The Year of the Grasshopper
2019 was a big success thanks to an exceptional seasonal staff, delicious meals from Matt and his team, and our fantastic guests. The upper Madison River is one of the most consistent and reliable rivers in the country, but 2019 was a big one for us, with excellent flows all season, TONS of insects and above average fish size.
The 2018/2019 winter had local ranchers claiming it was one of the the harshest in recent memory. By late winter, the snow pack exceeded 200% of normal in the Madison Range west of MVR. Everyone thought we were going to have a huge runoff.
The runoff and river flows were solid, but surprisingly, it never became unfishable. With Hebgen Lake full, Northwestern Energy supplied ideal flows well into August. This had a beneficial impact on the river by creating excellent opportunities from the drift boat, optimal conditions for insect hatches, and happy trout.
Excellent Dry Fly Fishing
Ideal runoff flows, summer precipitation, proper management and variable weather likely contributed to remarkable insect hatches in 2019. The stonefly hatches were exceptional this year. The salmonfly and goldenstone hatch was good, yellow sallies were abundant and nocturnal stoneflies were incredible.
Without a doubt, the standouts for 2019 were the grasshoppers. In July we saw Las Vegas all over the news headlines with a legitimate grasshopper invasion that was apparently visible from space. The hoppers in the Madison Valley started showing on the upper bench not long after. Soon we saw millions (no exaggeration) of small hoppers at higher elevations. Once August hit, we were seeing them along the entire length of the Madison River.
The hopper fishing on the upper Madison River was as good as it possibly gets for over a month. The longer it went on, the bigger the hoppers grew. By September, we were fishing giant brightly colored foam hoppers to some impressive trout.
We have plenty of big fish pictures this year, but even more stories about the one that got away!
Perfect river conditions led to epic insect hatches. What more could you ask for? Well, the Madison River went a little further in 2019, by producing some huge trout. Veteran anglers and guides made it clear to us that the Madison River produced more big fish in 2019 than they've seen in a long time. Most of these fish avoided the net, reaffirming that they are no easy feat with a fly rod.
Come late August you could expect that fish of a lifetime to take a swipe at your dry fly. Sure enough you'd be floating down the river and the moment your mind began to wonder, a big trout would rise out of nowhere to take your fly. Until next year!
A Standing Ovation
Creative and consistent are two words that define the MVR kitchen. Matt Pease is our secret weapon that puts every guest's experience over the top. He and his staff kept things interesting (and delicious) this year with a diverse range of locally sourced appetizers, salads, soups, meats, desserts and more.
Many dinners ended with a round of applause for the kitchen. Locally raised trout, duck, quail, pork, venison and beef were rotated through the menu, along with homemade gnochi, bison meatballs, pork belly and much, much more. All of our meals were paired with a well received selection of fine wines for 2019. The most popular wines included:
Roth Alexander Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Truchard Vineyards Pinot Noir 2016
Lincourt Rancho Santa Rosa Chardonnay 2016
Thank you to Matt and his culinary team for an exceptional year of fine dining. With the MVR refrigerators empty and the kitchen winterized, it's exciting to think of what's in store for 2020!
Conservation in Action
It's been almost 2 years since Phase I of the Lower Jack Creek Project was completed. The project involved removing debris left over from the days of "cowboy conservation" where scrap metal and old vehicles were used as a method of bank stabilization to reduce the impact of runoff on ranches. This turned out to be an effective problem solver for the affected area, however it had detrimental impacts on the stream bed because it prevented sediment from flowing naturally through the system.
For Jack Creek, improper bank stabilization morphed the natural riffle-run profile of the stream bed into a series of slow moving, silt laden s-turns throughout the ranch property. Any remaining gravel bars were also covered in silt, reducing the insect populations and negatively impacting fish spawning habitat.
In 2018, Phase I started with heavy machinery arriving to remove old farm equipment and even a fully intact vehicle. Scrap removal alone wasn't enough to restore the natural flows, so the Madison Conservation District along with help from many others listed below used modern bank stabilization methods including the reintroduction of riparian vegetation to reconnect the stream to its natural flood-plain, increase the amount of stream-side shade with an improved riparian habitat, and promote healthier in-stream habitat for insects and fish.
The work on Phase II of the Lower Jack Creek Project began in October of this year and took about a month to fully complete. Some of you may have fished below the vertical cliff of sediment along the lower portion of Jack Creek. That cliff was a perfect example of the downstream effects that improper bank stabilization can have and its removal was a major focal point in Phase II. With it gone, Jack Creek looks much different. It's also more fishy!
We're thankful for the Madison Conservation District's work on the project. We're excited to see the long term impacts of their restoration efforts. We also thank the following organizations for doing their part to make this project happen:
Northwestern Energy, Montana Watershed Coordination Council, DNRC 223 Program, Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited, Trout and Salmon Foundation, Yellow Dog Community & Conservation Foundation, Montana Conservation Corps, Montana Trout Foundation and our neighbors, The Fasules Family.
Rowing the Extra Mile
We're proud to say that the local Madison River fly fishing guides are some of the best in the world. Hospitality, entertainment and catching trout is their specialty, but it's important not to overlook the aspect of safety on the river. It is their number one priority with every oar stroke to ensure that each client is safe. Previous medical conditions, allergies, drownings, medical emergencies, lightning strikes, hypothermia and more are entirely possible with any outdoor activity. It's comforting to know that your guide is properly trained in these areas before heading out on the river.
We capped off the season hosting the Madison Valley Medical Center's inaugural event, Backcountry Medicine on the Madison. Over 30 Madison River fly fishing guides assembled in the Channels Lodge for a full day of comprehensive first aid training taught by regional medical professionals.
This wasn't your typical mundane re-certification course. Intense real-life situations we're discussed and no shortage of gruesome images were presented. This was a one-of-kind event in this industry. Everyone gained valuable confidence, knowledge and skills that are applicable to our daily operations on the river.