Pro Tips: Top 5 Nymphs for the Madison River

Written by: Brian McGeehan, Montana Angler Fly Fishing

Stonefly nymphs are always present in the Madison, making a rubber-leg pattern a wise choice.
Photos by Brian McGeehan

Montana’s Madison River is quite simply a fantastic nymph fishery. Day in and day out, nymphing produces quality fish, no matter what the season. The consistency of the fishery is one of the main reasons why it is so famous and draws anglers from around the world. Lets take a look at my top five nymph patterns for fooling the big browns and rainbows of the Madison.

1. Rubber-leg Stonefly
Whether you call it a Girdle Bug or a Pat’s Rubber Legs or whatever else, this simple, classic stonefly pattern is my top choice for the Madison. Stonefly nymphs are found in the river 365 days a year, so it is always worth a shot. I fish this pattern from a size 4 to a size 12 in at least six different colors. Generally speaking, in the spring I use larger, darker versions and gradually go smaller and lighter as the season progresses. The fly is usually weighted, so it makes an ideal point fly to get your two-fly rig down where it needs to be.

2. Prince Nymph
Another classic pattern, the Prince is usually my first choice for a dropper pattern on the Madison. The Prince is a great caddisfly imitation, and the river is thick with these bugs for much of the summer. I carry Princes from size 12 to size 18, and usually choose the size based on water level and clarity. High, off-color water demands larger flies and vice versa.

3. Pheasant Tail
The Pheasant Tail is a great imitation of a blue-winged olive nymph, and is a top choice in the spring and fall. I will typically fish a size 16 in the spring and a size 18 in the fall. The Pheasant Tail makes a good dropper fly behind a larger bug like a stonefly or big caddis. blue-winged olives tend to hatch best on cloudy days, so keep that in mind when picking out your flies.

4. Lightning Bug
The Lightning Bug is a good choice for a general attractor nymph. I will often use them in the dog days of summer when the hatches quiet down. The Lightning Bug can also be used as a caddisfly imitation. The most popular colors used on the river are silver, gold, and pearl. I carry this fly in sizes 12 to 20. In the larger sizes, this can be used as your lead fly, while the small sizes are ideal droppers.

5. Shop Vac
The Shop Vac is a good pattern because imitates a variety of insects, depending on what size you choose. Larger sizes are good caddisfly imitations, and smaller versions represent midges. I typically fish this bug in sizes 12 to 18. The Shop Vac is rarely my first choice, but it is a great change-up pattern when other flies are not working and has saved plenty of days for me out there on the river.

Brian McGeehan is owner and outfitter of Montana Angler Fly Fishing, an Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Expedition in Bozeman, Montana.

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