This is part two of my email conversation with Josh “Biggie” Stanish. You can check part one here.
Okay, Biggie, lets play a little game of overrated/underrated. We’ll start with the Salmonfly Hatch on the Madison.
The Salmonfly hatch anywhere is probably over rated 75% of the time but when you hit it just right it will be the best day of fishing one can ever have. The problem with the hatch in the past ten years has been water flows. Salmonfly hatches are at their best when the water is outside the banks and the 10 oclock news is warning people to stay off the river, especially on the Big Hole. As far as the Madison and the Big Bugs, it is always hit or miss. One float can be different than the next, even when floating the same stretch multiple times in one day. The largest fish that I have seen eat Salmonflies are definitely on the Madison. The Bighole has plenty of nice fish but nothing compared to the fish I have seen on the Madison.
There are really four distinct sections of the Madison and they all have different variables and fish like different rivers. The hatch starts on the Lower Madison below Bear Trap Canyon. This is the area to see a true monster come up to a dry fly. The problem with this section is that the bugs are generally only around for a couple of days and the water needs to be up high in the willows. You only have a couple of days to hit the bugs on this section before they are gone.
The second section of the river is inside of the Bear Trap Canyon Wilderness Area. This is a canyon section and it requires either hiking amongst rattlesnakes and Poison Ivy or braving two serious class four rapids and one moderate class four. This is not a place for anyone who does not have a ton of whitewater experience and even then it is a very scary float in high water. The bugs go up through the canyon fairly quickly and the hatch lasts about a week at most. The fishing can be very good but you have to be adventurous and if you want to pay for a guide there is only one guide service allowed in the Wilderness Area and they charge about double the price of a normal trip.
The third section of river runs from Ennis upstream to Varney Bridge. This is the section that has the most consistent and predictable hatch. The hatch migrates upstream like it is supposed to and all of the braids and willow-lined banks provide plenty of habitat for the adult insects. There are some very big fish in this area and the floats are short so you can do a bunch of floats in one day.
After the bugs get upstream of Varney you have the rest of the Madison to chase the hatch on. It can be good, but the hatch can show up at McAttee one day and be at Lyons the next followed by strong hatches back near Varney the following day. The bugs don't migrate upstream in a predictable manner on the upper reaches, so deciding where to float can be a lot of guesswork. The section above McAttee is generally better than below because of the willow lined banks. The problem with any Salmonfly hatch is finding the area where the fish are looking for the bugs and where the fish haven't gorged themselves on the nymphs or the adults. So if you hear the fish ate hard on a certain area at the bar one night I would not count on them eating very well on that same stretch in the morning. This is why salmoflies are probably overrated most of the time.
Wow, that is some good info. I swore off the Salmonflies a few years back for many of reasons you just mentioned (plus they creep me out). Only a free ride in your boat could get me to give it another shot. Okay, back to overrated/underrated. Let’s stick to the Madison, but focus on the famous Mother’s Day Caddis hatch.
The Mother's Day hatch on the Madison is probably a bit overrated as well but it is a place that the water will stay clear throughout the hatch. It is a good place for wade fisherman and when the bugs do hatch on the lower river I leave the boat at home and head out on foot. The access is so good and the crowds come out of the wood works so when you float you really are just moving the boat around wade fisherman and your shots at the good spots are few and far between. Wading is definitely the way to go for the mother's day hatch on the Madison. The other problem (besides crowding) with the mother's day hatch on the Madison is that there are other bugs hatching at the same time and that the fish sometimes get keyed into.
So many guys head out with a selection of caddis and don't have much luck because the fish are either eating the left over baetis and March Browns they have been for several weeks prior to the caddis. Or the fish get keyed into the golden stones that are hatching right along with the caddis. You need to have a variety of bugs and not get stuck in the rut of throwing only caddis flies. You also need to adopt a hunting mentality when fishing the caddis. Hiking and driving the banks looking for actively feeding fish will be much more productive than just sitting in an area and fishing your flies blind. Too many anglers get in the rut of sticking to one area and they only have marginal fishing. I move around and fish a dozen spots in an afternoon on the Lower Madison during the hatch. I also spend as many days as I can on the Yellowstone during the caddis hatch because it is a much better hatch and the fish go nuts on the Yellowstone when they come off. The problem with the Yellowstone, however, is that it generally gets dirty just as the bugs start to hatch and some years we don't get a chance to fish it at all. When the planets align on the Yellowstone it is one of the most spectacular events an angler will ever witness.
Alright, more good stuff. How about the latest craze, Spruce Moths on the Gallatin?
The Spruce moths on the Gallatin are a relatively new hatch and I am really baffled by what has happened in the past couple of years. I don't know why the moths have suddenly appeared in such high numbers but it does bring the fish up. The only thing about it though is that the fish on the Gallatin have always been eager to come to the surface in the summer and the spruce moths have just added another reason for them to do it. The fish on the Gallatin are not large but they make up for the quality with quantity and they are hard fighting. I am undetermined on whether the spruce moths are overrated or not, but when they are around it does help keep the fish looking up.
