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Madison River outfitter says he's still optimistic for summer despite concerns over low snowpack

John Way has owned The Tackle Shop in Ennis for more than a decade and has been outfitting for three decades.
Posted at 5:11 PM, Feb 21, 2024

BOZEMAN — This year's dry winter has meant that there have been low snowpack levels. Now, Northwestern Energy says that it's going to begin to monitor water levels on the Madison River and Hegben Reservoir for signs of a potentially dry summer ahead.

“It's concerning, but it's not time to panic just yet. Let's get through the next 45 days and see what happens, and then we can reassess that,” says John Way, owner of The Tackle Shop.

Way has owned The Tackle Shop in Ennis for more than a decade and has been outfitting for three decades.

“We’ve seen wet years we’ve seen dry years; you know, last year was extraordinarily wet,” says Way. “We’ve seen it all through the last 25-30 years. And you just kind of have to plan accordingly. You know, maybe not encourage August as much as maybe June and July this year.”

Our Chief Meteorologist Mike Heard says right now across southwest Montana, snowpack levels are 60 to 70 percent of average.

“It's kind of hard to say—we could have a poor snowpack, but if we actually end up with a normal, or near normal, wet rainy season, that could help out a lot as we get into at least the early part of summer,” Mike says.

El Nino's effect on Montana has meant a drier than normal winter, but things could change.

“It’s starting to taper off and we're heading into what's called a neutral phase, which is good as we get closer to the rainy season. If we're in a neutral phase, I have some high hopes that we could actually end up with a near-normal, wet weather season,” says Mike.

According to a release from Northwestern Energy, water levels at Hegben Reservoir are about 4.22 feet from being full, but still more than two feet higher than the 20-year average.

Way says that gives him hope that the summer won't be so bad.

“I'm always optimistic, I'm always, you know, a guy looking towards the future and thinking it's going to be better than last,” says Way.

Northwestern Energy says it plans to hold a public meeting here in Ennis on April 22 at El Western, 4784 U.S. Highway 287, to discuss Madison River topics, including snowpack and streamflow forecasts for the Madison River, fish populations, and the projects sponsored by the Madison Fisheries Technical Advisory Committee.