This week was definitely more representative of spring than some of the balmier weeks we’ve had thus far. A good mix of snow, rain, beautiful sun, and gale force Chinook winds all packed in 7 days. Big changes are occurring in the river right now. For example, at the beginning of March we were averaging water temps around 36 degrees Fahrenheit or so at Varney. By today, the mercury has already grazed the 48 degree mark twice! That explains the explosion in subsurface bug life.
Pick any rock up around Burnt Tree Hole right now and you’ll see an aggregate of midges, baetids, stoneflies, and caddis pupae. Speaking of caddis, we’re just weeks away from one of the most prolific hatches in the northern Rockies. Anglers from all over descend on the Madison for a hatch so thick you can’t help but inhale a few through the nostrils.
But, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. There are plenty of other bugs that are already buzzing on the Upper River. On Monday, I took a trip up to Three Dollar Bridge and Pine Butte areas hoping to run into some dry flies on a pretty calm, cloudy day. I was not disappointed. Midges were actively flying into my eyes by 10 AM in huge masses, and a few solo sailboat Baetids were observed in eddies behind boulders.
I was surprised to find the dramatic scene at Three Dollar completely vacant of anglers in the morning with all the bug activity. Eventually, a few intrepid anglers made their way to this famous dry fly water.
So if solitude is your drug, now is a great time to enjoy some great fishing in an area often congested by May. Pack your 5x tippet and some size 18 Parachute Adams along with your best vision to spot your fly when it lands on the slicks.
After a morning dry fly session, I scooted on downstream to Pine Butte. Again, plenty of room to double haul down there too. Very few anglers around, and the fishing was otherworldly on nymphs. The girdle bug (because of course) was definitely being eaten hard, but outcompeting even the girdle bug was the wire worm. It was an awesome afternoon catching some beefy fish under a bobber.
On Wednesday, and buddy and I took the boat down to the lake and rowed over to the Channels to try swinging some streamers in the inlet to the lake. It’s been pretty consistent down there lately with sculpzillas, with the lake so low. But when I arrived at the lake, it was noticeably fuller. I can’t seem to find an online source for current lake elevation data, but it was significantly deeper than last week. Once over at the inlet of the river, I started out with my same routine. A natural sculpzilla on a 7 ½’ leader with my 6 weight.
While I got a few tugs on the sculpzilla and my friend landed some beauties on a mini-loop sculpin pattern slowly swung in the current, it was not red hot like in past weeks. Fish seem to have spread out now with more water around. The lake was slightly off color with the melt we’ve had lately too. When a strong south breeze showed up, we hit the eject button and got outta dodge before we were blown to the north shore.
A few others from the shop also got out recently, including our very own Jess Moore with our good friend and awesome photographer Ed Coyle. Ed recently got some new underwater housing for his camera and they tested it out on some spring caught rainbows. Below is a beutifully spotted rainbow Jess caught up with on the Madison. Stay tuned next week. We'll be having some of our other shop staff submit their ramblings on fishing in the coming weeks.
Photographs: Ed Coyle (Top and Bottom), Justin Edge (Middle photos)Angler: Jess Moore