By Montana Grant

Posted: July 11, 2019

The Madison River is getting busy. Salmonflies were popping up to Raynold’s Pass today. Most drift boats and guide trips were stacked at Lyons Bridge headed down to MacAtee Bridge. Big bugs are all through this area.  Many boats were also putting in at Varney Bridge and heading down to Ennis.

Near Sun Ranch, there was a cluster of a dozen or more guide trips jockeying for position. Way too many boats for a quality experience. Guide boats from Idaho and West Yellowstone were in the lead. Good luck finding a place to park. The parking lot at Lyon’s Bridge was overflowing onto the roads. Vehicle licenses were rentals, Idaho, California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, and a couple Montana tags. Most fishermen were non-residents.

Many walk/wade fishermen were struggling to find a few yards of river to fish without a boat floating over their spot. Ironically, most fishermen in guide boats were nymphing. The bobbers were obvious along with a double rig of a large stonefly nymph and a smaller caddis attractor.

Most of the fish that I saw caught were on nymphs. Even with Salmonflies crawling along the banks, the trout were not taking them. We had a few looks and refusals, but the caddis was on the menu. Several hatches were coming off at once. 3 kinds of caddis, 3 kinds of Stoneflies, and assorted mayflies and PMD’s. One fisherman I talked with caught a few trout on a Yellow Sally.

Varney Bridge is under construction and parking is even more restricted. You can’t cross the bridge or wade the river to the other side. Evidence of the Big Bugs was there but fishermen were nymphing.

The water is still cold and a bit high. Several boats were putting in at Raynold’s Pass. The parking lot there was also full of “Free Campers”, and non-residents. The fish caught in this area all had hook scars. Successful fishermen were using small bead head nymphs. These fishermen were respectful but less than 100 yards separated groups of fishermen. Dozens of drift boats and rafts from Idaho were constantly crossing the bridge all day.

The head of the hatch at Raynold’s Pass should explode this weekend and continue to travel upriver. Lower stretches behind the hatch can be better once the fish have digested their fat and full bellies. Fishermen were stocked along the banks throughout the Slide Inn area, and above Quake Lake. Below the Campfire Lodge were dozens of rigs and several drift boats being launched at a haphazard dirt ramp.

Salmonflies are also along other rivers. The late, cold, wet Spring slowed the hatch and with so much food on the water, fish are selective, full, or lazy. The hopper season should be outstanding in August.

Something really needs to be addressed with the crowding, overfishing, and river pressure. It seems like there is more interest in managing money than fish. The shuttle and guide fees times the number of boats that were on the river translates into tens of thousands of dollars in a single day.

Tourists and non-residents don’t see the problem. Fishing here is way better than where they came from. Their home fisheries are crowded, stocked, overfished, diseased, and only ghosts of what they once were.

We are fishing the Madison to death! The population of trout is already greatly reduced. The next few months will cause more decline. Catch and Release skills and proper gear are lacking. Hooked fish are taking way too long to be netted in improper nets or dragged onto the shore. Once roughly unhooked with fingers that remove mouth parts, the fish are subjected to “fish pict time”. They may swim away but the stress has already signed their death warrant. We do not see many mishandled, dead trout because raptors immediately clean them up. Mortality of trout along the Madison River exceeds 100,000 trout a year. Ennis will need to change their trout population sign.

Many Outfitters, guides, “shuttlers”, and trout shop owners will not appreciate this article. The Guides that I have talked with are booked all summer. If you don’t believe me, take a day and observe the fishing and river traffic. I wish the truth was different. Unless we focus more on the resource and less on FAT wallets, your “Cash Trout” will be gone.

I hope we can land a solution before the fishery collapses!

Montana Grant

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