Upper Madison (Hebgen-Ennis)
We are still navigating our way through the heavy spring run-off on the Upper, most days being all time highs since flows began being recorded in the 1950’s. Floating under Shelton’s and Wolf Cr. bridges isn’t a safe option at this time and won’t be until flows at Kirby are closer to 2,500cfs. Expect this to continue and possibly rise through the first week of June. Be careful! If choosing to float be prepared to go fast and only using an anchor while parking tight to the bank. Have a knife handy just in case you need to cut an anchor rope. Most folk’s (including us) advice would be to stick to wade fishing, much safer and more productive at this juncture.
While the water is certainly muddy below the West Fork, above is still a lighter tan color that has been fishing just fine, if you know where to look. Think of your favorite summertime dry-fly flats in the wade section, these areas are now deep enough for great nymph fishing. Some of these areas may still be too fast! But check them out and make sure to get a few quality drifts before stepping into the river. The fish are very, very close to the bank compared to the spacing we’re used to mid-summer.
Nymphing is still your best bet, and most likely will be until the second week of June once Northwestern plans to back the flows at Hebden back a bit. For most bank-side pockets, plan on fishing a short leader with plenty of weight to get down quick. Instead of jamming your leader with 3+ split shot, fish heavier flies, this leads to a better connection between rod tip, indicator, and fish. A few of our favorite spring flies to get down quick are the #12 Red Tag Jig, #12 French Jig, #8 Goldie Stone, and #12 Czech Stone. On the smaller end (also tungsten) we like the #16 Iron Lotus, #16 Rainbow Warrior, and #18 Purple Death.
While there are BWO’s, March Browns and a few caddis out, don’t expect to find many consistent rising fish. But we also have room in our packs a few #18 DOA Baetis, #18 Hazy Cripple, #16 Purple Missing Link, and the #16 CDC & Elk.
If you do choose to float and fish while on the move, get a quality sink tip and hit the banks with streamers. The banks are thick with willows and there are plenty of downed logs travelling downstream so plan on losing a few flies. Since the best holding water is right on the bank, make your cast a let it sit for a few seconds. You won’t find many fish chasing if you not sinking flies 1-2 feet off the bank before stripping. Colors? Last streamer float our best fly was the black/silver Sparkle Minnow. Generally, we count on fishing darker, thicker patterns in conditions like this.
If fighting the high and dirty flows in the wade section isn’t for you, go fish Hebgen. For the past two weeks Hebgen has been consistent with big spring bows and browns eating chironomids and leeches. Luckily we haven’t had too many windy afternoons which is a nice surprise. Either way, get out in the morning by 9-10am and be ready to switch set-ups depending on fish activity. If you see plenty of fish rising in a consistent fashion, why not try the dry-dropper? If they are inconsistently rising, you’re better off slow stripping a #12 Chromie or #12 Snowcone nymph, if no dice there then put them under the smallest indicator you have. When the wind comes up, grab your favorite color of simi-seal leech and strip away mixing up your approach; floating v. sink tip, slow v. fast retrieval, shallow banks v. deeper drop-offs, etc.
There’s still a lot of water moving in the Madison in the Park right now. Nymphs and streamers will be your best bet. If you’re fishing streamers, try to find some slack water or slow spots near the banks as fish will be holding here. For nymphs, make sure you are using enough weight to get your flies down. The fast, stained water can make wading a little treachorous, but much of your fishing at the moment can be done from the bank.
Flies: Olive Slap-N-Tickle, Purple & Black Slap-N-Tickle, Olive & Brown Sparkle Minnow, Wire worm #8, Quill JIg #12, French Jig #12, Red Tag Jig #12, Olive/Black Sili Legs #6-8
The Firehole has provided some very solid fishing on opening weekend. We have heard rumblings of hatches here and there, but the most consistent producers have been small swung streamers and soft hackles. We can expect White Miller and baetis hatches to become more consistent as the water clears up and the water level comes down a bit.
Flies: Olive Zonker #6, Olive Simi Seal Leech #8, Olive/Black Crystal Bugger #8, Partridge & Green #10-12, Partridge & PT #10-14, D.O.A. Baetis Cripple #18, Klinkhammer Baetis #18
Felt soled waders/boots banned in YNP this season!
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A non-guide perspective on when to fish around West Yellowstone