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″.
- “My Dad and I had 3 fantastic days with Nate on the Madison River. I cannot recommend him highly enough. There are a lot of guides on the Madison River, but I can absolutely guarantee you that you won't find any that work harder or are more knowledgeable than Nate. I've been out with many guides in a lot of different fishing scenarios across the globe and this is hands down the best experience I've ever had. Nate genuinely wants you to have a good time, and that doesn't only mean putting you on fish (which he was very good at). The accommodations (Blue Moon Saloon) we booked through him were fantastic, the lunches were amazing (request the Cindy Bear), and he was 10-15 minutes early every day to pick us up. He shared a ton of knowledge and was extremely patient. If you're thinking about booking Nate, just do it; you will not regret it.“
- “Nate, our trip more than met my expectations. This is the first time I have ever done a guided fishing/hunting trip and I was not sure what to expect. I had confidence just from talking with you, but there is always that twinge of doubt. I am very impressed with how you run your service and extremely impressed with our guide Aaron Broughton. I had to relearn how to fly fish - definitely a little different in MT and Aaron was very patent with my wife who had never fished before. Despite the incredibly high winds Aaron had us on fish the whole day. Even if we had not caught anything I would have considered this a very successful trip - I cannot overstate the excellent job Aaron did.“
- “Just a little note to let you know that Rob & I had a great time.The lodging at Blue Moon Saloon was so nice.The cabin was cozy & comfortable, the food & beer were so tasty and Darcy & her crew were wonderful.The float/wade trip was so much fun. Never having been on one we didn’t know what to expect, it was better than we could have ever imagined.John Kirk was a great guide!!! Very knowledgeable and professional. I was so nervous..he put me at ease right away. So helpful and patience…I really learned a lot too!It was a beautiful day on the river... catching fish… laughing… just enjoying everything!!!We would do it again in a heart beat!!Thanks again to you & John Kirkand also Darcy and the Blue Moon Saloon gang.Take care,Terry & Rob Hough“
- “We had fantastic experience booking a guide through Trout On The Fly. Our guide, Oliver, was personable, patient, and experienced. He showed us new fishing methods and we caught some great fish with him. Oliver worked really hard to ensure that we had success and we would not hesitate to recommend him and Trout on the Fly for anyone heading to the Yellowstone area. The float trip was especially enjoyable - this was a new experience for us and it was a lot of fun. Oliver was great to joke around with and he also made sure to offer us good fishing advice throughout the day in a very tactful manner. Shannon and I both caught big fish while floating the Madison. What a great trip!“
- “Oliver was awesome, and that’s coming from Paul and me who have fished with many guides over the years. He was competent, knowledgeable, patient, and has the perfect temperament to be a good coach in the field. He introduced us to the world of streamers, got us into the best water and we can’t say enough good things about him. I will definitely call you again when we’re back.“