Fly Fishing in Southwest Montana with Midges

Fly Fishing, Planning
Added Date:
Friday, 19 Feb, 2016
There are four main variables to consider when figuring out the best approach to fishing: what, where, when and how. The Madison River has a plethora of food choices for the trout, but there is usually an abundance of one thing, and that is what the trout are after. It starts as early as January with midges.

There are four main variables to consider when figuring out the best approach to fishing: what, where, when and how. The Madison River has a plethora of food choices for the trout, but there is usually an abundance of one thing, and that is what the trout are after. It starts as early as January with midges.    

Midges are more of a lower Madison thing. Midges like slower water and a muddy, soft bottom. The fish eat them both wet and dry. A typical day of Midge fishing consists of driving around to various known “midge spots” and looking for rising fish.

Learn About River Conditions, Weather, Fishing Info, and More with our Fly Fishing Reports Section 

Boating in January can have some drawbacks. Ice can be a significant problem, blocking channels, and the biting cold can lead to frozen fingers, frozen guides, etc. Better to catch a few fish and run back to the warm car.

Midges are small but gather onto mating balls, so you can fish a slightly larger fly, as in an #18 or#20 on 5 or 6x tippet. My usual go-to bug is the griffus gnat, a couple wraps of peacock and a couple wraps of tiny grizzly hackle.

Read More The Fly Shops of Ennis, Montana

Seeing things when you're fishing is usually the problem. This is usually solved by tying on a dropper about 2 feet above the midge as a flag fly you can see. It's okay to use anything around a #12 or #14. Then if you can’t see your midge, you strike at anything within 2 feet of the flag fly.

If the fish won’t eat on the surface, you can cut off the midge dry and replace it with a midge nymph. All it takes is one knot and your flag is now a strike indicator! Keeping knots to a minimum is important when you're dealing with 6x tippet, size 20 flies and cold fingers. 

Fortunately for us, midges like warmer weather just like we do in January, so if we get one of those sweet 45 degree days with no wind I just might see you out there.

Read More Strategies for Winter Fly Fishing in Montana


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This is a small town with a big heart, a veritable fisherman’s paradise. Located near the fish-filled Madison River, and surrounded by the waters of Ennis Lake, the Ruby River, Hebgen ... moreLake, Quake Lake, Henry’s Lake, the Big Hole River and scores of smaller streams, the town boasts what many consider the best trout fishing in the world. As well known for its wranglers as its anglers, Ennis has succeeded in maintaining the look and feel of its original, gold town roots. Warm and hospitable, the area offers a wide variety of accommodations ranging from simple campsites, rustic motels and gracious hotels, to full-service, luxury resorts. Fly shops are numerous, stocked by local experts ready to advise and assist, while guides can be booked for trips throughout the area.

Boredom is the only thing unavailable in Ennis. Throughout the summer season the city hosts a series of events, including its renowned 4th of July Celebration Parade and a genuine, old-fashioned rodeo. In August, fly-fishing luminaries from around the US, flock to Montana to compete in the Madison Fly Fishing Festival. Athletes also find their way to Ennis to compete in the city’s Madison Trifecta, two shorter races followed by a full Marathon at 9000 feet, the highest elevation run in America. For the true sportsman, October falls in with the annual Hunter’s Feed. What’s caught, typically elk, moose deer, pheasant and bobcat, gets cooked on the streets and served up to hungry spectators.

Flanked by three grand mountain ranges, The Tobacco Root, Gravelly and Madison, Ennis is scenic and entertaining – truly an authentic, fly fisher’s haven.
Fishing Waters
The Madison River is arguably one of the best trout fishing rivers in all of southwest Montana, if not the entire world! It’s certainly the most talked over, written up and frequented ... morein the state of Montana – which is considered by some the capital of fly fishing. Anglers will find plenty of great access sites to wade or float along the Madison’s banks and reservoirs (including Hebgen Lake and Ennis Lake). Rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and more abound in this majestic fishing stream.

