Early season fishing on the Madison

Justin Post
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When our friend Sam Korsmoe returned home to Montana after an extended stay in Shanghai, we immediately made plans to fish the Madison River south of his home in Ennis.

Sam had returned to Montana five days earlier and we launched the boat at Varney Bridge, hoping to bring a few fish from the off-colored water on a fading overcast Saturday afternoon, with plans for full-day floats on Sunday and Monday.

The fly shop recommended the usual runoff recipe: A Pat’s rubber legs and the standard nymph and worm patterns.

I overheard a guide talking about picking up big browns with mice patterns in slow, backwater sections of the Madison and was reminded of those years in my youth fly-fishing for bass on farm ponds in Ohio. We would tie big popper flies, the floating bodies of which were made with material cut from flip flops, and pitch them onto the ponds, the surface often erupting with as little as two or three twitches of the end of the rod.

Some of those ponds see very little, if any, fishing pressure, and anglers can catch and release big bass until their arms are literally sore. The big bass also have tiny teeth that chew up your thumb after removed the hook from their mouths a dozen or more times, but I wasn’t complaining.

Neither were any of us during our recent Madison River trip when the dark clouds and rain arrived. We threw dark streamers toward the banks, where the season’s first western tanagers darted through tangles of brush. 

The tanagers weren’t yet gorging themselves on salmonflies, which won’t arrive on the Madison or the Yellowstone until later this month. However, the big bugs are out on Rock Creek near Missoula.

Sam finally tied on a rubber legs and a small copper John. He caught his first brown trout since returning home from Shanghai, and the 20-inch fish made several long runs away from the boat before finding its way into the net.

“One of the best ways to get over jet lag after an 18-hour flight from Shanghai to Montana is to go fly-fishing on the Madison River,” Sam later posted on Facebook.

Temperatures rose and the sun emerged during our Sunday and Monday floats. The fishing may have been slow. But I’ll take rush hour traffic on the Madison River over Shanghai any day.