MADISON RIVER — “They’re through with caddis,” he said from the open window of his Chevy, fly rod perched over the backseat. “I was here on Saturday and slew ’em — just slew ’em — but it’s over now.”
It was hard to believe, a whole summer to go and all those trout done with caddis? They were in the air, on the banks, crawling everywhere.
It was just defeating.
Still, the surface of the water spoke volumes — not a rise in sight all the way across the Madison River to the stone face of Greycliff.
Determined to find an agreeable fish among the swarms of Mother’s Day caddisflies, I turned the Jeep upstream toward Bear Trap Canyon. The annual hatch known for blizzards of bugs, warm weather and blissful angling had begun, but would the fish oblige?
For a few lucky anglers on the Yellowstone River, fish were more than happy to take a dry fly this past weekend.
“We heard the first reports of blizzard hatches below (Livingston) a week before the bugs hit town,” Matt Nispel of Dan Bailey Fly Shop said Wednesday.
“It hit here on May 2,” Nispel said. “Everyone was walking around hoping it would happen, but not really thinking it would. That afternoon I started getting text messages and there was a real heavy hatch.”
Nispel said the fish were eating emerging caddis pupae, but the dry fly bite was in full swing by Friday.
“Friday afternoon it didn’t matter where you put a fly,” Nispel said, “something was eating it.”
Unfortunately, runoff has officially begun on the Yellowstone. Flows on the river have near quadrupled since last week and water clarity has dropped to just a few inches, putting off the dry fly bite.
Nispel said most anglers in the Livingston area hoping to catch the hatch are heading to the Madison or Boulder rivers.
Jim Carter of The River’s Edge in Bozeman said the Mother’s Day caddis are out on the Gallatin and Madison rivers.
“The Mother’s Day caddis coincides with nice weather,” Carter said. “People are getting spring feverish and want to get out on the water.”
Carter said the Gallatin River is on the rise and will likely be muddied up by Thursday, but said the Madison should remain a viable option for some time.
“Bear Trap Canyon is the place to be,” Carter said Wednesday. “There have been clouds of bugs on the river the last two days. There are still skwalas and march browns on the water, but around 3:30-4 o’clock it just switches over to the caddis and the fish are coming up to them.”
Carter said stream flows out of the West Fork remain moderate and ice on Hebgen Lake indicates the Madison River won’t blow out for a couple of weeks, weather dependent.
Carter said anglers should focus their efforts in the afternoon when the hatch is at its height and the fish are most likely to rise. In the event trout aren’t rising, Carter said soft hackle hare’s ears and pheasant tails have been taking fish.
“It seems the hatch has been strongest up around Warm Springs,” Carter said. “I think we’ve still got a few days before it peaks.”
With three days to Mother’s Day, and a whole summer to go, here’s hoping there’s still a few trout willing to rise to a caddisfly.