Everyday, more and more boat launches are seeing drift boats and rusty trailering skills on display along the Upper Madison. Red winged black birds have been spotted already and the fishing is picking up substantially, as the water temps have finally stopped bottoming out. The fish have seemed to key in on that and really started pounding those all important Skwala nymphs that are becoming more prevalent with each passing week.
The Skwala is an often overlooked, but important, stonefly species. They're the first big menu item to start floating past kype jaws for the year, and go mostly unchallenged in menu ranking to trout until the emergence of Blue Winged Olives and March Browns several weeks later. Though we're still slightly early for the emergence of Skwalas, it won't be long and besides, the nymph game is where it's at. Skwalas emerge in privacy and can go unnoticed by even the most observant angler. Whatever you do, do not come to the Madison without some semblence of a girdle bug in your fly boxes. They're God's gift to the Madison River afterall.
If you're a tyer, don't be afraid to mess around with different color variations. It could possibly be a fluke, but I've noticed I pick up more fish on sunny days with a black and white verigated chenille that has some sparkle in it, and on cloudy days with a dark olive or black chenille girdle bug. Size does matter too. I'm seeing more fish on an 8 than any other size right now. I'll go bigger as spring comes along and water levels rise.
We're also entering the prime portion of the year for Egg Sucking Leeches (ESLs) if you're feeling down and dirty. Word is, some nice rainbows have also been chasing big white articulated streamers up near Lyon's Bridge, but you didn't hear that from me.
Springtime is the season of wildly varying weather conditions, so be prepared, especially for wind. But don't be scared of the wind. It's just a fact of life here. I feel like I have a permanent kink in my neck from bracing a south chinook wind. But those fish aren't affected, and they still gotta eat right?
As far as the boat launches go, the update is that people are definitely using BOTH 8 mile and Burnt Tree for drift boat take outs right now. However, both of these launches require some tricky trailering skills and a good lookover before using. Eight mile still has a significant amount of ice around in the turnaround and in the boat launch area itself. Some folks have simply been backing their trailer as far as possible then dragging their boats up with the trailer strap over the ice. Burnt Tree just has a few major ice chunks that are in the launch.
So, it boils down to the following right now: Don't be afraid of the wind or chucking big streamers, always have a girdle bug or 6 on hand, and virtually every boat launch down to Burnt Tree is available for usage. Get out there and have fun!