How about one river I have always wanted to fish but never have, the Bighorn. Overrated or Underrated?
Oh the Bighorn. It is hands down one of the most amazing feats of mankind. Nothing on the river is really very natural but all the parts have been put together to form the perfect trout stream. The dam turned the muddy river into a crystal clear cold fishery that has as much biomass as you will find anywhere. The addition of non native plants such as the buffalo brush and the Russian Olives have added cover and protection for the fish and the non native rainbows and browns have thrived in this perfect environment. With that being said though, you have to look at the Bighorn as a unique place and never ever try and compare it to anything else. Unfortunately, it does get compared to other places and most people want to mention their day on the Bighorn. It is not rocket science to put a boat in at the afterbay with an indicator trailed with a sow bug and San Juan Worm and catch 40 fish per person floating down the river. I personally don't like to and don't let the clients get off that easy. Using the boat for transportation between wading spots affords you the opportunity to witness fish doing some amazing things. Stalking and observing will teach an angler more and get them excited about fishing more than anything. To stand on top of a bank and watch 50 fish surfing three feet under the surface eating emergers gets people weak in the knees. I have observed fish do so many amazing things on the Bighorn and these are far more memorable than any of the fish that I have caught. For this reason alone the Bighorn deserves every accolade it has ever gotten. As far as the number of people that fish the river it can handle many more in the years to come. The resource can handle what all the fisherman give it and the real issue will be weather people can continue to get along with each other and whether the social issues can keep it together. To me the crowds are not a big deal because I know they are going to be there and that there will always be a great spot to fish.
All you did was wet my appetite. Thanks a lot. Let’s try a gear question. The new SA Sharkskin Fly Lines, overrated or underrated (maybe it should be overpriced or underpriced)?
I personally haven't used one and I personally won't buy into the hype of them. One of the guys that I do some trips for in the summer just got back from New Zealand and the guy he was fishing with had one. He said after a couple of days with the guy he could not stand to fish anywhere near him because of the sound the line made going through the guides. He said it was like fingernails down a chalk board.
I have watched the fly fishing business for years now and the past ten have been full of gimmicks and broken promises by the manufacturers as they all compete for market share. The manufacturers were spoiled when "The Movie" came out and they saw there sales triple and quadruple and they expected that it would never come to an end. Once it started to slow down, the merits of the companies were lost and they started to offer gimmicks that would keep their sales and growth at unreasonable numbers. I have several close friends that are sales reps and the pressure they come under by their companies to keep growth at 20 to 30% is amazing. This mentality has cost many of them dearly over the years because they are always introducing a new product and not letting the customers feel good about their purchase. It has been a classic Young Bull/Old Bull scenario where the young bull wants to run down and screw one of those cows. No one has been the old bull and said lets walk down there and screw them all.
Orvis is a classic example of this with their nonstop introduction of new rod lines. They are basically telling their customer that the $700 rod you bought last year is obsolete and you need a new one. Some customers fall for it but most get upset that the rod they saved for is now not the new best thing. They have really numbed their customers and the hype is starting to wear off for many. If they would instead let a guy have his rod be the best for a couple of years and then introduce a new one I would bet they would see a lot more people buy new rods. I'm a little bit on a tangent right now but the same thing is happening with the introduction of these new lines and marketing them as the next best thing. I have never had a problem with my fly lines the way they are and if the line really makes as much noise as I have heard about I don't think they will be around for very long. We will have to wait and see if the lines catch on or if the noise deters people from buying them.
Alright, so we have established your distaste for the fancy new gimmicks (and your take on the mating habits of cows), how about the old standby, bamboo fly rods. Overrated or underrated?
I think bamboo rods have their place in fishing but they really don't do much for me personally. I have used them before and they have been fun to fish with for about ten minutes and then the novelty wore off and I wanted my graphite back. Maybe when I am older I will grow a greater appreciation for them, but for the time being they are too much work and to much to worry about. I do really appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making them and this may be what draws me to them later in life.
Since I have to throw something of interest or conflict I will say that the whole Boo boys situation with Winston really kind of pissed me off [if you are unfamiliar with the story, you can read about it here]. They could have just gone out on their own and started their little bamboo shop without kicking the company in the balls that gave them all the opportunity to hone their craft for all those years. They may not have liked the new direction the company was taking, but they did not need to be so vocal and badmouth the company that put food on their table and afforded them the opportunity to advance their art. They should have been a little more appreciative and went out in style instead of the way they did. Anyway, I am glad that Bamboo has a following but I don't see myself becoming part of the society in the near future.
Well, that is it for my conversation with Biggie. I’d like to thank the man himself for playing along. Hopefully Tom Chandler from the Trout Underground doesn’t start hunting for Biggie after his bamboo comments. But Tom is a Manchester United fan, so I wouldn’t put it past him.
Now, the snow is slowly melting and the fishing are getting hungry. So get back to tying flies or something.