In the world of fly fishing, May can be a tricky month. Many areas of the world are in a transition between seasons and our waters receive the brunt of these changes. In the west, mountain snow packs are beginning to melt and fill the rivers at a rapid rate. In other areas, spring means rain. The large amounts of rain can cloud rivers and raise them to unfishable levels.
Despite the changes, May fly fishing can be extremely productive. It’s going to require extra work, but the payoff is well worth your time. Don’t let the inclement weather or water conditions scare you away. The fish still are looking to eat your flies. Any angler that finds fish in the month of May can catch fish any time of the year!
Below are my 7 favorite places to fly fish in May
1. Madison River – Montana, May is Perfect to Toss a Fly
The Madison River, located near Bozeman, is a wonderful option for fly anglers in May. It’s a headwater tributary of the Missouri River and flows 183 miles between Montana and Wyoming. This river is wonderful during the first few weeks of May due to the minimal runoff and large brown trout and whitefish.
The river is broken up into two portions: the Upper and Lower Madison. The Upper Madison flows through numerous lakes so the runoff isn’t quite as extreme. Anglers have been returning to the Madison for years in pursuit of their trophy fish. It’s possible to both wade and float.
The Lower Madison is a good option in May as well since Ennis Lake holds some of the snow runoff. You’re able to nymph and dry fly fish. The Mother’s Day Caddis is a reason many Anglers tackle the Madison in May.
If you’ve read even just a little on this website you’ll know I LOVE MONTANA Fly Fishing – I wrote an epic article – 21 Best Places to Fly Fish in Montana
The Madison can appear to be a shallow and fast river, but don’t underestimate its power. Many portions of the river have a silt bottom so wading can be dangerous if you aren’t careful. The cloudier water in the spring can be misleading, so don’t put yourself in a difficult situation. Focus on the slower moving water and the cut banks.
Where to Fly Fish on the Madison River
The Lower Madison is best accessed at the Valley Garden access point. It’s managed by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Service. Remember in Montana that all anglers must stay below the high-water mark when fishing private land.
Recommended Flies for the Madison River
The Upper and Lower Madison each demand different flies during May. Nymphing the upper portion is your best bet. Rubber Legged Stoneflies are going to find you fish during this time of year. Prince and other Caddis flies hovering between size #10-14 are also useful.
The Lower Portion is open to a bit more variety. Some of the successful patterns are San Juan Worms, Prince Nymphs and Pheasant tails. While streamers may be tempting to throw, stick with nymphing. It’s going to catch you the most fish.
Where to Stay in Madison River Country and Fly Shops
- Madison Valley Ranch– The Madison Valley Ranch is a fly fishing lodge located along the Madison. They offer guided trips and it’s an hour away from Bozeman.
- Trout Stalkers is an outfitter and fly shop in Ennis right along the Madison River. It offers everything you may need to have a successful day on the water. They also provide guided fishing trips if you’re interested in working with an expert.
What to Pack to Fly Fish in May on the Madison River
Preparation is key when fishing out west in May. You never know what weather is going to roll off of the mountains. Layers are always going to be key when packing. Along with waders and wading boots, be sure to bring wind proof layers, gloves and a stocking cap.
As far as rods are concerned, go ahead and bring your 6-weight. It is going to be able to handle all types of water conditions and work for nymphing. If nymphing, Weight-Forward line is going to do the trick. Also pack 4-6x leader with similar sized tippet.
2. Manistee River- Michigan Fly Fishing in May
The Manistee River flows directly into Lake Michigan and weaves through the majority of northern Michigan. It’s well-known for the early spring Steelhead run and beautiful year-round trout fishing.
May fly fishing on the Manistee is unique. Many of the Steelhead anglers quit fishing at the turn of the month, but that doesn’t mean all of the fish are gone. Steelhead are still around for the first few weeks of the month. These fish are great to target early in the morning and trout are hungry in the afternoon when the sun is higher. If possible, try and sight fish for some of the larger trout. Suckers are spawning this time of year and it’s not uncommon for some of the larger trout to be following during their spawn.
The river can be floated and waded. It’s an angler’s paradise. The massive amount of water combined with the quality fish make it many northern fly anglers’ favorite destination. Anglers can choose between the gravel bottoms, deep pools and cut banks. All are going to hold fish so don’t be afraid to try a variety of different methods.
