Covid-19 Announcement

Some shipments are still delayed. If you are planning a trip, please order well in advance.

Lower Madison

by Phillip Dobson
(Butte, MT)

It was raining in Butte the other day, so I decided to check out the fishing east of the divide. Ignoring the severe wind alerts, I drove out to the mouth of Bear Trap Canyon on the lower Madison. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to cast at all in the wind, but I figured if the Field Master didn't cut it, I could always put something heavy on the 4wt and punch short casts into promising lies.

Not a single car was in the parking area. I love Montana.

Grabbing my stuff, I realized I forgot the Field Master at home along with the reel for the 4wt. I had my Sagiri 54 and my Mom's Sagiri 45 that I accidentally stole during my last visit. Those are powerful, fast action rods, right?

With the wind whipping up whitecaps, I gave it a shot. Just holding the 5m rod was a forearm workout, let alone casting it. I found that if I waited for a lull in the wind, I could drop a cast into the target up and across. Then the crux was maintaining a decent drift. I kept the rod tip low and anchored the line in the water. I was able to track the fly by fixing on the end of my level line, which I've marked with a small spot of indicator yarn.

Fishing a sz20 Frenchie, I got a strike from a nice rainbow. It gave me a good chase before jumping and throwing the fly. Another, smaller, but feisty rainbow came out of the same current seam.

The wind kept getting worse. I caught a tiny whitefish, my first of the winter. The last promising pocket was a challenge. I could only get a decent drift every few minutes. Fortunately decent was enough, and I hooked up with a big beautiful rainbow-cutthroat hybrid. These aggressive, sterile hybrids are hard on the wild fishery, so this one came home to the dinner table.

It just went to show that the best conditions are whenever you can get outside, and the best equipment is what you have. Most people wouldn't normally use a seiryu rod for big trout in big water and big winds, but it worked. Way more effective than staying home.

Comments for Lower Madison

Click here to add your own comments

Feb 24, 2017
Great Job!
by: Les A.

What a beautiful fish. It looks healthy and tasty!
As a relative newbie to this type of fishing, I appreciate your sharing of your technique. I too love fishing in Montana!

Feb 24, 2017
by: Matthew Herron

Beautiful fish! I don't think cutbows are sterile, though, or at least not always.

Feb 24, 2017
by: Phillip

Looks like you're right Matthew, the hybrids can breed, but have "greatly reduced reproductive fitness". The concern is that the hybrids aren't fit enough to maintain a healthy wild population, not to mention potential extinction of the native cutthroat. The fish in the picture actually happened to be gravid, I just figured the eggs were non-viable.

Les, I'm starting to get my little nymph rig pretty dialed in. I use a #2.5 level line a bit shorter than the (5.4m) rod. The goal there is nice drifts and a minimum of hand-lining when a big fish puts a deep bend in the rod. At the line-tippet junction, I add a small knot of keiryu yarn with the tags cut flush to use as an indicator. I adjust the tippet (6x-7x) length based on the depth I want to fish at.

A lot of my fly choices cater to the capabilities of the rod. The Sagiri is a soft, sensitive seiryu rod. Not the best choice for "ripping lips". I tie the flies on hooks with thin, barbless, needle-points. The slightest tightening of the line will set the hook solidly. Sometimes the fish doesn't even notice at first! I get a lot higher hookset percentage with these hooks compared to a normal hook with crushed barb (and filing barbs sucks!). The weight of the fly depends on where I want to fish in the water column. I use a lot of 2.5mm and 3mm tungsten beads as well as unweighted flies for when the fish are more frisky. Fly size depends on what the fish want. I use a lot of 16-18.

As far as fishing the setup goes, it's not complicated. Identify the potential feeding lanes and cast the fly just far enough above the lie that it drops into the "strike zone" as it gets there. Then a little lift, a pause, and repeat. I keep the indicator spot just above the surface of the water, slightly leading the fly. If it moves at all, set the hook with a slight wrist twitch. You shouldn't have to yank the fly out of the water. If it's windy enough to affect the drift, anchor the indicator spot in the water which will help reduce wind lift.

Feb 24, 2017
by: Les A.


I too am finding the thin needle sharp hooks to be just the ticket for high percentage hookups. I have been buying a lot of hooks from TenkaraBum, and I am mad at myself for not ordering more with my last rod. It is strange how much I am liking the eyeless hooks. I am snelling them and have them ready to go. I have also snelled several of them, tied a small ball over the snell and put a beadhead on before tying the nymph or leaving it bare and using a Mummy Worm.

Thanks for sharing your fishing technique in more detail. It is very similar to how I fish as well.

Feb 24, 2017
by: Phillip

Les, I highly recommend you read the section on hooks published in Salmon Flies by Kelson. He makes some strong arguments regarding a flexible connection to the fly. (I may not agree with everything.) The book is available by download for free. It's also just a ton of fun and really informative.

Mar 03, 2017
Ah, the memories
by: Paul Arnold, Ex-Dillon, MT

Thanks for the post. I used to fish that water pretty regularly, and sure do miss it as well as the rest of that area. ~

Mar 03, 2017
Daiwa Sagiri
by: Ben Bailey

Hey, how durable is the Sagiri 54. Fished mine for the first time today, a few of the nicer fish had me a little worried. Also, on the same note, do you know where to get spare sections? Thanks Ben Bailey Red Lodge, MT

Mar 04, 2017
Sagiri durability
by: Phillip

My Sagiri keeps amazing me with its ability to land fish. I'm not much of a big fish fisherman, but most of my best trout have been landed on this rod. I caught dozens of trout over 16" last season, and even a 20" rainbow on a #22 midge. It's my go-to when fishing small flies and fine tippet.

One thing the Sagiri can't do is stop a fish dead in its tracks. If the fish runs, you need to turn him fast. Maintain the bend in the rod, but drop it right down to the water's level to bring the trout into an arc.

The other important thing is to stay mobile. You won't have the backbone to pull the fish to you against its will. What you can do is put a lot of holding pressure on the fish without shock-loading the tippet. Just hold him, guide him gently to a convenient shallow, walk over, and scoop him up. Nimble feet will catch you a lot more fish.

I love this style of fishing. Super sensitive, precise presentation and quick, exciting landings. When a big, spirited trout runs downstream, so do I. It's a blast.

As far as broken rods, it seems to usually be user error. I've broken my Field Master yanking back on an unexpectedly large trout, my girlfriend's 6wt got slammed in a tailgate (my fault), and my dad slipped and fell on my mom's Sagiri. The unexpected breakages I've seen were a 6wt Winston BIIIx snapping while landing a normal sized brown, and a 3wt Sage One breaking on an unexpectedly large rainbow (both on the Big Hole). I have no idea why those very expensive and supposedly strong fly rods failed.

I think Chris can hunt down replacement parts from Japan.

Mar 04, 2017
Might even have them in stock
by: Chris Stewart

Depending on what Sagiri part you need, I might even have it in stock.

Mar 05, 2017
Sagiri Durability
by: Ben Bailey

Thanks, headed back out to Stillwater today, will fish the Sagiri if its not too windy

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Your Tenkara Stories.

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” - Benjamin Franklin

"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." -
Col. Robert Venables 1662

As age slows my pace, I will become more like the heron.


The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.

Beware of the Dogma

Currently processing orders that were received Sep 19.

Back in Stock Notification

To be notified when a specific item is back in stock, please use the Back in Stock Notification form.

To be notified when new items are added to the shop and when out-of-stock items are back in stock please use the
This Just In... Signup