Backroad Bio – Madison River Fly Fishing Guide Randy Brown

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Randy Brown – Madison River Fly Fishing Guide

Ennis, Montana

When I was four years old I caught a blue gill on a bobber with a straight pin, bent it back, back beyond at a right angle, and tied it on with a string on a stick, and put a worm on the pin. It was my first fish.


I was born in Ohio. It was my mother who took me fishing. She did it all, showed me how to do it. My mother came from Western Pennsylvania, the Allegheny Mountains. Her ancestors were all woodsmen from the sticks.


I graduated from Kent State (University), graduated in English, and wanted to be a writer. I wanted out of the Midwest and drove around California and Oregon and all of Southwest Montana.


I came to Ennis the first time in 1972 because I had read that if you wanted to catch the big trout the place to come was southwest Montana. I fished the Big Hole (River), the Yellowstone, the Gallatin. I could catch a lot of fish just about anywhere, but not on the Madison. It was too fast, too slick, too slippery. I couldn’t figure it out. That’s what brought me back again and again. I just kept trying.


I continued traveling, but mainly I just loved Montana. I loved it not so much for what it had, but for what it didn’t have – lots of people, lots of yelling, lots of crime.


I knew some people here in Ennis – Dick McGuire, he was my guy in Ennis. He grew up here. In the winter of 1979-80 I rented a room from him in his house for $100 a month. After that I found my own place. He showed me the ropes. McGuire could be kind of ornery, but he knew how to do it (fly fish). He would say, “This is how you do it” and I did it and I learned.


I knew all the folks (in the Madison Valley), the owners of the El Western Motel, the Sportsman’s Lodge, Scully’s Motel downtown, the Rainbow Valley Lodge, Silvertip Lodge, Fan Mountain Inn. They recommended me, their guests called me. I ran float trips on the Madison for the fly fishing shops, Tommy Williams Tackle Shop, Madison Sport Shop, Ed’s Tackle Shop.


I got my guide’s license in Montana in 1980, and I have been guiding ever since.


Back then there were a lot of corporate fly fishing trips. I ran a lot of them. They (the corporations) would bring the gang on what we called “a bunch of men” trips. We would have three to five boats float at the same time. The CB Guest Ranch had guests all summer long. The El Western was probably the No. 1 spot for staying in town. Ted and Bobby Bjork always had repeat guests, so I had lots of repeat guests, too. They started coming back from all the lodges and motels.


I always used drift boats. When I got started we had a lot of the old wooden drift boats. They were beautiful but hard to maintain. Aluminum boats snuck in after the wood boats, in the early ‘80s, but they were clunky and got stuck on the rocks, so there was a lot of BANG! BANG! on the river. Then came fiberglass, that was the third wave of drift boats. Most guides use them now. The big rubber rafts have always been around but they are sort of the minority, except on the Bear Trap part of the Madison. You have to use rubber rafts there.


Guiding is as much fun now as it was back then, when I started. Maybe more fun. There are more people but I still love it every day because every day is different.


Contact Randy at RBDOWNTOWN@RANDYBROWNSMF.COM or visit his website at







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