Late summer in the Madison Valley. Things here are about what you’d expect, maybe a little stranger than usual but then again nothing’s really all that surprising any more. Fishing is stranger than truth! It’s been hot and dry for weeks/months now. There have been threats here and there of some afternoon thunderstorms…none have materialized.
The river is at a bare bones flow, 832 cfs out of Hebgen at the moment, slightly less at Varney Bridge. This equates to some fairly serious boat abuse. The water’s remained fairly cool though…cool nights and releases out of the dam instead of the spillway. So, there’s that.
Hatches are things of distant memory at this point…it feels like months since we’ve seen a bug other than a few, mostly reticent, nocturnal stones. There are a smattering of grasshoppers making a bit of noise in the grass. That seems to be where they’re staying. Some ants too. Pretty slim pickings really.
The catching has varied each day from so-so to okay to decent to downright mediocre. Gotta throw the dice and pick your day wisely. Been tough to string together more than one good one in a row lately. They’re in there though…and they’ve gotta eat sometime. Seen a few Upper Madison unicorns posted on social media lately (as well as one or two in my net). Some coming to streamers, some to nymphs, a few to dries. Dealers choice. You’ll want some black Wooly Buggers, an assortment of olive, gray and tan sculpins, a wire worm or three and maybe a tan Chubby and an Ant pattern if you’re feeling particularly masochistic. One thing you’ll need in spades is patience and maybe a nice early alarm clock.
You won’t be alone out there. Not unless you’re on and off the water before sunrise. The Upper Madison is almost the only game in town and that’s truer now than we’ve seen it in a long, long time. The Big Hole, Beaverhead and Jefferson are trickles with sections of both either under Hoot Owls or outright closed to fishing. The Yellowstone…well, unless you’ve been living in a flyfishing-free cave you’ve no doubt heard about the brewing (or maybe brewn) fiasco gaining steam over there. If not, Google. It’s a sordid tale involving a (rare???) and apparently deadly parasite. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dead whitefish. A few (hopefully only a few) dead trout and almost 200 miles of off limits river…yep, off limits. Closed not only to fishing and boating but to any and all forms of frolicking human and canine. Don’t even THINK about it. And Yes, tributaries fall under the closed heading too.
There are indeed a lot of dead whitefish in the Yellowstone right now. They apparently started dying a couple weeks ago, at least that’s when the first faint reports started trickling in. MT FWP started getting real concerned last Friday; closing the river and all tribs, setting up boat check/sanitize stations at all appropriate ingress and egress points and generally sounding the alarm, through the press, to the entire planet. I’m going to refrain from a full-blown rant here but needless to say these actions have and will have far reaching implications for nearly everyone in the fishing and recreation industries in SW Montana and the surrounding area. It remains to be seen what the short or long-term ramifications for the Yellowstone River might be. Of course I have my own opinions about all this. I was here during the entirety of the Whirling Disease boondoggle and this has ALL the earmarks of that, down to the low flows, higher than average water temps, a proliferating parasite, a too little too late, alarmist overreaction from FWP and a bunch of dead fish.
The short term, admittedly less dire consequence for the Madison is even more angling pressure as the unfortunate folks who make their living over there try and make due by bringing clients over the hill. As I said, you’ll not be lonesome out there.
Like I said….strange days. Not surprising, just strange. And the river just keeps on flowing, never the same, constantly changing. You can count on it.