There is no doubt that S.W. Montana has been firmly in the grip of Old Man Winter for the past month or more, and many of us have taken a little hiatus from our fly fishing lifestyles. Temperatures have been well below zero many days, and the Madison River near Ennis has been locked up in the gorge for about 3 weeks now. The high-country snowpack is looking good, but it’s much too early to declare victory on that front.
In spite of cold temps yesterday, we upheld the Trout Stalkers/Dilschneider family tradition and went fishing in search of the first trout of the new year. Elina, Noni and I were joined again by the Kelley family for this ritual. We rarely get too excited or worried about what we might catch on any given day, but on New Year’s Day it’s all about ONE trout. Our mission is to catch that first fish... or at least to have fun trying. I am happy to report that we have now accomplished that goal for 17 consecutive years!!
When the river is locked in ice around town, there is really only one way to go and that’s upstream. The Madison will consistently flow low and clear above Lyon’s bridge and between the lakes at this time of year. Even on the coldest days you can find fishable water with consistent midge hatches and frequent risers. You just may need your snowshoes to get to the water...
It looked like an episode of Ice Road Truckers between Ennis and the West Fork with highway 287 coated is a solid sheet of white ice. We arrived at the turnoff to $3 Bridge about 12:30pm where it was about 14 degrees with light winds. The hike in from the highway was great, with dogs and kids of all ages enjoying a brisk walk in the deep-winter wonderland.
After many years of winter fishing on the Madison I had a plan, and rigged our rod (we usually just fish team fish with one rod) accordingly before leaving the shop. The rig turned out to be just right.
9 ft. leader
#16 Red BH Copper John on 3X trailing a #20 Grey Tung. Zebra Midge on 4.5X
Single BB split shot and a indicator at about 7 ft.
The bite was definitely on and Scott, Amy and I were all on the board with nice Rainbows within minutes and a maximum of 6 drifts. We briefly contemplated calling it quits right there and then, but the fish junkie in all of us prevailed and we kept on fishing. Before it was all said and done we had managed to land quite a few good ones, including one old Battle Axe Brown Trout that looked like he had recently mixed it up with an Otter. Great fish nonetheless!
As long as you have the right clothing and right attitude, the beauty and solitude of winter fly fishing is really wonderful and uplifting. We all walked back to the truck making plans for our next outing.