Fishing on the Madison River in Montana

Guides from Bud Lilly's Trout Shop

 

 

Day Two of the Madison River Trip
guide from Bud Lilly's Trout Shop
West Yellowstone, Montana

 

 

 

Fishing on the Madison River in Montana

Guides from Bud Lilly's Trout Shop

Flyfishing on the Madison...well nymphying actually.

Fishing on the Madison River in Montana

Guides from Bud Lilly's Trout Shop

Flyfishing on the Madison...well nymphying actually.

Fishing on the Madison River in Montana

Guides from Bud Lilly's Trout Shop

Flyfishing on the Madison...well nymphying actually.

Fishing on the Madison River in Montana

Guides from Bud Lilly's Trout Shop

Flyfishing on the Madison...well nymphying actually.

Fishing on the Madison River in Montana

Fishing on the Madison River in Montana

 

Day One

Bud Lilly's Trout Shop

 

 

 

 

Things to ponder:

A five weight line was great for the windless day. A little heavier line would have cut the wind better on the second day.

Buying gear from Bud Lilly's was as inexpensive as from my local shop (and a better understanding of the needs).

Sunscreen is a must...as is a brimmed hat.

Sunglasses are critical.

Rain gear is a plus...waders being one component.

Tell your friends and family BEFORE the trip that it's catch and release...when you don't bring anything home they will understand why...and not just say "whatever"...take pictures for proof.

This second day was not like the first...well duh you say? I know from experience that one can not expect the same results from the same waters on consecutive days...this experience would also prove that concept.

We had agreed to start the trek 30 minutes earlier than the day before. I had decided to start 5 minutes before that so that Dick Greene (the proprietor of Bud Lilly's Trout Shop) could sell me a hat with a brim. This was not going to be the toughest sale of the day for Dick. The long billed ball cap that I had used the day before had left my big ears exposed to the high altitude sun...the ears were a little tender. I did pick out a hat and we were out the door. Dick has the shop open at some horrible hour of the morning to take care of pre-departure "stuff"...like introducing guides to clients, directions and location decisions, licensing (Montana, Idaho or Yellowstone National Park)...and hats for clients with big ears.

JR was once again driving...but not in the sunny and more-or-less cloudless conditions of yesterday...it was overcast. One could say that it was heavily overcast and looked like we would see thunder storms sometime during the day. No matter, we had rain gear. It was the light breeze that had me worried. Usually when the day starts out with a breeze you will be seeing some prFishing on the Madison River in Montanaetty significant wind later in the day. I was a little concerned that the wind in the river canyon might become "interesting."

There were more boats rigging to put in, but fewer in the parking lot...so JR was pleased with the earlier start. Same routine as the day before...JR did all the work and I stood there eating my Granola bar and drinking my Diet Coke. But today was a little different. I didn't feel the need to size up the other folks as I had learned yesterday that I could do this thing with some degree of success. Yesterday had been a good day...so today was all about trying to best the quality of the day before.

Right off the launch site, things got going better. First, JR didn't have to stop the boat and give me the "Chuck and Dunk" lesson. Ninety degrees or so and off the side of the boat that JR told me to work...mend the line...left bank...slight bend on the river...over the the right bank...straight section...take the deepest (and darkest green) channel to drift through. It was really beginning to feel like we were more of a team that the day before...perhaps my big ears were beginning to work.

Because the sun was behind the clouds, it was a little harder to see the indicator. I decided to stand in the knee locks at the front of the boat...good decision. I could see the strike indicator much more clearly and down into the water if it became submerged. I was picking up a higher percentage of strikes than yesterday...not as many strikes...but low and behold...larger fish...and fewer Whitefish. It was shaping up to be a different day than yesterday alright...better.

Standing up in the boat also helped cast in the wind. The wind was becoming a factor in my pathetic casting. But the wind was coming down river rather than up...which meant that the line was drifting away from us in the boat as I cast and not into us...that was good. I was essentially casting slightly into the wind (or across it if one wants to be less dramatic). It made it a little trickier to mend the line as one needed to mend up river and the wind was blowing it the opposite direction. These sorts of challenges just meant I had to think a bit more with each cast...and the longer drifts were harder to mend along the way.

Just before the only real bumpy part of the river, I hooked a sizable fish (oK...it was pretty big)...a Brown which jumped (kinda unusual)...numerous times...taking out line in runs...and we were heading for "rapids" (rapids are not really a thing on this river...but it was bumpy and there were rocks to avoid)...as JR is paddling like crazy to get us around and past the rocks...my rod was over my head with two hands...stripping line in and then letting him run...my back to the bow, facing backwards in the boat. Quite an experience. Even thought that fish popped off ( the boat tipped one way and I compensated the wrong way as the fish jumped perhaps 2 feet into the air)...I will never forget that really spectacular run...perhaps 300 yards down the river.

