Last Tuesday and Wednesday I had some time off to get out of dodge and go get some more fishing in before run-off season is fully upon us. It is a good thing I did as we are currently sitting on the back end of a pretty solid week of sub-par weather conditions. As of now, most of the water around Bozeman has started to really get run-off-y and murked up.
Fortunately for me, the crew at Kelly Galloup’s Slide Inn put out their fishing report the day before I set out so I knew the water conditions were decent and holding steady and the fish were there and biting. I set out early on Tuesday so I could really log some hours. The weather was absolutely perfect, sunny in the mid 70’s with a slight breeze and almost no humidity. I’m laughing as I type this because it is currently in the 30’s and snowing here at the office in Belgrade. Like the locals say, if you don’t like the weather in Montana wait five minutes.
I took my personal favorite route down 191 next to the Gallatin, it is a really nice way to get across to the Madison Vally. Although it takes a little bit longer I’ve always really enjoyed the scenery going through that area; it is nice to be looking at the Gallatin and getting ancy thinking about the fishing the whole way too Hebgen was still pretty firmly frozen up, I did notice it is starting to break up a decent bit around the dam as well as on the opposite end of the lake near West Yellowstone. It won’t be long now!
The resident bison were surprisingly still out of the park and hanging out next to Hebgen, always very very cool to see (from a distance, don’t try to pet these things like the lady at Old Faithful)
I stopped in Kelly’s to talk shop and snag the hot flies of the day then headed straight to the Raynolds Pass fishing access. Being that it was getting close to run-off and it was such nice weather I thought I may have to bring my own rock to stand on; to my surprise, I was literally the only car in the parking lot for two days straight. On Tuesday I fished primarily dry fly’s from RPFA all the way down to 3$ bridge managing about 5 good fish, a decent afternoon but not exactly banner. I decided on getting up before daybreak the next day and hitting it hard with some nymphs to get my numbers up.
I woke up around 5 am and got some water boiling for coffee. After 8, 9, 10, however many years it has been now, there is still something extremely special and intimate about sitting in solitude on a rock next to the Madison, hot coffee on a cool morning, watching the fish rise with the sun. It always amazes me how slowly the day starts out; right before daybreak you feel the temperature noticeably drop off and the wind shift, for a few minutes everything becomes very very still and calm almost surreal. For a few subliminal moments, time stops and you are merely existing with nature, living in the moment. Then all of the sudden you feel that warm glow of the first rays peaking over the horizon and everything starts to come to life. I always notice the animals at first, the birds start chirping, fish begin to rise, deer bison and elk rise from their beds. The first light of day illuminates the mountains as they glow purple, blue, and orange, something really incredible to see, and man, what a way to start out the day!
I made one more cup of coffee packed lunch and started the hike down to 3$. I’m not sure how long the walk took but I thoroughly enjoyed it, I’m guessing I hit the water about 7:30. As nice as it is to fish dry’s all day I made a conscientious effort to get my numbers up from the day before. I started catching fish immediately and continued to catch fish the whole day. I ended up fishing close to 8 hours straight and caught upwards of 30 fish. I even managed to get the triple crown, nailing a Rainbow, Brown, and a big ol’ whitefish! The fishing was dynamite, I had the whole river to myself, and the crew at Kelly’s couldn’t have set me up better fly-wise. It was a perfect day.
I found out that if I can find a nice shallow spot between two rocks I can prop my net on it with the fish still in the water while I get my camera out, letting me take a photo with one hand while holding the fish with the other. It actually worked out really well and seemed to be the best way to avoid stressing the fish out or handling them excessively. Normally I don’t take fish pictures unless it is really obligatory (as It was on this occasion, I had to prove to some people that I DO actually catch fish). It is very very important (not only to me but to the fishing community as a whole) that we handle these fish as carefully as possible. It’s not hard to do, but unfortunately, as I have seen before, also not hard not to do.
Here are a few things I do, that everybody should be doing as well to ensure the safety and well-being of these fish we love so dearly.
- Always make sure to wet your hands before handling the fish
- Don’t fight your fish until its dead. Sure it is the best part of catching a fish, but I try my best to get them to the bank in a timely manner and not stress them out
- The less you can handle a fish, the better
- Keep the fish in the water as much as possible, if I’m taking a picture it is almost always just a brief (less than 15, 20 seconds) period that the fish is out of the water
- This time of year, in particular, watch out for Spawning Redd’s. Don’t step on them and don’t fish them. Let nature take its course and help to ensure we have plenty of fish to catch next season.
I won’t belabor the point for days and days, but these few simple steps are very important for conserving and protecting these fish we love so dearly. Conservation is key. One day I want my children and their children to be able to experience these pristine wild areas for themselves.
As a side note; I know I have been fishing the Madison A LOT (Will is probably going to ban me from that area of Montana for a while). Well, fair enough. I certainly have been. That being said there are a few good (hopefully?) reasons for this. The Madison is one of the rivers I really cut my teeth on when learning to fly fish. I have a thorough understanding of the river in that area, from reading the water to localized entomology. (Speaking of which, here is a great article on the idea of home watersfrom Hatch Magazine) I know that on most any given day I can drive right up to the river and start catching fish. Is it the best fishing in the world? No. Does it get hammered? Generally speaking, yes. So why keep coming back? Well, why fix something that isn’t broken. It really just comes down to what you are after in terms of experience. Being that I only had two days it is too easy not get on the Maddy; you can literally pull up to the Raynolds Pass fishing access, set up camp (its free for I believe 14 days) and start fishing. This negates all aspects of planning, logistics, etc. I can literally throw my gear in the car and show up knowing what to expect. There is something to be said for that. I love getting out and exploring new places and fishing new water (ideally remote water with difficult approach and access) however, there is always a considerable amount of time, effort, and planning to make an expedition as such possible. All of this being said, I am ready to get out and experience some new places and will make it a point to do so.
“I sat there and forgot and forgot, until what remained was the river that went by and I who watched… Eventually the watcher joined the river, and there was only one of us. I believe it was the river. Even the anatomy of a river was laid bare. Not far downstream was a dry channel where the river had run once, and part of the way to come to know a thing is through its death. But years ago I had known the river when it flowed through this now dry channel, so I could enliven its stony remains with the waters of memory.” – Norman Maclean