Big Sky, Big Bows, Big Fun.
Holiday weekends make most fly anglers cringe at the thought of crowded waters and busy highways. I completely understand, I cringe too. Yet, every year I find myself fishing somewhere on a holiday weekend like the 4th of July without fail.
Over the 26 years I've fly fished I have tried many locations on holiday weekends and you know what my conclusion is for angling traffic? They are just like every other weekend more often than not. The weekend before, or in particular, after the holiday weekend are usually worse for the amount of folks on the water. But maybe I should just keep that a secret...
This year I had an itch to fish the upper Madison River in Montana. An iconic Montana fishery with high numbers of fish per mile, high numbers of anglers per mile, and classic southwest Montana scenery.
The Madison can also be notorious for being a tough fishery because of the amount of pressure it receives, which is what I kinda wanted in some weird masochist fly fisherman way. I love cutthroat fishing don't get me wrong, but sometimes you just need to go for some prime rib and steaks.
A good insider tip I received from a longtime outfitter on the river was to put on late and stay late. Avoiding the booze cruisers and the 9-to-5 anglers / guides. The tip paid off as we were rewarded with a very quiet and relaxing float, having the river to ourselves most of the way. Evening storms slowed the fishing down, but at least we found some fish during the first portions of the adventure.
Sunday was a different story. Needing to be heading back to Spokane later that day we opted to put on at more regular launching hours. With easily 30 boats ahead of us, and probably another 30 behind us, we were never alone, or out of eye sight for very long. But we expected that, and were okay with it. We were all there to enjoy the beauty of Madison and the thousands of fish per mile.
Salmonflies were still lingering in certain stretches of the upper river and we were fortunate enough to partake in a little bit of the "flying steak" hatch. The hatch was short lived as another afternoon storm blew in and shut down the bugs and trout again. That's just the way it goes sometimes.
While three days on the water woulda been really nice, the two days of floating and enjoying the Montana skyline was just what the doctor ordered.
Living in an area like Spokane makes low impact trps like this fairly easy to do. Other than using a gas pump, we had packed our own supplies before leaving town and camped along the river. Uncertainty in the world has many people traveling less and in my opinion, traveling smart and preparing ahead of time reduces your "potential impact" of risking smaller communities with exposure to COVID, while still creating a great mini-vaca for yourself and family.
Enjoy our public lands, be responsible, and enjoy some fishing!