JR told me that I might never hook a larger fish than that in this section of the river.

About half way through the morning JR changed the indicator from a fuzzy yellow yarn type to a fluorescent greenish foam type. The change was much better for the breezy conditions and because I had opted to stand in the boat was at least as easy to see...and there was less drag on the pick up prior to a new cast (attempt). Picking up the line was a little tricky in the breeze and less drag from gear in the water made the job easier.

We seemed to be fine tuning my technique as the morning progressed. I was amazed at the amount of patience JR was able to display. At one point I asked him if there was a limit on catching sticks...he told me it was three as I brought my third into the boat.

I asked him about other clients and he was gracious in his answers. Basically, everyday is different for him and about 60% of the clients will not be fishing on the Madison again...there is a pretty good turnover. He would have to be patient if he ran into folks like me everyday...teaching technique and releasing sticks back into the wild...but his client's skill sets ran the gambit from not very good to what he called excellent. I was beginning to feel more confident in my abilities as we progressed...now if I could just stay focused on the tasks.

After two days on the water, I figured that I have been staring at a little fuzzy thing or a little foam thing for the better part of 12 hours. To concentrate for that long is difficult. When I figured out how much time I was looking at the indicator, I stopped going over the missed pickups in my head...you will miss a few to lack of concentration.

The times when JR decided to pull the boat to the side of the river, I took the opportunity to look up and see what we were traveling through. After the first day I was stunned as we drove back to town and witnessed the terrain that we had passed through. I had not realized that we had twisted and turned along the river quite as much as we did. I didn't think it was a straight shot by any means, but when my head was down and my eyes drilled down onto the water, I really missed a whole lot of scenery as we passed along. What I did see was definitely very cool, what I missed might have been equally as cool...at least from the road and from a distance it was.

By lunchtime, JR had to get out of the boat just once to land a fish...yesterday all of the fish were netted from inside the boat. We were definitely having a bigger fish day. At the lunch site, we decided that we should get some rain gear on...we were feeling drops. So just before I ate my sandwich (a duplicate of yesterday that I had asked for). I put on my waterproof jacket. I ate and then put on some fingerless fleece gloves so that my hands could keep a little warmer. I was shaking a bit from my cold hands (water from the line and drizzle from the rain)...a little red and tightening up.

It wasn't all that cold for most folks...but I have Diabetes and don't have the circulation that most folks do. I've had it awhile (over 35 years) and do the insulin routine a minimum of 4 times a day. The feet are pretty much shot and I'm getting a little goofy in my ability to walk a straight line...and no I don't drink. JR was accommodating...he tied all the flies and tippets...not because I'm incapable, but because he is so much better at it and way faster than I can hope to be...the Diabetic retinopathy in my eyes has made it a little difficult to see well enough to tie the knots all that fast. The polar gloves helped to compensate for the poor circulation in my hands. JR compensated for my eyes by tying on my terminal tackle (and correcting some of my tangles).

After lunch I was ready to go again...Diet Coke in the cup holder...standing in the knee locks...flies in the water...and more fish. Several times I told JR that I felt guilty. We hooked fish as we passed others doing lunch stops. We caught fish less than 25 yards from the last...JR had to get out of the boat 3 more times after lunch to net larger fish. The wrist on my right hand was beginning to hurt a bit...not from casting but from wrestling with the fish. I was beginning to let more fish get ahead of the boat...bad news as then they have a biological advantage...they are designed to be in that position (facing upstream). The idea of doing two days back to back was beginning to put the strain on the body...sure the fish were larger but an out of shape 39 year old (if you believe the age, I have a bridge for sale), and casting for two days was beginning to catch up with me. But I was still grinning.

Now when you put all this action and excitement into the context of the surroundings you end up with a pretty spectacular experience. There are Bald Eagles flying overhead...Osprey too...numerous Canadian Geese watching as you drift by, some with goslings...it's really a pretty cool experience. It was so much fun I even just stopped taking pictures.

Not all of the PICs on this page are from the Madison trip...all the fish related PICs are...but the marmot, the moose, the bison...these are from Yellowstone. Montana is called "Big Sky Country" and everything is done in spectacular fashion...big, bold and uniquely Montana.

JR decided to change tactics half way through the after lunch run. I thought he meant we were going to the bank for a major fly change (the change in menu)...and we were certainly going to undergo a major change. He corrected my thinking and explained we were going to a tactical change also. By this time I had landed several 16-18 inchers...hooked into a couple that were larger than that...boated Browns, Rainbows, Cuttbows (a local hybrid of Western Slope Cutthroat and Rainbow)...my limit of sticks (three) and I was over my limit in rocks and boulders. He had enough confidence in my casting, knew I had had a great experience and was willing  to "risk" the rest of the time in search for larger fish...particularly Browns.

