Best Winter Upper Madison Flies – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Best Winter Upper Madison Flies

Winter fishing on the Upper Madison can be amazing, provided you pick the right day to go. I prefer to fish when the mercury exceeds 32-degrees, to avoid frozen guides. Others have great success on colder days, but I'm a bit of a fair-weather fisherman. The next thing I look for is wind, or hopefully the lack of it. Once I commit to fishing, I will normally head to one of the wade sections. My favorite wintertime spot is in the upper wade section, because it seems to have the best winter dry-fly fishing. When I head to the river, I assume I'll be nymphing all day, and hope to find some rising fish to hook or spook. Below are five flies I can't leave our Bozeman Fly Shop without when heading to the Upper Madison in winter.


Red Mighty Midge

Midges are the most active bugs during the winter, and the sheer volume of them force trout to take notice. This slim, UV resin-coated fly does a great job of imitating the naturals while having a bit of sparkle to catch a fish's attention during a thick hatch. While red is generally my go-to color, I've also had great luck fishing the blue version when the clouds roll in.

Coffee and Black Rubberlegs

I know, boring right. Well, it's boring because it works, day after day, year after year. I will normally start the day with a Rubberlegs as my top fly and a midge below it. I normally need to add weight to my leader to help the flies get to the bottom of the deep holes where the trout will usually be congregated

Shop Vac

The Shop Vac is potentially my favorite Upper Madison nymph, regardless of the season. The Madison is one of the best caddis rivers in the world. While they are not active like in the early summer, they still inhabit the river, and fish definitely know one when they see one. Sometimes I'll scale down from a size 16 to an 18 during the colder months to entice the lackadaisical fish.

Theo's San Juan Worm

I'm not saying a typical San Juan Worm won't work. It will. But I've found this two-toned, beaded worm to work slightly better, especially during the winter. Apart from a stonelfly nymph, a worm is one of the largest meals available to the fish, and they are packed with protein. It's like coming home from a cold day of fishing to a hot plate of spaghetti with meat sauce.

Massacre Midge

When all the conditions line up and fish are rising in the slicks, I turn to the Massacre Midge. I love everything about it: the slim profile, the shaggy thorax and the tiny piece of foam that keeps it up and allows me to see it. This is my favorite type of winter fishing. The bugs are small, the fish are spooky and the casting must be precise. If I don't spook the fish will an errant cast -- which happens more than I'd like to admit -- I'm confident the Massacre Midge will get swallowed.