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″.
- “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“
- “Greetings Nate, We had a fabulous time on the Madison River. Weather was great, scenery was great, fishing was great and Garrett was great as well. I’ve fished probably over 200 guided or chartered trips in many states and several countries, and would have no problem giving your service and Garrett as a guide 4 out of 4 stars. If we’re ever in that neighborhood again, we will be back in touch. We thank you again, Graham Cole“
- “We had a great morning to start our week off. Nathan was a superb guide who's skills are only surpassed by his patience. I would strongly recommend to any experience level fisherman who loves a good time on the water with a beautiful surroundings. The Madison River was a treasure. Thanks much and hope to see you guys again, Randy Cole“
- “My neighbor invited me to join him for his bi-annual fly fishing trip with his long-time outfitter/guide Nate Stevane [Trout on the Fly]. Although I have fished all my life, this was my first experience fly fishing and by the end of the first day, I was hooked (pun intended). By the end of the third day, I was planning my next trip to fish with Nate. Walk/Wade: Nate has guided for my neighbor for over twenty years in Montana and it was clear to me why. He is an expert guide and has an incredible depth of knowledge of the land, wildlife, fauna,Yellowstone National Park, and the numerous Montana and Yellowstone rivers. We completed two days of walk/wade and spent the final day floating the Madison. He knows the rivers and insect hatches like the back of his hand and kept us on the fish the entire time. Float: This was the best day! I have never seen someone work so hard rowing, retying presentations, providing instruction, all while keeping us on the fish. Got on the water and I caught the first fish within 150 meters of the launch! First time fly fisherman: Nate provided the basic instruction I needed to get going and he was frequently retying my presentation to find the right combination. He provided helpful instruction throughout our three days to correct my cast, place my line in the right place, and taught several casting techniques that were helpful in confined places, high wind, off hand, and in the boat in close proximity to another fisherman. Had several tangles and Nate never grew impatient with me. Logistics: Nate had the entire trip wired. His directions were clear and set expectations for our daily agenda. Nate will always be early to meet you at your lodging location and he is always prepared. He has more than ample gear to make up for anything that you may have forgotten, to include extra layers in case the weather is colder than you anticipated. The lunches he arranged were delicious and nutritious for long days and he carried plenty of water to keep you hydrated. If you require rental equipment, Nate is prepared with top quality fly rods, waders, and boots. Communication: Nate responded quickly to all inquiries and has entertained my questions about purchasing gear for the past two months. Nate from Trout on the Fly was the first outfitter/guide I have worked with and, while I have no other experience by which to measure, I am a good judge of character. I was so impressed with him as a guide, professional, and human being that I will continue to fish with Nate and Trout on the Fly for years to come. I cannot recommend him enough to all experienced and first time fly fisherman. Hire Nate and Trout on the Fly, get on the fish, and enjoy a life changing experience.“
- “Hi Nate! We had a great time fishing with Mike Horner...he has a lot of patience. I had tons of nibbles but couldn’t quite snag a big one. At the end we caught a couple little rainbow trout so that was just fine with us. Great experience, great guide. Thank you so much for fitting us in and ending our trip on a high note! Rose Wabol“