A New Normal

Madison River, Hoot Owl, Montana, Fly Fishing, Montana Fly Fishing, August, Montana, Ennis

July 2021
Updated 7/28/2021

The biggest news on the upper Madison as of late is the Hoot Owl restrictions being imposed. This means that between the hours of 2 pm to 11:59 pm fishing is closed. It is the responsible thing to do, and many of us have voluntarily been following an early-on, early-off routine for the last several weeks anyway. We are very blessed to have Hebgen Lake feeding our river, and the flow has been normal and very healthy for late July. Many of our rivers here in southwest MT are beleaguered due to severe drought conditions, but the upper Madison is the exception. 

The upper Madison continues to fish well. We’ve been seeing some very nice fish being had on a consistent basis. In the cool hours of the morning twitching and dead-drifting smaller streamer/nymph combos under an indicator is bringing them in. Trevor sculpin, Zonkers, Mini Loop sculpin, Sparkle Minnows, and Wooly Buggers have been working well. White, gray, olive, and black are the best colors, especially white and olive. Most any of your tiny and shiny nymphs like lightning bugs, flashback pheasant tails, Lil Spankers, and French Dips in the #14 to #16 size ranges are working great as trailers.

Everyone is waiting for the terrestrial bite to really kick into gear. The fish want to eat the hopper, but they are just not seeing enough of them on the water yet to really key in. The smoke and haze generally slows the hopper bite down, and with the Goose Fire burning 6000 acres just to the southwest of us we’ve been having blankets of smoke and that campfire smell in the valley. The fish have been looking up for the hopper, but it’s mostly been in the early afternoon. Randomly drifting a hopper through the middle is bringing a few up, but most of the fish we’ve been finding have been on the pillows and slicks around the rocks. Carnage Hoppers, Thunder Thighs, Panty Dropper, Juicy Hopper, More-or-Less Hopper, and Grand Hopper in tan, pink, and yellow are a few great patterns. Ants have been more consistent than the hoppers, Delektable Cinnamon Ant, Arrick’s Flying Ant, Cinnamon Power Ant, Galloup’s Ant Acid, and Hegan’s Red Ant have been getting them up on the banks and in the seams and slicks behind rocks.

Nocturnal Stones like Pink Chubbys and Toy Boats in the #8 and #10 sizes are working great as indicator flies. If you can’t get the fish to look up consistently enough you can just drop about 3 to 4 ft of tippet off your big foamy dry and tie on a #16 bead head. Perdigons like the Spanish Bullet, Purple Rain Drop, and Olive Quill make great dropper flies with their quick sinking jigged tungsten heads. Formally Known as Prince, He Man, and Mason’s Peep Show work amazing too.

Nymphing under indicators or Euro style is probably the most consistent way to catch fish day in, day out. Larger Tungsten Head Princes, Pat’s Rubber Legs, San Juan Worms, Lightning Bugs, Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tails, Perdigons, and any variation of said flies can work on any given day when fished with confidence. Adding a B split shot to your nymph rig to help get it in the zone quicker when fishing behind rocks can make the difference.

Remember your safe fish handling techniques during these hot summer months. Use barbless hooks and keep the fish wet whenever you can. Dropping your fish in the boat or on the land is equivalent to you falling off a garage roof. Let’s get the pic if needed and get them back in the water as fast as possible unharmed.

- MRFC Guide Patrick McGinnis