Salmon flies are at the Raynold’s Pass along the Madison River. You will also discover hoards of fishermen along most of the river. This world-famous hatch of BIG Stoneflies attracts fishermen from around the world.
If you do not like fishing in a crowd, avoid this area. Fortunately, the lower Madison is almost empty of fishermen. During the week, the tubers only show up for a short evening float. The weekend is another story.
Post Salmon fly hatch fishing can be awesome. Fat fish will still be looking for a big meal even though the hatch has ended. They are still on a feeding frenzy and conditioned to eat a big bug. I only saw 2 drift boats at Warm Springs access. Blacks Ford was empty! You can also fish ahead of the hatch using nymphs and do quite well in uncrowded waters.
As I drove up the Madison River, drift boats a plenty began to show up. Caravans of boats from Idaho, Bozeman, and West Yellowstone were lined up waiting to put in. Lyon’s Bridge was full of trucks, trailers, and bank fishermen. MacAtee Bridge was full of campers and shuttled boats trailers. There were plenty of bugs in between.
Not only are the fish taking stoneflies, caddis and PMD’s were on the menu. I started with a traditional salmon fly in a size 8 but eventually dropped the size down to a size 12. The fish were nosing the big bugs but not taking them. I missed many half-hearted strikes. I also used a tandem rig with a nymph. I had the most action with a single small dry small Salmon fly pattern made of hair and no foam, rubber, or yarn. Less seemed to be more for fish that were seeing a lot of food and fishermen.
I netted 15 trout. The first trout I caught was a big 20-inch brown that was in perfect shape. He reminded me how out of shape I am. Dancing along the slick Madison rocks gets tougher as we age. Every other trout that I netted had scars from being caught before. I also lost a dozen fish that I simply could not stop. The river is full, fast, and the fish are strong. Two of the fish that got away were pigs of over 20 inches. I fished from 10-6 and was wore out!
Of all the other fishermen I witnessed, only one hooked a fish. He lost it soon after. I talked to many other fishermen who said, “fishing was slow, and they had only caught a few.” Most fishermen quit when the sun was hot. Only a few of us wet waded during the heat of the day. The trout seemed to recover quickly after being spooked.
I would suggest that if you plan to drift the river, get there early. The fish are eating breakfast at sunrise and the access lots are empty. Most tourist and guided fishermen need breakfast and coffee and dinner. They tend to fish from 9-4. I also saw few fishermen hitting the river in the evening.
Manners matter when fishing a crowded river. Sportsmen are good stewards of the resource and respectful of others. Heck, it is about catching a fish that you must throw back! Competition, rudeness, and encroaching on other fishermen are uncalled for. Most violators are simply ignorant and so excited they forget their manners. Other fishermen that hired a guide, have the best gear, and feel entitled simply don’t care.
I have no clue why some fishermen need to drift the upper Madison from Raynold’s Pass bridge. This is the best nymph riffles in the world. You can’t legally fish from the boat but can stop and get out. The problem is that there is no defined channel. Inexperienced oarsmen end up all over the river and always seem to ruin the water upstream from where you are fishing. They also seem to be rude and entitled to the river. The rest of us are just in their way.
Several times, real fishermen were respectful of my space. They gave me plenty of room, shared information, and courteously made me feel proud to be a part of the fly fishing brotherhood. I met fly guys and gals from Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Ireland, and Georgia. We all came to one place at the same time to fish the Salmon fly hatch along the Madison River.
If fly fishermen can get along, everyone else can too!
For more Montana Grant, visit his blog at www.montanagrantfishing.com.