It started many years ago without any intent or conscious effort. A couple of trout bums without any better plans decided to go fishing on New Year's Day. Somehow that day has evolved into an 18 year “family” tradition: Fishing the Madison on New Year’s Day in an effort to catch the 1st trout of the new year. I am not the kind of angler or guide who is focused on the scorecard at the end of the day. Most days I actually have no attachment whatsoever to the scorecard. I love fishing for so many other reason besides what I catch. But on New Year’s Day it’s ALL about one fish, no matter how big or small. I give it my best effort to catch one and start the year with success.
Thankfully we did it again today. #18. I thought of so many of my fishy friends today and wished you could be there with us today to enjoy the spectacular Montana winter beauty. But since none of you could make it, I want to share the day through a few words and pictures. After weeks of rough weather, over 40” of fresh snow at Moonlight Basin, and many great ski days… the weather broke today and we were blessed with an absolutely beautiful New Year’s day in the Madison Valley. High pressure finally took hold and we awoke to a cloudless and calm winter wonderland.
Elina, Noni, Sage and I departed HQ in Ennis at about 11am with temps in at 19 F area and warming up toward the mid 20s. The drive up MT Highway 287 on a winter day like today is beyond description. The majestic beauty of the Madison, Gravelly, and Centennial Mountain ranges is beyond awesome. Everywhere you look is blazing beauty! Say nothing of the wildlife that is visible most everywhere on the snow covered landscape on days like these. We spotted many: Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, giant herds of Antelope and Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Eagles, Geese and Ducks to name a few.
People? Not so much. The highway was deserted and we arrived at the turnoff to Three Dollar Bridge about 11:30 and were the only ones there. The snow is deep up-country right now so you cannot drive the road from the highway down to the river. You can either walk or ride a snowmobile. The mile or so hike in from the highway was great. It was sunny, calm and about 23 degrees. Everyone was excited, especially Pepper and Minnow, and enjoying being outside enjoying deep winter.
Although my girls were probably more excited about sledding and frolicking in the deep snow than fishing, I insisted they accompany me to the river for at least a little while. And fortunately it didn't take long to get on the board and declare victory on the fishing part. One cast and I hooked and landed a decent Rainbow Trout. Boom! That was it. The 1 Trout we came to catch. We coulda left right then, but the day was young and we had just arrived. So naturally, I kept fishing... and the fish were taking! In the first spot I landed several 10-12” Rainbows. The girls went to build a snow fort and I decided to try a few more juicy looking spots. They all produced! Many Rainbows in the 10 - 16” range came to hand, and all caught on a single #18 bead-head Pheasant Tail. There was a pretty good midge hatch going by 1pm, with clusters of bugs coalescing in the eddies, so it makes sense they would be taking small dark nymphs. I did see one riser, but it wasn't not enough to inspire a dry fly attempt. Though the dry fly fishing can be quite good at this time of year.
I am very grateful for an awesome 2017 and looking forward to 2018. I want to wish you all and your families a very Happy New Year full of peace, happiness, prosperty and many BIG fish! Get out there and make it happen!
Tight Lines and Best Regards,
Here are a few brass tacks details, reviews and photos...
I took this opportunity to try out my new R. L. Winston 9’ 6wt Kairos fly rod. I set it up with Rikki's Icelandic Wish reel which was loaded with an S.A. Sharkwave Trout taper line and a 7 ft. leader tapering down to 3X Fluorocarbon tippet with a single BB split shot. As previously mentioned, I fished a single fly: #18 BH PT nymph. Really seems to be all you need up there this time of year if you want to run up the score. Of course, there are many ways to skin a cat and catch a trout, but I love the good ‘ol “never fail” nymph.
I wore my new Simms G4Z bootfoot waders, for only the 2nd time and loved them. The hike in was comfortable and easy. No problem hiking through the snow in my vibram sole boots. My feet stayed very warm the whole day, when typically in conditions like that I would have cold feet wearing my stockingfoot waders and boots. I also found the vibram sole boots to have exceptionally good traction on the river while wading. I never felt like I was unsteady or going to slip on the Madison River bowling ball rocks. Really good traction! Probably the best waders ever made!