Classic Trout Bum of the Week: “Dirty” Mike Elliott

Written by: Abigail Dennis


Mike Elliott poses with a gorgeous Madison River brown trout.
Photo courtesy Mike Elliott

[Editor’s note: For these TBoTW posts, I send out a questionnaire, which the subject normally sends back with his answers written below each question. But Mike Elliott’s friend, Abigail Dennis, is a newspaper reporter, who took the opportunity to turn Mike’s answers into journalistic profile, thus classing up the joint a bit, eh?]

“Dirty” Mike Elliott isn’t your typical fly fishing guide. No, he’s a true Montanan: he hunts, night calves and seeks shed antlers. But he’s best known as one of Madison County’s best fly fishing guides, working out of The Tackle Shop in downtown Ennis.

Elliott was born to grab hold of a client and make them understand why fly fishing is a beautiful, passionate experience.


Although big fish are wonderful, Elliott is more focused on the overall experience on the water.
Photo  courtesy Mike Elliott

“I was just born to do this,” Elliott said. “At the end of the day, as a guide you’re not there to make a picnic lunch or row someone down a river. You’re there to make someone appreciate the incredible resources and great rivers of Montana.”

Elliott is more than a fly fishing guide. To be honest, he doesn’t care if you hook a big trout or not, so long as you appreciate the river you’re fishing and learn something in the process. He will always try his hardest to show clients a good time and impress on them why Montana is truly the last best place.

He adopted the moniker “Dirty Mike” early on in his career. Why? Because you can’t be afraid to get down and dirty on the river to get results. Though he’s young—a 1987 baby to be exact—Elliott has about 10 years of fishing guiding experience under his custom-made Montana belt buckle.


As a toddler, Elliott engaged in “driveway fishing” that grew into a lifestyle.
Photo  courtesy Mike Elliott

“My Uncle Jim took me fishing as a little tiny kid,” he said. “I remember ‘fishing’ in the yard, and I would pretend my driveway was the water.”

That early infatuation began when Elliott was only three years old and grew from that point. By the time he was 19, Elliott had dropped out of college to embrace his true calling as a fishing guide. That’s not to say he doesn’t have other passions. Elliott is an avid hunter and even guides clients on backcountry trips. He also serves as a ranch hand and spends his springs seeking shed antlers in Southwest Montana.

Still, Elliott’s love of Montana’s rivers motivated him to become a guide. He learned from his grandfather, for whom fishing was a way to provide for a family with 10 kids. Though Elliott is a bachelor, he understands that drive to provide: he fishes and hunts because that’s how he can benefit his extended family and keep them healthy throughout the winter.


Elliott carefully releases a 22.5-inch fish back to the long riffle that is the Madison.
Photo courtesy Mike Elliott

A fishing experience with Elliott is one-of-a-kind. He’ll spend the entire day on the water eyeing you from under the wide brim of a dirty little cowboy hat, and with one look he can let you know if your cast is true or not.

Southwestern Montana—and Madison County specifically—is the fly-fishing mecca of the world. The region boasts multiple diverse rivers, from the meandering, brushy Beaverhead River to the riffled waters of the Upper Madison. No matter which stretch of blue-ribbon water you put your boat in, you stand a great chance of landing one of the thousands of trophy fish that call Southwest Montana home.

Elliott’s passion for teaching people combined with his love of Montana’s endless valleys and phenomenal waters is what keeps him on the river for more than 90 days every year.


For 90 days a year, Elliott enjoys this kind of office at his day job.
Photo by Tim Savard, Savard Hospitality Consulting

“I’m obsessed with this life,” he said. “It’s fun. Being outside, chasing fish and fooling one into eating some feathers wrapped around a hook is one of the best things on earth.”

Abigail Dennis is a reporter for The Madisonian, in Ennis, Montana.

One thought on “Classic Trout Bum of the Week: “Dirty” Mike Elliott”

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