It’s not every year that you see flows at the Varney USGS Gauge break the 5,000 CFS barrier, but it’s very likely to happen in the next 24-48 hours. In fact, available historic data on the USGS site going back to 2011 tells us it’s happened only twice before since the summer of 2011 when it reached a whopping 6,600 CFS at it’s peak on June 24th and 5,200 CFS on May 29th in 2014.
The NRCS Snotel sites located in the Madison Basin still indicate the snowpack is 119% of median as of this week. They also have told us the precipitation to date for the month of April was 154% of average. High elevation sites above Hebgen Lake have continued to build snow, while lower elevation sites have communicated declining snowpack. Hebgen elevation level is currently at 6,529 ft, around 6 ft below full pool. Due to high elevation snowpack gains in April, Hebgen outflows have increased to 1,750 CFS and 52 degrees Fahrenheit as I type this.
Who knows when it will end, but the Climate Prediction Center still predicts above average probabilities for moisture through May. Runoff is clearly here, and it's having enormous implications for your fishing outlook. I floated from Lyon’s Bridge to Ruby Creek this week, and getting under the Wolf Creek Bridge was a little dicey. So beware of this hazard if you choose to float that section during runoff. At the current flow rate, I would caution against floating between Windy Point and Palisades. Truthfully, float fishing at these flows isn’t the best approach to really getting into fish during runoff anyway if you ask me. Most of our fish that day came when we got out and worked slow water seams. I’m a firm believer in walk/wade fishing during high flows, finding the slowest water around and high sticking with 2x leaders and size 2 black Girdle Bugs and beaded worms.
When the water goes big you need to as well. Bigger rods, leaders, split shot, flies, indicators and all. It’s more important now than ever to get your flies down to the fish. This can be a challenge if your fishing lighter equipment with light terminal tackle and flies. Go big.
Streamers are also working well in these slower water enivrons too. A heavily weighted streamer is best right now, such as a white Sculpzilla in a size 4. And even though the visibility is around a foot on the Upper Madison, fish have started to key in on those trillions of caddis flying around every evening now too. A size 14 olive Elk Hair Caddis is a great option, tied to 3X leaders. Try swinging them at the bottom of your drift too, skating them across the surface. This can be an effective way to fish a big Elk Hair. Also keep an eye out for big March Browns still flying around up here. Big Parachute Adams and Purple Haze patterns are great imitations for those guys.
Effective patterns this week in runoff conditions included:
Nypmhs: Black Girdle Bug size 2, 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: Natural and White Sculpzillas size 4, Black Sculpzilla size 4, Black Circus Peanut size 4, Gold Kreelex size 6