Fly Fishing,    Planning

What to Do When the Waters Rise

By Eric Shores 5/10/2016 5 minutes

Every year it seems like we just start getting serious about fly fishing and we start getting assailed by rising waters. What to do? If you live here you dust off the golf clubs and get your golf season over with. If you planned your fishing trip 6 months ago and you find yourself in southwest Montana for the annual spring run off, fear not - all is not lost. There are alternatives. You just have to be creative and be mobile.  

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First look for cleaner water. This usually means either a tailwater or high water on a river that hasn't had a lot of logging. My home court is the Madison and when it blows out my next choice is the Bighole. The Bighole doesn't have a lot of logging so even if it comes up, it doesn't lose clarity like the Madison or the Yellowstone. In fact the salmonfly hatch often coincides with high water on the Bighole. I like to  fish the high reaches  above the Wise River or get above some of the tributaries. This tends to shrink the whole equation down a little.

On the Bighole and high water in general, fish the banks. Rivers flow most swiftly at their middle depths and on their surface; they run slowest on the bottom and on the banks. The fish want to get out of the fast water to save energy. If you're fishing from a boat, you want to cast close to shore, get a quick mend and get that thing down. Early season usually calls for salmonfly nymphs, big black and heavy dead drifted, with an indicator. Standard fare for any preseason salmonfly situation.

Read More Tips for Successful Nymph Fishing

Another good option for blown rivers is a tail water. In my neck of the woods this usually means the Beaverhead outside of Dillon. Or over to Craig and the Missouri. Both rivers can go way up, especially the Missouri, but both stay gin clear and fishing can be good. For me either option is a two hour drive so I often look for options closer to home.

Fish the mud?  I've been a fishing guide for over 30 years and until a few years ago I would never have dreamed of fishing "brown water."  A few years ago a friend of mine, Joey D, was forced to guide under thick, muddy conditions. He was the only boat on the river for 3 days and yet with only mediocre skills, he killed it! I couldn't believe it until I got out and gave it a try.  I went up above the palisades with my wife and we caught 4 big fish in an hour.

Tactics have to change. You can't  just float down the middle and hope for the best. In fact it was very difficult to catch anything from a moving boat. You need to get out and pound. Find some slow water, get something black right on the bottom and put it right in their face. I like a size 2 or 4 black girdle bug with a San Juan worm on for a dropper. I have also had great luck throwing a big black streamer straight up stream right next to the bank and stripping it back down as fast as possible, usually a black Circus Peanut or a size 2 black buggar.

So when the waters rise, remember all is not lost.  Fish on and you just might be pleasantly surprised.

Read More What Makes a Good Fishing Guide

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.
/ Angler
2 anglers
2 days
Join us for three nights and two days of fishing on the famous Madison River in Ennis, Montana. Fly fish the Madison River for huge browns and rainbows. Spend three nights in a double ... moreroom at the Rainbow Valley Lodge in Ennis, Montana. While there, enjoy a free continental breakfast daily. Meet your guide from Riverborn Outfitters at the O’Dell Creek Fly Shop located in the lodge and then off to the river!

Spend the day fishing for huge rainbows and big browns on the famous Madison River, a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream. With more than 3000 fish per mile, the Madison River offers challenging and fun fishing for novice to seasoned angler.
/ Boat
2 anglers
4 hours - 1 day
The Madison River is our home stream, so we specialize in guiding on this great river. We cater to anglers of all skill levels, from beginner fly fishermen looking to catch that first ... moretrout on a fly, to the seasoned angler seeking a veteran Montana fishing guide who knows these waters like the back of their hand. Our experienced guides will work hard to help you have a first-rate Montana fly fishing experience.
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
1 day
A full day float trip on Ennis Lake is a great experience. Ennis Lake offers very diverse opportunities for great trout fishing. Countless tactics and approaches work for wade and ... morefloat fishing Ennis Lake. Montana Fish Man can help unlock the Ennis Lake secrets and give you the angling tools for future success. This is a great summer season option for beginners and expert anglers alike. Fly fishing and light tackle spin fishing. For one or two people.
Welcome to Southwest Montana's finest fly fishing adventures. Blue ribbon trout water is literally steps away when you visit us in the picturesque town of Ennis, Montana. You may spend ... morethe day on our home river, the world famous Madison or drive to one of our other local rivers such as the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Ruby or the Jefferson. Whether you are a new angler or an old pro we have the expertise and patience to make your time on the water chasing wild trout a success.


Eric Shores

Eric Shores has been guiding clients on Montana Rivers for over 32 years. He's as wily as any old brown trout when it comes to getting his clients on to fish and his stories will entertain you along the way. Many of our clients have become life long friends after a memorable day on the water with Eric.


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