Mid-December and not many of our crew have been out fishing the Madison lately. Most of us are focusing more on waterfowl hunting and skiing these days. However, there are still opportunities on the Madison.
Storms have been coming through intermittently and we have had some very cold days where ice and slush render a good portion of the Upper Madison unfishable. However, the river up above the West Fork remains fishable pretty much all year round regardless of how cold it gets. Same would normally be true for the Bear Trap Canyon right below Ennis dam. This year however, they are doing work on the power house down there so they are running all of the water over the spillway, rather than through the big pipe. These high flows in the upper canyon make fishing and wading in these first couple of miles below the dam much more challenging than usual.
If you got the itch, and you want to get out fishing you should first consult the weather report. Milder calms days present more options than the windy and super cold days. On nice days when temps reach 40 and the wind isn’t howling, the Lower Madison is a good float and wade option. Same for the Varney to Ennis reach of the Upper Madison. However, when winter settles back in I would head straight for Reynold’s Pass or Three Dollar Bridge for the best action. Another solid sleeper option would be the Ruby River below the Ruby Dam.
Finesse nymphing with very small flies tends to rule the winter time game, with the Euro Nymph style being particularly effective. Some days, a big stone nymph or black bugger dead drifted works well too. And if you pick your time and location right, you can also witness some great surface activity. Just make sure you got a few #20 or 22 midge patterns and your 6X leader and tippet!
Keep tabs on the Madison and Ruby River flows with USGS graphs updated daily.