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FLY FISHING THE MADISON RIVER IN MONTANA

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The famous Madison River, located in Southwestern Montana, is known as the "fifty mile riffle". It seems as if the water between Quake Lake and Ennis lake never changes. You will not find any slow pools, boulders, fallen trees, or tumbling runs. What you will find is a strait wide river characteristic of a long giant riffle. There are no boulders to break currents or changes in the gradient to slow it enough to create a pool.

Why is the Madison such a famous river if it does not have a diverse character? For one, the river flows at a steady pace (approximately 5 m.p.h.) making it easier for beginners to be successful. The trout do not get the chance to examine and decide if your fly is a "real" meal. The river is very accessible, easy to wade, and easily drifted just the same. It also has an excellent diverse population of large trout; rainbows, browns, and a few cutthroat and cutt-bows as well. There are Special Regulations along its path.

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The headwaters of the Madison above Hebgen Lake consist of the Firehole and Gibbon which, in their own right, are excellent trout streams. They combine to form the Madison which eventually flows into Hebgen Lake. The upper stretch of the Madison is characteristic of slower dry fly pools catering to wade fishermen. It is easily waded and provides exceptional fishing throughout much of the season. It also has runs of spawning trout that make their annual journey each year from Hebgen Lake. The rainbows spawn in the spring while the browns spawn in the fall. These trout can reach weights of six pounds or more. in.
Hatch Chart
Hebgen Lake is also a very productive and famous piece of water consisting of large rainbows and browns. Many people fish the lake from boats or float tubes when conditions are right. Large woolly buggers are a productive fly in the lake. The Madison leaves Hebgen Lake and flows into Quake Lake which was created by an earthquake in 1959.

Below Quake Lake, the Madison makes its famous journey to Ennis Lake, approximately 50 miles to the north. This is the long strait journey that is considered the "50 mile riffle". This is a world renowned stretch that runs cold throughout the year due to the water releases from the dam at Hebgen Lake. Large rainbow and brown trout are the main attraction here. The riverbed consists of gravel and small stones. It flows through an open environment of brush, hills, scattered trees and surrounding mountains.

Route 287 and other secondary roads provide several access points along the Madison all the way to the Town of Ennis and Ennis lake. Look for areas of softer windows and depressions where trout will hold. Remember that the river does not have deep slow pools, undercut banks, turns and runs, which are characteristic of most other rivers.

Below Ennis lake, the Madison makes another 30 mile journey until meeting with the Gallatin and Jefferson to form the Missouri. This stretch of river is similar to the section above Ennis Lake, except for the warmer water and raging conditions of the Bear Trap Canyon stretch which is located a few miles below Ennis Lake and is considered too dangerous to float for most boatsmen.

The river flattens out below Bear Trap and slows down before entering the town of Three Forks and its meeting with the Gallatin and Jefferson Rivers. Large browns make up most of the trout population below Ennis Lake. Large nymphs drifted in the Bear Trap Canyon stretch can produce some trophies, just be careful and bring a lot of weight along.

Hatches on the Madison include Caddis, Salmon Flies(big stones), Yellow Sallies, and a few mayflies like the Blue-winged Olive. Hoppers are also important to have in late summer. Woolly Buggers, other streamers, and different sizes and styles of nymphs are also a staple throughout the season.

If you're looking to plan a trip to the Madison the closest commercial airport is in Bozeman. Bozeman is a short drive from the Madison and is a good central hub for other rivers as well. Your opportunities in this part of the state are excellent with the numerous rivers in the area. Yellowstone National Park is also a short drive from Bozeman and definitely worth a visit.