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Known as the 60 mile riffle, the world famous Upper Madison River is a large shallow rocky river originating in Yellowstone Park and flowing through Hebgen and Quake lakes then north to the town of Ennis.
One of Montana’s most well known trout fisheries, the Madison River has earned its fabled reputation for good reason. Consisting of two dramatically different stretches outside of Yellowstone National Park, and widespread public access along the way, this Madison River offers plenty of diversity for boat fishermen and wading anglers alike. Having made a strong recovery from whirling disease it is safe to say that the river is back, and once again one of southwest Montana’s top fly fishing destinations.
Formed by the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers in Yellowstone National Park, the Madison River flows a distance of 14 miles before entering Hebgen Lake, another excellent fishery located 8 miles north of West Yellowstone. From the Hebgen Dam, a short stretch of fishable water sends the river into Quake Lake, the product of a landslide that occurred in 1959. Once leaving Quake Lake, more than 50 miles of boulder strewn riffles and runs carry the river to the town of Ennis, Montana. This famous stretch, referred to as the “Upper Madison River,” serves up consistent action for rainbow trout, brown trout and plenty of whitefish.
Wading anglers should note that negotiating the swift, boulder strewn runs of the Upper Madison River is not easy. Felt or cleated rubber soles, wading staffs and waterproof cameras are recommended. Closed to fishing from a boat, the stretch between Hebgen Dam and Lyons Bridge as well as that between Ennis and Ennis Lake are popular wading options. Raynolds Pass, Three Dollar Bridge, Eight Mile Ford and Valley Garden are all good access points for wading anglers.
Due to the nature of the water and the above mentioned regulations, the stretch from Lyons Bridge to Ennis is typically considered best suited for boat fishermen with the ability to cover water. Fishing from a comfortable driftboat allows anglers to get the most out of the experience and also allows them to take in the majestic views of the Madison Valley.
Throughout the season a variety of angling techniques can produce fish making a current Upper Madison Fishing Report extremely important before a days fly fishing. Nymph fishing is always a productive option for anglers on foot or in a boat. Throughout the year, extremely small patterns fished behind standard attractor-type nymphs or rubber-legged stonefly patterns can work wonders under an indicator.
Subtle changes in the river bottom create many of the best and most overlooked runs. Slightly more obvious spots are depressions above and below rocks as well as the pocket water along the banks. Such places are always worth a shot so long as anglers work on proper presentation and good drift as the Madison’s trout have seen a few flies and want it just right. Heavily weighted nymph rigs and tungsten beaded flies might be necessary to get flies down to the fish. One way to entice some of the river’s biggest fish is to cast large streamers tight to the bank and then strip them quickly back to the boat, and then hold on!
Of course, there’s nothing quite like a day of fishing dries through the Upper Madison River's endless riffles. Not only can it be productive, but few things can test your timing and vision like trying to watch for strikes in the Madison’s quick current. Early mornings and late evenings are prime time to walk the banks and watch for rising fish. Evening caddis hatches are prolific throughout much of the summer. Highly visible attractor dry flies trailed by specific caddis fly imitations work well. Terrestrial fishing can be spectacular on a windy and warm summer afternoon with grasshoppers, beetles and ants. One would certainly do themself a favor by spending an afternoon casting hoppers on this beautiful river.
With so many different types of food sources and river features it is difficult to say what tactic will work best day-to-day on this river, but if you are willing to try a couple of different tactics great fishing can usually be found on this river. The Upper Madison River has a well deserved reputation as one of Montana’s most famous trout rivers. We urge you to give it a try and find out about that reputation yourself. If you have further questions or are looking for a Madison River guided fly fishing trip, please contact us for more information.