A River of Change
By Scott Carver
This past spring I spent an entire crisp, clear day wandering the “Channels” section of the Madison river just outside of Ennis, MT. Scanning this broad expanse, I couldn’t help but marvel at the endless opportunities that presented themselves as I made my way downstream. Riffles, cut banks, oxbows, shelfs, pools…it was all there, every conceivable structure and flow. Each channel or braid had the character of a new and different creek. The only constant being the towering peaks of the Madison range in the periphery of my vision.
Being the owner of the Madison Valley Ranch and a part-time resident of the banks of the Madison, I have fished these channels many times. I am familiar with this environment, but this being my first foray into these channels after the winter gorge, I wondered what I would find. Would that “honey” hole that held a half dozen 16 – 18? browns still be there? Would that island where I stopped to rest still support that log that served as the perfect perch to observe trout rising to caddis on the far bank? Therein lies the uniqueness of this stretch of the Madison – it changes each and every year. Which means every year can be a new experience, a time for exploration in a place you think you know.
Each winter as Ennis Lake freezes, the river entering the lake begins to slow and freeze as well. As this freezing process molts upriver, huge ice dams begin to form. Much like glaciers, these newly formed ice dams carve new terrain. New channels and shelfs form, oxbows get rounder, cut banks get deeper, meaning new homes for trout are created with each season. It’s a phenomena rarely seen on other great trout rivers. Amazingly, trout take up residence in these new surroundings and one of the great pleasures of fishing this section is finding them. On this trip there were numerous places I passed by in previous years, but looked inviting this time around. Sure enough, a quick strip of a zonker or girdle bug dead drifted produced results in places that in years past had been void of these trophies.
For me, each spring is a new experience, a time for exploration in a place familiar but yet imminently new. Having fished these channels for the past 20 years, I know I haven’t even scratched the surface of this stretch’s vast potential. But given it’s ever changing nature, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I never will.