Pro Tips: Top 5 Salmonfly Dries for the Madison River

Written by: John Way, The Tackle Shop

The huge salmonflies can bring even the biggest Madison River trout to the surface.
Photo by John Way

It is that time of year, when everyone is salmonfly crazy around Montana. People talk in hushed tones at the bars about where the hatch is and where the trout are eating the dry fly. Of the thousands of fisherman who try to hit the hatch each year, there are an equal number of theories on how to fish the hatch. But without the proper tools and the right dry flies, you can’t make the most of your time on the water.

The salmonfly hatch can be a fickle mistress, and even if your are in the right spot, the fish might not want the patterns you have. Here is a list of our five best salmonfly drys over the past few years. One of these might just be the ticket you need to land that fish of a lifetime.

1. Water Walker
(Salmonfly; sizes 4-6)
For the last two years this has been our best pattern. It is the next evolution of the Chubby Chernobyl, and it floats like a cork but flat on the water. You need to have a few of these in several sizes. We also use them in royal, purple, and golden-stone colors.

2. Fat Freddie
(Salmonfly; sizes 4-8)
This is a old-school foam pattern. If the Water Walker is a descendant of the Chubby Chernobyl, then this is the precursor. It’s a great-floating fly with furry foam side down, and it’s just a fish magnet. Also, the elk hair makes for a great fluttering salmonfly imitation.

3. Fluttering Stone
(Orange; sizes 4-8)
The Fluttering Stone is another old-school patterns, and is a favorite of the long-term guides. It still catches a bunch of fish and is worth having in your box. Hint: the old school guides burn the bottom hackle with a lighter so that it is darker and sparse and the fly floats low in the water. When everyone else on the river is fishing foam, this is a good alternative.

4. The Thing from Uranus
(Orange and brown; sizes 2-6)
A Missoula-area pattern that works just fine this side of the divide, this big foam bug rides really flat on the water and can be tough to see at times. But the fish see it just fine. We like these especially in the morning when the salmonflies are still cold and not fluttering.

5. Cat Vomit
(Orange; sizes 4-8)
This is a perennial favorite and is fun to say. Its super-realistic body and elk wing make for a fishy combination. The pattern floats really flat, but if you flare the wing it makes a great fluttering salmon , too. Plus, it has just the right amount of Orange to attract attention.

Now is time to fish the big bug for some big rising fish on the Madison. Stop by your local shop and pick up a handful of different patterns for your day on the water. Just make sure some of these guide-tested and approved flies are in your box. As for where the hatch is right now, that might just be the best kept secret on the Madison.

John Way owns and operates The Tackle Shop in Ennis, Montana.

One thought on “Pro Tips: Top 5 Salmonfly Dries for the Madison River”

  1. I have been looking for A fly! Wondering if you have them please? I get your tackle order forms when I have purchased gear! I have ordered quite a lot! I have not seen one in your small catalogue, think it’s A hares ear with A bright pink tip/nose & 2x long yellow with black dotted stretchey legs or antenna’s/feeler like yellow with black dot rubbers! The length of the 2 rubber legs are around 2.5 inches?
    I’ve never been able to find A one, after loosing it in 2014 whilst fishing the River Ayr, Where I landed A 12lbs Wild Rainbow Trout & The river Doon when I landed A 19lbs Salmon (in Ayrshire) on the same fly, I then lost the fly! Devastated lol!!
    Kindest Regards

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