Check out this article 11 Best Places to Fish in Michigan for more details on Michigan fly fishing.
Where to Fly Fish on the Manistee River
Again, the options are almost endless on the Manistee. Don’t be overwhelmed. See it more as an opportunity to explore and try new ways of fishing. It’s rewarding when you get your first hook-up!
The CCC Bridge State Forest Campground is a great place to start fishing.
Recommended Flies for the Manistee
May is arguably the best month for streamer fishing in Michigan. You can find steelhead and some of the larger trout at the same time. Woolly Buggers and Egg Flies are going to help you find the steelhead. Also, Giant Black Stonefly Nymphs around size six will catch fish.
For trout, sculpin, baitfish and leech streamers are going to work well. Also, BWO’s, Hendrickson’s, Blue Quills and Little Winter Stoneflies are all hatching around May.
GUIDE TIP: Be patient in the spring. The water temperatures are beginning to warm and fish will be aggressive. However, when it comes to steelhead and the bigger trout you may have to dead drift your way through some of the slower moving waters.
Where to Stay and Fly Shops for Fly Fisherman
- Gates AuSable Lodge sounds fancy, but this is a tried and true fly shop with river side accommodations.
- Steelhead Hunter Charters– The fishing lodge is located in Manistee and offers lodging along with guided fishing trips along the Manistee. It’s a great option for those unfamiliar with the area and are looking to get tied into some trophy fish.
- Motel 72 is clean, cheap and right in the middle of this fly fishing mecca.
- Ron’s Fly Shop carries all the right flies for the area. Honest fishing reports and directions.
What to Pack for May Manistee Fly Fishing
May in Michigan isn’t predictable. The weather can be cold and rainy or quite comfortable and sunny. Don’t be worried. The fish will still bite, but you need to be properly equipped. Waders and wading boots along with hard-shell jackets are necessary.
Bring your 7 or 8-weight rod if you plan on targeting steelhead. If not, a 6-weight will handle any of the fish you pull out of the water. Weight-Forward or Sinking Tip line is going to help you get deep enough to find the bigger fish. You’ll want 3x leader to be able to pull in fish.
3. Yakima River- Washington a Classic Fly Fishing Trip
The Yakima River, located about 90 minutes from Seattle, is a trout haven. It’s the state’s only Blue Ribbon trout stream and is home to both Rainbow and Cutthroat trout. The diversity of the water is tempting for many anglers. It flows through a canyon, has tree lined banks and can fulfill all needs of trout anglers.
This river can be fished both by wading and drifting, but be sure to understand the water flows. In May, the snow can cause water levels to rise and become difficult to traverse on foot. Do your best to stay up to date on the flow levels before you embark on your next adventure into the ‘Yak. The 214 miles are well worth your time to explore.
Where to fish on the Yakima River
There is plenty of public access along the Yakima River. The Upper is accessed along I-90 between Easton and Cle Elum. The lower portion has quite a few access points and is nice for wade fishing.
Check out this BLM campground for your next Yakima fishing expedition.
Recommended Flies for the Yakima River
In late May, Skwala Stones, Golden Stones, Caddis and Mayflies are all going to work well. Also, Salmonflies will help you find fish. The Mother’s Day Caddis hatch is also a highlight on the Yakima. You’ll see the large swarms of Caddis flies all over the banks. Get ready, because you know fishing is going to explode.
GUIDE TIP: Spring fly fishing the Yakima can be a bit tricky. If you have access to a drift boat, be prepared to use it.
Where to Stay and Fly Shops
- The Canyon River Ranch is located on the Yakima River and is a wonderful lodge offering guided fishing trips. The lodge offers fly fishing classes and information on how to be successful on your DIY Yakima River fly fishing trip. Red’s Fly Shop is also inside the lodge and can help you get equipped with everything you may need for a day on the water.
- The Evening Hatch is another fly shop on the Yakima. Guided trips are available and the shop contains necessary gear to catch fish on the Yak. Located in Ellensburg, you also have access to several other prominent rivers in the area.
What to Pack for May Fly Fishing on the Yakima
Water and air temperatures can hover in the 40’s in May. Be sure to have plenty of layers and enough warm clothing to keep you comfortable for an entire day on the water. Also, sunglasses are a necessity on the Yakima. Depending on the clarity, you can have fun sight fishing for some of the larger trout.
