Upper Madison River Fly Fishing in May

Upper Madison River Fishing in May

The upper Madison River is the last major river to be affected by the spring runoff in Southwest Montana each season. The river is rarely “unfishable,” but it can get extremely difficult and even dangerous during the peak flows which will often exceed 4000 CFS.

Although Hebgen Dam is the primary source of water that feeds the upper Madison River, various tributaries including Cabin Creek, Otter Creek, West Fork (of Madison), Indian Creek, and Ruby Creek surge with water from melting snow during May. The increased flows in these tributaries bring heavy sediment loads and debris into the Madison River during late May and early June, making for difficult fly-fishing conditions for a week or two.

The exact timing and duration of the spring runoff are impossible to predict, but we recommend avoiding the upper Madison the last week of May through the first week of June based on our two decades of experience guiding anglers on upper Madison River fishing trips.

May Hatches on the Upper Madison River

March Brown and Caddis hatches can bring some large Brown and Rainbow Trout to the surface on warm, cloudy days.

The Mother’s Day Caddis hatch takes place in early May and is one of the more prolific hatch events of the year.

Midges and Blue-Winged Olive Mayflies can be found hatching throughout the river on cool days with overcast conditions during the early part of May.

Upper Madison River Fishing Techniques in May

Fly fishing the Madison with nymphs and streamers during May is productive until water levels dramatically increase once the runoff begins near the middle of the month. The entire river starts to fish well and helps to spread out increasing river traffic as warm weather finally settles across Montana.

The angler fishing from a drift boat enjoys many advantages from May to October, including escaping the increasingly crowded wade fishing sections. Rising river levels and reduced water clarity can make for challenging wading conditions as well.

Nymphing from the boats with tandem nymph setups under a strike indicator is a standard and productive Madison River setup.

The streamer fishing on the upper Madison gets terrific when the river first starts to go off-color and before dramatic flow increases.


Bozeman Fly Fishing Guide Pro-Tip:

As flows rise, larger fish become aggressive in their pursuit to find new holding areas, positioning themselves vulnerable. Fly fishing with large streamer patterns like a Sex Dungeon or Peanut Envy, in darker colors, stripped off the bank can produce some trophy trout. A fantastic stretch for targeting trout in May is drift boating from McAtee Bridge to Varney Bridge.


Our Upper Madison River Fly Box for May

Upper Madison River Fishing Guide Trips in May

Planning a guided trip on the upper Madison River in May should be limited to the first half of the month as the runoff will invariably create some challenges later in the month.

If your travel plans bring you to the area in late May, our guides can typically find suitable water conditions, but flexibility is the key to success during times of changing water conditions.

Our Bozeman, Montana base of operations gives us the flexibility to change our plans if needed when river conditions deteriorate during the spring runoff.

Upper Madison River fishing trips take place throughout the Madison Valley with an emphasis on the stretches between the Palisades fishing access site and the town of Ennis. Guides will go a bit further up the valley to fish the Pine Butte to Palisades section of the river if the West Fork of the Madison unexpectedly becomes dirty.

Anglers of all skill levels can enjoy fly fishing the Madison River in early May.

The expert angler will enjoy the challenges of executing precise casts next to the banks and mid-river boulders with streamers and sink-tip fly lines. Madison River Rainbow and Brown Trout actively feed on a variety of insect nymphs and small fish during this pre-runoff period.

The beginner or novice angler fishing with nymphs or lightly weighted streamers under a strike indicator will find success on the Madison while improving their skills.

Our seasoned Madison River guides have over two decades of experience managing our excursions through the runoff period with great success.

Upper Madison River guided day trips can be reserved online, through e-mail, or by calling us at 406-468-5019. Our experts are here to help, use our Contact Form for help with planning your Montana fly fishing trip.