Bridges and Ridges
Fall activities in the Treasure State.
For many outdoorsfolk, autumn can be a conundrum. With the plethora of possibilities and opportunities in this blessed corner of the Treasure State, choosing a starting point can be overwhelming. For starters, head for the bridges and ridges of Madison County.
With the dawn of archery season, the start of school, and the general winding down of summer chaos, the crowds are all but gone. This is the time to fish, and fishing on the Madison River and her tributaries during the harvest season can be unforgettable.
From Three Dollar (as the name implies, a nominal fee is required) all the way down to Ennis, the choices are easy. Just pick any bridge marked with the iconic government brown fish-and-hook insignia (the more bullet holes the better). The seasonal shallowing due to heat and irrigation allows wading to holes, pockets, and riffles that would have only been accessible by boat earlier in the year. Keep your feet wet and there's no risk of trespassing.
The tactics for catching fall trout are simple; a size 16–18 Royal Wulff on a nine- to seven-foot leader tapered down to 5X should be productive over the shallow riffles. Yellow and red humpies and Adams Irresistibles should also work well. Must-have nymphs for autumn include soft hackle hare's ears as well as pheasant tails, with or with out a bead head in sizes 14 to 16. These nymphs, fished with a strike indicator or beneath one of the dry flies I mentioned, will surely entice some strikes. Of course fall is known for big browns, so don’t forget the streamers; big buggers and baitfish patterns are also a must. Fish em’ deep, vary the retrieve, and be ready to get spooled.
The opening day of upland bird season (grouse) is September 1, and big-game archery season begins September 4. For hunters unintimidated by boot miles, the Wall Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) offers some truly spectacular action. Start early (before sunrise if possible), get to the highest point possible, and glass often.
If elk or mule deer are your quarry of choice, preseason scouting is a must. A USGS topo map is the best tool to plan your route and get an idea of where the game might be hiding. Wall Creek is hunted heavily and hard, but with some planning, scouting, and a little luck, the chances of success are not bad. If game of the feathered variety is on the menu, some of the same tactics apply: hunt the ridges and likely watering holes. Wear hunter orange and try to avoid areas where bow hunters may be present.
If you have a successful hunt, it pays to have some culinary skills. One of the best places to get recipes is the annual Ennis Wild Game Feed and Cook-Off in October. Sample a host of dishes from elk to duck, and vote for your favorite. For more information, visit ennischamber.com.
To spice up an early-fall trip to Virginia City, the Brewery Follies offers up an encore season Wednesdays through Saturdays through the end of September (breweryfollies.net). After the show, wander the streets free of tourists and get a true feel for the Wild West’s bygone era. Nearby Nevada City hosts Living History Weekend in October, a spooky celebration of haunted trails and trains. As Christmastime approaches, both towns put on an Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration, which is a perfect family event to get into the holiday spirit. Visit virginiacity.com for more information.