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Rare Opportunities

Updated: Feb 7, 2021

Photo of rowing a drift boat in winter on the Madison River above 8 mile ford.
No, the fish are over there dude!

The calendar said February 1st, but it certainly felt more like April 1st with the temp reaching up into the 40's and all the boat launches around Ennis open. Typically, with our annual ice gorge created from extended cold snaps, the boat launches near town and the lake are consumed with ice (see photos from last year below). Having the opportunity to float fish below Varney is rare.

Rainbow trout on Madison River in winter, below Varney Bridge.
Nice, fat rainbow below Varney on the Madison.

Three of us took off around 11 am so we could have our breakfast burritos and 5th cup of coffee first, all disguised under the justification of letting the water warm up a bit. Float fishing in the middle of winter is a tough proposition on the Madison for a couple reasons. Fish are generally more congregated in deeper pools and not spread out river wide in the shallows like they are in mid summer. So, as you're floating by at the speed of the Madison (pretty swift), you've got one opportunity to hit the bucket just right and hope your rig gets down in front of a fish in time. So, venturing out on a drift boat on the Madison in the winter is more about stopping frequently to more thoroughly work areas where fish are gathered, than ripping lip from the bow.

In our float from Varney to Burnt Tree we certainly didn't reel fish in hand over fist. With my broken leg, I sat in the back with a beer and a spinner and hit all the deep buckets with slow retrieves. The others nymphed with stoneflies, eggs, and worms. While we set any records for numbers we hooked a couple above average size rainbows for any time of year. Both ate dark rubber leg stonefly nymphs in deeper water.

We're not too far behind on snowpack right now, and I'm hopeful we'll catch up and have a normal water year, but our temp have certainly been higher and allowing for more winter time angling. So get out an enjoy it while it's here!


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