frantically try to chip away the glacial mound in front of the door.
Is this the new norm? Currently, its 33 degrees at 11am…it’s not even noon yet! A week or so ago, the morning temp was -33 degrees. I took a break for a couple hours and tended to our roof and the melting snow, now the temps are reading almost 45 degrees. I should be fishing but adulting is getting in the way. The roads in West Yellowstone are showing signs of spring and spring in these parts is normally a couple months away.
Overall, there has been plenty of wildlife along way to Old Faithful and of course the scenery never gets old. The Canyon runs have been little void of life from time to time, but recently there have been bison on the move in the Gibbon Canyon, which means that coyotes and foxes are making an appearance as well. Wolves have not had much of a presence this season along the Madison, Gibbon and Firehole. There’s been a few sightings, but overall they have been non existent. I would say that has something do with the 94% snow pack and the fact that there are more elk around Big Sky, Gardiner and in the Madison Valley around Cameron, MT. Wolves chase elk and the elk population is down to just a couple dozen, if that, animals on the west side of the park along the Madison drainage. There are two small bull elk and one giant bull living along the Madison River around 7 Mile bridge. So far, they look very healthy. While winter is not over just yet, this break from the cold is nice for every single living thing in these parts.
I’m off to town for a while, with any luck it will be nice enough to drink a beer outside this evening. Pray for snow.
I finished up guiding a little over two weeks ago, but there’s still plenty of paperwork piled high that needs some attention prior to the arrival of the new year. As of late, my time has been spent walking the rolling hills of eastern Montana behind the German engineered Draht better known as Stella. We hunt alone, or with one other hunter/dog combo which allows my brain and body to decompress from a long season behind the oars. I don’t want to worry about someone else, I want to be selfish for this short span of time and watch my dog work the CRP. This time alone also allows me to get my thoughts together and recently, I’ve had too much stress in my life due to things beyond my control. There was a death in our fly fishing family here in West Yellowstone that rocked us, I’ve got a side project that is chaotic to say the least, I really just want go bird hunting again and there’s the debacle at Hebgen Dam that just won’t stop.
Hebgen Dam and the on going construction project has proven to be a large pain in the a$$. Back in early October, October 7th, to be exact, Northwestern Energy (NWE) sent out a press release which stated, that once again the completion date will be pushed back to Dec. 31, 2015. Mind you, a year ago they promised that it would be finished up in July 2015. Then it got pushed to August, then October and now we sit at Dec 31, 2015. Surprise, surprise surprise…the fat lady is not singing what so ever, she’s not even warming up her voice. In fact, I doubt they will “finish” on Dec 31 as their tract record is so poor. Why would anyone trust what NWE is saying now? Most of what they say as far as completion is concerned has NEVER come true. Then, to top it all off, NWE surprised everyone, and by everyone, I mean every single person including NWE’s own biologist, by stating this lovely gem:
This was never and I mean not one time, disclosed at any of their meaningless public meetings and I’ve been to darn near every single one of them. For NWE to slip these statements into a press release, at the bottom of the page, is sneaky to say the least. This is a huge issue that deserves it’s own press release. Let’s break down the above statement. First off, if NWE is finished up on December 31 (why they give an exact date is beyond me at this point), then the Madison River will once again have cold water from roughly 40 feet beneath the surface of the lake for 2016. Great news! However, this will only be for a single season as this “relining of the wood pipeline” apparently hasn’t been done according to the engineers approval the first time around. My question is this – why wasn’t this accomplished over the past seven years while the entire structure was dried in with a coffer dam? I guarantee you that every single engineer at NWE has walked that wooden pipeline more than a few times and this never came up until now? Really? So, we get one season of cold water and then bam!, we get an 8th season of water that comes off the top of Hebgen Lake? This is planned to start in May so that when the prime fishing season gets here we are set up with hot water for late June, July and August? They say “approximately four months” and we are supposed to believe NWE?
I’m done daydreaming that this project will ever finish up without folks like you and me stepping up and making some noise. And by noise I mean, actually making several phone calls to the deciders at NWE and those at Montana FWP who can help our cause. Recently, I spent over an hour talking with John Hines a VP at NWE and spoke my mind. I never hold much back with regards to this issue and I hope you will do the same. Mister Hines, phone number below, needs to hear from each and every angler, outfitter and guide on why this new project absolutely can not happen in the summer months. This is, hands down, more important than the fishing regulations that may or may not be coming our way. Folks spoke loudly about that and this needs the same attention. NWE is throwing biology out the window and their primary objective, according to their FERC license is to take care of the river first and foremost.406 449 833
According to Brent Mabbot, NWE’s biologist and friend of mine, this project could begin in September of 2017, giving NWE September, October, November and December to complete. If they run into problems, then they could even stretch it out to March, April and be finished up by May 2018. Apparently, there is no way around this relining of the wood pipeline. It must be done. Ok, fine, but someone needs to be accountable for why it wasn’t done already and most importantly, this project needs to be done in the months where it will hurt the river the least.
