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2015 Fishing Year in Review

2015 Fishing Year in Review

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 was. 

 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 season.  

 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 fish.  

 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 lower. 

 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.  



John Way Posted by John Way

Guide, Outfitter and chief bottle washer for the Tackle Shop.  Recently developing his inter web ninja skills. 

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1 Comments To "2015 Fishing Year in Review"

Jack Sanders On 08.12.2015
Thanks for the update info, see you next spring-summer. Reply to this comment
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