Run Off on Hold….For now, Madison River Fishing Report 5/24

Run Off on Hold….For now, Madison River Fishing Report 5/24

Run Off on Hold….For now, Madison River Fishing Report 5/24

Hebgen Dam 1220cfs

Old Kirby Place 1490cfs

Varney Bridge 1920cfs

Lower Madison 2080cfs

It has been a cold week here in South West Montana. Steady 15-20mph winds out of the North and cold temperatures have really slowed the progression of run off over the past 7-10 days. Water levels have been dropping and the river has cleared substantially. It is a beautiful slightly murky green color that I have come to love. Its not clear, its not muddy, its not to low and its not to high. As Goldilocks put it, “Its just right”. How long this will last is anyones guess. For the last week and at least for another few days runoff is on hold. I try not to make many predictions about how and when and what will happen when it comes to runoff. Inevitably I am wrong or off about it and so I just roll with it. Some constants are true. If it gets hot and stays it will come out of the mountains fast and muddy things up. If its cool it will come off the slowly. What we have been seeing is normal, a little of both conditions. It is springtime in Montana after all. If I could choose I would pick the slow burn as it leaves more water up high for longer. But I can’t and so I won’t and I will not fret about it either. Its going to do what its going to do and in July we can tell all about it. When the “Tell Tale” or the “Tell Tail” in Fan Mountain is mostly clear of snow runoff is over. For now it is full of snow.

The slowdown has been good for fishing the last week. All else being equal falling water levels have always been better fishing conditions for me than rising water levels. Thats what the Madison River has done for the past 6 days and it should stay bottomed out for at least another 2 to 4 days. As air temps warm going into next week except this dropping and clearing trend to reverse.

Upper Madison River brown trout caught on a stonefly nymph during a guided fly fishing trip near Ennis, Montana.
Gustavo from Mexico City with his first ever Brown Trout and his first time fly fishing. A great springtime catch for the first time fly fisherman. Upper Madison River near Ennis Montana.

Fly selection isn’t very exciting and hasn’t changed much in the 20 years since I first started. Stonefly nymphs in size 6, 8 and 10 in darker colors seem to be working the best. The ubiquitous black wooly bugger has caught a number of good fish as well. I have been doing well with smaller Pheasant Tail nymphs as there have been good emergences of Baetis or Blue Winged Olives and the fish are keying in on them. Worms, Prince Nymphs and Lightning Bugs have all been producing some fish as a trailer as well. Another combo that has worked well for me over the past week is a size 6 Black Wooly Bugger trailed by a small size 10 black Girdle Bug. I have been seeing more fish rise over the last week but with 15-20 mph North winds not has been difficult (to say the least) to get a cast and good drift to these fish. How’s the streamer bite you might ask? For me its been tough. I can’t really get them to chase or eat it on the slow movement either. Some say its great but thats because they caught one or two nice fish doing it. I have a hard time fishing all day for one or two good fish and so that doesn’t constitute “great” in my book. If you are dedicated to the cause and you are a streamer angler you will find some good fish willing to eat it. Me, I like to get bit. As Gerald Swindle put it and I am paraphrasing here. If your not getting bit you can’t win a tournament. Now I know we are not tournament fishing but thats how I approach most of my fishing. I don’t need one monster. I just need one bite, them I need to get five in the live well (so to speak) and we can upgrade from there. To that end big fish love to eat stoneflies. Thats why I fish them. They work. I have never been an angler that is trying to catch “the one”. I just want to catch one, then more than one. Eventually “the one” will come. But first I must get bit.

Anyhow, getting a little sidetracked there. Because if there is one question I hate more than any other it is “Hows the streamer bite?” Its streamer fishing. If thats what you do, you are going to go do it regardless of what the answer to that question is. If my answer is “it sucks for me but I’m getting them doing this or that” are you really going to do that or are you going to throw the streamer because that is what you want to do? I think we should all fish how we want to. I like getting bit. You may like fishing streamers and sometimes those two things go together. I am ranting again but it really is the dumbest question that gets asked. Do giant swim bait anglers for bass ask how the “swim bait bite is”? No, they don’t. They just go fish it. And they fish it hard and are dedicated to it.

Enough of that. Go forth and enjoy the conditions while they last because they will change for the worse before it is all done. Fish how you want and have a great time doing it.

Keep your tip up!

Brian Rosenberg

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