Lower Madison Fly Fishing Fall 2017 – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Lower Madison Fly Fishing Fall 2017

The weather has been all the buzz around our Bozeman fly shop and during our guide’s early morning coffee sessions the last few days. We have all been out of bed and cranking along since 5:00-5:30 am for the better part of two months now, looking forward to cooler days and later sunrises just around the corner. The lower Madison River will be moving to the top of the list in terms of our general fishing rotation in the coming weeks, as the water cools down and fall Baetis start to hatch. Fins & Feathers’ staff and guides have been fishing this river for over 20 years now and here are a few tips to help you find more success this fall on the lower Madison River.

Weather, weather, weather…. always watch the weather when heading out to the lower Madison in the spring and the fall. Cool-air rips through the Beartrap canyon on rapidly warming days more times than not so always expect some wind in the mornings. Sunny days may seem great to you, but the lower angle of the sun makes for more pronounced shadows and spookier fish when they are in shallow waters. It can be windy anytime out there and the only way to really know for sure is to load up and head that way. We usually check the wind on Norris Hill before we head out and if it’s blowing 25 mph+ out of the South or West, we head somewhere else.

Crayfish rule the trout’s diet right now and into early fall (basically until the hatches get going once again). The river is loaded with crayfish ranging in size from a small 12 to a large 3/0. They can be found all along the banks and throughout the weed beds in the river from the dam below Ennis Lake all the way down to the Missouri. I always fish a crayfish on the lower Madison if I am nymph-fishing, especially in the fall and spring. Stick with something in the 8-10 size range and add split shot if needed, it’s hard to beat a Clouser Crayfish, day in and day out on the lower Madison.

Fall Baetis on the Lower Madison River

The fall Baeits will be showing up in good numbers on the lower Madison very soon. You may run into blanket hatches of Pseudocleons as well, but the size 16-18 BWO’s are the ones to watch for and they typically show up mid-day on cloudy days and late afternoon on sunny days. Some of the best areas to find rising fish on sunny days are in the lower Beartrap canyon and stretches of the river along HWY 84 once the sun moves behind the mountains in the later afternoon. A BWO Sparkle Dun or Parachute BWO are my go to dries this time of year on the lower Madison River.

The Beartrap Canyon is a great place to be once the weather starts to cool as its myriad water types creates great holding water in just about every riffle, run and pool. The river’s size can be overwhelming to the novice angler, so just remember to “break it down” into fishable runs or pockets. Don’t worry about trying to fish it all, is one way to say it. Pick a rock and fish around it, pick a riffle and fish it from inside to out, or swing a fly through a tailout. Make your adjustments to leader size, weight, or size of fly based on the water that you are focused on and understand that the same rigs and techniques don’t work in each section of the river, all the time.

Buckets on the lower Madison are where the piscatorial pot of gold can be found in the fall around Bozeman. These little honey holes can be found all throughout the river, but they are structurally unusual compared to typical trout holding water. These are depressions in the streambed that from around boulders and weed beds. Sometimes, they are found in the middle of the river and are formed by the scouring effect of massive ice shelves. Buckets offer a break in the current and depth to hide from predators. Look for small patches of “smooth” water in the middle of the river and around the weed beds, chances are that there are some trout nearby. The best part of the bucket is typically just below the top of the hole where it is most shallow. Find yourself a few buckets on the lower Madison and don’t tell a soul where they are…you’ll always have a few places to catch fish on the river, even on the worst of days!

The lower Madison River can certainly be a baffling fishery, even for our Bozeman fly fishing guides that might spend 50+ days a year on this stretch of river alone. Personally, I have been fishing that water since 1992 and it never ceases to amaze me how the productive runs and buckets vary year to year. The biggest key to success on the lower Madison River over the next few months is to fish the right water and don’t waste your time fishing all that mid-river stuff that has no character to it. We have been seeing some very nice Browns the last two weeks and they are already getting that “Buttercup” coloring with deep Orange bellies. If ever there is a time to fish streamers on the lower Madison, the next few weeks would be when it is at its best.

Stop in our Bozeman fly shop and check online for fresh reports on the lower Madison River in the coming weeks. Live here in town and just struggle with finding the right water and understanding the techniques for consistent success on the lower? Book one of our guides for a day or even a half-day on the lower Madison to help you better understand where and how to fish this amazing river.

Fall Fly Fishing in Bozeman Montana