Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Guide to the Madison River - Outside Yellowstone
The first section of the Madison River below Hebgen Lake is only about a mile and a half of
long from the dam to Quake Lake. There are some very large trout in this section. It consist of
some very deep pools and deep runs along with the riffles typical of the Madison downstream.
In the early part of the year from about February to June, the river is full of spawning rainbows,
many of which come upstream from Quake Lake. In October and November, the section below
the dam is packed with large browns that come upstream from Quake Lake to spawn. This
section is open to fishing year-round.
Just below Quake Lake, there's an area of the river that is extremely rough. You shouldn't try
wading this part of the river. This area of the river falls under the general Montana fishing
season from the 3rd Saturday of May through February, so there is only a short time to fish
before the June runoff takes place. When that occurs, it is impossible to fish that part of the
river. By the first week of July, the runoff is over and the fishing will rapidly become nothing
short of excellent. From the Slide Inn to Lyon Bridge, the rules only permit wade fishing. There
are several access points including the famous $3.00 bridge. This section is about nine miles
long and is the most popular section of the Madison River. It's for a good reason. The river is
full of large rainbows and brown trout. Most of the water is best described as pocket water,
although there are sections of long riffles. There are quite a few large boulders in the river that
The West Fork of the Madison River enters this section of the main river about a mile above
the Lyon Bridge. The West Fork can dump extra muddy water into the river until runoff ends
usually from late June to the first week of July. The fishing in this entire section of the river, as
well as all the way downstream to Ennis, is pretty well dictated by the aquatic insect hatches
that take place. You can review those in our "Hatches Section" but in general, they start with
the famous Salmonfly hatch in early July. Golden Stoneflies, Green Drakes and Pale Morning
Duns also hatch in this section along with other mayflies ranging from BWOs to Yellow Quills.
July and August also have huge caddisfly hatches and fish will feed on them until it is
completely dark or around 10:00 P. M., each day during the summer months.
The section of the river from Lyon Bridge downstream to Ennis Lake can be fished by drift
boats as well as waded. It is more than thirty miles long. The first section of water from Lyon
Bridge down to McAtee Bridge, is similar to the wading only area of the river with occasional
large boulders that create pocket water, mixed in with the long riffles. The next section, from
McAtee Bridge downstream to Varney Bridge, consist mostly of riffles. The river slows down
some and the boulders become fewer and fewer the farther downstream you go. There are
more brown trout in this section than there are upstream. From Varney Bridge downstream to
Ennis Lake, there are fewer access points. The fish in this section consist mostly of brown trout
and are generally larger than those upstream. The river flows around some islands which
creates channels in some areas and a more diverse type of water. There is far more cover in
this section than upstream.
Wherever you fish this great river, there are plenty of big wild rainbow and brown trout. It is as
close to a perfect trout river as you can get. It has a tremendous abundance of aquatic insects
and excellent dry fly and nymph fishing opportunities throughout the season. Unlike many
other trout streams with large wild trout, the Madison will allow anyone that can cast a fly a
good opportunity to catch one of its fish. They aren't pushovers by any means, but they are
not real picky either. It is simply just one of, if not the best, trout streams in the country.
Madison River, Montana
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