The Madison begins its course almost twenty miles into Yellowstone National Park. Within the Park, fishing rules apply: no live bait and catch and release only. Once outside the Park the river meanders past working ranches, stately conifer forests and cottonwood lined banks, interrupted by riffles and quiet runs that contain large rainbow and trophy brown trout. Flowing alongside Yellowstone’s West entrance road, the river enters Hebgen Lake, created by Hebgen dam, until it reaches Quake Lake, a bit downstream from the dam. At this point the river is commonly called either the Upper Madison or the Lower Madison, although in fact, they are one and the same.

Upper Madison – Quake Lake to Ennis Lake
Directly below Quake Lake the river roars into 5 long miles of Class V whitewater with steep gradients and large boulders along the way. As the rapids decline, the magic begins. For the next 53 miles, often referred to as the 50 Mile Riffle, the cold river runs north and the fish jump high. Annual runs of spawning trout make their way from Hebgen Lake, rainbows in the spring and browns in the fall. Known the world over for its “hard fighting” trout, it’s not unusual to pull a 25” brown from these upper waters. In deference to the purists and fly-fishing enthusiasts, it’s wading only from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge. Boats may be used to access the river, but if you’re going to fish, your feet must be on the riverbed. Fortunately, the Hebgen Dam releases water throughout the year, leveling its flows and relieving it of spring runoff issues and summer shrinkage.

Lower Madison – Ennis Lakes to Three Forks
A short section of the river between Ennis Dam and the power station maintains relatively low water levels and provides wonderful opportunities for wading. Past the power station the river regains its muscle and for 7 miles winds through Bear Trap Canyon. Hiking trails offer the only entry, great for those that like to walk and seek the solitude of a designated wilderness area. Floating is permitted but requires a lengthy shuttle and the ability to work through Class III-IV whitewater. Once out of the canyon the river flows in shallow riffles until it reaches Three Forks and joins the Missouri. From Warm Springs to Greycliff, the river is easily accessible for drifters and wading.
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
1 day
Are you sick of throwing bobbers and wanna try something new? Already throw dry flies but would like to hone your skills? Pretty darn good just want to be pointed in the right direction ... moreand given some bug recommendations but also there with a net when you need it? We can accommodate all skill levels on our dry fly only trips. We can explain how, what and where to fish something that doesn't look like a dodgeball at the top of your leader :) *The location of this trip will be decided by the guide based on the quality of dry fly fishing on his last few trips. Montana fishing at its finest.
/ Angler
2 - 8 anglers
3 days - 7 days
Experience the best of Montana fly fishing with our authentic all-inclusive packages at the T Lazy B Ranch. We fish some of the most famous Montana trout rivers including the Madison ... moreRiver, the Jefferson River, and the Yellowstone River.

Packages include:

3 night/2 day lodging, meals and 2 days of guided fishing

4 night/3 day lodging, meals and 3 days of guided fishing

5 night/4 day lodging, meals and 4 days of guided fishing

6 night/5 day lodging, meals and 5 days of guided fishing

7 night/6 day lodging, meals and 6 days of guided fishing

Pricing assumes double accupancy 
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
4 hours - 1 day
Spend the day fishing for huge rainbows and big browns on the famous Madison River, a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream. With more than 2000 fish per mile, the Madison River offers challenging ... moreand fun fishing for novice to seasoned angler.
Spend a day on the Madison River with Riverborn Outfitters! Guiding the Madison since 1994, Mike Treloar and his team of hard working fishing guides know every spot on the Madison ... moreRiver where hungry fish hide. Meet your guide in the morning at the Fly Shop at the Rainbow Valley Lodge. Then off to the river! Fish in comfort from a drift boat as your guide gently rows and positions you to cast to some of Montana’s hard fighting trout.

Mike Treloar of Riverborn Outfitters grew up fishing. Taught to fish by his Dad, Mike is very passionate about teaching others to fish the waters he loves. Mike has guided winters in Chile and has fished numerous places in the world. Spend a day with Mike or any of his hard working fishing guides on the Madison River. Reserve today

Looking to fish more than one river on your Montana fishing vacation? Riverborn Outfitters also offers guided fishing trips on the Missouri River, the Yellowstone River, the Jefferson River as well as the Upper and Lower Madison River.

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