Madison River Fly Fishing

Madison River

The Madison is often overrun with anglers and boats during peak times of the summer, but in spite of all the traffic it is still one of the best trout fisheries in North America.  The Madison begins in Yellowstone National Park at the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole rivers.  From this point it flows 140 miles through virtually every type of habitat and climate found in Montana until its juncture with the Jefferson and Gallatin rivers to form the Missouri River.  The river is segmented into different sections due to the various landscapes it flows through.  Most of the angling occurs from Quake Lake down to Ennis, although the water below Ennis Lake Dam through the Beartrap canyon to Three Forks can have exceptional fishing in spring and fall.  The best fishing months on the Madison are June and July due largely to water clarity and remarkable caddis, golden stone, and Salmon Fly hatches.   After the river exists out of Quake Lake, it takes the character most people associate with the Madison- long riffles dotted with boulders. 



Upper Madison

The section between Quake Lake and Lyon’s Bridge is designated for wade fishing only. Floating is permitted from Slide Inn to Lyon’s bridge, but anglers are not allowed to fish from a boat.  That means a boat is mainly used as a shuttle from one wade spot to the next.  Raynolds Pass Bridge and Three Dollar Bridge are the most popular accesses on the upper river.  The parking lots at these places can get full, especially when the fishing is good or during a celebrated hatch like Salmonflies.  Downstream from Three Dollar Bridge the river eventually intersects with other wade-access points like West Fork and Madison campgrounds or Eagle’s Nest on the west side of the river.  Most anglers in this section never loose sight of their cars.  A simple quarter mile hike upstream or downstream from the access points should give you plenty of elbowroom. 



Lyons Bridge marks the end of the float-fishing-regulated stretch; this is arguably the most popular boat launch site on the Madison.  It is not uncommon to see 50 to 80 boats on this stretch in June and July.  The water downstream from Lyon’s to Ennis has good shoreside structure like rocks and overhanging vegetation as well as side channels and islands. Some of the best floats are Lyons Bridge to Pallisades, McAtee Bridge to Varney Bridge or Varney Bridge to Ennis.  Fishing from a boat is not permitted from Ennis to Ennis Lake, but good wade fishing can be had from the access points just below Ennis like Valley Garden Access.  

Lower Madison    

The outflow of Ennis Lake marks the beginning of the Lower Madison and Bear Trap Canyon, a 7-mile wilderness section of the Madison that flows at a high velocity through tight quarters.  People can hike this section for hard to reach fish, if you do decided to hike this canyon be aware of Rattlesnakes  and poison ivy.  Only highly experienced oarsmen should risk floating the canyon, which is home to famous white water rapids like “the kitchen sink” that has upended a lot of floaters.  For the most part, angling in the river below the canyon tapers dramatically during the summer.  This is largely due to the slow, warm nature of the water as well as non-angling floaters, tubers, ect.  This water is best fished in the spring and fall when water temperatures are acceptable and lends it’s self to thick hatches of Blue-winged Olives and Caddis. The Lower Madison can be very productive fishing with Streamers, Crayfish, and mice at night.