The Snag Hole
From his obituary –
"Cam Sigler Sr. was a pioneer in not only the Pacific Northwest , but the world, helping to pave the way for innovative outdoor hunting and fishing products. In the outdoor community he will for ever be known as the man in the “Broad-Brimmed Hat” who brought fishing waders, billfish flies and much more to the fly fishing and hunting industries.
His billfish flies won honorable mention as one of the 10 most innovative fishing lures of all time.
Cam was born in 1941 in Plaquemine, LA, but lived all over the country in his youth. In 1962 while in Virginia, Cam married Sue. The family then headed west so that Cam could accept a job opportunity to work for the Eddie Bauer Company. Upon arriving in the PNW in 1968 , they asked around for a good place to live and raise a family and it was suggested to try one of the Islands. They moved to Vashon Island, settling on the north end.
After leaving Eddie Bauer in 1986 Cam started his own outdoor business, The Cam Sigler Company. On March 20, 2013 Cam Sr. died at the age of 71, after a year long battle with cancer.
In memory of Cam, he has asked that if you want to show your support to donate to a cause he believed in, please make a donation to the Billfish Foundation in his name."
from Randy Brown: I was lucky to know Cam Sr....a gentleman, an innovator, Axolotl Society stalwart, fly fisher and just a wonderful guy...RIP.
So reads the sign on the road as you enter Ennis, Montana from the south. Eleven million is a big number…more than the population of New York City…the same as the entire country of Cuba! But how many trout do we really have in the Upper Madison River?
Over the many years of guiding anglers on the Madison, two questions keep popping up…”how do we get back to the truck?’…and “how many fish per mile?” The first question is easy…just pay the shuttle crew a few bucks and the truck will appear like magic. The second question is not so simple.
Westslope cutthroat trout
Prior to 1920 the Madison River was mainly populated with Westslope cutthroat trout, grayling and Rocky Mountain whitefish, the original "natives". By the 1930s, rainbow and brown trout were introduced (“stocked”) and the Westslopes and grayling began to disappear. The building of the Ennis Dam in 1908 and the Hebgen Dam in 1914 may have had something to do with the decrease in Westslope cutts and grayling populations.
Through the 1940s, 50s, 60s the Madison tumbled along its way with the State of Montana generously adding stocked trout every spring to the delight of everyone looking for a tasty rainbow dinner, shore lunch or trout-on-a-stick-kabob.
But the “sports” were getting restless. Fly fishing was gaining in popularity. Through writers like Joe Brooks and Dan Bailey, the Madison was becoming a go-to spot for anglers from NY, the Midwest , California and all around the world. Visitors to Yellowstone Park were making the Madison River an important part of their trip. The tourists got tired of catching mostly little stocked trout that couldn’t jump and didn’t make it through the long Montana winter. The “bait boys” were bagging the big ones but the fly folks wanted more. A few pioneers like Dick McGuire and Frank Valgenti and Tom Morgan and Bud Lilly and Dick Vincent began to hatch a plan to increase the size of “catchable trout”…those fish in the twelve to sixteen inch range that that the public said they wanted but were in short supply. The Madison had lots of little trout, and a few really large trout, but not much in between. The plan went something like this:
1. STOP STOCKING THE RIVER . The horror! Panic swept through the masses like a plague. The outrage! Public meetings were held with much yelling and screaming . No way!
2. INSTITUTE A CATCH AND RELEASE POLICY. More horror, shock and outrage!
3. LIMIT BAIT FISHING. Flies and artificial lures only on specified stretches of the Madison. Blasphemy! Ruination! Damnation!
As part of this new approach to fisheries management, Mt. FWP with Ron Marcoux and Dick Vincent leading the way, closed off the Snoball section of the Madison to all fishing for a period of time so as to monitor the effects of a no fishing zone populated with only wild trout. The Snoball section consisted of a put-in just below Squaw Ck . on the East side of the river through an easement provided by the Sun Ranch, down to the Kelly Br. It included the Shelton Br., Haystack Hole, Horse Ck., the Geysers and Windy Pt. This section was closed to all fishing from 1980 to Jan. 6, 1983. Dick Vincent and crew electro-shocking above the old Shelton Bridge, Madison River, March, 1981.
photos by Randy Brown
I took the photos above as we followed Vincent and his electroshock crew down through the closed section in March of 1981. This section was closely monitored through 1980, 81, 82. The results were astounding. Fish populations exploded. Rainbow trout thrived. Vincent and his cohorts had proven that wild trout could not only survive in the Upper Madison, but flourish!
