Quality, not Quantity

Fishing on the Madison“Quality, not quantity” –never has there been a more appropriate mantra to round out a week of fishing in southwest Montana.

Late June brought an old friend out from Cincinnati to experience some of the world’s best trout waters. Jeff Strebel, a man whose attitude and physical stature suggests rancher rather than plastics researcher, came out to escape “city life” for a while. Coming from a family lacking any fisherman or hunters, Jeff was quick to take me under his wing years ago in the woods of Kentucky and Ohio.
Around the CampfireWithin an hour of Jeff’s arrival, we were on Hebgen Lake with dog, drift boat, beer, and whisky all aboard. As we set up camp on the edge of the Madison arm, the stress and concerns of daily life vanished, like they always do when on the banks of a beautiful lake or stream. Nick Taix, a good friend and even better fly fisherman, joined us on our adventure and began to set up our arsenal of fishing rods. We set sail for an evening booze cruise with smiles on our faces. Fish were rising all around as we watched the sun disappear behind the mountains. Flocks of pelicans effortlessly glided by as a loon let off call so crisp and perfect you could have heard it anywhere on the lake.

A Quality Catch in Montana Jeff provided dinner—a 16-inch brown trout—and I brought elk steaks for dessert. Life was good. Our campfire stories included memories of our time together in Kentucky: mornings chasing cottontails around with beagles, my first turkey, and the evening I showed up at Jeff’s place with a whitetail in the back of my mom’s minivan, hoping to learn how to butcher my own deer. It quickly became apparent to me that Jeff’s involvement in my outdoor life was a big part of why I decided to come to Montana years ago.

Fresh Dinner on the Grill
The day to follow included periodic success on Hebgen, frustratingly fast water on the upper Madison, a much-needed midday nap on the shore of Cliff lake, and a close call between a cow elk and my pickup. As a storm blew in over Hebgen in the late afternoon, we opted to head back to town for the night and try our luck on the lower Madison the next morning.
Montana weather is a crapshoot, and we were on a roll. Our days of fishing were almost entirely filled with blue skies, enjoyable temperatures, and mild winds. What more could a few redneck fly fishermen ask for? Nick found success on the river, hooking an 18-inch rainbow that took him all the way down to his backing. Twenty minutes (and two beers) later, the fish was in the net.

A Rainbow Trout Caught in the Madison River The Madison pulled us back the next morning and we were on the water by 8am. Only a hundred yards into our drift, I landed a leaping athlete of a rainbow trout that put us all in a good mood. A lunch of smoked trout reminded us how lucky we really were. Fishing was slow, but when we got lucky, we got really lucky. Most all the fish we landed that week pushed 18 inches and fought like hell.
A Rainbow Trout Caught in the Madison River
The mighty Madison River produced and we even escaped a life-jacket ticket, thanks to an understanding and even-tempered game warden. As our time together came near an end, Jeff and I discussed hunting plans for the coming fall. When he flew back to Ohio at the end of the weekend, I realized just how fortunate I was to call this place home. Quality, not quantity.