Madison River fly fishing

By Sean Jansen

When you are used to being around the ocean your whole life, it is obvious that it stays with you and you constantly think about it when you are away from it. However, being away from the things you love can sometimes be the biggest blessing, it can also be extremely difficult to find happiness and to be creative with that happiness. 

fly fishing

Living in Montana is amazing but, for me growing up in California then moving here, it is difficult to find activities with the same relativity to what I am used to from growing up. Bringing my SUP up here makes living here tolerable. Nothing against Montana, and I have no desire to thrash the state by any means; it is just difficult to comprehend, coming from where I grew up. But with that tolerance comes creativity, and with creativity there’s adventure.

fly fishingNow I completed a first successful trip to Yellowstone National Park with ease and success doing the same idea, on a lake from point A to point B and back again. But a river raises its own complications. Like A to B and back again for example – you can’t really do that on a flowing river, unless you find joy in paddling against a river back to your car however far you floated. Or shallowness and rocks – a lake has depth, a river not. And rapids, they possess their own challenges. While watching kayaks dance through a section of rapids with joy, it does not mean that I, on an SUP with camping, camera and fly fishing gear strapped to it, will have the same outcome.

The weather in Montana is nothing short of unpredictable. Especially in spring. We had days in February that were 60 plus degrees with sun and not an ounce of wind. Then, the very next day, it was minus three with 25 knot winds. Seeing a three-day forecast with 55 degree weather, sun and little wind was something to get excited about…

I set off at about eight in the morning and began taking in the steady flow of the clear water, watching trout scatter below my board and eagles flying overhead. It was slightly overcast, which surprisingly makes for better fishing than during direct sunlight in springtime. Simply floating and taking in the beauty of Montana, and stopping on an island or good bank with a deep hole to fish, the ten-mile stretch I chose went by much faster than I initially anticipated. I somehow ended up doing the first five miles within two hours of floating.

Launch me forward
The wind began to pick up slightly; luckily for me, however, the wind was at my back and therefore was pushing me down the river for the most part. I would occasionally come across a shallow section where my fin would drag along the rocks of the riverbed and try its best to launch me forward off my board and into the water.

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I was wearing what is known in the fishing world as waders, which keep you completely dry while standing in the water fishing. However, if I was to fall in head first, water could simply rush in from the top, fill up the waders and drown me. So needless to say, when I hit a shallow section of the river, I went onto my knees and held on until the section was up.

I arrived surprisingly fast, but I was relieved as the days are rather short and there were certain sections of the river that were braided. This means that the river splits into different sections, with tributaries everywhere. If I were to take a wrong path down the wrong section of river, I would lose my friends vehicle support and would have no idea where to meet up if he couldn’t find me. There was no cell service. So I was thrilled and relieved to have floated that section of river safely. But it soon led to a plan to do longer sections of the river, and to do multi-day trips down it.

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The weather forecast continued to predict 50 plus degree days with sun, and to have a night time low of around 32 degrees. However, as the sun began to set and the whiskey and beers around the campfire began to do there charm, my friend and I had little notice of what was to happen. When we ran out of booze and the exhaustion of paddling and fly-fishing told us to go to bed, we put the campfire out and crawled into our tents.

I remember walking away from the fire and noticing that it was cold, but didn’t realise what the actual temperature was. I had enjoyed some beers and whiskey, so my thought process was slower than usual; but as I was unzipping my tent to crawl in, it wouldn’t open because of a very thick layer of ice. As I turned my headlamp on, I couldn’t even recognize the colour of the tent from the amount of ice on it! I broke the ice shelf off of my zipper and crawled into my zero degree rated, very expensive sleeping bag that is aptly named the Snow Shoe.

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All defective
Well, the Snow Shoe did not live up to its name. Either my sleeping bag, sleeping pad and tent were all defective, or it was so cold that the equipment decided that even it was cold. Drunken mumbles were coming from Adrian’s tent going something like “SSShhhhaaaawwwww”; I could tell he was simply so cold that he couldn’t even say my name. His gear was less rated in temperature than mine so I knew he must be colder than me. We had no choice other than to grab our sleeping bags, run to the car and blast the heater.

I walked over to my tent and was immediately grateful for our choice to sleep in the car. I unzipped my tent; inside my sleeping pad and the entire inside lining of the rain fly were covered in ice. Our waders hanging from the car were petrified, and our wading shoes were frozen to the ground. We quickly gathered some of the dry firewood we had left over in the car and blasted it with lighter fluid to get a fire going. But with the sun rising, and every minute it took getting higher into the sky, the temperature warmed and the ice melted almost as though it should never have been there in the first place.

Trout after trout
We boiled water from the river to drink and to make our Mountain House breakfasts and coffees with, and thawed our bones to get ready for another epic day of fly-fishing. With a morning beer, which was surprisingly cold, and a splash of whiskey in our coffees, we packed up camp, set up our rods and hit the river. I caught a few fish and shot photos of Adrian bringing in quality trout after quality trout. I was stoked that I survived a cold night, had enjoyed a first time SUP Madison River float and left with a newfound idea to partake in more similar adventures. When I got back home and jumped online to see what the temperature was that night, it had got down to 3 degrees. Got to love the spontaneity of spring in Montana.

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