About the Madison River
The Madison River is one of the most famous Blue Ribbon trout river in North America and attracts fly fishermen from all over the World each year. The river flows through Montana and part of Northwest Wyoming in the west side of Yellowstone National Park. The Madison River which was named by Meriwether Lewis in 1805 is one of the three rivers that form the headwaters of the Missouri River near Three Rivers, Montana.
The Madison River begins in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming at the famous Madison Junction which is formed by the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers. Three lakes are also found on the Madison River two are man-made Hebgen Lake and Ennis Lake and Quake Lake was formed naturally by the 1959 Madison County earthquake. From the Madison Junction to to where the Madison River dumps into the Missouri is about 183 miles.
The Madison River is known for excellent fly fishing for rainbows, browns and white fish. The river also has many prolific fly hatches including the famous salmon hatch, as well as numerous caddis fly hatches and mayfly hatches. Even on cold snowy days there is a good chance at midday finding trout dining on tiny midges or blue-wing olive (BWO) mayflies.
From the Madison Junction in Yellowstone National Park flows 14 miles to the west entrance of the park and offers excellent dry fly fishing for rising rainbows and brown trout. The Yellowstone National Park road follows along the river making easy access to the river for fly fishermen and tourist alike all the way to the Madison Junction. This section is different than below Quake Lake with elk and bison often times feeding in the meadows and glassy pools with finicky trout sipping mayflies and caddis.
Between The Lakes
This stretch of water offers a variety of water types, pools, riffles and pocket water. Due to the gradient the current is very strong and rocks are slippery, so take caution when wading.
The Wade Section: The Slide to Lyons Bridge
From Slide to Reynolds Bridge:
This is the first part of the wade section, this stretch of the Madison river offers many opportunities for catching fish, and some big fish. The upper most section of water is very fast and extreme caution should be used when wading (if it is at all even necessary) concentrate on the soft water on the edges, the first 5 to 10 feet, the seam between soft and current can be very productive. As the river flattens you can apply the same strategy of looking for slack water and seams further out into the river when the opportunity arises. As the river continues to flatten out this is really where the 50 mile riffle begins, fish the riffles accordingly. You will find an occasional pool on this section as well as some pocket water.
Reynolds to Lyons:
This is probably the famous stretch and most popular of the Madison River's wade sections. Big fish live here and if your patient with a little bit of luck you can land a 20+ inch trout here. The trout average between 14 to 16 inches here and larger fish are common. The trout are strong and fast, combine that with the strong current and you got a tiger by the tail. Three Dollar Bridge is the center piece of this section and rightly so. The fishing is good and so are the hatches. The riffles are broken up with boulders providing lots of seams and soft water around rocks. It's not necessarily classic pocket water though. A long walk downstream from Three Dollar Bridge is the Big Bend another fabled stretch. The last section of this wade section is the West Fork stretch. Most fish above where the West Fork of the Madison River dumps in. This section probably has the least aggressive flow and can be very productive. Below the confluence of the West Fork can be productive as well. Be prepared for a long walk back or have transportation waiting at Lyons Bridge.
The Float Section: Lyons Bridge to Ennis
Lyons Bridge to McAtee Bridge:
This is where the float section begins and is very popular. This stretch also receives light traffic from wade fisherman The West Fork of the Madison enters just above Lyons Bridge. During Spring runoff, the East side of the river remains clear for several miles below the West Fork. This stretch offers great trout water. Much of the river is fairly shallow and resembles the river above Lyons Bridge with riffles with huge boulders mixed intermittently. Trout are plentiful in this stretch, large trout are not uncommon. For many, the site seeing the beautiful scenery is worth the float alone.
McAtee Bridge to Varney Bridge:
This section is a bit different than the section above. The river is fast and it river loses some of its structure and has fewer large boulders, islands and side channels and there is a little less trout as well. This section is a more difficult to read, you want to look for the darker water pockets in the riverbed as the trout tend to lie in these deeper troughs. This section also offers some of the best dry fly fishing on the Madison.
Varney Bridge to Ennis:
It’s not unusual for some of the Madison’s largest browns to be caught on the lower end of the float section between Varney Bridge and Ennis. The large continuous riffle water gives way to long deep runs, multiple channels, steep cut banks and numerous gravel depressions. This portion of the Madison can be complex and fish can be found in small parts of the this section.
Below Ennis Bridge
Below Ennis Bridge the Madison is closed to float fishing. Public access is only available at the Ennis Bridge and the Valley Garden FAS which is 2 miles downstream of Ennis. Below Ennis the river becomes very shallow and branches into numerous braided channels. Wading can be quite challenging during the high water of the Spring runoff. In the Summer the challenge is the water temperature. This section of the Madison can change from year to year when large ice flows in the winter act like bulldozers plowing new channels and moving “buckets” of small gravel. Fishing the Channels can be very good if you know the water. Much of the river is shallow and offers poor habitat so it pays to only focus on the productive fish holding riffles and runs and skip the rest.
Bear Trap Canyon:
The Madison enters Bear Trap Canyon after exiting Ennis Lake. Bear Trap Canyon extends for 8 miles from the last access point. This is a rugged canyon with a class V rapid that keeps most boaters out. Anglers can hike in from the bottom section from a trail head near the bottom. Wading can be difficult with the big canyon water and safety is an issue at higher flows.