Monday, December 16, 2019

Dawn Patrol

   The sun pokes up behind the Madison Range as I barrel toward Ennis. It's 5:30am on a Saturday in July, I'll be damned if I let tourists and their guides beat me to the river. As I slide into the town stop sign I glance left at Fan Mountain and the fisherman statue then right towards a less traveled road that leads to the Ruby. Sometimes I struggle on which way to I veer left and opt out of shitty gas station coffee and keep swigging my home brew.....the only brew..... Dunkin Donuts Medium Roast.

   The town is silent. Not a person in site. The Gravel Bar must of done a number on these out of towners. I see guides down side streets rigging up their boats for another day on the river. Another day tossing hoppers and chubbies towards the banks. I smile crossing over the Madison, knowing I'm about to poach lots of good fish before they rig up for the day.

   First light on the Madison is a must during tourist season. After 10am the river turns into a complete circus of drift boats floating the most famous river in the lower 48. I'm first to the fishing access site and get out of my truck already wadered up. A groggy eyed tourist staggers out of their tent staring at me with a puzzled look on their face. I pay no attention, connect my 4 piece together and bolt to the river. The jagged tips of the Spanish Peaks hold the sunlight from hitting the water. I'm on a mission and start tight-lining all my likely buckets above the parking lot. Action is intense from the get-go. Fish are after a #10 tan caddis larva on the tag. Some hefty browns, a few plump bows and a foul hooked white fish had me wondering if a namer was on the agenda for today.

   That wasn't going to be the case today, honestly it rarely is. I sometimes chuckle when I hear stories of regular 24 inch trout getting caught on this river. It's not true, but what is true is that all fisherman are liars.

   I make it .5 miles upstream catching fish in each likely holding spot. I don't spend much time hammering the holes, I'm after those willing to eat, 10 drifts and move on. Cover water, catch fish, repeat. By the time 10:30am hits I start seeing the tourist flotilla. I've already bagged enough fish to make any fisherman happy, but I opt for the skinny side that boats can't reach. The depth is only deep towards the bank so that's where I focus my attention. Every 5 feet gives up a fish, some surprisingly big. The side channel connects back to the main river where I catch a glimpse of 5 more boats coming toward me. I've wreaked havoc on this stretch and don't want to compete with all these people for the fish. 

I walk back to my truck happy to know I had one hell of a morning. As I'm unrigging in the parking lot 10 more boats are getting ready to float. The talk is focused on new rules being proposed on the Madison to maintain the healthy fishery that it is. Change never sits well with anyone, especially those trying to make $$ of these trout all summer long. Whatever ends up happening I hope it's the best decision for the TROUT, and if greed get's in the way well I guess I'll have to start leaving Bozeman at 4am on Saturday's instead of 5:30.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Winter Arrives Early

It's been awhile since my last post. A lot has changed in regards to the weather since my mid-summer report. It felt like the fall fishing lasted 10 days then we went straight to winter. Big Sky received its 3rd biggest dose of snow on record during the 31 days of October with a whopping 51 inches. I think this through the bite off quite a bit this fall.

Andy made his yearly pilgrimage out our way and the fishing was tough. We dealt with below freezing temps that really caused us some pain and suffering. Even with the bad weather, we still managed to get into some quality fish.

At the time of writing it seems like the fish in tailwaters are really engaged in spawning, and the freestoners are more of a post-spawn funk with the browns. The rainbows are still active at the right time of day and if you hit a warmer day the Olives really blow up hard and get fish to the surface.

Soon enough fish will pod up in the slower holes for the long Montana winter, usually by January the fish settle in to the change of weather and my favorite time of fishing begins. Until then.....Tight Lines to all!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Mid Summer Update

Well it's been awhile since my last report. Summer tends to fly by quicker then a Salmon Fly Hatch. Works busy and the weather is so good you have to maximize your time outside before the snow starts to fly! I've been out on the water a bunch since my last post. This year I chased the Salmon Fly on the Madison with my brothers for 4 straight days. The hatch had a late start this year but we managed to time things right and get action every night on the Big Bug. The last evening was pretty epic. A big thunderstorm blew in and knocked a pile of bugs into the water, the fish went crazy and the action was lights out. The big bug was STILL present on the upper river a few days ago, I'm guessing it's still around the lake section right now. Most people are saying this is the latest they've scene the bug hatch on the Madison River.

Runoff is officially over for the season. It was a long one this year but now is the time to visit all those mountain streams you've been waiting to fish all year. I have spent a good bit of time exploring the past few weeks and it's paid off. Chubby dropper is the meal ticket right now on these waters. Nothing beats tossing a big dry in the middle of the day for feisty fish. As we approach August the famous rivers will start to peter out due to all the pressure, so head to the hills if you want some solitude and good fishing.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Hatch

I grew up in the history rich may fly mecca of Pennsylvania. I spent many years chasing hatches with my brothers and dad, usually heading up to the limestone spring creek of central PA. I have countless memories of us gathered on the banks waiting for the various species to return to the water for their mating ritual. Our heads would wonder into the sky hoping to see the first round of bugs around 7:30pm, and when they did it would typically start a feeding frenzy and result in many fish caught, and many more lost throughout the night. Only fly-fisherman understand why boys and men can get so excited to see the bugs life cycle play out in front of their eyes.

