Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beartrap Canyon of the Madison River

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 5:21 PM

Beartrap Canyon on the Madison River runs from the dam outflow below Ennis Lake, Mont. to the Warm Springs Creek fishing access, making for about ten miles of pristine Montana river through what might be Montana’s most populous [yet stunningly beautiful] poison ivy country.

A quick break in the rain outside West Yellowstone after a bout of rock hunting.  Montana's scenery never disappoints.
  • A quick break in the rain outside West Yellowstone after a bout of rock hunting. Montana's scenery never disappoints.

More than anything, Beartrap is a run for fishing enthusiasts who don’t shy away from whitewater. It draws smaller crowds than more gentle stretches of the Madison because of Class IV rapids that periodically punctuate the river. Beartrap is dam released, and tends to run at about 1400cfs in the summer. With the luck of some monsoon-like rains on our drive down, we were lucky to catch it at a higher-than-average flow. More juice, more spruce.

There is a rapid called Kitchen Sink that is definitely the best part of the day. I mean it. Most whitewater kayakers struggle to get amped for “fishing runs” because they tend to be a bit slim on excitement factor — but this rapid takes the proverbial cake for adrenaline dosage. It's actually quite unusual to see a river of the Madion’s volume do a near 90-degree turn. This makes for a junk-show of rocks that provide a screaming roller-coaster of action through a steep, quarter mile rapid of read-and-run hole-dodging. I regret not running up the easy portage trail to grab a picture or two of the rapid myself, so you'll have to use your imagination.

Fishing against a river left rock ledge in the approach to Kitchen Sink.
  • Fishing against a river left rock ledge in the approach to Kitchen Sink.

It wasn't until after lunch and after Kitchen Sink that the fish started biting. I am an under-study in the fly-fishing department, but the two gentlemen in our raft served as extremely patient stewards of their skill in answering my onslaught of [possibly moronic] questions.

One of the handful of trout caught towards the end of our trip.  My fish taxonomy skills improved to the point where I can comfortably tell you this is a rainbow trout.  PRETTY!
  • One of the handful of trout caught towards the end of our trip. My fish taxonomy skills improved to the point where I can comfortably tell you this is a "rainbow trout". PRETTY!

Naturally, I told our two patient fishermen that I had seen positively humongous fish on the Selway and that surely it would be a good fishing river for their likes. But when I described the fish we saw there, my professor-of-fish most patiently said, "We don't care about those fish. We're after the 14lb brown [trout]." So there you have it, bigger does not equate to better in the fly-fishing world.

Beartrap Canyon exceeded my expectations for whitewater and scenery, and I'm excited at the prospect of being able to paddle it all winter. Additionally, for the first time in my life, I can truthfully acknowledge that fly-fishing is pretty cool. I'm actually looking forward to trading in my paddle for a fly-reel in the quest to snag the elusive Beartrap 14lb brown trout. But like I said, that's an adventure for next time.

Maffro adding a little red to Beartrap Canyon in the bottom reaches of the river. This bit was called Hog Alley for brown trout by our two fishermen.
  • Maffro adding a little "red" to Beartrap Canyon in the bottom reaches of the river. This bit was called "Hog Alley" for brown trout by our two fishermen.

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