FWP decided to re-open the closed section on Jan. 6, 1983.
The first nice day in January, 1983, Frank Valgenti and I drove up river and parked along the road to the Shelton Ranch (now the Sun West Subdivision). I walked up the road (gravel), waded across to the Haystack Hole, tied on a size six Bitch Creek nymph and started to fish. Without hardly moving my feet I caught thirteen nice trout in about an hour. Frank had the same type of success. We both knew that good things were in store for the Upper Madison River!
Even though these unheard of regulations were bitterly opposed by many, eventually cooler heads prevailed and the Madison River became the template used for wild trout, catch and release fishing all over the U.S. and the world. Fish populations thrived, average size grew larger…the wild trout were stronger, brighter and a whole lot more fun to catch. The Madison River was in its Hey Day.
“So how many fish are in this river anyway?” One of my good clients, Mr. Dave Lurie popped the question as we floated down through the Madison Canyon, under the Kelly Bridge, headed for the Palisades one sunny day late in the 1980s.
“Around 5000 per mile, Dave, as near as we can tell”, I answered.
“And how many miles have we floated?”
“About two miles, Dave” said I.
“You mean we’ve floated over ten thousand goddamn fish and I haven’t caught a single one?”
Herb Oechler fishing the Madison in the Varney stretch.
I break the trout population in the Madison down into Five Eras as follows:
ERA ONE: From Lewis & Clark through the 1920s…unknown populations of Westslope cutthroat, graying, Rocky Mountain whitefish.
ERA TWO: 1930s-1970s Pre-wild trout/catch and release…rainbow and brown trout introduced…annual stocking of hatchery trout into the Madison…10 fish daily limit per person or 10 pounds whichever came first.
ERA THREE: 1980-1991…The Hey Day…wild trout only/catch and release regulations implemented…no stocking…flies and artificial lures only…float and wade only sections established…electro-shocking population studies established. ESTIMATED TROUT POPULATION SIX INCHES PLUS: 5210 PER MILE*.
ERA FOUR: 1992-1998…The Whirling Disease era…ESTIMATED TROUT POPULATION: 1657 PER MILE*. ( 70% decline)
ERA FIVE: 1999-Present…The New Hey Day!…ESTIMATED TROUT POP: 5063 PER MILE*
Maybe 11,000,000 trout is a stretch…but several thousand should be enough for everyone…after all, you can only catch one at a time ( unless you're really good!). Come to Montana and see for yourself. Good luck!
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Kate has won first prize...a free float trip on the Madison river personally guided by Randy Brown.
We understand Kate is currently hooked up with Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander which is just fine because we are big Tigers fans, however Justin will be busy with spring training when the Montana fly fishing season begins and will be unable to join Kate...so Kate will be on her own...no problem, we are here to help.
Congratulations Kate...see you in Montana this summer!
The slow, circling dance between fish and skiff continued. Randy as choreographer on the pole, drew us agonizingly ever closer while deftly managing to maintain an excellent casting angle.
About 50 feet away the fish tailed again, producing another huge mud. I cast about six feet in front of the mud, and as the permit swam out along the contour line, as I knew it must, it saw the crab suspended in mid-water and started toward it. As I started my retrieve the fish swung slowly in pursuit until it came straight at the boat, 90 degrees from its former course. Leisurely it came, flickering straight down the pale gray arrow of the fly line, as if supremely confident that there was no way this slow-moving creature could possibly escape. Closer.
I was on my knees trying hard to make myself invisible when suddenly the fish seemed to show a slight acceleration, perhaps only imagined; the pale mouth opened almost languidly and then closed again. I felt nothing but somehow I knew this had to be it, so I struck, and there it was, a pulsating vibrant life arching the rod relentlessly as it moved slowly away. The fish seemed reluctant to break off our three-way dance. And the line strewn on the deck took an eternity to float its way back to the reel.
