We’re in our third week of fly fishing the Madison River. If you had asked me a few weeks ago if I thought we would be here this long, my answer would have been no. I’m sure you have experienced the heat wave. Our plan was to head West and fish the Beaverhead, Big Hole, Bitterroot, and Clark Fork rivers. But I checked the forecast, and 100 degree temperatures were the norm. In the Madison Valley, it’s been hot, but highs have only reached the low 90’s, with most days in the upper 80’s. With that knowledge, we decided to stay put. After all, we are in a beautiful place catching fish! This week, I’ll share a few lessons learned from fly fishing the Madison River and include a handful of my favorite images from the last week.
Now that I have your attention, the image above is an 18+ inch Brown Trout taken about two feet from shore on a Compara Rusty Spinner.
We’ve taken a lot of nice Brown and Rainbow Trout close to shore. Here is an image where two trout were caught.
A Brown Trout
And this Rainbow
Two lessons I’d like to share with you are hatches change and how to break down a larger river to improve your chances of catching trout on a dry fly. (It might even help the nymph fly fisher as well.)
Being on the river for three weeks, we’ve seen major changes in fish activity. The first two weeks, we could catch fish throughout the morning hours and again from 7 pm till dark, which was close to 10 pm. Caddis were abundant and most of the fly patterns were caddis imitations. Salmonflies and Golden Stones were around as well, and a few fish rose to a Clark’s Lady Stone.
There are still some caddis around, but the fish don’t seem interested in them. More mayflies are available and the Epeorus imitations have worked for us. A size 16 Sparkle Dun has caught its fair share and spinner patterns have been effective the last week.
With the change in insects, our catch rate has gone down too. We are finding fewer fish willing to rise for a dry fly in the morning hours. Sure, an occasional fish rises and sometimes it hooks up, but I’ve missed some nice fish. Guess I still get too excited at times!
The evening hours are slower too. We arrive at the river between 6 and 7 to find a place to fish. But the number of fly fishers has dwindled too. The other night, we walked downstream and fished our way back to $3 Bridge. I think we only saw one other fly fisher on our side. Last night, I didn’t see anyone on the other bank.
The lesson here is, be observant and take what the river gives you. Changes in insect activity can impact your fishing. In addition, changing water conditions have an impact as well. We left the river because of a 300 cfs increase! In my experience, it takes a while for the trout to be comfortable and begin feeding in new locations.
Below are a few flies that worked in the last week.
While waiting for rising fish one day, we sat along the bank and reminisced about our first trips to the Madison River and how difficult it was to determine where to find fish. Experience and multiple casts have taught us where the fish live, and we use that knowledge to blind-cast along seams and in front of rocks where we know fish live.
I thought I’d share a little information with you. It might help on your local waters as well.
Here are three examples of pictures with a before and after where I’ve drawn red lines on the water to show where we caught fish.
The image below is looking downstream with boulders close to shore. Where do you think the fish are?
The red lines show where we raised fish.
Here is another example, again looking downstream.
This last example is a spot where I raised three fish in separate days. The last evening, I caught the beautiful 18+ inch Brown Trout shown above where the X is. He rose to a Compara Spinner and hardly left a dimple in the surface film. I set the hook and was lucky to land him. (Another downstream view)
The red line farther out from shore is where trout rose the previous evening.
Hopefully, this helps you break down larger rivers into discreet sections to learn where fish live.
Here are a few more images of fish we were lucky enough to land.
Karen is holding these last two fish I caught so I could capture them with my Nikon Z 6II.
We make a good team with her holding the fish and me behind the camera!
A couple of wildflower images from the river.
I’ll end with a couple more images. This one is sunrise near $3 Bridge.
And golden hour just before sunset.
I hope you enjoyed my posts of us fishing the Madison. If you missed the previous two posts about our fishing adventures, here are the links: