|Floating The Madison River in Montana
Guided trips with Bud Lilly's Trout Shop
West Yellowstone, Montana
As I have written before, weather in West Yellowstone, Montana...is unpredictable. This time is was smoky. Don't email me and tell me about filters for my lens. It was the smokiest that I have ever experienced in the area. You could could smell the fire it was so thick.
oK...let me be a bit honest, smoke is not a weather, but HOT is. So I'll tell you in this trip of August 2007, for this day and this place it was HOT and DRY. Even with the haze of the smoke I took that precaution of using sun screen. I'm glad I did. I only suffered the day with rose colored skin and not the beet red of the past.
This trip was a bit different. I took my former son-in-law, Mike Onizuka, on the trip. He had not had a chance to experience the Madison River float trip before. He's fished on other rivers and lakes. He's fished in the ocean... but nothing can really prepare you for the Madison.
I do go to the Madison for the fish (well DUH), but the experience of the environment, the wildlife and the miles of perfect habitat are a very remarkable combination. So the fishing experiences of the past (including my multiple trips down the Madison) don't help too much...each day is different and today certainly was no exception.
We got off to a uncharacteristically late start. While we showed up a bit early, our guide for the day (JR), had a flat tire to start his day and eight o'clock was the earliest we could get a flat fixed. Patience was the watchword. We waited as other parties met their guides and left for various locations. We were going to be headed towards Lyons on the Madison...but not without JR.
As it turned out the wait was of no consequence. JR did get the tire fixed, but the fish had not been feeding until after about 10:30 the past few days, so an early start was not all that advantageous. Now in my particular situation...I would have liked to have slept in for some additional amount of time...10:30 is still a bit early for me...breakfast at Noon works for me.
Mike and I had been in earlier in the week and purchased our licenses ahead of time. Montana is very reasonable to their out-of-state visiting anglers. You need to have a copy of your drivers license and cash, but the small fee is well worth supporting the effort of the State to keep their fabulous fisheries healthy. On our trip to get the licenses we also made our lunch choices. Lunch is part of the deal...guide, gear (if you need), terminal tackle (including all flies), lunch,..everything is included. Patience on the part of JR is also included. About the only limit he places on anything is hooking him. I think I have hooked the limit on both sticks and stones, I leave JR alone.
It does help to have a couple of items with you. The altitude is in the neighborhood of 6000 feet. The sun will damage you in several ways if you don't take precautions. The tops of my hands get horribly sun-burned (along with the tops of my ears, the nose and the back of my neck) if I don't use a higher rated sun-block. Lip balm is good to carry with you as the air is dry. Water is provided, so you don't have to bring that along, but I usually work in a couple extra glasses of water the day before to make sure I'm hydrated.
I usually wear a ball cap just about every where I go. I made a small mistake on my first trip down the Madison and wore my usual cap...and the ears were way past "tender" the next day (on which I was fishing again). I now have a great hat...wide brim...woven crown...and purchased at Bud Lilly's even. I don't float without the wide brimmed hat.
I also use a pair of polarized, UV blocking glasses (Action Optics - Guide's Choice). Without the glasses I'm sure my eyes would be in horrible shape at the end of the day. As it is, they get tired from the glare off of the water. If I had a choice to make between great glasses and a great rod, I would choose the glasses and whine about the rod...at least I can see the flies.
Just after JR sets the boat out from the grassy bank we pass under the Lyon's bridge. There is no fishing from boats allowed upstream from the bridge, so those first several yards are off limit to fishing for us. Just after we pass under the bridge, JR (and nearly all of the other guides) will stop and teach you the techniques to use with the nymphs...or to remind you (or refresh your memory...take your pick on the choice of words) of the techniques he tried to teach you on prior trips.
Mending line is one of the most valuable skills for the nymphing commonly used on the Madison. You might be able to cast a dry fly 30 yards...but it you can't mend line...repeatedly I might add...you will find yourself wasting time and your arm. I frequently find myself mending line two or three times during a drift. JR will teach you a absolutely wicked technique for 20+ yard mended drifts...but that drift needs to be dead, so drag on the line is a bad thing.
On this day, partly because of our unplanned late start and the time of day that the fish had decided to begin feeding, the boat launch area was a tad bit crowded. It doesn't matter too much if everyone plays by the unwritten rules of riverbank etiquette. Today was a smooth day...everyone played well together...just like a big sandbox in elementary school.
It didn't take too long for Mike to hook a decent Brown Trout and bring it to boat. JR thought It was a good sign to be hooking fish so soon. We were using the standard two fly set up...small nymph on the bottom but a large sculpin on the top. JR knows that I want to catch bigger fish, so he hooks up with a bigger fly so I can cast to the holes and drift the sculpin through the shallows. It does work. The trade-off might be fewer fish. On this day it didn't matter too much...we caught the numbers that we thought we would. The surprise was the types of fish we caught and the sizes of the fish we caught.
