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

September 2021
Updated 9/2/2021

With cooler temps and some much needed precipitation,  the Hoot Owl has been lifted on the upper and lower Madison. Water temps are in the low 60s and the fish are frisky. Intermittent smoky days in the valley have still put a damper on the dry fly fishing. We’re looking for this cooling trend to continue into September. All bets are off when it comes to weather after Labor Day, and it’s not unheard of to wake up to 3 inches of snow. Our fish have been getting a substantial amount of pressure over the last 3 months. We’re not sure they like us very much right now. Every fish in the river goes to the rodeo, and they get educated after they’ve eaten your Rubber Legs six times this summer. Let’s keep them wet and minimize our handling. Barbless hooks make for a simple, easy release.

We have all been hoping the hopper bite would get more consistent, but it has still been generally off. They come up for the hopper under a sunny blue sky, and with the valley being so smoky it just hasn’t been happening. It’s still worth a try, Yellow Thunder Thighs, More or Less Hopper, Rainy’s Grand, and the Blade Runner are some of our favorites. Mid afternoon around two is when it’s happening, if its happening at all.  Ants have been fairly consistent. Delektable Cinnamon Ant, Hegan’s Red Ant, Galloup's Acid, and the foal Royal Humpy have been working well. I’ve seen the best ant bite happen next to the banks, in close, within a few inches if possible.

We’ve been seeing the biggest fish coming in most consistently on streamers. They haven’t been coming in numbers, but you have a shot at getting a great fish on every trip. Twitching under indicators has been most productive in the morning. The Sparkle Minnow, Sculpzilla, Trevor’s Sculpin, Mini Loop Sculpin, Conehead Wooly Sculpin, Zonkers, and just about any Wooly Bugger will put one in the net. Cycle through the colors, I like to start with white. After white I’ll change to olive, black, natural, and tan. There are definitely some big fish lurking in the deep holes looking to eat the big stuff. Sex Dungeons, Boogieman, Barely Legal, Peanut Envy, and the Circus Peanut in olive, white, black, and natural can offend a big brown right into eating. The big streamers trigger that predatory response.

Nymphing is, as always, the most productive way to put fish in the net, day in, day out. Downsizing to the #16 and even #18 size range seems to be the best bet. The bigger #6 and #8 stonefly nymphs like Pat’s Rubber Legs are always one of the best. Stonefly nymphs are present in the river 365 days a year, so it’s no doubt that’s going to be one they key in on. Smaller Princes, Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tails, lightning bugs, the usual suspects, of course, catch fish every day. Rainbow Warrior, Crystal Dips, Rainbow Duracell, Perdi Bomb, and the Spanish Bullet have all been very productive. Still have a few more weeks before the cold weather sets in. Lots of fishing still to be had before then!

Montana FWP will be starting their annual fall shocking on the Madison next week. The schedule goes as follows:

Pine Butte Marking Run on September 7, 8th and 9th.

Varney Marking Run on September 10th, 13th and 14th.

Pine Butte Recap on September 17th, 20th and 21st.

Varney Recap on September 22nd, 23rd and 24th.

We are still seeing lots of pressure on the river so expect to see some crowding at ramps in the afternoon. Be patient and help others out when you can at the ramp so that everyone can pull out in an orderly and efficient manner. We also urge you to practice proper fish handling. Get those fish in quick and keep them wet! Avoid fish pictures for the gram whenever possible so that we can continue to have healthy fish populations for years to come.

- MRFC Guide Patrick McGinnis