There are many issues that lots of local anglers have with NWE. The biggest one is this: NWE is doing whatever they want, whenever they want, with total disregard for the resource and secondly, the communities who rely on the Madison River for economic and recreational opportunities are being told to deal with it. Well, I’m tired of dealing with it and I want the Madison, the river that made me move to Montana in the first place almost twenty years ago, to get back to it’s old self once again.
Speak up, would ya?!
John Hines NWE VP 406 449 8333
Travis Horton MT FWP 406 994 3155406 994 3155
406 449 806
Statewide, there are fishing regulation changes that are coming down the pipe and frankly, I don’t really care for all of them. I will not go into any other regulation changes other than those here on the Madison River. First off, I am not a fisheries biologist, however, the amount of time I have spent on river over the past 23 years of my life as an angler, guide and outfitter gives me some insight on the topic.
Throughout the Rocky Mountain West, fishery managers are on a path to “simplify” regulations. Folks, if you can read, then you can follow the regulations as they stand right now. Ever try to draw an hunting tag in the West? Wading through those regulations takes time, energy and a complete understanding of entire mountain ranges that are broken apart into zones – it gets confusing to say the least. These “proposed” fishing regulation changes are a huge swing in the other direction from what we’ve had for a VERY long time.
Why is this? There are many rivers in the State of Montana that are open year round (the Missouri and the Big Horn to name two notable ones) and fishing these rivers in the spring has not lead to a downfall in fish populations. However, these rivers are busy places and getting busier all the time – especially the Missouri. The Madison is the busiest river in the State, period. Opening it up year round will put more pressure on the fish at a time period when they are vulnerable. I can tell you that as soon as the river is open, more anglers will come here to fish. Will it hurt the fishery? That remains to be seen and fisheries biologists will tell you that no, it does not hurt the fishery to fish over spawning fish. This is where ethics comes in to play a part. Personally, I don’t fish directly over redds (spawning nests) as I have an overwhelming feeling to leave them alone. However, I do fish and guide rivers in the springtime and it can be difficult to avoid the redds – in some rivers redds are almost everywhere. Avoiding the shallow gravel bars and the shallow channels is a solid choice in the months of April, May and early June. The Madison is a shallow river and a majority of the trout spawn in the river itself. Do we need more anglers walking on redds and hooking spawning trout? Will that have a negative impact for the years to come? I want to say yes, but I can’t say that it will either. In my opinion, the Madison River needs a break during the springtime.
Below, in black ink, is what’s in store for the Madison River. I would suggest that most of these changes will happen. In my experience, once FWP gets this far, it’s imminent. Your comments matter though, so speak up. What’s alarming, is that hardly anyone knows about it and not many of us have heard a word about this from FWP. Just this morning, the outfitters on the river received a note about the proposed changes and now that the public meetings have come and gone, all we can do it write in our comments or make a phone call. There was not a public meeting in West Yellowstone or Ennis.
Yellowstone National Park boundary to Hebgen Reservoir
Hebgen Dam to Ennis Reservoir
Quake Lake outlet to Lyons Bridge
Ennis Bridge to Ennis Lake
Ennis Dam to the mouth
• Northern Pike: No limit.
What’s changed you ask? Well, quite a bit.
For as along as I can remember the Madison from Quake’s out flow to Mac has been open from the 3rd Saturday in May till the end of February. That was to protect spawning trout. If these reg changes happen, then the entire river from Hebgen Dam to Ennis Lake will be open year round.
As it stands right now, anglers can fish bait from Hebgen Dam through Quake Lake. This is a change I can get behind. I have no problems with anglers who like to fish bait, by all means, go right ahead. But this is a gem of a river and fishing bait normally means you’re gonna keep the fish. This leads to the next proposed change. Anglers inbetween the lakes will no longer be able to keep 5 trout per day, per person. I hardly ever notice anglers keeping fish except for the spring time inbetween the lakes. This stretch of river is plum full of spawning trout in the spring time and I have seen, on more than one occasion, stringers full of big rainbows which are full of eggs. Hopefully they do get eaten and not freezer burned. In the past ten years, I have hardly wet a line in between the lakes during the spawn….for me, it’s a choice to leave the rainbows alone.
The final proposed change is anglers will now be able to keep 1 fish per day per person on the entire river. For what seems like an eternity, the Madison River has largely been a catch and release fishery. My personal beliefs are that a trout is worth catching more than just one time. Catch and release angling does in fact kill fish. Like it or not, those of us who put em’ back actually kill a percentage of the fish. A barbless hook regulation would help with this as barbed hook extraction take much longer than a barbless hook. If a fish is out of the water for a couple minutes while an angler extracts a barbed hook, the fish may swim off, but will probably die a short time later. Fish barbless folks!
