When fall comes to the north country, the crowds are thin, the temperatures cooler, and the fishing as exciting as ever. In what has become almost an annual trip for me, a float down the Madison at the end of September is an amazing way to bid farewell to the summer.
I’ve got a relative who has a place on Hebgen Lake, just northwest of West Yellowstone, MT. He spends almost all of the open fishing season plying his trade of fly-fishing, mostly along the Madison. When it’s my time to come for a visit, he breaks out the drift boat, and generously does the paddling while I cast for brown and rainbow trout.
The day usually begins relatively early, with a few cups of coffee, a proper gearing up of the boat, packing a full lunch, and stocking the cooler with a day’s supply of PBR and assorted tasty microbrews. From Ned’s place on Hebgen we head west along the lake, passing Quake Lake and the amazing sights of geologic power that sculpted this landscape, and make a stop at Galloup’s Slide Inn where we get the local beta, and pick up a few necessary flies for the day.
It’s about another half hour drive to the put-in at Lyon’s Bridge, where there are usually a few others readying their boats for a day on the river, the section of the river here is also referred to as the “50 mile riffle.”. A quick call arranges for a shuttle service to pick up the car and drop it off at our take-out at Palisades Campground. It’s a full day float, allowing us a relaxed pace for plenty of fishing, time to get out and wade, and take a lunch break.
I take the seat in the front of the boat, and Ned gets on the oars, and we immediately set to casting, with Ned giving the local advice, and tying on the flies he deems will give us the best success. It’s about 100 yards out of the gate when we get our first strike- a nice rainbow.
The scenery is amazing, and the weather is just cool enough that we’re not overheating in our waders, and manage with short sleeves underneath. Ned directs the action from the back of the boat, reminding me to mend my line, time my cast, and cast the fly just behind the large boulders that fill the river to where the water calms, and where the fish are lurking. When the fly on top moves ever so slightly- set!
We have success catching (and releasing) some decent sized brown trout, that even at 20 inches put up an exciting fight. We pull the boat over and wade through a calm section, which gives Ned a chance to cast, where his expertise and fluid casting and line management gets him a big brown in the net. he knew right where it was, and wasn’t going to give up until it bit. He times the set perfectly. We take a leisurely lunch on shore, lounging in the warm sun and the tall grass. The scenery is incomparable, and the clouds float lazily over the Madison Range which juts up to over 11,000 feet. It’s easy to get distracted dreaming in the spectacular scenery, but there are trout to be caught and Ned is cracking at the oars.
We float down to the take-out at palisades, pulling up just short for a few last team casts, and to quaff a few brews as the sun sets over the Palisade Cliffs, and the dark clouds start to gather over the range.
The car is waiting, and we load up and head back to Ned’s place for a hearty dinner and fine whiskey. It’s a long day, and we both hit the sack, content, and ready to do it again tomorrow.