Thank the Weather Gods
Summer weather opens up the fishing on the west side of Yellowstone.
With perfect weather, good hatches and great water temperatures, the rivers on the west side of Yellowstone Park have once again regained their mojo. The Firehole, Gibbon and Madison have all been producing trout, not only on smaller flies and nymphs, but also on some big bugs. The cooler mornings often provide blankets of PMDs or caddis on the Firehole, but with the temperature of the river close to 80 degrees, as the day warms up the fishing cools down. During the hottest part of the day my favorite section of water is the Gibbon Meadows. Slow and meandering, the Gibbon Meadows provide a technical challenge to catch the large browns lumbering near the bottom. A size 12 or 14 CDC Caddis is usually all I ever tie on as I crouch on the sides of the bank in an attempt to sneak up on fish. This often pays dividends, but more times then not I witness a 16-inch brown come up to my fly, only to see me at the last second and return to the depths of the river. If you can see the fish, they can usually see you in this section: walk slow, low and soft when hunting these trout.
The Madison River inside the park is a completely different river than the Madison River formed out of Hebgen Dam. Instead of tying on a dual nymph rig, I always tie on a Royal Trude or some type of flying-ant pattern. My favorite section of The Madison River in the park is exactly nine miles from the west entrance. There’s a pull off on the right hand side, and a large boulder in the river that marks the best run. Casting a large caddis or some type of terrestrial should get one of the beautiful browns to rise and take your pattern. After catching almost all rainbows throughout my first month here, it made even the smallest browns feel like an accomplishment.
These rivers also provide many opportunities that the rivers outside the park just cant replicate. For example, after fishing for a couple hours at Madison’s nine-mile mark I peered over my shoulder to see 20 tourists lined up taking pictures of me. Wow, I must be better then I thought, I told myself, and I started to throw the farthest cast I thought possible in an attempt to satisfy my audience. It wasn’t until I had found a way to hook my hat and get my line completely tangled that I looked across river and witnessed a large moose feeding on the opposite side. A remarkable and humbling site. Although these experiences make the fishing more enjoyable, I still cant help but to drive the windy road past Hebgen lake into the heart of the Madison outside the park.
I honestly don’t know if it’s the thrill I get from fishing the fastest runs I can find or the fact that I know huge fish are peppered throughout the massive river. And with the runoff right now the river is HUGE, running close to 1800 CFS daily. Until the snow runoff ceases, this is what it will stay at as well.
Despite the rippling currents, though, my one true love is the Madison River. It has such a spot in my heart that I will one day name my daughter after it, or my dog, whichever comes first. It is a challenging river though and if you go out with a fly box ill prepared, the Madi will eat you up.
After losing all my favorite Girdle Bugs, caddis pupas, and Serendipities to trees, fish and rocks alike I decided I could still go out and catch fish. It took me about an hour to realize that I would need to go back and reload my box if I ever wanted to catch these wary trout. So after stocking my box with nymphs such as golden-stone imitations, yuba pupas, King Princes, red and brown Serendipities, Zebra Midges, and a few pink and red Atomic Worms, I set back out to slay some trout. I always find it funny that different species of trout located in the same waterway key in on different bugs, but the trout located in the Madison do.
While fishing at the famous section of water known as $3 bridge, I managed to hook up with several fish. Three of hese were browns that decided to eat my Atomic Worm while three of them were rainbows that chose to eat a size 8 golden stone imitation. It was a great setup for me because I knew if I hooked a fish on the bottom fly it was a rainbow while if it was the fly above it, then it was a brown.
All of the rivers near the west entrance of Yellowstone provide their own unique version of paradise. Whether you love to throw tiny dry flies completely across a river to a feeding trout, sightfish for big browns in technical water, toss a big Royal Trude while being videotaped, or find the perfect two-fly combo to slay trout on one of the most famous sections of river in the country, you can find it all here. Unfortunately Slough, Soda Butte and Lamar are all still running very high. I was hoping for Fourth of July fireworks by way of sparkling trout, but even Slough, the first of these three waterways to clear, probably won’t be ready to fish until several days after the holiday weekend. Luckily, with all the great fishing on the west end, I won’t need to leave, or ever want too for that matter.
Steven Spigelmyer is studying journalism at the University of Nevada. He's our roving reporter in Yellowstone Park this summer.