I picked up the whole Euro Nymphing thing shortly after I graduated college and my obsession with it drove me to fishing first light and missing out on these magnificent hatches. It wasn't until I fished my first Salmon Fly hatch on the Madison River in Montana when I got that big urge to just throw dry flies again. This BIG BUG hatch is something we didn't get to experience in PA, so I was taken back by the size of these bugs and their alien look. After a few incredible outings I have made it a point to fish the Salmon Fly Madness whenever I get the chance, never thinking twice about the nymph rod in my closet.

A few buddies of mine planned to head south for the Memorial Day Weekend trying to time the Big Bug right, which can be a challenging thing to do. The recent cold snap in Montana delivered incredible flows for this time of year and the start of The Hatch coincided with our arrival. Our crew rigged up and did a little bull shitting in the parking lot before we ventured down in the river chucking our #4 Dry Flies at first light. The action wasn't lights out for the first 2 miles and we didn't see the Salmon Fly in high numbers to get us excited. That all changed as we approached the 2 mile mark of the float. The bugs started showing their faces and the fish started to eat our offerings. These takes are not delicate, they are not a may fly sipping take. They are ferocious eats that leave a lasting memory in your head when it happens. Sloop John B was a virgin Salmon Fly Fisherman on this trip and it only took 1 take to get him hooked for years to come.

We spent the next 4 days and 3 nights floating down the river every hour of daylight. Mornings were spent eating shitty gas station burritos and nights we stopped at the same gas station and devoured shitty bratwursts. The weather was cold and rainy and we went to bed exhausted from casting all day. All the ingredients of a perfect fishing trip that was reminiscent of ones I took in PA with my family growing up.

The fishing for big fish was downright silly. If anyone has any doubts that the biggest fish in the river will eat a dry fly, the pictures below will assure you they do. The Salmon Fly brings out the biggest, baddest trout in the river. If you spend the time, and are willing to cast your arm off.....eventually you should get rewarded with a fish you can brag to your buddies about.

As you can see by these pictures.....THE HATCH delivered and now has consumed 3 fly fisherman for a lifetime. My dry fly addiction is renewed and in a few short weeks my brothers and I will be chasing these bugs on the Madison River, dad will be in our thoughts and we will be boys again reliving memories of years spent waiting on the banks of Penn's Creek for the bugs to fall, and creating new ones in the backdrop of the Madison Range.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Winter 2.0

John Working A Good Run 

Is it spring? Summer? Or is Winter still lingering around? The coldest May in 47 years has engulfed Montana for the past few weeks. Run off started to get going but quickly got knocked out by Winter 2.0. Flows on the Yellowstone are as low as I've scene them since moving here for this late in May. What this will do to the month of June is anyone's guess, but in the meantime it's a great window of opportunity for those close by. Action has been good subsurface and on the surface depending on where I've been fishing. March Brown's and BWO's have been out in full force. If the water has some clarity look for some good dry fly fishing. I'm venturing down to the Henry's Fork this weekend in hopes of hitting the Salmon Fly Hatch but from all the reports I've been getting I think we are going to be too early. Last year we went down the same weekend and the hatch was almost over! That just goes to show you how hard it is to time things right.

Small Stream Gem 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

On The Verge Of Run-Off

Pre-run off is upon us here in Montana. Some of the rivers are completely blown out, some are holding strong and either way they all have more water in them then 3-4 weeks ago. Rainbows are starting to wrap up their spawning in most places, but others are just getting going. Water temperature plays a huge role for when these fish spawn so I would assume the first few weeks in May will have active fish spawning in certain water ways. Fly selection is pretty simple this time of year, egg, worm and a RL is usually the ticket. Slowly, fish will start transitioning into a BUG diet once the water calms down. The mothers day caddis hatch should be starting in a few days. That brings out the dry fly enthusiast in all of us. I'm hoping the Lower Madison holds strong with clarity so I can experience it like I did last year. Only time will tell.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Inside Seams

Took a nice long 3 day weekend to the Missoula area this weekend. Haven't spent anytime fishing around there and the hype didn't disappoint. We spent time in the drift boat and chasing fish on foot. Didn't matter where we went the fish cooperated. Even though it may be spring, the fish are still acting like it's winter. The key to the trip was fishing soft inside seams that were 3-5 feet deep. Fish were still in winter lies and NOT spread out around the river at all. We had to cover lots of water looking for the right stuff before we got into our NUMBERS. The skwala bite was weak in the Upper End of the river, so we opted to fish the worm and Rubber Leg. That combo is downright silly all over the state right now, doesn't matter what watershed you go to......that's all you need. We didn't see any signs of spawning fish up there yet, water temp is frigid. On the way home we stopped at the Big Hole and caught a bunch of fish. From the headwaters to Wise River......the damn thing is STILL frozen bank to bank. Crazy year out here in Montana.

Dawn Patrol

   The sun pokes up behind the Madison Range as I barrel toward Ennis. It's 5:30am on a Saturday in July, I'll be damned if I let ...