Fly Fishing, Insider
Friday, 15 Jul, 2016
It has been a long spring of heavy nymphs, strike indicators, and big streamers. For me the real fun begins with dry fly season. On the Madison and Big Hole, dry fly season kicks off with the Salmonfly hatch, then by mid-July the little bugs start, caddis, yellow sallies, and some mayflies. Along with the little bugs come the seldom seen but often fished Midnight stones.
I fished the Jefferson a few days ago, and while I was hiking back upriver to retrieve a brand new streamer setup out of the bushes, I looked down in the rocks and what did I see? Midnight stonefly cases. Good news to an affirmed dry fly fisherman like myself. It has been a long spring of heavy nymphs, strike indicators, and big streamers. For me the real fun begins with dry fly season. On the Madison and Big Hole, dry fly season kicks off with the Salmonfly hatch, then by mid-July the little bugs start, caddis, yellow sallies, and some mayflies. Along with the little bugs come the seldom seen but often fished Midnight stones.
It took me years to finally figure out what was going on with these interesting bugs. I kept seeing big (size 6 and 8) empty stonefly cases on the banks more and more each day, but never saw any of the adults.
The mystery was solved one night after a late encounter at the Gravel Bar. Someone had the brilliant idea of dropping in a boat at 1:00 in the morning for a little fishing. It was dead dark but you could hear the fish going off. It sounded like someone was throwing rocks in the water.
One of us finally came up with a flashlight, and when we shined it out over the inky darkness of the Madison river
we saw stoneflies skittering over the water everywhere, and obviously the fish were seeing them too. We fished for an hour or two with mediocre results. I couldn’t figure out why there were so many fish coming up, and they were so hard to catch. We finally pulled into the evening hole and we all got out to wade. I was standing there with my line hanging in the water straight downstream, fly dragging on the surface.
Bam! 17-inch Rainbow out of about 8 inches of water.
I thought that was kind of strange. Not exactly the Orvis-endorsed dead drift that we were all used to fishing. My next cast I threw straight out and instead of classic upstream mend, used for a dead drift, I mended down, Steelhead-style and allowed the fly to swing on the surface, cutting a nice little v-wake behind it.
Wham! We cracked the code. The fish kept eating until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
As the summer went on I spent more time looking for these elusive little bugs, and I found them, lots of them. All you had to do was roll the dry rocks on the river bank. They spent the day hidden in the cracks and crevices on the bank and came out at night to do their thing. They are an interesting little bug. The females are huge, size 4 or 2 the size of a salmonfly, they look like big black salmonflys with full wings, and they are also few in number compared to the males. The males are really strange. They have de-evolved their wings. They have wing pads on their backs, but they are totally useless for flying. Instead their preferred mode of propulsion is by running, and oh boy can they run! They are fast little buggars and can even run on the water. This is why the twitch is so important when fishing the midnight stone.
I fish it two ways, first is from a moving boat fishing close to the bank, all the little soft pools and little back eddies. I like to throw it in close and let the current drag it out. The other way is wading and fish it on the swing. Throw it out mend down and let it swing through the holes or through the runs. It can be tough to keep a normal dry fly floating as you jerk it through water or drag through rough waves. Enter the “Chubby Chernobyl” It is a fly made of all synthetics, all lighter than water, a foam body and a white synthetic wing. Easy to see and floats like a cork, and you can’t fish it wrong.
As July turned to August things all started making sense. There always seemed to be a dead spot on the Madison around the first two weeks of August. Same situation every day—good fishing first thing in the morning, then by 9:00 the bottom would drop out and it would be slow the rest of the day. It turns out that the adult population of midnight stones peaked around the first two weeks of august. I started fishing earlier and earlier every morning. I was actually picking up clients about 4:00 in the morning. At first it was hard to get people out of bed, but after one good morning of twitching dries everyone was more than willing to go out on the dawn patrol.
Now that I know what I am looking for I see them on almost all rivers in southwest Montana
. They are a great bug because the hatch is spread out over most of the summer. You start seeing a few cases late June with the peak being the first two weeks of August, but you continue to see fresh cases all the way through September. For the last 10 years there has been a strange absence of grasshoppers.
Hoppers are what used to carry our dry fly fishing into fall streamer fishing. Last year I think I only saw 4 or 5 free floating hoppers out there in the middle doing the back stroke, in the past you would see 4 or 5 at the same time. Yet you still catch fish on hoppers. I think the fish are used to seeing midnight stones and that’s what is carrying us for dries through the summer. Why else would hopper fishing be so good at 5:00 in the morning.
Next time you wake up at 5:00 in the morning and can’t go back to sleep, why not slip out for a little early morning dry fly fishing?
