Fly Fishing the Madison River


About 5 years ago we floated the Madison River with top Ennis, Montana drift boat guide Jimmy Allison. Jim is actually our friend David Armocido’s best fishing buddy and guide in Montana .

I just wanted to relay some of the techniques Jim uses on his rivers in Montana .

First, for floatant he takes a can of Red Mucilin paste and thins it with 4 parts lighter fluid and puts it in a small bottle. He said in warmer weather like in CA he might thin it 3 to 1.

You use a 9′ #5 or 6 weight fly rod with a floating line on float trips especially if it gets windy in the after noon throwing a two bug rig.

He makes up his own leaders with the original Maxima Chameleon which is that old dark stiffer mono. I believe he uses this so his two fly rigs won’t tangle as much. Tippet sizes are a little larger here too. Maybe 4x and 5x.

In the AM Jim puts on a large (#6/8) attractor dry fly, a Turk’s Tarantula with rubber legs. Because there is a little PMD hatch going on he also puts on a small pale colored mayfly imitation like a #14/16 Light Cahill. This is on a dropper above the larger fly.

After tying on his two fly rig with a dropper he dunks it into his bottle of liquid custom floatant, pulls it out and slaps them on his leg to get the excess off. This really floats those flies high.

We start to float down the river in his drift boat, my wife in front and me in back with Jim naturally in the middle. As we come to a nice piece of water Jim is giving us casting instructions and carefully controlling the boat down through the drifts. Actually at this point we are all three fishing together. Jim tells us to watch the little light colored fly because the takes on it are subtle. He said, you will know it if they take the big one.

We fish this way successfully till it warms up mid-day and we stop for lunch.

While we are eating lunch on the river Jim changes our setups a little. As it warms up the mayflies stop hatching so Jim switches the small cream colored dry fly for a small Royal Wulff attractor fly. He also takes off the large attractor, the Tarantula, because as it warms up the grass hoppers will start to fly. Jim puts a large hopper pattern on for the big fly now.

After lunch we continue our float catching some nice Rainbow trout. At very special places that Jim knows well he will stop the boat and get out actually walking and holding the boat so we can make very exacting presentations to spots he knows hold large fish. We catch some large Rainbows and Browns doing this.

Later in the float we come to a place that is deeper of to the side and Jim says it hold large Browns. We stop, park the boat and get out. Jim pulls out a heavier rod, a #7 weight with a fast sinking line, large tippet and “big black thing”. It is a big black bunny leech that you cast into this hole and then “strip fast’. Jim calls this “Stripping'” for big fish. We did not have any luck that day in the big hole.

Later in the day we came to a place where there was a big island and a quiet side channel. Jim stopped the boat and we all got out looking for something to be working on top. We found a fish way down that side channel sipping off the top against the overhanging bushes. Jim walked me down to it and I made a good cast and hooked the fish on a small dry fly. It turned out to be a 20″ Brown trout making the trip end on a high note.

Floating rivers in Montana is a real treat especially with an “old pro” like Jimmy Allison.

406 / 682-4948

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