The next stop on our fly fishing road trip is fly fishing the Madison River in July 2023. We’ve fished the Madison a little over a week now. It’s a favorite river of ours and you’ll see why below!

John with Madison Brown Trout |

We arrived on the Madison River on the evening of July 7 after spending a few days on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. I’d heard reports that Salmonflies were hatching and sure enough, the word was out and the $3 Bridge parking lot was packed!

You might have seen these pics from last week’s Images from the Water post.

I smile when I see all the extra fly fishers heading up and down the river with their big flies casting with the hope of catching a fish. I NEVER saw a fish rise to any of few large stoneflies we saw flying around, either Salmonflies or Golden Stones. I noticed the larger bugs on the streamside vegetation and picked several off my neck and clothing. I tried a few casts with a large fly searching for a riser, but nothing ever happened.

But how about a Caddis hatch? That’s a different story!

Caddis Swarm over Madison River |

All of the spots in the image above are Caddis flying over the water! It’s a prolific hatch and the reason we travel to the Madison River this time of year. If you look at my Fly Fishing Road Trips page, you’ll notice all of the posts from prior years where I’ve written about our experience. In fact, I read several of them to check the assortment of flies we used during this time of year.

Our arrival at the river was perfect! We have found over the years, it’s best to fish early in the morning and late in the evening. Not only are more fish rising, we find fewer anglers on the river.

Here are two images of $3 Bridge. The one on the left is early in the morning, around 7 am. On the right, the picture was taken around 7:30 pm and there are more cars on both sides of the bridge.

It was a stark difference from the first evening when we counted 16 vehicles on one side and at least 12 on the other side. Yes, lots of fly fishers!

But honestly, there is enough room for everyone, especially in the early morning and late evening.

And you can be successful if you know where to look.

In one of my posts from last year, I showed where we have found fish which would rise to our flies. Here is the link – Lessons Learned from Fly Fishing the Madison River

I don’t usually provide fish numbers, but to give you some idea how good the fishing was we each landed around 10 just fishing about 5 hours the first three mornings.

They were a mix of healthy Brown and Rainbow trout.

Madison Rainbow Trout |

It never ceases to amaze me how strong and acrobatic these fish are. Even some of the “less girthy” fish put their heads down, find the current, and are a struggle to land. Once they are close to the net, the Brown Trout especially go berserk, not wanting to slide into our nets.

Here are a few pics of the fish we’ve been lucky to hook and land this week.

Below, Dancingtrout is fighting an acrobatic Brown Trout. I was lucky to capture a couple jumps.

These fish are strong! Hook several of these strong fish and it will wear out your arms.

Bearing Down Playing Madison River Trout |

We started off using 4X tippet because of the higher, off color water. A few days later, the water level dropped and cleared as well and the fish became a more selective due to all of the fly fishers targeting them. As a result, we began using 5X to see if our hook rate would improve. The lighter tippet also allowed a little more movement of the fly.

As the week progressed, the number of trout landed dwindled, not the numbers of the first three days.

Our memories tell us there are fewer Caddis floating on the water than previous years. We’ve both commented this observation to each other several times. With all the Caddis flying around, they must hatch somewhere. We found them hatching in previous years close to dark. It’s why we fish as late as we do. Certain runs might have fish rising, but others where we have seen them seem barren. I don’t think that is the case, but we sure aren’t seeing as many rising fish.

In addition, we haven’t seen many Mayflies either. I expected to find PMDs and Epeorus Mayflies floating down the river. I’ve fished Sparkle Duns to imitate them as well as a Compara Rusty Spinner to imitate their final phase of life. But only one fish rose to the spinner.

Here are our most productive flies during our first week.

The IOBO Humpy size 16 or 18 has caught the majority of our trout. Why? I have no idea. The pattern that has been most effective is tied with natural dark dun. My best guess is the trout may think the fly imitates one of the smaller black Caddis. But then again, maybe not!

Here is a closeup of a Brown Trout who ate an IOBO Humpy.

Madison Brown Trout with IOBO Humpy Fly |

This is Dancingtrout switching flies just below $3 Bridge.

Changing Flies at $3 Bridge on Madison |

Notice I’m holding fly line in the image below? Well, there’s a story associated with that line.

Somewhere, I developed a break in my fly line. I’ve felt it for weeks as I strip in line preparing to cast. It was a only a matter of time before I would replace it. We fish so much, I always carry a spare fly line or two.

I’ve fished my home waters, the Metolius, as well as landed strong fish last week on the Henry’s Fork. I even landed a couple fish on the Madison, but…

I was casting an Elk Hair Caddis downstream hoping to coax a fish to rise. As I gently wiggled my tip to allow more line out and have a longer drift, something felt different. My line had broken and roughly 20 to 30 feet of fly line continued through all the guides.

I had a moment of astonishment as I thought “what the ****”!

I began to quickly move downstream in hopes of grasping the end. I’ve always wondered what happened when I see an occasional fly line in the bottom of the river.

Well, it was gone.

I know a fly line core is very strong. The coating allows it to float rather than soak up water. The nick I mentioned must have also affected the core.

But what about all those fish I’d landed? I’m still scratching my head on that one.

The story doesn’t end there. I walked back to the van, retrieved my other fly line and spooled it on the riverbank. All good.

We continued to fish down the river and back to the van. While fishing the tailout of a riffle, I noticed something yellow. You guessed it. My line.

I waded into the river and retrieved the broken fly line. I planned to dispose of it properly. But Dancingtrout had a different idea. She plans to use it in her knot tying kit for CFR.

Happy I could help her out!

I’ll close with more fish images.

It’s been a great week! Yes, all these trout were caught on dry flies…it’s how we roll.

I feel fortunate to be able to travel to the Madison River valley and experience this magical place.

Sunset at $3 Bridge on Madison River |

Be sure to check back next week and see how the fishing is going.

Enjoy…go fish!

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  1. Nothing like the sound of rushing water around your legs to provide a great nights rest. Sounds like the fishing is great. Hope the water temp is staying down. Are you fishing the iris caddis as well?

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