This is a small town with a big heart, a veritable fisherman’s paradise. Located near the fish-filled Madison River, and surrounded by the waters of Ennis Lake, the Ruby River, Hebgen ... moreLake, Quake Lake, Henry’s Lake, the Big Hole River and scores of smaller streams, the town boasts what many consider the best trout fishing in the world. As well known for its wranglers as its anglers, Ennis has succeeded in maintaining the look and feel of its original, gold town roots. Warm and hospitable, the area offers a wide variety of accommodations ranging from simple campsites, rustic motels and gracious hotels, to full-service, luxury resorts. Fly shops are numerous, stocked by local experts ready to advise and assist, while guides can be booked for trips throughout the area.
Boredom is the only thing unavailable in Ennis. Throughout the summer season the city hosts a series of events, including its renowned 4th of July Celebration Parade and a genuine, old-fashioned rodeo. In August, fly-fishing luminaries from around the US, flock to Montana to compete in the Madison Fly Fishing Festival. Athletes also find their way to Ennis to compete in the city’s Madison Trifecta, two shorter races followed by a full Marathon at 9000 feet, the highest elevation run in America. For the true sportsman, October falls in with the annual Hunter’s Feed. What’s caught, typically elk, moose deer, pheasant and bobcat, gets cooked on the streets and served up to hungry spectators.
Flanked by three grand mountain ranges, The Tobacco Root, Gravelly and Madison, Ennis is scenic and entertaining – truly an authentic, fly fisher’s haven.
Maclean’s famous story, A River Runs Through It, is set on the now famous Blackfoot River. Despite this, Robert Redford’s 1992 movie version was largely filmed on the Gallatin as he ... morefelt the scenery and fishing were more cinematic. The river originates high in the mountains of the Gallatin Range inside Yellowstone National Park and flows for 115 miles until it intersects with the beginning of the Missouri River at Three Forks. Inside the Park, where it runs for more than 25 miles, floating is not allowed and there are restrictions on fishing. Once it exits the park, it crosses a forty-mile expanse of mostly public lands, and runs parallel to a highway that makes it quite accessible. Because the river is narrow for much of its run, float fishing is restricted from Yellowstone Park to the confluence with the East Gallatin River. No wonder this river has a great reputation for wade fishing!
Unimpeded by dams, the river provides consistent, easily waded flows from mid-summer through mid-spring. Rainbows predominate with an estimated 1400, 8+ inch, fish per mile from the West Fork confluence at Big Sky to the mouth of the canyon. Browns are abundant accompanied by occasional cutthroats, brook trout, white fish and graylings. New to the lower most band of the river are northern pike. Never known for trophy trout, the river offers excellent dry fly fishing and beautiful surroundings. Since the fish are recognized as indiscriminate eaters, the Gallatin has come to be known as an excellent river for those learning to fly fish.
Like much of Montana, the River played a significant role in the state’s history. First explored by Native American hunters, by the early 1900’s, the area eventually became known to fur-trappers and gold prospectors. By the turn of the twentieth century logging rose in importance to the local economy as loggers famously rode the logs down river to prevent them from jamming. The towns of Bozeman and Three Forks are most closely associated with the River although given the importance of Maclean’s legacy, Livingston should also be considered as part of its history and heritage.
The Big Hole River starts in the Beaverhead Mountains south of Jackson, Montana and flows on for about 156 miles. Beginning as a slight stream, it picks up muscle as it joins with ... morethe North Fork, and draws more volume as it passes through the Wise River basin. At the Continental Divide it changes its northeasterly direction and heads southeast until it joins the Beaverhead and forms the Jefferson River close to the town of Twin Bridges, Montana. It hosts one of the last known habitat for the native fluvial artic grayling but is best known to fly fishers for its trout.
Like so many Montana rivers, the Big Hole is as full of history as it is of water. When Lewis and Clark stumbled upon it, the river was providing a buffer zone between rival Indian tribes vying for land as they sagely anticipated the westward push of European miners, furriers and settlers. Fifty years later, a significant number of the Nez Percé, a tribe that had initially befriended the Expedition, refused to accept life on a reservation and were nearly wiped out by U.S. troops in the Battle of the Big Hole. Today’s battles consist of quarrels between ranchers who desire water for irrigation and recreational users who wish to see the water preserved.
Fishing the river can be basically divided into three sections. From the headwaters at Skinner Lake to Fish Trap, the river meanders slowly through high meadowlands. This is where the few remaining artic grayling can be found, although browns and rainbows are in abundance here. In the second section, Fish Trap to Melrose, you will find boulders and pocket water rushing through a narrow canyon; here rainbows outnumber the browns with an estimated 3000 fish per mile. The final section, Melrose to Twin Bridges, is lined with cottonwood bottoms, braided channels and long, slow pools. In contrast to the second link, browns outnumber rainbows 2 to 1 with approximately 3000 fish per mile.