So….make those comments to: email@example.com The comment period is open till September 12th, 2015.
Since 2008 Hebgen Dam has not been functioning. Hot water has been running right off the top of the lake and into the river all summer long. Water temps have been way too high during the summer months which was not the case prior to the debacle at Hebgen Dam. There have been quite a few years where we have seen fish die in the river due to warm water temperatures. Are rainbows more susceptible to warm water than brown trout? Yep, they are. Most of us thought we would see a Hoot Owl closure on the upper Madison River this summer (and past summers) – that did not happen. Most of us altered our fishing hours accordingly to not stress out fish even more. If you read this site very often, I have been outspoken about Hebgen Dam. I believe the river needs a couple years, if not more, to see how things (insects and trout) react to a properly functioning, bottom draw dam before we get a sweeping regulation change like the proposal facing us right now. The Madison will not change overnight with respect to insect hatches and trout behavior. At this point, the water is coming from around 17 feet below the surface…better late than never. By November, hopefully, the river be drawing from 37 feet (or around there) below the surface. Will the hatches go back to the way they were? Will the consistent fishing on the Madison return? I say yes…but all in due time. Why not wait for a couple years to see what happens with the river before we change the regulations?
Flows and the damn Dam
River flows in the Madison Valley, from Hebgen Dam to Ennis lake, are sitting pretty good right now as we shift from summer to fall. At the Kirby Gage, she’s registering at 994 cfs. Over the past few weeks, the heat and high sun have been minimal and river temps are hanging in there on most days. However, there have been some super hot days once in while and the river temps can still hit the high 60′s and low 70′s. Once 68 degrees hits the river, you might as well reel up, sit back and take a boat ride. Recently, we have been experiencing some very cold over night air temperatures and several mornings here on Horse Butte the thermometer has read 28-30 degrees. That folks, has been the saving grace for the Madison River, well, that and decent flows from Hebgen. This past week, Hebgen Dam began to pull from roughly seventeen feet below the surface. This is NOT the point where we celebrate just yet. Apparently, this will only drop the river temp a couple degrees, but that’s better than top releases any day of the week. Sometime in November (cross your fingers), Hebgen will hopefully be completed and the river will pull from 37 feet below the surface. Right now, I am holding my breath and really won’t believe its fixed until it actually is. This project has stretched out for way too long and we are all completely over it.
Madison River Fishing Report 08.25.2015
Inconsistent…to say the least. Really though, I’ve had a bunch of great days on the Madison River this summer. However, if you are gonna roll the dice and fish the river only one day while you’re in the neighborhood, you had better be on the good side of the trout gods…..or be a little lucky. It also helps to bring your A-game and let the fish eat your fly. Your day could be a dink fest, but please remember to pay attention as there are some really nice fish eating the fly and just when you think it’s a dink and you don’t set the hook, you’re hating life and wondering out loud where that big brown trout came from. My only answer to that question is, “they live here too”. The nymphing crowd is pounding rocks and mid river runs with various flies like: shelia sculpin, trevor’s sculpin, rubber legs, zonkers, midge larva, $3 Dips, olive dips, crystal dips, shop vacs and the traditional no bead pheasant tail. The rest of us are fishing dry flies whenever possible with hoppers, ants, wulffs, beetles, trudes, small royal stimis and pretty much any reddish attractor pattern. I like fishing a single fly this time of the year as most of us, myself included, tend to get a better drift with just one fly on the end of the line. It’s late August and the trout are not dumb, so tighten up that skill set and pay attention.
Hebgen Lake Fishing Report
I will never claim to know everything about Hebgen Lake, it’s almost impossible. However, I’ve been playing around the lake this August and Hebgen has shown us some really good days with calibaetis spinners, duns and ants. Slow stripping mayfly nymphs is a great way to spend any early morning in an unnamed bay on the south shore of Hebgen Lake. I absolutely love watching the lake come alive from 8 am till noon. Some days, like today, there was glass all over the lake till almost 3pm, but making the fish eat was a little difficult. My best bug here lately has been a #14 Missing Link fished on 5X.
Writing and this blog
I would like to reach out and thank those folks who have asked me to keep writing and posting my random thoughts here on the site. Running the business…aka…. full time guiding/outfitting, tying flies for what may be your trip tomorrow, answering emails and phone calls along with mowing the yard and running the bird dog has gotten in the way of writing. Writing is hard, and while I don’t claim to be very good at it, writing is time consuming and after some 600 posts on the blog, I got tired. With any luck, I’ll continue to find some time as I really do enjoy writing, but sometime it’s just hard to find the energy. Thanks for reading! If you enjoy social media, please check us out on Instagram, that folks, is the easiest way to get your fix without sitting in the boat with us on a river here in the great state of Montana.
