Fly Fishing the Famous Madison River Is like a Beautiful Woman

"The Madison River, like a beautiful woman, is sometimes difficult to figure out."


I uttered these words to Jeff, a recent guest of The Angler's Retreat.  He had spent two days with his pals fishing the April hatches of the "100 Mile Riffle," as it's come to be called.  He expressed to me a hint of frustration that the catch rate over the last two seasons  had slumped a little and wondered out loud if next time a guide should be called.

Thinking about my own frustrations pursuing trout on the Madison, it's a great question.  Of all the rivers that I have fished, I must say the Madison remains an enigma to me.  That's quite an admission, considering it's my "home water," and its banks lie a mere 500 feet from my place, The Angler's Rest and Retreat.  To be fair though, I have been so busy adding and improving our accommodations that I have not had, or should I say taken the time to learn the ins and outs of the Madison.  Having said that, should visitors and Madison River anglers hire a guide?

I think the general answer to that is Yes.  Think about it- you have spent all that money to book accommodations, pay for your license, flies, and gas and gear only to fish and be frustrated because you don't know the water.  Of course, if your budget says no to the price of a guide, then what?  In that case, ask a lot of questions of fisherman and even guides.  The fly fishing community is increasingly becoming less snobbish.  We want more sportsman converting to fly fishing because we see it as an investment in conservation and preservation of our lakes, streams and rivers and of course, Fish! 

Case in point- recent guests of mine had been with a guide for three straight days and not done particularly well.  They were from Ohio and knew very little about the Madison.  I volunteered information about one of my favorite places and how to fish it.. They came back elated because they landed some browns in the 17"-18" class.  Later in the week they tried on their own the upper Madison near 3 Dollar Bridge.  Before beginning to fish, they became engaged in conversation with a guy named Craig.  They described their week's low results.  Unsolicited, Craig offered them advice on where to fish and how to fish the Madison.  He even gave them some flies.  As they told me this story, I interrupted them to ask, "Was this guy they talked to Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone?"  "Yes," they said.  "That was his name."  I explained to them that Craig Mathews was among the top 5 fly fishing celebrities in the country, maybe even the world and they had struck gold talking to them.  Indeed, based upon what Craig offered them, they caught their biggest fish that week and the most fish that week.  So, asking for help in their case was better than using a guide!  As I always say to myself, "Self, if it ain't going to kill me, do it!"  In this case ask.