He rigged the rod with a small nymph on end of the tippet as the dropper and above that was a very large sculpin pattern in dark brown (a dyed rabbit strip)  as the main menu. With both flies being weighted and the two split shot to get the package down to the bottom it was "interesting" to try to cast them.

So while some boats were stopping to try dry flies along the banks...some extremely small caddis were laying in pockets...JR took us the opposite direction...bigger, badder flies...covering more ground...back and forth, working both sides of the river.

Oh...did I mention the wind? Well it had actually subsided a bit and the light wind was not a factor in casting the new and noticeably larger/heavier flies. JR had warned me to let the line extend ( fully load the line ) all the way prior to bringing the rod the other direction. The line sort of "burped" once after it loaded. You could think of the rod tip sort of bouncing. It took a bit more thought. Because of the weight and the volume on the end of the line, some amount of extra "pop" had to take place to get the flies out/off the water and the line loaded.Flyfishing on the Madison...well nymphying actually.

To make it even more exciting, the program was changed...no more "Chuck and Dunk"...it was time for a whole newGuides from Bud Lilly's Trout Shop deal. Well duh I thought. We were not fishing with nymphs any longer...sure we had one on the line for some reason, but we were now casting a bottom hugging bait fish and we needed to give the fly some sort of motion that would lead the fish to believe that what they were looking at was in fact food. So the program called for casting a bit up stream and keeping a slow retrieve with a tighter lineGuides from Bud Lilly's Trout Shop. Almost like dragging the sculpin along the bottom. About the time the sculpin was to start an arc, I retrieved the fly and chucked it back to the bank...oh yeah...the bank.

Most of the casts were to the bank...within a foot of so of the edge. In the slack of the rocks or under the willows...and most of the strikes happened with a few seconds of the flies hitting the water.  I did get the thing hung up several times...the technique loves the rocks on the bottom and casting to the bank means willows...but was this worth it or what!

I think I lost about a fly per mile for the two days. Some were to bent hooks...some twigs...some rocks...willows...and of course, what fisherperson would not tell you that they lost some to fish...really REALLY big fish.

I'm not sure why, but the idea of casting a worm stuck with a hook into a pond and just sitting there just doesn't create the same feelings and emotions for me as this new type of sculpin-mimicking fishing. I have "hunted" fish numerous times in the Sierras of California...walking and hopping lots of streams while target casting flies to fish in very specific locations. The casting into the bank was a gas...just a whole lot of fun. I was getting a little fatigued towards the end as I was having to cast a whole lot more, but the fish that I hooked or brought to boat were a lot fun.

I hooked a Brown about 18 inches from the bank...in about a foot of water that flashed a good 5 inches of body depth before he snapped the leader at the sculpin. That was a nice fish and had my heart pumping long after the 5-6 seconds I had him on the line...he was exactly where JR and I wanted the fly to get placed. Great location decision and excellent execution by boat and rod...just a little too much fish for the tackle. It can't get much better than that...well except to have landed him.

The whole notion of target casting was coming into focus and we had a wonderful afternoon. The weather remained overcast so the larger fish were out with more confidence.

Did I mess up on some really big fish...yes...did I catch some pretty good sized fish...yes again. I also caught the smallest trout I have caught in the last 20 years (about 3 inches) and during the same day, some of the largest wild fish at about 18 inches.

But heck, I spent two days on the Madison River in the famous "50 mile riffle" and caught fish...without too much rain (it only sprinkled)...very little wind to speak of...warm enough for a t-shirt and shorts on both days, the sunburns only took two weeks to peel...over 100 fish hooked and 50+ to the boat.

The biggest thrill came with only about 100 yards of river left in my trip...with a 6 inch trout on the hook and me frantically trying to get him in and off for one more cast...but wait,  some fish stories just need to be shared in person (that way they can get bigger through time)...but let me tell you, I will never forget what I saw and may never remember it the way I saw it.

Just before we turned the corner at the Grayling arm of Hebgen Lake and pointed ourselves back to West Yellowstone, an Osprey flew past us so  closely that you could easily see it's face bar and eye...what a great way to end the day.

I will never forget the two days on the Madison with JR with thanks to Dick and his crew at Bud Lilly's Trout Shop. Unfortunately it's about 13 months before I will be back for more...I will try to remember to be patient like JR.

Madison River, MT
July 2006 (first day)


Madison River, MT
July 2006 (second day)

Upper Sacramento River, CA
September 2007


Madison River, MT
June 2007


Box Canyon
Henry's Fork Snake River, ID
June 2007


Madison River, MT
August 2007

Copyrighted 2006, J. Atchison, Spotted Dog Productions