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Madison River Information


The Madison River has once again become the premier western fly-fishing destination for anglers from around the world. Although the river begins it's course in Yellowstone Park with the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers, the “Blue Ribbon” portion of the river is considered to begin below Quake Lake, about 20 miles NW of West Yellowstone, Mt. The most popular section of the river -locally known as the “ Upper Madison ” - lies between Quake Lake and Ennis Lake and is characterized by mile after mile of pocket water and riffles. There are exceptional wade-fishing opportunities with limited boat traffic throughout this section with terrific access along the upper 20 miles or so between Lyon 's Bridge and Quake Lake. Below Lyon 's Bridge, access is more restricted by vast private holdings, so fishing from a driftboat or raft is the most common method and the focus of our guide operations along the Madison.

Floating through the Madison Valley is simply one of the most beautiful day trips through the most unique fishery in the west. The river is surrounded by mountains with the Gravelly Range to the west, which stands in stark contrast to the dramatic and craggy peaks of the Madison Range to the east. The valley floor is wide-open and vast, allowing for panoramic views of the landscape throughout the day. However, the river itself is the highlight of the trip with its clear water, countless pockets, troughs, and back-eddies that each hold trout looking for breaks in the current. The stretch of the river between Quake Lake and Varney Bridge is unlike any other river in that it truly is one “50 Mile Riffle” with an average depth of only 2-3 feet during typical summer flows. The result is that the water is highly oxygenated and very fertile with aquatic insects of all types. Below Varney Bridge, the river takes on a slightly different feel as the river now begins to meander and braid its way through islands filled with Cottonwood trees and white-tailed deer.

The “ Upper Madison ” is open year-round, with some exceptions that are closed to protect spawning Rainbows during the late winter. Highlights of the year for the Upper Madison include the Salmonfly Hatch of mid-late June, prolific summer hatches of a variety of caddis and mayflies, and late summer terrestrials. April and October are the “sleeper” months as they typically offer good dry-fly fishing during BWO hatches on cloudy days, reliable nymphing and streamer fishing, plus less crowded conditions. Typical day trips will cover around 10 miles of river and we can usually fish different stretches every day on a 3 or 4 day trip.

The Madison continues its northerly course from Ennis on its way towards Three Forks, Mt. where it joins the Gallatin and Jefferson Rivers to form the Missouri River. There is a small reservoir just outside Ennis called Ennis Lake that forms the line of distinction we use between the Upper and Lower Madison Rivers. Once the river exits the dam at Ennis Lake, the river takes on a very different form and is now considered to be the Lower Madison. This stretch of the river begins in the Beartrap Wilderness area and cuts its way through a narrow canyon characterized by heavy whitewater for much of the canyon stretch. We begin guiding on this river at the downstream mouth of the Beartrap Canyon where the river “settles” down and begins its last leg on its way to the Missouri.

The Lower Madison is rich in aquatic vegetation, insect life, and crayfish which all ads up to the creation of a unique quality fishery. Trout numbers are in the 3000 per mile range with equal distribution between Brown and Rainbow Trout. This stretch of the river can be very finicky, but will generally reward patient and persistent anglers with a fish or two in the 20-inch range. This is not the fishery for the first-time angler hoping to catch lots of fish in a variety of sizes. It is, however, the ideal choice for the angler looking to catch a handful of trout with a real chance an exceptional fish or two. This stretch of the Madison becomes too warm to fish for most of the summer, so the best times are generally April-May and then September–October. The better fishing is in the first 10 miles below the Beartrap Canyon, so we will typically only spend one day on this stretch of the river during multi-day bookings.