It was a real winter. One that the old timers tell me was like they used to be. And although it's officially been "Spring" for 8 days now, I have a hankering that it ain't over yet. There's still a 3 ft tall, 40 ft long, 20 ft wide snow drift sitting in my front yard. But dammit, I WANT it to be Spring. And now that we've had a few days touching the mid 40's, the over saturated ground has been leaking its way into my basement like I've got some sort of ancient grotto down there. That's been a fun project, that I'm sure isn't over yet. But I cast my thoughts towards brighter days folks. One with above freezing temps, the sounds of sandhill cranes announcing their arrival this week, and open water to fish. Even the bluebirds and red-winged blackbirds are here. I saw a gopher today too. The Rainbow Trout are already polishing off fine gravel to spawn. Punxsutawney Phil (did you know it was spelled like that?) can take his shadow and shove it. The Madison finally pushed through the ice jam in Ennis recently. It's been locked up for months now. The ice gorge this year was (by using past tense there, I'm proclaiming sub zero temps be gone!), like the winter itself, a big one. Miles long, feet thick, and perhaps a mile wide in spots, this phenomenon of jammed ice constantly moving slightly this way and that, is largely responsible for many of the traits that make the upper Madison near Ennis so spectacular. For one thing, the unobstructed wild and scenic nature of this portion of the river can't be developed because who wants their home crushed by ice? The gorge also serves as a major rototiller to the underlying river banks and islands. After the melt and before green up, the landscape around the river looks as if a God sized rake scratched it all up. Add a little sunshine, warmth, and rain in the Spring and the riparian zone erupts into a lush habitat full of life. It's a truly amazing transition to see. Someone should do a time lapse of that.
The first trip of the season was back in the second week of January. It might have been the earliest I've floated the upper Madison on a guide trip. We got lucky and caught a day when temps hit the 30s, the sun was out, and the wind wasn't all that bad. Although the water was low at the time, and there was some creative boat launching techniques across snow banks to reach the river, we absolutely crushed the fishing. Multiple doubles throughout the day. And I'm confident there wasn't another soul on the water up there that day. It's good to know experiences like that are still possible, and Montana didn't disappoint. Fish were very hungry and active with the brief warm up, and we fished single girdle bug stoneflies all day. I've been out a few times already in March. Fishing is excellent in ideal holding water. While you can catch fish on a variety of midges and nymphs right now, a tandem stonefly rig can't be beat. With elk, antelope, and deer in abundance along the banks, and hungry fish after a long winter, it's a ridiculously cool time on the upper Madison right now. I've yet to see another angler on the water while I'm out. Spring fishing is here. Outside of the prime time days of summer in Montana, spring is my favorite non-peak fishing season. That sweet spot when the temps have warmed slightly and before runoff. Fish are hungry, wildlife are abundant, and the weather is just shitty enough sometimes to keep a big chunk of anglers away. But for me, there's no such thing as bad spring weather, just bad gear. It's not always going to be 50, sunny, and calm. But the fishing in spring seems to be most consistent. Which is ironic considering the biggest holes in my calendar are in spring.
“The reality is that the decision how to — or if to — regulate recreational use on our rivers really is not the department’s decision. In the public trust [model], the department plays the role of trust manager and we manage the trust for the trustees at the direction of elected or appointed officials.” - Greg Lemon Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Spokesperson That was the word soup and mental gymnastics FWP tried to use less than 6 months ago to justify their decision to kick the can down the road, again, on managing Madison River recreation growth. Ironic. Because seemingly out of left field in early March, FWP releases a draft bill written by their own staff. Written in legalese by bureaucrats who've likely never even floated the upper Madison, they went searching for a sponsor for their bill. It took approximately 48 hours for that bill, which completely ignored the Madison River Work Group recommendations, to be mysteriously sent to the shred pile at FWP. In the 10 years I've been paying attention to this topic here, there have been many many proposals made. This bill was perhaps the worst I've ever seen. And if folks remember the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee process, that's a damn low bar to sneak under. Anyway, it's honestly not even worth telling you about the details. What matters is, we're back in the same position we were 10 years ago. Status Quo. Only this time, we've got a suite of workable solutions to try developed by the Madison River Work group who have spent more time on this issue than anyone in the history of this process. But it doesn't seem like anyone wants to be responsible for giving the green light to try them out. The group developed recommendations to the commission regarding:
The allocation of commercial-use trips to outfitters.
A process to permit new outfitters on the Madison River.
Rule language to address all recreational use on the Madison River, including the walk/wade sections.
Consequences of permit violations.
Those recommendations are just collecting dust at this point. So, the update is there is no news. Same old same old.
Every year it seems like the calendar fills up sooner than the previous year and this year is no different. If you have any interest in booking a date for summer 2023, please reach out ASAP. While there are still a fair number of openings for peak season dates (June-August), they won’t last long. If you would consider a trip in the spring from March through May, I highly recommend it. Less people, more wildlife, healthy water conditions, hungry trout after a long winter, and most importantly – fresh and eager guides! I love springtime fishing. And you should too. Also, this season our rates are increasing to $600/full day - no lunch, and $650/full day with fresh catered lunch and beverages. #inflation right? Check out our Guided Fishing page for pricing and details. Your trip date will be secured upon receipt of a $200 deposit. Also, this year guests are encouraged to bring their own water bottles. I can't ethically keep buying plastic like in the past. I'll have a big jug to refill. Looking forward to another awesome season on the river. Can't wait to see everyone!