Last winter found us scratching our heads on what might come of the Hebgen Dam malfunction in early December of 2021. For the rest of that month, we left the river alone and was even the case for most of January 2022. We normally don’t spend much time fishing in early and mid January, the days are short, the water is cold and the fishing really isn’t that great. We’d rather spend our time skiing or at the vise cranking out bugs for salt water trips. By the last week of January, the days lengthen out and we did start to poke around the Madison for some personal fishing time; we were running a few guide trips per week as well.
Late winter on the Madison was solid fishing overall and erased much of our worries about the December malfunction at Hebgen Dam. The trout were healthy, happy, readily taking nymphs and some days the dry fly fishing was pretty darn good throughout late January, Feb, March and early April.
Mother Nature had not delivered the snow and by the end of March we all started to get a little worried as winter snow pack accumulation is generally over by the end of April. We had four weeks to go and those four weeks ended up being as snowy as they possibly could. April and May are generally big months around here for moisture accumulation and our worries where quicky erased by the time we hit the end of May.
The first three weeks of June on the Madison in Montana is run off time, so we typically take a break and focus our efforts on the Henry’s Fork and the rivers on the west side of YNP. June also brought on more snow and rain, so much that Hebgen Lake was filling up, something that none of us thought was possible back in March. Then in mid June we experienced a massive rain on snow event, one that had everyone on their toes, and for good reason. The amount of snow in the high country was well beyond what any of the water managers on the Madison and Missouri rivers had planned for, but a rain on snow event of this magnitude had all of us on our toes. In the matter of a couple of days it poured cats and dogs from the sky and everything let loose at once. By now, those of you reading this are well aware of the 500 Year Flood we experienced here in southwest Montana and Yellowstone National Park. It was a crazy experience, and we were lucky to be in West Yellowstone at high elevation. By late June, things settled down and the Madison stabilized. The river was green, running a good flow and we all were looking forward to the Salmonfly hatch as well as the caddis and mayfly fishing. The big bugs got rolling, as the normally do, downstream near Ennis and then made their way up the river hatching in pockets along the way.
July hit and the weather changed, Mother Nature finally dried out and the rain stopped. We saw some great fishing on the Upper Madison for about two weeks. What we didn’t know was that Hebgen Dam was experiencing some issues and all the water was flowing from the top of the lake and not from the depths. The sun was warming the surface up quickly and the overnight temps were not cooling down enough to drop the river’s temperature. The fishing changed and degraded to a point where most of us thought Hoot Owl restrictions were imminent. The river was hitting 69 degrees at 3pm by July 12th, that was a major problem. We put our heads together along with the Madison River Foundation, the Fishing Outfitters Assoc of MT and Montana TU and were able to have some changes implemented at Hebgen Dam with the help of some folks high up at FWP in Helena. Flows were altered and 1/3 of the river was now being drawn from the depths. That still left 2/3 of the flow coming off the top, which was not ideal. Then we were informed that a construction project was slated for mid August and that all water would be again running off the top of Hebgen giving us more warm water at an inopportune time. That didn’t sit well with most of us in West Yellowstone and Ennis; so we once again called our friends and applied pressure where it was needed and the construction project start dates was moved to mid-September. As of today, they are still working on the Dam but have told us that construction will be complete by the end of winter 2023.
The rest of July, August, September and October found the most consistent fishing in Wade Stretch of the Madison - from Hegben Dam down to Lyons and slightly below Lyons bridge. If you put in the time and covered water, the upper reaches of the Madison River was pretty darn good. The fish were picky and not easy, but there were fish eating dry flies, nymphs and streamers. Anglers needed to monitor the water temps, but with high levels of oxygen in the upper river, those fish stayed heathy and the angling was solid.
The rest of the river below Palisades didn’t fish as well as it historically does. The hopper fishing was less than ideal, we didn’t have hoppers in the valley floor for various debatable reasons, but that is a rarity. There were hoppers by the bucketloads in the higher elevations, but they never made it down to the river. The Madison is well known for good hopper fishing and we just didn’t have the terrestrials this past season.
We expect the river to fish well in 2023 and with the snow stacking up in the high country right now, there will be plenty of it to go around. Keep up those snow dances folks, it’s helping for sure!