Monday, 8 June 2015

Madison River - USA 2015

I'm fishing the Madison River. I pinch myself. Yes, I'm fishing the Madison River! This is 'A list' as far as trout rivers go, not just in Montana or the American West, but the entire world.

The Upper Madison

The Madison Valley
Of course the river was running high and fast, but I expected that and with a grim determination decided I would fish the Madison in whatever condition I found it. At the small trout mad town of Ennis the river was a muddy brown, but above the confluence with its major tributary the West Fork the river pleasingly became the colour of snow melt green. Along the drive up river I stopped at Lyons Bridge which is the starting point for drift boats and there was a queue of them waiting to hit the water. According to my guidebook in the peak month of July there are well over a hundred boats making the float each day! With its fame comes a great deal of fishing pressure.

Fly fishing art at the main crossroads at Ennis

I jumped in at an access point well above Lyons Bridge, designated wade only, and pretty soon had my first Madison rainbow trout in the net. There was nothing delicate about the process. Using 3x tippet I lobbed out a #4 rubber leg stonefly nymph on the point with a San Juan worm on the dropper. The combination cut through the fast water and as the flies drifted into some slack water behind a large boulder the rainbow scoffed at the San Juan worm (or just plain old "worm" as they call it here).

My first Madison rainbow!
My first Madison brown!

There was also a stiff wind so I had to use extra power to get the flies through the wind and into the water in the right place. By the end of the afternoon my arm and shoulder had had a solid workout.

It was brutal fishing and it was high octane. As soon as a fish was hooked in the pockets of slack water I targeted all it did was move out barely a foot into the swift current. And then it was a race down the river bank, my reel screaming with distance growing between me and the fish, dodging willow saplings and holding my rod high to clear them. I lost a good few fish to the current. One of them would easily have been the best fish of the day and it was probably in excess of 20 inches. It made me run about 100 metres before I got agonisingly close to netting it, breathing hard, when the fish spat out the hook. I would've netted it if my new Brodin had an extra inch of handle. As soon as a fish was hooked there was a brief window of time while it was still disoriented - I'm talking a second or two or maybe three - to yank it to the bank or else it would be a sprint down river. It made for pretty interesting fishing of the 'oh shit!' kind.

I fished for about four hours and caught six rainbows and four browns. The 'worm' took 70% of the fish which was great because it was the first time I had ever used it. It was a Saturday, so of course the river bank was a little crowded but everyone was amiable enough even if the locals have an annoying tendency of jumping in the river just ahead of you.

To top off a great day achieving a fishing milestone - catching trout from the Madison - I got to set up camp here where I could play back the day's events innumerable times before I nodded off to sleep.


  1. Sounds like a great day's fishing! Ah, the tent :)

    1. The tent is still going strong and doing a wonderful job of keeping out Montana's horde of mosquitoes!