Madison River Fly Fishing & Moose Too – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Madison River Fly Fishing & Moose Too

Fly Fishing the Madison River & A Moose

In Montana, fly fishing has the potential to be a dangerous activity if you are not paying attention to your surroundings. Right before runoff struck and put a dagger in every fly fisherman’s soul, I fished the Madison river close to Ennis with a couple friends. We decided to cross the river to fish sexy looking braided water that wrapped around an island of willows. We split up to cover different locations of the island to find the fishiest spot. I found a fine hole, and knelt to tie on a fly when I heard my friend scream, “moose!” from the labyrinth of willows on the island. I dropped the fly I was about to tie on and stood up as fast as if I had sat on a cactus. I stood still, scared shitless in the beautiful wilderness in middle of daylight, which is one of the most eerie feelings I have experienced.

I am originally from North Dakota, a place where you really don’t have to worry about getting attacked or killed by a dangerous animal, so I had no sniff on what I should do if I was confronted with the largest antlered animal in the world. The average Montana bull moose may weigh between 1,200 to 1,800 pounds, while a cow may reach weights of 800 to 1,300 pounds (Montana FWP). The whole 120 pounds of me was not ready to be trampled by an enraged cow moose protecting her calf, as I felt like I had just started some of the best years of my life in the mountains in Montana. As I stood frozen, with my face as white as a January Bozeman blizzard, my friend that came across the moose was walking swiftly towards me, ecstatic over what he just witnessed. He said he was ten feet from three moose, while my dog, Chloe, boldly ran right up to them.

We then began to move up river away from the two cows and a calf. The three moose then crossed the river braid to the far bank not more than 50 yards from us. My friends felt that they were a comfortable distance away from the moose and resumed fishing on the island. I still didn’t feel safe, as I could hear the moose grunting in the trees and had no idea where they may reappear. To avoid another moose encounter I crossed back through the river but in a much wider and deeper spot. I had to hold Chloe by her collar and swim her across the river. I then thought I was going to get taken down by the current, fill my waders, and lose my dog to the river. It was a highly stressful chain of events, but we made it safely to the bank where I sat to decompress and be thankful that my dog and I were alive and in one piece. Shortly after I returned to our original location on the river before all the chaos, my friends joined me. They were stoked to have come that close to three moose. I, on the other hand, had enough fishing excitement for one day. I decided to photograph my friends while they caught fish until a nasty storm rolled in and it was time to head home.

Madison River Fly Fishing and a Moose Encounter

My friends and I were lucky that the moose we encountered weren’t irritated and didn’t charge us, especially with a calf in the picture. My terrifying experience sparked my interest in wanting to boost my knowledge on what to do if by chance I do meet another moose that isn’t as calm and collected as the moose we happened upon.

Living in bear country, I’ve heard one key rule of bear safety: Don’t run from a bear. This rule is not applicable to moose. If a moose charges you run like hell, but more than likely you will not win the race because at top speed a moose can move 30+ mph. Your best bet is to run and hide behind a tree or rock, or better yet if there is time, climb it. If you can’t get away and are knocked down, curl into a tight ball, don’t move, and protect your head the best you can with your hands. Don’t move or get up until the moose leaves you alone and moves away. If you move prematurely the moose may take it as a sign that you are a renewed threat and continue to kick your ass.

The best thing to do to prevent getting charged by a moose is to give them plenty of space. This can be challenging, because like my group, we had no idea that the moose were there until we were right next to them. Luckily, we didn’t come between the cow and her calf because that is a surefire way to spark an undesirable encounter. Additionally, I am thankful that my dog listens well when she is called, because an annoying barking dog will only agitate a moose.

Just like me, a moose’s favorite habitat is on the river’s banks in the willows. From now on, I plan on being extra noisy to let any moose know I’m coming. Hopefully, this will give them warning that I am around and avoid another face to face clash. Montana is a beautiful and wild place and it’s unpredictably is what makes it so unique and fascinating, but dangerous. Stay keen my friends and tight lines!

By: Whitney Harchenko for Fins & Feathers