Warm air temps and some good rain the last couple of days has triggered Spring runoff on the Madison. Hebgen release is modest at 1040cfs but the river has swollen to 1460 at West Fork and 1790 at Varney. For clarification, the official USGS charts use the names “Kirby Ranch” for the West Fork numbers and “Madison River near Cameron” for the Varney gauge. Since 99% of the world has no idea where “Kirby Ranch” is, and “Cameron”, Montana covers a wide area, I prefer using “West Fork” and “Varney” for a clear understanding of what specific section of the river we are talking about.
These charts show the cubic feet per second (cfs) as well as trends. The yellow triangles represent the long term median flows over a 29 year average for West Fork and a 23 year average for Varney, so you can see how far above normal today’s flow is compared to history.
You can see the river is rising. And also getting dirty. But the Madison is usually fishable during these conditions because of visibility along the banks…in fact streamer and nymph fishing can be excellent because the fish don’t get quite as good a look at your fly and don’t realize it’s a fake until its too late. Plus it’s springtime and they are hungry! You can also fish dries along the banks and the wade areas above the West Fork are usually clearer until Cabin and Beaver Creeks blow out. There are also those slower, softer areas below gravel bars and behind rocks that can be productive during runoff. The West Fork of the Madison is the number one mud carrier of all the feeder streams. Moving down from there, the main culprits are Squaw, Standard, Horse, Moose, Wolf, Ruby, Indian, Wigwam and a few others.
Depending on rain, air temps and snow melt, the Spring runoff on the Madison usually lasts around a month to six weeks. Even though the river is high and roily during this time period, hatches can be prolific, especially caddis in all shapes and sizes. Wading can be treacherous but if you pick your spots carefully, some good fishing can be had!
Here is the link to this very handy USGS website which shows daily flow charts for nearly every significant river in Montana as well as dam releases, water temps, etc.
Copy/paste in your browser: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis/current?type=flow
See you out there!