A Twisted Tail…

By Tony on May 15, 2011 in Nature

Maybe not what you are thinking. 

Today I went to Beartrap Canyon on the lower Madison River to see if I could hit the annual caddis fly hatch.  The caddis fly hatch is an annual right of spring for anglers in the area.  Known as the “Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch” on the Yellowstone River due to its tendency to hit around Mother’s day, the Madison River hatch is its lesser-known, but perhaps less finicky, cousin.  Every year, the Yellowstone River hatch seeks to find that delicate balance between water temperature, air temperature, and daylight; while constantly being chased by the prospect of spring runoff.  When all the pieces come together, the result is glorious.  Caddis flies come off the river in swarms, often forming thick mats of buggy soup in the eddies.  Fish can’t seem to get enough of it.  They pile up in the eddies, climbing over each other to gorge on mouthfuls of protein.  Casting your fly into the soup is comical.  You usually can’t distinguish your imitation from the real thing.  But the fishing can be fantastic if you get it right.  It is a grand spectacle.

I’ve been lucky enough to hit it right three years out of the last ten or so.  Dumb luck mostly, as I am usually committed to fishing only on the weekends.  Some years, runoff comes early, muddying the rivers and making them unfishable.  This year’s hatch on the Yellowstone was sporadic and disappointing for the most part.  I made my annual float with my father-in-law last Saturday.  We saw some caddis and a small hatch of March Browns, but the caddis never really showed up in full force.  So today I headed to the Madison River to see if I could have any better luck there.  The Madison is dam-controlled, so runoff usually is not a big issue.  The wind was today’s challenge though.  The caddis where there, but never really got going during my visit. 


The real excitement came on my stroll back to the car, and this is where the tail becomes twisted. 

Just north of Ennis Montana, the Madison River cuts through the northern end of the Madison Range, exposing a series of Precambrian (2.7 billion year old) basement rocks.  These gneisses and schists define Beartrap Canyon with dramatic cliffs alongside the Madison River.  It is a popular early season place to fish and hike, since it is usually snow free early in the spring.  This same terrain is prime rattlesnake country.  I’ve been out here many times, usually hiking or running along the official east side trail.  In 15 or so years of hiking and fishing there, I have never seen a snake.  The west side trail that heads upstream from the Warm Springs Boat Launch is a different story.  I’ve fished here exactly twice and seen snakes on both occasions.  Snakes are one of those things that make me nervous.  Frankly, they turn a relaxed hike into a paranoid scamper through many sections of trail.  This trip was no exception. 

I had just chatted with a gal heading up the trail and walked about a minute over the same trail that she had just passed.  Entering into a denser thicket I found myself jumping backwards about 10 feet.  Pure reflex.  On the trail in front of me were two, particularly amorous rattlesnakes involved in a twisted dance.  Their twists would start at their heads, spinning and undulating down to their tails, creating a writhing, 4-foot long, rope-like scene.  Once my breathing returned to normal, I was able to enjoy it.



So that’s it.  My twisted tail(s).


  1. Papa May 20, 2011 Reply

    Watch your step . . .

  2. Barry May 20, 2011 Reply

    Weird looking dance. And they didn’t mind you watching? Rather preoccupied, I imagine. Don’t suppose they would let you cut in.

  3. Papa May 21, 2011 Reply

    First time I saw this there was also a video of the snake dance. Why can’t I get it now?

    • Author
      mountainwhimsy May 21, 2011 Reply

      Back on line. Made a change to the site and it killed the video stuff.

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