Warm weather signifies start of fishing season for local anglers

A local angler fishes for trout on the Lower Madison River in the upper section of Beartrap Canyon below Ennis Lake. Photo by Ben Coulter

The unseasonably warm weather that has plagued southwest Montana this winter has left many residents around Madison County doubting whether or not the next brutal snowstorm will arrive and looking for other recreational opportunities.

As spring and summer rapidly approach, die-hard anglers are putting away their powder skis and dusting off the waders to head out and wet a line down by the river.

“Overall the fishing has been a lot better, more consistent this winter than it normally is,” says Mike Lum of the Madison River Fishing Company in Ennis.

This time of year is typically a period of inactivity for many of the trout species found in the region. Because they are cold blooded a fish’s metabolic rate is significantly lower than in the summer months, and they expend as little energy as possible. But just because it’s cold doesn’t mean the fish have gone south for the winter, and Lum says the warmer than average weather the region has experienced this winter could mean better fishing than usual for this time of year.

“The higher temperatures keeps the water temperatures a little bit warmer, and makes it easier to get out there and fish too,” he said.

During the winter months fish can be found in deep holes in the river in slower pockets of water and out of the main current. They tend to cluster up in pods, or groups, which help them stay on the lookout for predators like birds without much effort.

“Generally speaking, you’ll find the majority of the fish hanging on the bottom where they’re out of the main flow,” Lum said. “You’re not looking at the fast, shallow water.”

The best fishing rig for getting into those trout hiding in the dark corners of the river is a double nymph setup with split shot and an indicator. It’s crucial to sink whatever bug pattern an angler wants to throw down to the bottom of the river where the fish are laying low, because they’re not going to spend much effort to chase down a fly. Other successful rigs include girdle bugs, bead heads, eggs and San Juan worms.

“Fly pattern doesn’t seem to be as important in the winter time as does getting the fly in the fish’s face,” Lum said. “Just be persistent. That’s the biggest thing.”

As the temperature continues to rise so will the level of traffic on the river, especially as more bugs begin to hatch. Before long anglers can expect to start seeing midges and blue wing olives.

“Just prior to runoff, there is a window of time where we’ll start to see some good hatches,” Lum said. “The fishing can be really good when the water gets really high and dirty.”

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