The Madison River near Ennis, MT is our home river here at FishWater Outfitters! We spend more time on this river than any other in the state of Montana. It offers some of the best fishing in all of Montana thanks to shallow, fast and cold water. The headwaters of the Madison River start in YellowStone National Park at the confluence of the FireHole and Gibbon Rivers. It then flows down into Hebgen Reservoir and through the dam into a section called Between the Lakes. This section refers to between Hebgen and Quake Lake. Once through Quake Lake, the Madison River flows through a wade fishing only section and past the famous Raynolds Pass and Three Dollar Bridge access points. Its great wade fishing up there with many large boulders and tons of pocket water and slicks that all hold fish. Lyons Bridge is the next main access point and where anglers are allowed to fish from a boat. The Upper stretch from Lyons to McAtee Bridge can be phenomenal fishing with dry flies, nymphs and streamer rigs.
From McAtee Bridge down river, the river begins to make somewhat of a change, going from large boulders to a very shallow riffle. This section down to Varney Bridge access can be quite tough to figure out but once you get it, its one of the best parts of the river. This section of The Madison River is a favorite of the FishWater Outfitters guides and we spend a lot of our time in here. The river gets can get really shallow and it also gets it widest on the upper stretch. Some of our favorite areas of the river are from Storey Ditch access to Varney Bridge. The dry fly fishing is our favorite through this section of river. Anything from Caddis to salmonflies to mayflies, our guides all enjoy and prefer to throw the dry!
The Madison River changes once you float under Varney Bridge. Instead of the wide open valley, the river begins to drop in elevation and break into different channels. There are big bends and deep holes in the river and some of the biggest fish are seen down here. This is the closest stretch of river to our hometown of Ennis, MT. The banks of the river are deep and covered with willows and you can expect some of the best streamer fishing here. Thanks to some deep holes and lots of undercut banks, we have seen some really big trout chase a streamer out from the depths. That being said, the dry fly fishing below Varney Bridge can also be unbelievably good at times. There are certain times, if your fly lands within millimeters of the bank and is drifted properly, a large trout will come to the surface and either crush or simply sip your fly down. The dry fly fishing down here can be challenging, but well worth the site of seeing that fish come out of nowhere on an undercut bank to eat your fly!
From the town boat ramp to Ennis Lake is also a wade only stretch. You are allowed to float through but cannot fish from any watercraft. This part of the river, also known as the braids or channels, offers some great fly fishing of all kinds. Finding a deep hole and running a nymph rig through it or drifting dry flies under willow covered banks will be sure to produce some great trout. Our guides at FishWater Outfitters have spent hours and hours exploring this stretch of river and it is usually where you might find a guide fishing on his day off. The wade fishing can be tough during higher waters but once the river drops after the runoff and throughout the summer, its pretty easy to cross and find all the hidden channels that abound and are full of fish.
Below Ennis, after flowing through the braids, the Madison River flows in Ennis Lake. The Lake is very shallow on the southern end and can provide phenomenal sight fishing to large brown and rainbow trout. Throughout most of the summer months, the callibaetis hatch on the lake is in full force. Depending on the wind, an angler can go to the lake and see thousands of bugs and hundreds of fish rising to eat them. This can be very challenging dry fly fishing, as it often requires long casts to fish that are feeding in erratic patterns, but if done properly, you will be rewarded with a great catch!
The Madison River dumps out of Ennis Lake and through a dam, into The BearTrap Canyon. This canyon is about as beautiful as it gets and offers really good wade fishing and float fishing. However, there are some big rapids so whoever is on the sticks needs to know what they are doing. The wade fishing from below the dam for a couple miles is great. It offers deep runs and large boulders. An angler could be very productive with a nymph rig in the deeper holes and dry flies on the ledges, boulders and slicks behind the rocks. Once through the canyon, Warm Springs is the first boat access to the Lower Madison River. The lower river is very different from the upper river. It is much slower and with not nearly as many large boulders. The lower river fishes very well in the spring and the fall as the water temperatures will get too high during the summer months for fishing. Some of the best dry fishing of the year can happen on the Lower Madison River in early May during the mothers day caddis hatch. Clouds of caddis are everywhere and fish are rising and eating constantly! Our guides at FishWater Outfitters really enjoy driving the short distance to the lower river during the fall and stripping streamers looking for the really big Brown trout. Crawfish are in abundance down on the lower Madison River and they provide plenty of food for the trout to get big!
Whether you are interested in wade fishing below Quake Lake, drift fishing through the upper Madison River, sight fishing Ennis Lake or chucking big streamers in the fall, FishWater Outfitters experienced guides will help you have a great day on the water!
Click above to contact Captain Braden Powell and FishWater Outfitters to schedule your next Montana fly fishing adventure!