If fly wranglers were gossips, the “Blue Ribbon” Madison River would likely be their primary object of attention. Arguably it’s the most talked over, written up and frequented river ... morein the entire state of Montana – and that’s saying something. What’s more, no one has anything bad to say about it and that’s for a good reason. There’s nothing bad to say. Its scenic journey begins in Yellowstone National Park at the convergence of the Gibbon and Firehole rivers and continues for 19 miles through parkland. Within the Park, fishing rules apply: no live bait and sorry to disappoint, but it’s catch and release only. Once outside the Park the river meanders past working ranches, stately conifer forests and cottonwood lined banks, interrupted by riffles and quiet runs that contain large rainbow and trophy brown trout. Flowing alongside Yellowstone’s West entrance road, the river enters the Hebgen Lake, created by Hebgen dam, until it reaches Quake Lake, a bit downstream from the dam. At this point the river is commonly called either the Upper Madison or the Lower Madison, although in fact, they are one and the same.
Upper Madison – Quake Lake to Ennis Lake
Directly below Quake Lake the river roars into 5 long miles of Class V whitewater with steep gradients and large boulders along the way. As the rapids decline, the magic begins. For the next 53 miles, often referred to as the 50 Mile Riffle, the cold river runs north and the fish jump high. Annual runs of spawning trout make their way from Hebgen Lake, rainbows in the spring and browns in the fall. Known the world over for its “hard fighting” trout, it’s not unusual to pull a 25” brown from these upper waters. In deference to the purists and fly-fishing enthusiasts, it’s wading only from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge. Boats may be used to access the river, but if you’re going to fish, your feet must be on the riverbed. Fortunately, the Hegman releases water throughout the year, leveling its flows and relieving it of spring runoff issues and summer shrinkage.
Lower Madison – Ennis Lakes to Three Forks
A short section of the river between Ennis Dam and the power station maintain relatively low water levels and provide wonderful opportunities for wading. Past the power station the river regains its muscle and for 7 miles winds through Bear Trap Canyon. Hiking trails offer the only entry, great for those that like to walk and seek the solitude of a designated wilderness area. Floating is permitted but requires a lengthy shuttle and the ability to work through Class III-IV whitewater. Once out of the canyon the river flows in shallow riffles until it reaches Three Forks and joins the Missouri. From Warm Springs to Greycliff, the river is easily accessible for drifters and wading.
Join us for three nights and two days of fishing on the famous Madison River in Ennis, Montana. Fly fish the Madison River for huge browns and rainbows. Spend three nights in a double ... moreroom at the Rainbow Valley Lodge in Ennis, Montana. While there, enjoy a free continental breakfast daily. Meet your guide from Riverborn Outfitters at the O’Dell Creek Fly Shop located in the lodge and then off to the river!
Spend the day fishing for huge rainbows and big browns on the famous Madison River, a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream. With more than 3000 fish per mile, the Madison River offers challenging and fun fishing for novice to seasoned angler.
The Gallatin is a great freestone River with lots of opportunities to catch wild trout. Mostly rainbows in the 10 to 12 inch range on average and of course some opportunities for some ... morepigs as well. There are also whitefish and brown trout but not as common. The Gallatin is a great place to learn the basics of fly fishing.
On the edge of the Town of Ennis, Montana, where the sweeping Madison River Valley opens wide, you’ll find the Rainbow Valley Lodge. Warm, welcoming hosts, Ed and Jeanne Williams, ... morewill make your visit to the Old West Town of Ennis, Montana a special one. Rainbow Valley Lodge provides welcoming accommodations at an affordable price.
Make the Rainbow Valley Lodge your fly fishing headquarter as you tackle our world-class trout. Get fishing tips in our O’Dell Creek Fly Shop located in the Lodge. The Lodge caters to fly fishing on the Madison River and O’Dell Spring Creek. Partnering with Riverborn Outfitters, we offer fly fishing vacation packages.
The private waters of the O'Dell Creek are available to the discerning flyfisher for a nominal rod fee and the lodge limits rods to 4 per day. This beautiful, clear flowing tributary to the Madison River in Ennis, Montana, is a challenging and technical fishery. Meandering through meadows, the stream is a series of riffles and pools. Fish sit tight to the banks, fly presentation is very important to caught these wary trout. The scenery surrounding O’Dell Spring Creek is nothing short of spectacular. To the East, the peaks of the Madison Mountain Range soar into the sky while the gently rolling Gravelly Mountains are to the west. Water temperature in the creek on summer days only reaches as high as 65 degrees.