Catching trout on the Madison River

May 10, 2021

Thank you for checking out our most recent upper Madison River fishing report. It is our goal to keep this page updated on a regular basis to serve as a resource for those of you planning your visit to Montana. Please refer to the information below consisting of fishing techniques, fly patterns, Madison River flows and the weather in Ennis, Montana. We encourage you to give us a call for more information not detailed in our fishing report.

Overview

Variable conditions are indicative of spring in Montana. One day it's almost 80 degrees, the next we're blanketed in 5 inches of wet snow. The upper Madison River responds and so do the trout. Changing water temperatures, light conditions, turbidity and flows all have impact on the fishing. It's the time of year when one section of the river can be lights while the section above is slower. Regardless, it has been beautiful out lately and overall the fishing has been fantastic with many opportunities for dry fly and streamer fishing, especially near town.

Ennis, Montana Weather

Cold weather and a lot of precipitation has passed. It couldn't have come at a better time after a lengthy dry spell. Cool temperatures should quickly return to 60s and low 70s as this latest system blows out today. The air temperatures are not expected to shoot up drastically in the high country so we might see runoff start gradually.

Madison River Flows

The west fork of the Madison River has begun inputting sediment into the river. A slight mud stripe exists below Lyons Bridge and becomes relatively mixed by Windy Point. The right side remains clear but this will change. Runoff is imminent, but flows remain quite low. Looking at the flow chart you can see the initial spike in flows that has now subsided. Expect NW Energy to bump flows up as Hebgen Lake prepares for new water coming in.

Water Level Graph for USGS Station 06038800

Madison River Hatches

Blue Winged Olive and March Brown mayflies are coming off in good numbers, but should subside with the changing water conditions. Midges are on a similar schedule. Caddis are abundant, but disappeared with the most recent storm. You can expect them to come back in full force very soon. Rest assured the stoneflies are active underneath with each species being the preferred food source for trout at various times during the day.

Fishing Techniques

Nymphing girdle bugs and small mayfly nymphs is a pretty standard go-to, but the worm will become a better substitute for the latter once the runoff hits. It's almost double worm time. Streamer fishing has really kicked up a notch in the last week. Nice fish are chasing bright and natural color streamers. I personally had a lot of takes on an olive and white bunny, while I've heard from others that olive sculpin patterns have been the ticket. Presentation is the most important. Fish these flies low and slow for the best results. The dry fly fishing has been stellar lately using small baetis patterns for the BWO and larger parachute adams for the March Browns. The standout though has been the caddis hatch. The rainbows have really keyed in on the emerging nymphs in the afternoon/evening.

Nymphs
  • #4-6 Girdle Bug
  • Worms
  • #12-18 Prince Nymphs
  • #16 Psycho Prince
  • #18 Serendipity
  • #18 $3 Dips
  • #12-16 Lightning Bugs
  • #14 Yellowspot jigs
Dry Flies
  • #14-18 Parachute Adams
  • #18-20 BWOs
  • #18-22 Midges
  • Elk hair caddis
  • Missing Link caddis
  • X-caddis
Streamers
  • Dali Lama
  • Sex Dungeon
  • Sparkle Minnows
  • Buggers
  • Trevors
  • Zonkers

Madison River Flies (Year-Round)

To simplify things, you can expect Madison River trout to eat just about every classic trout pattern ever tied depending on the time of year. Known for prolific stonefly, caddis, mayfly and midge hatches, the trout of the Madison aren't as picky as other rivers. If you get the size and color right, chances are they'll eat it so long as you have the correct presentation. Certainly there are some local secrets, but if you stock up on the basics you should be just fine!

Nymphs
  • Prince Nymph (#10-18)
  • Lightning Bugs (#12-18)
  • Hare's Ear (#12-18
  • Pat's Rubberlegs (#4-12)
  • Serendipity (#16-20)
  • Copper John (#12-18)
  • Worms & Eggs
Dry Flies
  • Parachute Adams (#12-18)
  • Elk Hair Caddis (#12-16)
  • Stimulators (#6-12)
  • Water Walkers (#6-12)
  • Griffith's Gnat (#18-20)
  • Comparaduns (#14-18)
  • Hoppers & Ants
Streamers
  • Wooly Buggers (#2-8)
  • Zonkers
  • Bow River Bugger
  • Sheila Sculpin
  • Trevor's Sculpin
  • Sparkle Minnows
  • Dali Lama
Picture of Montana angler with madison river flies

Madison River Fishing Gear

A 5 or 6 WT fly rod is ideal for most fly fishing situations on the Madison River. The Madison Valley can be a breezy place and with such a wide river it can help to have a little extra power in your cast. We tend to prefer fast action fly rods for this reason. Your fly line is arguably more important than your fly rod though. Half size heavy weight forward floating lines are the ideal compliment to a modern fast action rod.

A slow action 3-5 WT certainly has its time and place on this river, especially during the caddis, midge and BWO hatches. 7 WT rods are commonly fished with short sink-tip fly lines and big streamers. They also come in handy during the salmonfly hatch when you're casting a 3" long foam body dry fly.

Breathable waders and sturdy boots are often a necessity during the spring and fall months. Your best soles for traction are felt with carbide tipped studs. Be aware that many Madison River fly fishing guides do not allow studs in their boats. It is rare that waders are required between June 15-September 15. During these months, some lightweight boots or water shoes/sandals are preferred.

Above all else, quality clothing and accessories for all types of weather are essential for staying comfortable during the day. Montana can throw just about any type of weather your way so be prepared with a well thought out layering system to handle the often cold mornings and warm afternoons.

Madison River fly shop at MVR
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