When the ice melts in March and the world around me comes alive again, my fishing switch flips full-on and I love to pursue big browns on the Mini-Madison with streamers. I have been fishing this particular stretch of river since 2004 and I dare say I know it better than anyone. Fifteen years of intimate connection with a river will do that for you. The window of opportunity before the spring runoff is pretty small and you have to hit it just right or you will miss it.
The bite started slow this Spring and it took me a few times before I finally found a decent brown trout in “the Long Run,” a deep long run that has probably been the most consistent, accessible run at the Mini-Madison over the years.
On the next trip, I hooked only one fish, in the Slob Seam below the island. The football-sized rainbow took a Jig-head Mohair Leach and bent the hook when it came up out of the water. This was the biggest rainbow I have ever seen at the Mini-Madison, even bigger than Bob the Slob who this particular seam is named after. Honestly, to lose that fish stung a bit.
During April, I took a few friends with me to the Mini-Madison, but try as they may they just couldn’t get any takers. I put them in the good spots and even showed them my techniques, but the wary browns eluded them. On my friend Jim’s first trip to the river, I put him in the Slob Seam and even showed him where the fish hold in the choppy seam and how I fish it. Though he fished it thoroughly, he could get no takers. He then let me try and, after about 20 casts, I caught a pretty fourteen-inch rainbow trout on a dead drifted crayfish pattern right where I thought he’d be.
I came back the following Saturday and again fished the Slob Seam and hooked a monster brown trout right below the island. The aggressive fish hit my home-tied Thin Mint Bugger the instant it hit the water. The fish fought doggedly, but I finally got him into the net. I wished that Jim could have been there to experience this.
I brought Jim back the following Wednesday night and put him right back at the seam and he again had no takers, but neither did I, which is par for the course at the Mini-Madison. Sometimes, it feels as if there are no fish around.
After fishing hard for two hours, Jim finally decried, “These brownies don’t like me!”
“It just takes a while to figure them out. I promise you they are here.” I earnestly replied. As the sun sank in the western sky, Jim at least got to see some big browns rise for unseen bugs while they ignored Jim’s offerings.
The following Saturday, April 13, I took my good friend, Scott Johnson, with me to the Mini-Madison early that morning in hopes that one of us would find a big brown. Scott brought two rods, a nymphing rod and a big streamer rod. I decided to just leave my rod in the car and use whatever rod Scott was not using. Honestly, my hope was to just help -him catch a nice trout.
The river had come up about 3000 cfs from what it was only three days before and the wading was a little sketchy. We couldn’t get to the Long Run or the Slob Seam. We struggled to find any good holding water that was safe to wade. As a last ditch effort we decided to try up near the King Hole and the Courtyard, which is better fishing when the river finally comes down later in the Summer. Notwithstanding, over the years, I have found a few good fish in this area during the runoff on the edges of the heavy current.
I pointed out to Scott where he should try, in particular some decent, but small holding water below a log jam just above a little cascade. I had caught a nice trout out of this very lie in years past and I remembered it. Rather than take my advice, Scott went above the log jam and fished the seam along the heavy current. This water looks good, but I have rarely found fish in this spot in the past. My money was still on the little pool below the log jam.
I watched patiently as Scott thoroughly fished every likely looking spot above the log jam to no effect. I again suggested, “You may want to come down and fish below this log jam.”
When Scott finally made it back down to me, he said, “Why don’t you go ahead and fish it?” and handed me his rod.
Hoping to satisfy my hunch, I took the Orvis 8 Weight Streamer rod with a silver and white streamer with pink in the middle, which Scott had tied. The fly kind of looked like a sparkle minnow to me, but it had a silvery top, a white rabbit Zonker strip on the bottom and Scott had colored the leather under belly with a pink Sharpie making a pink stripe down the middle.
I cast the fly in the lie below the log jam and stripped it through with no takers. I then cast it a second time all the way across the hole almost to the heavy current on the far side. I stripped it twice and then it suddenly felt as if my fly had snagged solidly in the rocky bottom below. When I pulled back to double-check, a huge brown ripped straight up out of the water headshaking the whole time. At such times, your eyes play tricks on you. I honestly thought the fish was at least twenty-five inches.
“Yah! That’s a monster fish!” exclaimed Scott, who watched the whole show right beside me. “Don’t let him get into that heavy current or you’ll lose him!”
The wily brown had no plans to cooperate, but instead, charged down the cascade below him into the torrential current. I kept the heat on him as I tried to stay in the softer current and make my way downstream to a better place to land him. As I tried to navigate the drop-off, however, I slipped and banged my knee on a rock.
As I regained my balance and worked to stand back up, Scott waded below me and helped me net the fish. We measured it to be a solid 21 inches, a far cry from what I first estimated him to be, but still a great fish nonetheless. Honestly, I felt like I had just picked Scott’s pocket (using his rod and his fly to boot), but he should have taken my advice in the first place and that fish would have been his for the taking.
As I write this, the river is way too high and off-color to fish and will be until July. But it was so good while it lasted. I love to explore new water and experience new adventures while fishing, but there’s something to be said about fishing your home waters. Both of my friends are experienced, diligent anglers, but the Mini-Madison was a challenge for them this spring. If there is any edge that I have over them, it has to be my familiarity with this stretch of river and it’s wily trout–a little home field advantage, if you will.