A Predictable Spring

Well, we got darn close, but never touched the 5,000 CFS mark at Varney last week, thanks in part to a quick cold snap that slowed things down a bit. In fact, the river had virtually no up and down cadence like it typically does from day to day for most of the week, settling down to 3,000 CFS for nearly three and a half days. But my guess is that even though the water clarity has improved, we’re not out of the woods yet. With a week’s worth of sunny skies and 70-degree weather headed our way, we might expect another bump in flows soon. 

The mountains around the Madison last week got a late dump of soggy snow bringing the Madison Basin snowpack to 113% of median. For those curious, other regional basin snowpacks are at the following: Gallatin – 108% of median, Jefferson – 113% of median, and Upper Yellowstone – 128% of median. Interestingly, the only major basin in the state currently not above the 100% of median mark is the Smith River basin, sitting at a paltry 77% as of today (Save the Smith!). Yikes.

Anyhow, there are a couple of points to be made here. Number one, those three words that way back in January had all of us around here giddy, brought a moderate level of annoyance to the fishing: “winter storm warning.” That just happened. "Gross" was my instinctual, out loud response to seeing that alert on my phone. On the other hand, it's just another helpful bump in the snowpack and we’re shaping up to have a healthy water year if things are managed properly.

Yesterday, I saw one of the better Caddis hatches of the spring thus far in the 8 Mile to Town stretch. Even though the Caddis have been hatching pretty consistently every evening for a few weeks now, the fish were very eager for them last night.

Whether you’re waving an Elk Hair Caddis around in the air or lobbing bobbers with heavy Girdle Bugs, you absolutely need to focus on the slow water right now. I talked to a handful of fellow guides around this week to see how the fishing was for them. They all echoed the same thing. Slow water, slow water, slow water. If you’re in a boat, stop and get out if you need to. Don’t overlook microhabitats like eddies and slow inside bends to the river.

I was thinking this week about how predictable the fishing can be on the Madison from year to year. The last two weeks of May are some of the most predictable of them all. Ten years from now on May 21st, I'd wager we'll be dealing with muddy waters and the MVP flies of the week will be a big dark Girdle Bug and a San Juan Worm. In fact, I was curious and went back to check our fishing report from last year about this time on May 26, 2016 and we wrote the following:

“With the weather in a seemingly constant state of flux, the flows and clarity on the upper Madison have been kind of all over the map in recent weeks. That being said, when the river has had a chance to level off for a few days we are seeing marked improvement in clarity and the fish are hungry. Cold weather and north winds the past few days have led to one of these stabilizing trends changing the color of the water back to greenish and the fish have responded with ferocity.”

Boom. Copy and paste that, eh? Eerily similar to current conditions. It also reminded me of one of the greatest images we’ve ever had in our fishing reports from that same day, which illustrates the absolute necessity for San Juan Worms this time of year. Damn. He must have had a little acid reflux after that I’d imagine. Kinda reminds me of what my daughter looks like when she gets into a bag of gummy bears.

Effective patterns this week included:

Nypmhs: Black Girdle Bug size 2 and 4, Rainbow Czech Nymph size 8, 10, and 12, 20 Incher Stonefly size 4, Beadhead Prince Nymph size 6, Beaded Red and Pink San Juan Worms size 4, Wireworms size 4

Dries: Elk Hair Caddis size 14, Parachute Adams size 12, Purple Haze size 12, Royal Chubby Churnobyl size 12

Streamers: Black Trevor, Olive Miniloop, Natural and White Sculpzillas size 4, Black Sculpzilla size 4, Black Circus Peanut size 4, Black and Gold Kreelex size 6