A trio of holes, and 2 other miserable rivers: Part IV
The Big Hole. The Firehole. And now my nemesis: The
Cornhole Madison. With one of the prettiest backdrops imaginable, the Madison lures me in each year with its beauty, then kicks me where it counts. That river never treats me with much respect excepting perhaps last year when I caught 6 fish, which exceeded my total catch rate from the previous 5 years by 2 fish. That’s right—in the years from 2009 to 2013 I caught a grand total of 4 fish on the Madison (on some of those years not a single fish, while on other years as many as 2). Last year was an exception rather than the norm, and while I thought perhaps 2014’s outing might be the great slumpbuster, it turns out to have been merely a freak occurrence. If you’re really bored you can read about my first encounter with the Madison in 2009. That was a foreshadowing of my jaded relationship with that river. Bidding farewell Saying good riddance to the Firehole, we departed West Yellowstone after a stop at Blue Ribbon Flies for some bugs and intel. Jimmy may have also bought a new hat, bringing his total to no fewer than 5. As we drove along the shores of Hebgen Lake toward Three Dollar Bridge, the weather looked iffy. Rain was forecasted for later in the afternoon but it appeared we might get an early dousing. Thusfar on the trip we’d had favorable weather for avoiding rain jackets despite that it did rain every night of our trip. As we exited the mountains and descended into the Madison Valley the skies cleared and it was evident we were in for another fair day. We arrived in the parking lot where a couple of other cars were already parked. Sometimes we have the river to ourselves, but given the lower than normal flows the Madison had allegedly been fishing quite well and it was no surprise to find other anglers with the same idea as us. We geared up before taking our traditional team photo.
As the designated photographer I carefully placed my camera on the hood of Jimmy’s truck, set the self timer, and promptly tripped while hurriedly attempting to get into the photo within the allotted 10 seconds. That blunder should have been a foreshadowing of the day to come, but I got up, dusted myself off and managed to get it right the second time around. Note to self: never stand next to the giant of the group.
After the ass kicking on the Firehole, during which my lucky fishing hat was intentionally left behind in the truck, I did not want to tempt fate again and so began the day by confronting the Madison head-on with the old stand-by lid atop my noggin. Marck, followed closely by Morris, headed across the bridge to the south side of the river while Nash and Goose fished upstream on the near side. Jimmy and I set off in the opposite direction to see about finding some decent water and willing fish downstream. Usually I fish above the bridge, but we’d received reliable intel that there was good water in that direction—we just had to walk quite a ways to find it. We bypassed a fair amount of water that doesn’t look particularly enticing before dropping off the trail to the river’s edge. Angling as we went, we plied the water at a few likely spots near the bank and deliberately worked our way downstream.
Putting the double rigged Turd/SJW dropper in front of, behind, and on both sides of the large rocks yielded nada, for me anyway: Jimmy had a fish or two in the first hour. As we continued our downstream jaunt we encountered another angler, also moving in the same direction as the river’s current. Rather than following in his footsteps I decided to hold back and work through some of the water we’d already fished. The plan was to be more thorough and cover some of the water further out from the bank. The main current was ripping fast, but there were some seams that likedly held fish, if I could wade out to them (I was able to wade out and reach some of that water but no fish were found to be there). Jimmy continued downstream. Another half hour had passed when the downstream gentleman came walking past me, headed back to his truck, his head held low. A brief greeting and inquiry revealed that he’d been unable to entice any trout but had caught a couple whitefish. He seemed like a friendly sort and looked like he knew what he was doing. I’d have felt bad for him except that by this time I’d have been happy with a couple whitefish. Even just one.
Having grown weary of watching an indicator, I decided to try a streamer since I enjoy that style of fishing. I tied on an olive Conehead Zuddler and on my first swing had a grab but didn’t get a hookup. I could blame the fish for being non-committal but in all reality I was rusty from not having had much practice of setting the hook for a couple days. Knowing that the fish, having tasted the hook, wouldn’t fall for the same antics a second time, I switched to a black version of the same streamer and repeated. Nada. Despite the rather cold reception the day was beginning to heat up. My head, under the not-breathable canvas of my lucky fishing hat, was caked in sweat. Jimmy was by now well downstream out of sight—in my estimation too far to walk in my breathable waders that weren’t doing a very effective job of breathing. I wasn’t enjoying my current situation very much so I opted to head back to the parking lot for lunch and a change of hats.
When I arrived there were a couple of more cars parked in the lot that hadn’t been there earlier in the morning: I pitied the poor fools that had showed up late with the hope of catching fish. None of the other Rangers were back for lunch, which likely meant that they were all productively preoccupied. I traded my sweaty lucky fishing hat for a cool cotton alternative, peeled off my equally sweaty waders and enjoyed a respite from not catching fish: the pre-made sandwich was good, the Bugles exceptional, and the Vitamin R was cold on this day, unlike the day before on the Firehole. A steady w#nd had kicked up and for once I welcomed the breeze, at least for the next 30 minutes.
As I was gearing up to face the opposite bank, Goose and Nash returned for lunch. Graham was in good spirits, having caught some fish. Despite having caught a couple fish, Goose was less enthusiastic: “I hate this f#cking river.” Marck returned shortly thereafter, and like always he downplayed his success. Morris could be seen frantically working the opposite bank as though he were on a mission. He didn’t appear willing to stop and break for lunch. Jimmy was nowhere to be seen.
I crossed the bridge and walked a half mile or so upstream along the opposite bank. There are a couple spots where I had caught fish in the past, but I didn’t hold out much hope for the afternoon session. I was already a defeated man before even wetting my line. My ‘can’t do’ attitude was either justified throughout the remainder of the day or it determined the remainder of the day. I tried streamers again, unsuccessfully. I went back to the Turd and SJW dropper. Zilch. I reminded myself that I was on a beautiful river, in Montana; the Rocky Mountains within spitting distance. Once things were in their proper perspective, I found myself still loathing the
Cornhole Madison and sat down on a log to ponder my fate. Opposite from me were a couple of the poor fools who had arrived late in hopes of catching fish. As I gazed from across the river one of them proceeded to land a very nice fish.
Open wound, pour salt.
At the pre-arranged time of 4pm the Rangers met up at the parking lot again and compared notes. Marck caught “about 20” (whatever). Graham caught 8 and noted, “I’m damn proud of it” (I’d have been even more damn prouder). Jimmy isn’t good at recalling his fish totals and guessed that he caught about 7, though Marck maintains that Jimmy had caught more than that before lunch. In predictable fashion Goose caught his standard 2 fish, which included a whitefish. The big surprise was that Morris caught only two this year—he generally does much better. But it had nothing to do with Morris—the Madison just sucks. I
took it in the brought up the rear with 2 fewer fish than Goose and Morris.
We piled into the truck and headed off toward our next destination. My arse was so sore from rogering I endured on the Madison I could hardly stand to sit for the duration of the 4 hour drive.
Would Rock Creek play nicely or earn a new nickname?