Hell or High Water? Day Three: The Madison

This is Part 3, preceded by Part 1 and Part 2 (it’s a sequential thing).

Before departing West Yellowstone, the Rangers each handed our cash to Marck as it had been decided that he would be the one to settle up our lodging bill. He took a series of big, deep breaths and, choking back the tears, he bravely entered the office. After a minute—but what undoubtedly felt like eternity to him—Marck emerged, disoriented and gasping for air; his clothes smelling of ammonia. And thus we bade farewell for another year.

Next up: My favorite river, the Madison.

What's wrong, Marck—cat got your tongue?

What’s wrong, Marck—cat got your tongue?

The Madison, looking upstream toward Three Dollar Bridge

The Madison, looking upstream toward Three Dollar Bridge

Picture this: Standing on the river bank. High-sticking a Pat’s Stone with some version of a San Juan Worm dropper. Watching the three foam indicators intently; waiting, hoping for a twitch that might be a fish but is more than likely a snag that will snap off your dropper. That’s the game on the Cornhole Madison River at Three Dollar Bridge this time of year.

Runoff was in full swing and the river was, not unexpectedly, as high and dirty as ever. Some would consider these conditions to be unfishable. And yet, I had a confident swagger—or perhaps a false sense of confidence—as we geared up in the parking lot. We were not alone. Far from it on this first Sunday in June, with no fewer than 10 other rigs already there; some would leave and others were arrive during the day. One guy was returning from a morning of apparently catching fish, and as he walked past us he declared with a wide grin on his face, “There’s lots of fish to be caught, boys!”

“Good to hear!” I said, politely, holding back the urge to target his Adam’s Apple with an arc-hand strike.

Our customary team photo was not taken this year, just as it was not taken the previous day on the Firehole. Hadn’t we learned from our mistake by breaking with tradition? Oh, well.

The skies were mostly blue and the forecast called for temperatures near 80F—not a day for waders—so sunscreen (and bug spray) were in order. Last year the weather had been similarly nice, and I’d had my best day on the Madison ever, landing 7 fish. Of course the river was much lower last year, but after several years of catching just a couple, or no fish at all, I felt like I had finally cracked the Madison nut. I didn’t expect to light it up this year, but I had a strong feeling that I’d come tight to at least a couple fish.

I would be wrong.

On lean years I can expect to at least have some company in my misery: Goose. But even he caught a fish this year. Marck and Morris got into a lot of fish by crossing the bridge and going for a long hike upriver. They’re assholes They certainly can’t be faulted for putting in the effort, but even on years when I’ve made the same, long jaunt, it hasn’t paid off. One year I did manage a couple fish by taking the long journey over the river and upstream, but this style of fishing isn’t even close to my favorite way of spending a day and I wasn’t keen on putting in the great effort for a couple fish. Jimmy and I instead moved on downstream, covering mostly the same water. He caught a couple. Nash had opted to stay on the near side of the river and hike upstream a ways. He also got into a few fish.


Jimmy applies Powerbait to inspects his worm.

I did not.

I loath the Madison Cornhole Madison and the feeling is, apparently, mutual. I wanted nothing more than to wash my hands of the vile place and move on to the next, and final, river of our trip. I also wanted to wash my boots in the new cleaning station provided. The instructions were simple:

  1. Wet Your Boots
  2. Brush Your Boots
  3. Rinse Your Boots

There is a brush supplied for second step of the task, but one key, missing ingredient was water needed for steps one and three. Granted the river is only a short distance away, but carting river water up the hill to the boot cleaning station, one empty beer can at a time, would take all day. And using the river water to wash one’s boots probably isn’t what the powers-that-be had in mind when they installed the cleaning station. I suppose one could supply a gallon or two of their own fresh, clean water…if they knew in advance that it was required. Apparently nobody did, as I saw not a single person use the cleaning station all day. It is a noble, but flawed, concept.

Boot cleaning station. A noble concept, except that it requires water and there is no water. I saw nobody using it all day.

Boot cleaning station: Just Add Water.

The day had become quite hot, and as clouds moved in the humidity increased. The combination of sweat, sunscreen and bug spray made for a not-so-fresh feeling. I longed a shower to wash away the smell of the skunking, which stank worse than the office at the Ho Hum.

Good riddance, Three Dollar Bridge. Onward, to Twin Bridges for the last leg of our journey. It couldn’t get much worse, or could it?

A beautiful setting in which to not catch fish.

There’s more to fishing than just catching fish. A beautiful setting in which to not catch fish.


  1. Rocky Osborne

    Next time give me a call!!! There’s other places to go in times like this.!!!! Lol

    • Kirk Werner

      What, and deny myself the humility of the experience? Never!!!

  2. Grant Carter

    So, where’s Chapter Four? … I’ve got other blogs to read you know.

    • Kirk Werner

      Quite the cliff hanger, eh? You should read the other blogs rather than waiting for Part 4. I may withhold the final episode just to see if anyone notices, which I doubt they will.

  3. Howard Levett

    Wonderfully entertaining. I had a dream about this and even I caught a fish!

    • Kirk Werner

      I had a nightmare about this. When I woke up I realized I hadn’t been dreaming.

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