Photos and Story: Spring Bonanza on the Madison River

Written by: Dan Larson, Madison Valley Ranch

Water levels were ideal for spring fishing in the Channels of the Madison.
Photo by Tom Olivo

A couple weeks ago, some Montana friends and I were wade-fishing the Channels of the Madison River right behind the Madison Valley Ranch. With the epic winter snowpack and cool spring days keeping the water flows in outstanding conditions–two to three inches of visibility and good flows in all the side channels–we split up to explore the main channel, side channels, and islands all within a half mile of the Ranch.

Although bugs were hatching on the sunny day, all trout were caught on nymphs.
Photo by Tom Olivo

Although there were midges hatching along the banks and eddies, we didn’t see any heads coming up yet. But the nymphing was almost too good to believe. If we found one fish, we’d find numerous more in each run and hole. Jeff, Marshall, and I tried various combinations of Beadhead Woolly Buggers, San Juan Worms, Delekta Spankers, and small Serendipities; all were successful! Each day produced at least a dozen fish to the net for each of us, almost exclusively fat, sassy rainbows ranging from 12 to 17 inches. Jeff did have a very big brown take his small nymph, but the first acrobatic jump was the last we saw of that boy!  A good reason to come back next week and try again.

The rainbow trout were on the feed, and each angler caught a dozen or more.
Photo by Dan Larson

The islands are still covered with four to five inches of the ice floes left from the winter sheet that covers the Channels with ice from late November until early March.  As spring comes, the waterways open up, but the ice remains on the islands, making for a surrealistic fishing experience. Having seen lots of moose droppings over the two days, we finally caught a fleeting glimpse of a moose about half a mile from the the ranch.  We also saw the first arriving sandhill crane couples working their way north. The fields in front of the ranch will start filling up with cranes over the coming month or two.

Big slabs of ice, left over from winter’s grip, lined the banks.
Photo by Dan Larson

All in all, it was a great way to start the spring fishing season.

Dan Larson is the owner and managing partner of Madison Valley Ranch, in Ennis, Montana.

3 thoughts on “Photos and Story: Spring Bonanza on the Madison River”

  1. I love nymphing – It’s great to see such a fantastic fishery. My “home” water is perfect for nymphing as well. I’ve been documenting how, where and when to nymph. I’ve got a summary of it here.

    I think nymphing actually might be tougher than dry fly fishing sometimes. Conflicting currents at the surface of the water versus underwater.
    Thanks for the great info.

  2. Love those channels. Read about them. Gonna be nearby this summer. Anybody know if they are accessible to the nonranch masses?

  3. The Channels section of the Madison River is easily accessed via the Valley Garden Fishing Access Site (and campground) located less than a mile upriver from the Madison Valley Ranch. Once you in the water and on the islands you can go chase fish! Enjoy

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