With the turkeys of thanksgiving all consumed and Santa’s
sleigh running us down, now is the perfect time to reflect and document the
past season. With light snow falling on
an almost empty Main Street of Ennis Montana it makes all of us who live for
the warmer months and the bustle of a busy season, friends old and new, the pull
of the oars and the excitement of fishing each and every day nostalgic for what
was as well as a look into what is upcoming.
Our season started this year very early. Fishable water was found in Montana almost
all winter long and the Madison our home water fished even in the dead of
winter. While we did not rack up a ton
of snow pack and cold this left rivers free flowing and fishable. We started guiding and fishing early around
March 15. While the super early season
is fun and you are almost sure to have the river all to yourself the fishing
can be a thing of timing. The best fishing that time of year was between 10 and
3 and if you timed it correctly it was spectacular. The Madison fished well
most of the month of March with primarily sub surface offerings and the
occasional midge or BWO bite. We ran our
traditional spring special on guide trips the entire month of March and April
for the Madison River and with the good weather and water conditions those who
took advantage had some great days.
April is the traditional month when things really kick off
here in Montana and the April of 2015 was great. We started on the Bitterroot, Blackfoot and
Clark Fork Rivers near Missoula for the world famous skwala hatch. If you made
it this year keep those memories fresh as it was an absolutely fantastic skwala
season. The small amount of low elevation snow and rain made the rivers stay in
shape for quite a long time and kept fish on the feed. Several days of 50 or more fish to dry and
dropper rigs were common. We spent a bunch
of time on the very upper Bitterroot River near Darby. This area does not have the super large
browns that some of the lower stretches have but it makes up for it in the pure
number of fish and a high concentration of cuts. Everyone knows the cuts love the dry fly and
this made the fishing all the better. If
you were luck enough to fish with us this past April you know just how good it
The Missouri River fished well all spring long and we made a
few jaunts over to the famed biggest spring creek in the world. We did not spend as much time as normal on
the Mo this year for a few reasons. First, most of the other rivers in the
state were fishing well and runoff was less of an issue this year. Second, the
spring winds on the Mo were really bad this year and we decided to concentrate
on other water. The days we were on the Mo it was spectacular. For those of you who love keeping the rod
bent and don’t mind nymph fishing spring on the Mo is right for you. The fish on the Mo are larger and more
explosive than anywhere in the state and during the spring they are ready for a
fight. We spent time on the Mo in March,
April and the beginning of May and had great fishing each time we went. Nymph rigs of pink scuds and may fly nymphs
kept the rod bent most of the day.
Once the beginning of May started we came home and
concentrated on the Madison and its famed Mothers day caddis hatch. This usually happens around the 5-10 of May
and it was right on time this year.
Great hatches of caddis kept fish up and looking especially on the lower
river below the Bear Trap. With all the
activity it got the bigger fish looking for streamers early and late in the
day. We had many days the beginning of
May where the Madison was on fire and some of the best fishing of the
Once the latter part of May rolled around we did experience
some unstable water and runoff in many of our rivers. Here on the Madison we did not see as much
as normal as releases from the dam were consistent. We did have a week to 10 days of off colored
water due to many of the small creeks.
Once this cleared it was game on.
The early part of June was consumed with streamers and double ugly nymph
rigs thrown near the bank. The fish
really got on the feed as the salmon fly and other stone fly nymphs started
moving in preparation to hatch.
Our salmon fly hatch was both good and bad this year. When
it happened it was really great but it happened on the entire river at almost
the same time. The old school of the
hatch moving up river a few miles each day was just a myth this year. We had salmon flies from town to Lyons Bridge
at the same time. If you happen to hit
it during this time you were in for a ride like no other but the window was
short. This was due to the river warming
up all at once top to bottom. Great
fishing was had the entire month of June into July on salmon flies, goldens,
caddis and mayflies.
Once the festivities of the 4th of July were gone
we settled in to the summer with great and consistent caddis hatches each
evening, golden stones and yellow sallies during the mid day and may fly’s in
the morning. We had some really warm
weather here on the Madison during the end of June and beginning of July, which
warmed the water. The Madison stayed
open and cool but many of the other rivers in the area got way to hot to fish
and FWP imposed closures and restrictions on most freestone rivers. With the other rivers closed this put more
pressure on the Madison as guides from as far away as Melrose, Livingston and
Dillon were traveling over for day trips.
Even with all the other boats on the river the Madison continued to do
what it always does and that is fish well in the heat.
By August most of the other rivers in the state were closed
to fishing due to high temps and low flow so we stayed at home and fished the
Madison exclusively. Did all the
pressure and warm water have an impact on the Madison in August? Absolutely.
Was the fishing then slower than expected? Sure. Were there still fish to be caught and great
days on the water? Yes. That is one of the beautiful things about being on this
river the consistency when things are tough.
By Mid-August we were into Bunny and a bead season. Yes it was warm but we consistently caught
By the first of September things started to change. Other rivers opened back up and that in turn
put less pressure on the Madison. Second some cool days and rain dropped the
water temps considerably. This is also
the time of year when the fish start to get meat hungry. The baby white fish
are moving around the river and the sculpins are venerable so streamers were
the name of the game. White streamers
were the ticket for quite a while then they turned to black. Either way the fishing in September was
getting better by the day. Our hopper
bite was less than good this year. I
feel there is a real reason we do not see the hoppers like we did just 5 years
ago. Some say weed spraying is the
problem, some the proliferation of center pivot irrigation away from the river
is the problem. What ever it is we had another year of less than adequate
hopper fishing. We spent some time in
September on the Big Hole River. Good
fall may fly hatches kept the fish looking up and a parachute adams or purple
haze kept you bent almost all day.
The end of September and October are the time to look for
brother 2 foot and throw meaty streamers. This year was no exception. For the guys who were consistent and kept
at it the streamer junkies were rewarded.
If you are looking for the fish of a lifetime the first week of October
is a good time to be in Montana.
Generally the fish in the Madison this year were extremely
healthy and active. A few trends we are
noticing. We did not see as many of the
18-21 inch brown trout as we have seen the last few years. Why is still a mystery? We did see a bunch of smaller fish in the
10-16 inch range, which boasts well for the future. Our whitefish population feels like it is on
the increase. We caught a ton of smaller whitefish this year. We will have bottom flow out of Hebgen this
year and the fiasco of the past 8 years is hopefully concluded. This should keep the water temps
We are looking at an El Nino winter on the Madison. What this is going to bring is anyone’s
guess. In fact I have seen drastically
different predictions from people in the know.
Currently we have slightly lower than average snow pack and it is anyone’s
guess if this continues. If I were a
betting person I would think about a spring or early summer trip this year.
Just a guess at this point.
Business wise 2016 was a great year for the Madison River,
Ennis and The Tackle Shop. If felt like
there were lots of people in town and many were eager to go fishing and spend
money. I think the improving economy in
general helped. What the next year and
presidential election brings is a guess.
As a general trend we noticed more beginners this year than
any point in the past. Yes the old
fishing veterans did come but the majority were first time anglers looking to
get their feet wet. This is encouraging
for the sport in general. Most of all it was the people that make this business of fishing for hire and selling cool gear worth it. The people we get to meet day in and day out at the store and on the river make the long winters doable. They are the reason we do what we do and look forward to another season all winter long.