Fly-fishing conditions around Madison County couldn’t be better.
The rivers are all flowing high and clearing up after a later-than-usual spring runoff, the daytime temperatures have been moderate and the bugs are coming off steadily everyday, said Dan Delekta at the Beartooth Flyfishing Lodge and Fly Shop south of Cameron.
“It’s the perfect storm,” Delekta said. “We’ve got plenty of moisture, the snowmelt is still coming in and will for quite a while. Everyday there will just be a smattering of insects come into all the rivers because we don’t have the hot temperatures.”
On the upper Madison River, the salmonfly hatch is still hot, he said. People have still been seeing them from Ennis up river to Windy Point. The hatch will continue to move up river for the next couple of weeks.
Salmonflies are the largest species of stoneflies in Montana. They typically hatch on the Madison River in mid to late June and into July.
The salmonfly hatch is often accompanied or followed closely by another large species of stonefly, the golden stone. While salmonflies have an orange colored belly, the golden stones have a gold or dull yellow belly.
On the upper Madison, along with the two species of stoneflies, pale morning duns, yellow sallies and caddis are also hatching in good numbers, Delekta said.
Pale morning duns are a light-colored mayfly and yellow sallies are a small brightly colored stonefly.
These smaller patterns are working well, particularly with fish that have been caught on the larger stonefly patterns, he said.
“Those fish don’t like to get stuck on a size four and six and eight dry fly hooks, so they shy away from the big hooks,” Delekta said.
Around Ennis, popular patterns have been Trina’s Dog Puke for salmonflies, said Gary Wood, owner of the Tackle Shop in Ennis.
Size 16 yellow sallies have been working good along with size 14 Goddard caddis, Wood said.
For nymphs, he recommended Pat’s brown rubber legs and formerly known as prince nymphs. And it is still good to keep some small blue wing olive patterns handy for the days when there’s a little moisture in the air, Wood said.
On the Big Hole River, fishing has been exceptional, said Greg Smith owner of Four Rivers Fishing Company in Twin Bridges.
The river is running high and clear for this time of year, which is great for fishing now and through the summer, Smith said.
“It’s busy, busy, busy and fishing’s great,” he said.
Salmonflies are done on the Big Hole and the pale morning dun hatch has just started, Smith said.
He recommended people who are interested in dry fly fishing, start with pmds or yellow sallies about 10 a.m. and fish them through early afternoon, when the bite will slow down in anticipation of the evening caddis hatch, which begins about 5 p.m.
Dry fly fishing is the most consistent on the Big Hole between Dewey and Melrose, Smith said.
On the Beaverhead River, it is about the same kind of strategy, but fishing is done between the dam and Grasshopper Creek as the river is muddy beyond that, he said.
The Ruby and Jefferson Rivers are still too high for fishing right now, but they’re coming into shape fast, he said.
The main thing to keep in mind when fishing this time of year, wherever you are, is that you can’t force feed fish, Delekta said. If they don’t want a fly, they aren’t going to hit it.
The trick is to have several different types of flies and patterns.
“You basically have to have a rotation of flies for all the hatches,” he said. “You go through the rotation and find something they want.”
Try different patterns and combination of flies, wet and dry, until you catch fish, Delekta said.
On an average float, a fisherman could go through as many as 20 different rotations, he said. They all might catch fish too, but chances are that even a combination that works won’t catch fish all day.
“You wear it out until they stop eating it and then you have to find (what works) again,” Delekta said. “You could go through 20 sets of bugs, it’s just not set in stone. It’s like a game of chess. You can use your mind to figure it out. Some days it’s easy and some days you have to work for it.”
Jefferson near Twin Bridges – 4,740 cfs
Beaverhead near Barretts – 844 cfs
Ruby below the dam – 484 cfs
Big Hole near Melrose – 2,850 cfs
Madison near Kirby Ranch – 1,210 cfs