Spear Crab permit fly tied by Kimberly Spear
The fly was a barbless size 4 Spear Crab and it was attached to an 8 pound tippet. Care was the name of the game if this dance was to have a successful denouement. Fighting a big fish is almost always anticlimactic; the strike is the thing, the instantaneous justification for all the time, effort, money, assimilation of skills, and whatever else goes into preparing for that magic moment. But this fight was different for I wanted this permit as much as the first and the realization that I could lose it at any time kept my nerves on edge, my adrenaline pumping as the fish dragged us inexorably off that flat and into the deeper water.
With its nose in the turtle grass, the fish was impossible for me to move for what seemed like minutes. It was a great bulldog of a fish straining to break the tie that bound us.
Soon, however, the unyielding pressure of the big Winston rod had the fish on its side at the boat just as it had done with the first fish. But this fish looked easily twice as big – the first one had weighed 24 pounds. It was enormous. The second permit I had ever cast to with even a ghost of a chance for success. And as it lay in the bottom of the skiff, its great, dark eye seeming to suggest some unimaginable, unfathomable rapport, I wondered what unearthly combination of moon and stars, of wind and tide had led the fish onto this particular unimposing flat to this rendezvous and this particular destiny. Bemused, I wondered the same thing about myself.
I don't really know how big that permit was – 32 pounds by Randy's rusty Chatillon. I think it was bigger, but it doesn't really matter, for it and its kind have me hooked. I'll go back next year and the next, for as the Bard said, "It's better to be lucky than good anytime", and perhaps well meet again."
George Kelly released this great fish alive to swim another day...photos by Jo Kelly.
When I was a skinny Ohio high school kid I would take a week off from the golf course or from my pursuit of becoming a juvenile delinquent and head up to Canada each summer for some "muskie fishin". Now a lot of people have heard about muskellunge, maskalonge, muskallonge depending on where you come from, but most folks have never even seen one let along caught one. Not me, I'm a muskie fishin expert...I've caught not one, but TWO muskies in my entire, long, checkered, up and down (mostly down) muskie fishin career.
My first muskie...Pigeon Lake...Bobcaygen, Ontario, Canada
The guy who taught me how to muskie fish was a hard core, obsessive muskie fisherman named Perry Cragg who ate, slept and drank (bourbon whiskey) muskellunge fishing. Muskie fishing lies somewhere between watching paint dry and/or grass grow. Get in the little twelve foot rowboat, fire up the old Evinrude after 20 or 30 pulls, putt putt out there, slow down to trolling speed, chuck out the muskie lures, and start trolling...and trolling...and trolling. Now Pigeon Lake in Bobcaygen, Ontario is one big piece of water, typical endless Canadian shoreline...fir trees, rocky points, bald eagles, the works. The old guy kept telling me there were "big muskies in here" but I had my doubts. After a couple of hours of nothing all I could think about was getting back to the cabin so I could sneak a cigarette or maybe a beer (I was seventeen, what the heck).
Perry Cragg...muskie fisherman extraordinaire
"Try a jointed pikie minnow...I like the wounded sucker plugs but sometimes the pikie works when things get slow".
" When things get slow"...that was a good one...to me, muskie fishing was ALWAYS slow. So I tied on the pikie and chucked it back behind the prop wash and waited...and waited...and...POW!
The impact of the strike woke me up from semi-slumber...the big fish jumped and slashed and dove and throbbed. The old metal casting rod was bent almost double but pretty soon there it was...my first muskie next to the boat. We scooped the fish up in the net and after much thrashing "subdued" it with multiple thumps from a homemade billy club. I took it back to the cabin as proud as punch. Who cares that the fish was barely legal, around eleven pounds? Not me.
So I went on to capture one more muskie that summer...that one was undersized and we let it go...one of my early "catch and release" moments. I would catch lots of bass and walleyes, perch, bluegills, trout, salmon, tuna, sailfish, marlin, steelhead, bonefish, tarpon, permit over the years but somehow that first muskie has stayed with me.
I guess it was a pretty exciting time for a skinny young kid.