Upper Madison Salmonfly 2019 – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Upper Madison Salmonfly 2019

Unicorn sightings on the Upper Madison is the “theme of the day” on the 26th of June 2019. We have all been waiting patiently for the rumors of Salmonflies starting to show up around Ennis. Finally, we have had a few reports of anglers starting to see small numbers of adults around Ennis and even getting some fish to come up to the big bugs. Warm weather is back this week and we expect the hatch to explode this week. As we look to the bushes in the coming days, here are a few tips to help you find success on the upper Madison river during the Salmonfly Hatch in 2019.

Madison River Salmonfly Hatch 2017

No question about it, people love fishing the Salmonfly Hatch on the upper Madison! There just isn’t anything else in the fly fishing world that compares to the excitement of hitting the timing of this hatch just right. However, the only way that you will now if the timing is right is to be out there on the day that it all comes together! 20 plus years of experience fishing and guiding this hatch has taught me that the best predictor to success during the Salmonfly hatch is the number of boats ahead of me at the boat ramp! Go early or go late to either be ahead of everyone else or wait a few hours after everyone else has already run down the river.

The Salmonfly hatch coincides with high flows and ripping water along the banks. Undercuts that are normally dry and exposed are now prime feeding lies for some of the biggest fish in the river. Fishing with big, visible flies on heavy tippet right next to the bank will make the difference from a few random fish and really getting on them when they decide to start looking up. Remember that a few inches off the bank with heavy flows is oftentimes just too far out! I like fishing a 6-7 foot tapered leader with 1X or 2X tippet. The short leader makes for accurate, short casts tight to the bank or cover. The heavy tippet helps reduce fly loss and helps with getting big fish to the boat in heavy current. The fish won’t be tippet shy for a week or two so long as the flows continue to be in the 2000 c.f.s. range.

Salmonfly Eating Rainbowtrout

Go big or go home! Real Salmonflies are giant bugs, like 2-3 inches long and thick too! The adults emerge from nymph shucks after crawling out of the water onto branches, roots, and rocks next to the water’s edge. The adults fall into the water while climbing along the banks and bushes, but they really become available to the trout once they start to lay their eggs. Once they start to lay eggs, the numbers of adults that are on the water greatly increases. This is the time to throw the big Salmonfly Patterns like Cat Pukes and Chernobyl Ants in gaudy colors. The time for smaller patterns is later in the hatch or when you are right in the middle of a bunch of other boats.

After a few days of heavy emergence, expect to see more refusals and less action on even the most realistic patterns. A few swirls and short-strikes are my cue to start thinking “outside the box” in terms of fly selection during the Salmonfly hatch. The first thing I will usually go to is a large Mayfly pattern like a Green Drake or Purple Chubby Chernobyl in a size 12 or 14. If we aren’t moving fish or continue to get refusals, then it’s time to throw something ridiculous like a pink hopper. If the refusals continue to come along, the fish are still interested in the dries and a continual search through the fly box will result in finding a fly with the color and profile that turns those refusals into eats.

Eventually, the river will seem like all the fish have given up and disappeared back to the mid-river rocks. Angling pressure and the diminishing hatch makes it less and less likely that bank-hugging fish will continue to freely rise to giant, orange dry flies. However, they are still next to the banks and interested in a big meal drifting by, just right. I typically start to fish small droppers below the big dries by the third or fourth day of the hatch. It can be more difficult to get these rigs in tight-enough of the bank to bring fish out from the undercuts and deep channels next to the bank. There are typically Yellows Sallies, PMD’s., Caddis, Green Drakes, and Golden Stones out as well throughout the Salmonfly hatch. A small Pheasant Tail or Yellow Sally nymph dropped a couple of feet below a big dry is usually my solution to finding those bank hugging fish later in the hatch.

The Madison River Salmonfly hatch can be a real “head-scratcher” and more than one fishing guide has stayed up way too late at night trying to “crack the code” at the fly tying vise. Get out early or stay late and bring a bunch of big flies in all types of shapes and colors. Watch other anglers and boats and fish the water that they are NOT fishing. Stick with the dries until you just don’t see any more action. Remember that flows and bugs are keeping fish near the banks so fish your flies tight to the bank, ramp to ramp! We hope that you get out on the water and just get lucky enough to experience the thrill of big fish eating big dries on one of the prettiest rivers you’ll find anywhere in the world. Stop in our Bozeman fly shop for updates and check out our upper Madison River fishing reports online.