For rods, bring your 6-weight. The heavier flows can make this turn into a fairly wide stream and you’ll need some casting power to hit your spots and fight the current. With your 6-weight, bring 3-4x leader and Weight Forward line.
4. Florida Keys – Fly Fishing Saltwater in May
Yes, the Florida Keys is a bit of a broad area, but May is the prime season to start fly fishing it. The tarpon begin pushing their way down the beaches and bonefish are plentiful. This area is a wonderful spot to visit in May. Tourist season slows down and the true anglers come out of the woodwork. It’s warm and fishing is hot.
Saltwater fly fishing is an entirely different animal compared to freshwater fly fishing. However, it is well worth your time to learn. May is a wonderful time due to the high numbers of fish and the weather isn’t too much of a factor. You can spend a comfortable day on the water learning how to best target saltwater fish on the fly.
Where in May to fly fish in the Florida Keys
The Florida Keys have endless places to fish. The beautiful water and variety of fish along the islands can be a bit overwhelming. Schedule as long of a trip as you can because the more you can experience, the better.
Islamorada is the best spot to fly fish in the keys. The Bonefish and Tarpon are massive and numbers are high. Also, it’s possible to catch some Red Fish as well. The Indian Key Public Boat Ramp is a great place to begin your day in the Keys.
Flies to Use in the Keys for May
Due to the variety of fish in the Keys, fly choices are more specific. Cockroach patterns in black or red are going to work. Also, any sort of crab fly will help you find fish. Finally, something like a Foxy Clouser in a size 4 is useful.
Where to Stay and Fly Shops
- Due to the touristy culture of the Florida Keys, there are numerous options for places to stay. You don’t have to stay at a fishing lodge to be close to fishing. However, if fishing is your purpose, be sure to stay at a fishing lodge. The Cheeca Lodge & Spa has great access points and all of the information you may need about fly fishing in the area.
- Ye Old English Fly Shop in Summerland Key is a great shop. They offer plenty of information and gear to set you up for your next saltwater fly fishing adventure. Fly fishing in saltwater can be challenging so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
What to Pack for May Fly Fishing in the Keys
You’ll be plenty warm. Don’t worry about that! Shoes that give you solid maneuverability are necessary. Plus a hat, sunglasses and Buff are needed. The sun can easily fry you over the period of a day so block as much of it as you can.
As far as gear is concerned, you’ll want to be sure to have a saltwater fly reel. The saltwater can cause quite a bit of damage to freshwater reels so be aware of what kind of gear you have. On your reel, you’ll need 5ft of 60-pount fluoro, 3ft of 40 pound flouro, 3ft of #20 tippet. Also, be sure to use a floating line and shock leader.
A 10-weight rod is what you need if you’re fly fishing for tarpon. If you’re targeting Permit or Bonefish, you’ll be able to use a 8-weight.
GUIDE TIP: Saltwater fly fishing is amazing! But it’s important to be prepared so do research before you begin.
5. AuSable River West Branch- New York
The AuSable in May is a great choice for trout fishing. Due to the warming water, the fish are much livelier and more willing to eat. The river is made up of riffles, gravel bars and all sorts of deep holding water. You’ll find Brown and Brook Trout spread throughout the river.
Where to Fly Fish on the AuSable
There are numerous places to fly fish on the AuSable. Here is a great access point along Route 86 that will provide you some seclusion.
Flies to use on the AuSable
Hendrickson’s begin to hatch in May. Also, the Green Drake and Sulphers will hatch in the earlier portions of the year. Anything between size 16-22 is going to help you find fish. Streamers like Wooly Buggers in size four will catch fish. Use the streamers in the lower light when the trout are looking for baitfish.
Fly Shops and Where to Stay for May
- The AuSable River Two Fly Shop is in Wilmington and has all of the necessary gear for success. Take a visit if you’re planning on making the trip.
- The Hungry Trout Resort is a perfect option for anyone looking to fish the Au Sable. They have a fishing school, fly shop and guided trips!
What to Pack and Other Gear
The AuSable isn’t going to overwhelm you with its size, but you’ll need the necessary equipment to make your day on the water successful. May in New York isn’t always going to be warm. Be sure you have layers and the necessary warm weather gear.
