Madison River trout fishing, Yellowstone Park

September 11, 2013 at 4:20 pm

At the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers in Madison, the Madison River is formed and meanders parallel to the road all the way to West Yellowstone on it’s way to Hebgen Lake.  I fished the upper few miles of this already powerful river, where it reminded me of the Hampshire Test, a steady flow and luxurious weed growth, allowing a more relaxed style of fly fishing among spectacular scenery.

I’d intended fishing the Gibbon, as advised by the flyshop owner in West Yellowstone, but a bison on the road had caused a traffic jam, so I turned back to the nearest parking spot and got my rod out. I still had the hopper, nymph combo from the Gallatin attached and walked down to a likely looking run, where a large rock was forcing the river out from the bank. First cast, as I watched the hopper drift along the glide, it slid sideways and disappeared. I lifted and was into my first Madison fish, which promptly zoomed off downstream. The angler downstream complained that he’d spent twenty minutes there before me without a touch. This put more pressure on not to lose this fish, which was making the most of the strong current.

This was a decent sized rainbow, that fought all the way to the net and was  aware that the size 16 gold head pheasant tail could slip out at the slightest turn, giving a sigh of relief, when it was finally in the net.

This rainbow was beautifully marked, with a massive tail, it’s solid round body testament to the healthy diet available to these trout. The nymph was safely in the scissors of it’s jaw, a speedy unhook and it was back in the river, darting away. At this moment calls from the roadside made me look up to see the errant bison strolling into our parking area, quiet oblivious of the curiosity and panic that it had invoked among it’s onlookers.

With the bison continuing on it’s way, to browse the meadow downstream, I got back to fishing, having been joined by another local flyfisherman, who like me, enjoyed fishing talk. Like his friend, he had not caught all morning and had come up to see what the Englishman was doing and to advise me of the many waters I could fish, if I had time. I was casting across and drifting the hopper downstream, while paying out line, covering more water each cast. He’d just complimented me on my line mending, when the hopper was engulfed in a swirl, the line tightened and I was into my second fish, only minutes after the first. This trout exploded on the surface, before boring deep, stripping line from my reel down to the backing, as it fought across the river. These trout are all muscle, due to the conditions that they survive in and it was a while before I saw the bronze sides of a good brown, when it topped mid stream. My new friend volunteered to net my fish and as I watched him struggle down the bank on his reconditioned knees, I realized that at age 77, he might not be the ideal candidate to do so. Once in the river, however, after a few heart stopping misses, it was mission accomplished and he got his net under the trout.

Another good fish, this one measuring in at 14 inches, had taken the hopper, turned and hooked it’self, then given a fight harder than any brown trout twice it’s weight, that I’d had on my home chalkstream, making several last minute dives for freedom, once it neared the net.

With the road now clear and the natives impressed, it was time to get back on the tourist trail again and head in the direction of Mammoth Springs and Tower Falls, followed by Yellowstone Canyon, a true sightseeing fest, before finding myself with fishing time to spare on the return journey, when my wife requested a stop to view an osprey nest on the other side of the Madison. We watched as an osprey dived into the river and arose with a large trout in it’s claws. The large flapping fish proved too strong and it fell back with a splash. The search continued, another victim was selected and a one pound fish was being lifted from the river, the osprey turning the trout head first to streamline it’s flight back to the nest, while it’s partner flew cartwheels of appreciation around it shrieking.

The Madison was dotted with rising fish and I watched a large grass hopper jump as I walked, the strong wind carrying the flying insect far out into the river, it’s struggles to escape the surface ending with a plop, when the jaws of a brown clamped shut, baring it down to the depths. Coping with the swirling upstream wind was a problem, an approaching thunderstorm creating it’s own weather system in the mountains and staying in contact with the fly was difficult. The hopper was drifting down, I was retrieving slack line from my cast, when the hopper dragged under as the nymph was seized. I lifted the rod more in hope than expectation. At the extreme of my lift, I felt the weight of a fish, a pull of line through the rings and the rod doubled over with the power of a running trout. My goodness, how these trout fight, another breathtaking battle and I slipped the net under a quality brown. Holding the fish for a photo was a  fight in itself and the brown trout was soon swimming free.

Two smaller brown trout followed among missed takes and lost fish, before the hopper was hit with a crash and a rainbow was cartwheeling across the surface, diving deep and running upstream, singing the reel in surges of acceleration. Giving line when needed and stripping back, when the rainbow began to lose ground, I was in control and waiting to bring it over to the edge of the shallows, when it gave one last lightning surge, pulling the rod down flat with a ping as the hopper’s 8lb link snapped like cotton, a twist of line, where the knot had been, being all that remained. The thunder had been getting closer with blobs of rain splatting down into the grass it was time to get back in the car and head back to West Yellowstone.