In just a few hours I will be hoping in the truck with Jonathan Heames and heading north to Bozeman. Tomorrow morning, the two of us depart for Miami, where, once we land, we’ll rent a car and drive south to the Keys and Captain Greco’s house. Hanging out in the Keys is a precursor to our four day run on South Andros at Bair’s Lodge, a trip that our buddy Steve Hoovler is coming on as well.
I’ve been tying bonefish, tarpon and permit flies since February and reading up on what to expect. To a dozen or more guides and anglers, who I know have fished all over the saltwater world, I asked for their favorite fly patterns and their best piece of advise.
It’s been almost ten years since I was in Florida and I fully expect to blow many a shot while standing in the bow of Brett’s skiff. I’ve never been down to the Bahamas and my brain is ripe with excitement. Expect a full report upon my return and if you’re on Instagram, check us out as I will be posting from Florida and South Andros.
Montana’s General Season Opener
For the past sixteen years, I have not missed one opening day on the Madison River. The upper Madison, from the outlet of Quake Lake down to MacAtee Bridge will open on Saturday, May 16. Both Cabin and Beaver Creeks are tossing in mud, but Quake is filtering some that making for a bitch creek green Madison River. If you are venturing out this weekend, expect to see a few folks on the river. The current flow out of Hebgen is 552 cfs with a flow of 799 at Kirby. Yep, that’s pretty low for this time of the year. Hebgen Lake is filling up and with any luck, we’ll start seeing a rise in flows sometime in early June….don’t count it, but keep up the rain dances as we need every drop we can get. Last night it rained on and off and today we had showers as well. The river above Ennis has been fishing quite well this spring, but it’s boney down there as well.
Good luck and enjoy the coming weekend!
Spring in Montana has been more like summer during the last week on the Missouri River. When I arrived, we had some snow showers and cooler weather, but lately, I’ve been donning sandals and getting my feet wet. The early morning river temps have been a little chilly and there were two days that the river was cold enough to make one’s teeth hurt. It was similar to an ice cream headache that started with your toes and moved quickly up my six foot frame. I am nine days into 2015 guide season and it feels great to be back on the oars. Not much has changed on the Missouri River, but for someone who has guided and fished this great river during April and May for the past 15 years, it’s busier than years past – that’s for sure. Is it crowded, you ask? No, not really, but if the weather is too nice and that ends up on a weekend, then it can feel crowded. Some of this is due to a very low river enabling wade fisherfolks to access more of the river and some of this is due to popularity of the Missouri River in recent years.
Last season I spent the month of October on the Missouri River and we never saw a true Blue Winged Olive – a species of Baetis. In fact, they never saw more than a couple BWOs in November either. A year ago this month I was here as well and we might have seen a few of the smallish mayflies, but they never really matieralized. October of 2013, was the last time I opened up the BWO box with regularity. The BWO that hatches in the springtime up here is more gray than the BWO of Fall, which is a true olive color. We should be calling them Beatis all the time as there are many, many species of this mayfly. For more reading, check this out – Trout Nut. We’ve also witnessed a couple days of solid March Brown mayflies thus far in late April and Early May. When these hatch is prolific numbers, you will not have better dry fly fishing here on the Missouri River.
Once again, BSA will be guiding the Missouri River all season long. Our resident guide, Greg Falls, can be found rowing his boat most everyday of the year from late March through November. I will be around for several more days of guiding and getting out on the water myself for a hopeful late morning/early afternoon hatch.
It seems as if the folks in Helena who represent the good people of Montana aren’t listening very well these days. Below is a list of fishing access sites, FAS, that the State of Montana leases out from private property owners. HB 403 has limited MT FWP’s ability to lease these sites out for the upcoming season. This means that none of your license fees can be used to pay for these leases. Do you like to wade fish on the Ruby at Alder Bridge? How about floating from Notch to Pennington on the Big Hole? Wade fishing at the Bull Pin on the Missouri is mighty popular as well. This morning HB 403 is being heard, so cross your fingers that this money will be approved for these sites, otherwise, they will most likely be closed. Read below for a full list…..
FAS STATEWIDE FEE LEASES
This past winter I started an Instagram account to help promote the business and also cause I really just love taking pictures. What I like most is that Instagram is about capturing images of everyday life with your phone. Taking photos, for me, goes back to childhood. Growing up, my father took A LOT of photographs of our outings with a Nikon film camera, that, at the time, was a great camera. Those printed photos are sitting in the basement of my folk’s house back in Quincy and are super fun to look at when Molly and I make it back to the homeland for a visit. To me, photos are a visual time line that mark periods of my life. Periods that can almost be forgotten as the memories stack up over time. As I get older, capturing these moments is almost as important as the moments themselves. When I’m old, gray and no longer able to row a boat, I’ll have photographs to remind me of the good ole days.