Mangled Madison Mandibles

I fished the Madison between Raynolds Pass and Three Dollar Bridge yesterday, focusing on a group of rising fish in a big slick behind a series of boulders. There were no observable bugs on the water, apart from the odd caddis or two. The reliable hatch of the moment is supposed to be blue winged olives, (BWO or baetis), and I had spent a few hours tying tiny emerger versions of that mayfly, size 22 WD40s and size 20 Barr’s Emergers.

I tried several combinations and drifted them past the rises, a number of fish coming up and eating an unseen insect right next to my fly. Is my leader too short? Is the tippet not fine enough? I ended up with a leader length around 13 feet with 6x tippet to the small trailing fly, but still got no eats.

I finally changed to an ambiguous looking soft hackle that has worked as a generic emerger before, and a fairly big one at size 18. On the second cast, a fish ate it and I was so surprised that I pulled a little too hard and broke the 6x. Damn! 😂

Madison River Caddis and BWOs
Eleven flies with only one winner.

That fish must have swam around showing all his buddies the fly stuck in his lip, because no others came up to eat the replacement fly.

I decided to give up on that spot and work a couple of other known holding slots on my way back to camp as the sun went down. I changed my indicator fly to a black beetle with the same soft hackle trailer, but didn’t get any response. A final cast to a slot right next to a boulder and a nose popped up and ate the beetle, a nice brown and the first fish in my net for a few days.

The fly came out on its own once netted and I cradled the fish for a photo. I noticed a big chunk missing from its upper jaw, not the first fish I’ve caught from this river that had a scabbed up face. I thanked the fish and apologized for sticking it as I released it to swim back out and await the next anglers’ hook.

It’s kind of a bummer, and one of the reasons I left the river back in July to fish Hebgen instead. I’d caught a rainbow from under a cutbank on a salmon fly (the last one of this years hatch) and his jaw was all jacked up from being caught so many times. I’d bet that 90% of the fish in this river have been caught more than once, and it just makes me feel… dirty. Like these fish are pressured so hard, so many anglers every day… can’t they just get a little rest?

The state is working on a new management plan to do just that, but who knows how it will shake out.

I think I’ll go fish Quake Lake today.

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