Bozeman Fly Fishing Update | May 2015
2015 has been a classic year for unpredictable weather and water condition patterns so far. The year started out with some great ski conditions and an apparent feel of another great year for snow pack. February and March turned out to be exceptionally warm and dry, with only a few heavy snow storms in between to add more snow to the mountains of Southwest Montana. The weather was awesome and the rivers were unusually crowded this winter as folks headed to the rivers instead of the ski hills. As we now head into the runoff season, the summer outlook still remains unclear and much will depend on continued moisture in the form of rain, along with summertime weather patterns.
May and early June is typically the time of year when the water conditions throughout much of Southwest Montana are generally terrible. The runoff typically starts in early May and lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a month, most years. A generally light snow pack became evident in late April and we started to hope for more cold nights and spring moisture in the form of the occasional wet snows and heavy rains that are commonly associated with this time of year. So far, we have been lucky thanks to a few good storms in the high country and a couple weeks of mild temperatures sporadic rains.
As we look to the immediate future, things look more familiar to our guides and fly shop staff. The Yellowstone and Gallatin are both generally in bad shape for fishing with high flows and dirty water (but conditions are constantly changing with cold nights and the Yellowstone is temporarirly in good shape..go figure!). The Madison remains fishable and will most likely remain so thanks to the presence of Hebgen Dam on the upper stretches. Many of the small, mountain streams are running high and clear right now, as their conditions change quickly with warm weather and afternoon thundershowers.
Salmonflies have started on the Henry’s Fork in Idaho and will be showing up shortly on the lower and upper Madison as the weather begins to warm. We typically start to see the big bugs on the lower Madison in late May, so we are expecting them any day now! We have seen them on the upper Madison as early as the first week of June and as late as mid-July. This year is looking like and early-mid-June timing of the hatch. The exact timing is hard to predict as all it takes to change that is an unseasonable weather change in either direction. But, if I were a betting man, I’d be looking around June 10th ish for some prime Salmonfly fishing on the upper river.
The truth, right now, is that most folks are heading to regional tailwater fisheries like the Missouri, Beaverhead, and Bighorn rivers for historically reliable fishing this time of year. Yellowstone National Park opens this weekend, followed by the small stream opener last weekend, which means there are more places for everyone to spread out across the region. So, if you get tired of the crowds when you arrive a couple hours from Bozeman over the next couple of weeks, the Madison is just around the corner.
This is a great time of year in 2015 to really focus on the lower Madison as water conditions, temperatures, and hatches are just really coming into their prime. Caddis, March Browns, BWO’s and even a few Brown Drakes are starting to show up with Salmonflies and Golden Stones just around the corner. Nymphing with dead-drifted streamers and crayfish is finding some very nice Browns in the skinny water flats that have baffled anglers for decades. The streamer chase has started to pick up as well and the lack of substantial weed development makes for easy streamer fishing throughout the river.
The upper Madison is now completely open to fishing and we are starting to see some great streamer fishing through the middle stretches of the river. The upper portions, say above Lyon’s Bridge, are busier than the rest of the river but fishing well with standard early season nymph rigs with stoneflies and small BWO nymph patterns. The great thing about the upper Madison is that there is just a lot of water to choose from, which spread anglers out.
So, when you are making your plans for some fishing over the next few weeks, don’t forget about the Madison River! With over 100 miles of great trout water and something for everybody in terms of the wade or float angler, it’s just a hard fishery to top! It’s also a very diverse fishery in terms of how each section of river tends to fish and our staff and guides are happy to help you “crack the code.” There is sure to be some terrific fishing on the Madison this early season, a time of year when most folks scratch it off the list due to poor conditions.
The river is in great shape right now and we expect it to fish really well throughout the next several weeks. Our Bozeman fly shop staff and guides fish the Madison all year and have been guiding on the Madison for 15 years. We have fished it in high water, low water, warm water, snowstorms, and everything in between. It is one of the most famous rivers in the world for many reasons and we would be happy to help you have some memorable days on the water either on your own or with one of our professional, Madison River fly fishing guides in the coming weeks. Stop by our Bozeman fly shop, Fins & Feathers, to get the latest scoop or book a guided tripemail us as well!