The Madison River starts in Yellowstone National Park where the Firehole River and the Gibbons River come together at Madison junction. From here the river calmly flows Northwest past West Yellowstone, Montana, and into Hebgen Lake. Living in an internet driven world, the fall spawning run out of Hebgen Lake is not much of a secret anymore. Big browns and rainbows averaging 19 inches with the occasional 30 inch brown are caught each season. In the fall be ready for winter conditions were temperatures can drop below zero.
Hebgen Lake is known for its large rainbows and browns cruising the calm waters, feeding on top for Callibaetis, Trico’s and Spruce Moths. “Gulper” fishing is challenging because of the longer, more accurate cast required to be successful. If the wind picks up, making casting difficult, the Madison River is a reliable back up for the rest of the day.
“Between The Lakes” is a short length of the Madison River open to fishing year round, between Hebgen Lake and Earthquake Lake. During the spring and fall the trout bottle neck into this area from “Quake Lake” and the Madison River downstream, to spawn. You’ll have to take a number, though, as the good fishing causes anglers to bottle neck into this area at the same time. This beautiful part of Montana is home to mountain goats, bears, elk, moose, deer, and eagles to name a few, and it is not uncommon to see them, especially mountain goats, while fishing.
“Quake Lake” is a reminder of the power of Mother Nature. On August 17th, 1959, an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale created a massive rock slide, damming up the Madison river and creating Earthquake Lake. Dead trees still stand in the lake, offering excellent coverage for trout. Using a boat is a more effective way to fish in and around the trees, but walking the banks early in the morning and late in the evening can offer some great dry fly fishing!
“The Slide,” below Earthquake Lake, is a stretch of the Madison River loaded with trout eager to feed! Here in this walk and wade only stretch it’s nice to have a “net man,” or guide, in case your hooked fish escapes into the main current. During the summer months, trout tend to hold in this fast, highly oxygenated, buggy water, and more often than not it is overlooked by anglers.
“The 50 Mile Riffle” is one long trout and bug filled riffle from “Quake” Lake to Ennis Lake on the “upper Madison.” By law, fishing from the boat is not allowed in walk-n-wade sections, but using the boat as a taxi we can cover long stretches of river and wade the desired “buckets”! Because of the fast moving, glacier-boulder filled water from Raynolds Bridge to Pine Butte, most outfitters will not float their clients through this section, and it is not advised without plenty of oaring experience. Trout On The Fly’s guides use years of experience on this river to get you to locations you might not have access to otherwise. Starting at Lyons Bridge, all the way to Ennis, fishing from the boat is allowed. Averaging 10 miles on full day float trips, our guides’ expert oaring skills will set you up for that perfect drift to the trout.
Ennis Lake, much like Hebgen Lake, offers incredible Callibaetis and Trico hatches in summer months. Large browns and rainbows (“gulpers”) cruise the lake subsurface, rising to these mayflies and creating a “gulping” sound. Long accurate cast are required to be successful with these trout!
The lower Madison is located just 30 minutes west of Bozeman. The river is much slower, shallower and wider in this stretch. Fishing from a drift boat in the spring and fall months is ideal for targeting large browns and rainbows tucked under shallow weed beds. Sculpins, crayfish, and small fry allow these fish to pack on the girth! We like to monitor the summer water temperatures in this stretch of river; if the water temperatures are too high it can be deadly for a stressed out fish. There are several hatches throughout the year that we target, like the Mother’s Day caddis hatch or the salmon fly hatch. The only hatch we like to avoid during the summer is the “bikini hatch,” where hundreds of college kids swarm to this area to float in inner tubes down the warm, shallow water.
The Madison River offers diverse opportunities year round, for beginners and experienced anglers alike.