The river structure and mountain terrain change dramatically throughout its course from Yellowstone National Park to the headwaters of the Missouri River near Three Forks, Montana.
Starting in Yellowstone National Park where the Firehole River and the Gibbon 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 28-inch brown are caught each season. In the fall be ready for winter conditions where temperatures can drop below zero.
Hebgen Lake, located between the Yellowstone National Park and Madison Valley sections of the Madison River, is known for its large rainbows and browns cruising the calm waters, feeding on the surface for Callibaetis, Trico’s and Spruce Moths. “Gulper” fishing can be 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 bottleneck 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 bottleneck into this area at the same time. This beautiful part of Montana is home to wildlife such as 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.
Earthquake Lake, aka “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 their 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.
The next section of the Madison River is Ennis Lake, and, 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 casts are required to be successful with these trout!
The lower Madison is located just 30 minutes west of Bozeman, Montana. 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 the lower Madison River near Bozeman Montana to float in inner tubes down the warm, shallow water.
The Madison River offers diverse opportunities year round, for beginners and experienced anglers alike. We are happy to recommend lodging for you and your group based on what section of the Madison River you will be fishing.
Home to wild rainbows, browns and indigenous mountain whitefish; ranging in sizes up to 28″.
- “Hi Nate, I just wanted to reach out again and thank you for a terrific trip with you and arranging the two excellent trips with Sam Cady. My dad and I each learned a great deal from both of you regarding fishing tactics, flies, and line management to name a few. We were greatly impressed and appreciated your dedicated efforts of getting in and out of the boat on our trip. We also wanted you to know how great Sam was on the two trips. He was friendly, knowledgeable and very encouraging with constant positive feedback. On all three trips, we each caught fish and had a great time out on the water. One last personal note, I really appreciated your (as well as Sam’s) patience and kindness of assisting my dad in and out of the boat. This was a memorable trip in so many ways! All the best, Bill Doyle“
- “Hey Nate, Reaching out to give Matt Hoff a shout out for taking us out all day yesterday. Can’t say enough good things about him. He really knew the river and got us newbies in all the right spots, challenging us, and showing us a great time. He’s a fantastic guide on your team and if we’re ever back this way, would definitely be asking if he could be the one taking us out again. Thanks so much, Geoff“
Thank you Trout On The Fly for making our fishing trip one of the most memorable trips ever!
Our guide Nathan Anderson was knowledgeable about the area, rivers, and fish. My 81-year-old father couldn't wade the river, Nathan had no issue jumping into the river, to position and hold the boat, so my father can fish hard to reach areas. He also looked out for my father's safety the whole trip, being patient with an older client.
I was impressed with how hard Nathan worked for us while offering continued encouragement and instruction. The river was a bit murky in the spot we planned to launch, Nathan wasn't satisfied and drove further up the Madison to launch in clear water, this type of service only comes through pride in one's job.
We will definitely book again with Trout On The Fly for our next fishing excursion.Sincerely, Mike Orloff.“
- “Our guides were fantastic. Very knowledgeable, eager to teach, and worked hard to give us a memorable experience. Matt was upbeat, shared incredible stories, and made sure we enjoyed our time on an incredible trip. Mark B. - CA Angler “
- “I stayed 4 nights at the Madison River Lodge, to fish 3 days on the upper Madison River, in early October 2021. I had a great time. Caught personal record trout, was served great food, and slept in a spacious room. The lodge is like a big comfy home where every night was relaxing, casual, and filled with quality dining and conversations with other guests. As a beginner using a fly rod, I ended up learning effective skills from my two guides. By the end, I was feeling pretty accomplished with casting and recognizing strikes. All in all a fine experience filled will satisfying memories. Also Kelly showed impressive driving skills in the snow as she took me back to the Bozeman airport. Eric in Seattle“