We only caught two Whitefish out of the approximately 3 dozen fish we took. Usually I would see something like two dozen Whities in that total number...what happened today for this low number of Whitefish to be hooked is a mystery. The other interesting happening was the high percentage of Browns that we took as opposed to Rainbows. Perhaps 3/4 of the trout caught were Browns...I had anticipated catching more along the lines of 1/4 Browns...certainly not 3/4. The larger sculpin pattern may have had something to do with the both the number of Browns and Whitefish...hard to say. We did fish Hoppers in front of Flying Ants later in the day and hooked the smaller fish and a greater percentage of Rainbows (with a massive exception of course...it too a Brown).
oK...I'll admit it now and save the enhancements for another time. I was watching a bubble floating on top of the water thinking it was my Hopper when the big Brown hit the Flying Ant, which with my horrible eyesight I could not see at all. The fish was easily 18 inches...somehow it didn't get hooked by the bubble. Yes I was wearing glasses...yes my eyes are really that bad. BUT...it was fun casting light dry flies after using weighted wet things for hours...I'm just hoping that someday I'll be able to talk about the big one that was brought to boat and not the "Big One" that got away. Today...the two largest fish hooked didn't make it to the boat (it's a story I keep repeating).
I'm sort of beginning to think that all fish which take the fly but do not get hooked are small bait fish or rocks and all fish that do get hooked but don't make it into the net are large fish...perhaps 20% larger than any fish which did actuallly make it into the net. Just a theory.
This was the first time that I had fished with two people in the boat casting at the same time. What a unique experience. It was important to not cross lines (well DUH) and to cast a the same angle from the boat to make sure that the lines could stay apart.
I am a typical side arm caster. It's a habit I picked up as a kid and never was all that concerned with it. On my last trips in June (also with JR through Bud Lilly's) I ran into more wind than I was used too...the ability to change planes from a side arm delivery and retreival just isn't as good as from the vertical. I had decided to work on my vertical casting technique...glad I did as it was a great help with two people casting in the boat.
I typically use a 5 weight set up. Mike was using a 6 weight rod with 7 weight line. His set up was a bit more appropriate at times. It helps in the windy conditions of the Madison valley. My 5 was good with the dry flies but was a bit of a challenge with the non-weighted flies going quarter into the wind. Took a bit of thought. So am I going to change set up?..no...the wind usually doesn't kick up until after Noon and by then my arm is a bit weary so a heavier set up just adds to the tired arm...and then my technique suffers (read: becomes even worse) and so my 5 keeps me in the game for the entire day. Also...it helps to have a guide and an outfitter who will rig up a heavier set up if the conditions really call it out. JR has a heavier rod as backup in the boat. Bringing more rods is really not needed unless you absolutely need to feel the comfort of your own grip.
Dick Greene, who along with Barbara Klesel, owns Bud Lilly's Trout Shop booked this trip a couple of weeks before my actual arrival. It was easy to do over the phone (1-800-854-9559 ). Dick takes good care of his customers and really makes you feel welcomed. I had to wait longer than I normally would have to make the arrangements as Mike was not sure when he would be able to get to Montana...so as soon as he told me when he and his wife, my daughter Sarah, would be at our cabin, I called Dick and booked the date. It is quite possible to walk into the shop and book a trip for the next day, but it could be busy and you would be out of luck. All of the Bud Lilly guides are in the area for the season...but I would recommend that you call ahead. At least I do...it gives me some piece of mind.
We saw our share of wild life...the Bald Eagle standing on a gravel bar was rather cool...the Mersinger family was a new twist...we of course saw lots of geese up close. Sometimes it's just plain difficult to really enjoy the scenery when you are staring at an indicator for hours.
This trip showed us the effect of lower water for an entire season. The water regulators and power folks have developed a plan that releases water into the Madison to flow into the lake at Ennis...to feed irrigation needs and to "pulse" water from there into the lower Madison for fish to survive the hot days during the later part of the summer. The lower water content of the smaller amount of snow during this past Winter in the upper Madison drainage (Yellowstone National Park) had some effect of the Madison fishery. The effect was not bad by any means. We caught fish...we had a marvelous time...but you could see some differences in the habitat from last season. Moss on rocks for one example, scraping the bottom of the boat is another example. Wading opportunities in several spots for another example and was helpful for those in solo rigs.
A positive element of fishing with a partner is the ability to take different pictures. I was able to take an array of PICs that normally I would not have taken. Usually I'm "playing" the fish and don't have the free hands to take some types of shots. Having a camera on the other end of the boat would have been good to get shots of my fish too...but hey...one thing at a time..
Talking with the other guides and clients at the take out late in the day is always fun. It's a kind of "code" or "fish-speak"..."we held our own" means that they didn't do as well as they would like to talk about. "Interesting conditions" might mean that the fishing sucked for them. "We did all right" means no they didn't.
My expectations for the day were met and then exceeded. We
caught fish...we more than held our own, we did better than all right and except for the
wind, we didn't find the conditions "interesting."
|Copyrighted 2007, J. Atchison, Spotted Dog Productions|