For rod choice, go ahead and use a 5-weight. It allows you all of the finesse you may need and can handle some of the bigger water. Use Weight-Forward line with 4 or 5x leader and 5 or 6x tippet. Nymphing and streamer fishing are great choices in May.
6. Upper Colorado – Colorado Fly Fishing
The Colorado River can be an intimidating river to try and master. Plus, fly fishing in Colorado in May can be challenging due to the high amount of runoff from the snowy mountains. The ‘Upper Colorado is dam controlled so water flows are much more manageable. Anglers can find brown, brook, rainbow and cutthoart trout spread throughout the miles of water.
There are riffles, pocket water and deep pools. Don’t be afraid to test your skills!
Where to fly fish on the Upper Colorado
The Gore Canyon is a great spot to access the Upper Colorado. Here is a link to the access point: https://goo.gl/maps/jVR6eB5sTYaysLnGA
Looking for more places to toss a fly in Colorado? I wrote this article detailing all the best places. – Best Places to Fly Fish in Colorado
Flies to Use on the Colorado
There are numerous options for flies to use on the Colorado. The first is the English Pheasant Tail in size 14-18. Another great choice would be the Rojo Midge size 18-24. Pat’s Rubber Legs in size 10-12 will also help you find fish.
Fly Shop and Where to Stay
Cutthroat Anglers is a good choice for information on the Upper Colorado. Located in Silverthorne, it’s a perfect place to stop while you’re on your way to the water. They offer guided trips as well as all of the equipment you may need.
Rancho Del Rio is a smart place to stay when fishing the Colorado River. It offers private access to the river along with many impressive amenities.
What to Pack for Fly Fishing
May fly fishing in Colorado is tricky. In the higher elevations, snow is always a possibility. This doesn’t mean the fish won’t bite! Bring waterproof layers, waders and solid wading boots. You’ll have a blast as long as you’re prepared.
For your rod, a 5-weight will do just fine on the Upper Colorado. Also, 4-5x leader with 6x tippet will do the trick.
7. Lower Mountain Fork River- Oklahoma
The Lower Mountain Fork River flows 98-miles through Arkansas and into southeastern Oklahoma. It’s a stocked tailwater and is one of two year-round trout fisheries in the state. In the water, you’ll find rainbow and brown trout along with smallmouth and walleye. It has pools, riffles and pocket water so be prepared to try numerous techniques.
Where to Fish on the Lower Mountain Fork
Access is plentiful on the Lower Mountain Fork. Check out this spot along the Beaver Lodge Nature Trail: https://goo.gl/maps/4ZbYHZocz98vKxR98
Flies to Use on the Lower Mountain Fork
First and foremost, remember to bring your Wooly Bugger’s. Anything between size 6-10 will catch you fish. Also, if the fish are attacking the surface, a Parachute Adams, Elk Hair Caddis and PMD Parachute will work. Use these between size 14-16.
Beavers Bend Fly Shop is a great choice for anyone looking to fish the Lower Mountain Fork. It offers guided trips and equipment for fly fishing all over Oklahoma.
The Lazy River Cabins offer perfect access to the river. They have cabins that accommodate both small and large groups.
What to Pack on the Lower Mountain Fork
Fly fishing in May in Oklahoma can be wet. As a result, make sure you’re as waterproof as you possibly can be. A comfortable rain jacket is a necessity in the spring in Oklahoma. Also, a nice set of waders and wading boots will keep you content all day long.
You can use a 5 or 6-weight rod when fishing the Lower Mountain Fork. Also, 3-5x leader with 6x tippet will work just fine.
Some Favorite Fly Fishing Articles from Guide Recommended.
- How to Setup a Fly Rod – Step by step instructions that detail selecting the equipment and putting it all together.
- 31 Best Places to Fly Fish in the USA – Details where to go, where to stay and the equipment you need to put fish in the net.
- How to Catch Bluegills with a Fly Rod – I like to think of ‘Gills as a gateway into fly fishing. Learn to setup your rod, improve your cast and CATCH fish.
- 21 Places to Fly Fish in Montana – Get maps, to exactly where to find trout in Montana. Epic!!
Hey David here the maker of Guide Recommended. I’m super passionate about everything fly fishing fishing; writing, teaching and even video.