Montana Fly Fishing
Quake Lake

Quake Lake

Quake Lake in Southern Montana
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Quake Lake is one of the more interesting natural features in Montana. Quake Lake was formed when an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter Scale rocked this part of Montana on August 17th, 1959. The earthquake was so strong that it triggered a massive landslide on Sheep Mountain, on the western end of Madison Canyon (nine miles downstream from Hebgen Dam), which blocked the Madison River completely. Additionally, the north shore of Hebgen Lake, which lies just upstream, dropped an amazing 19 feet, cracking Hebgen Dam in four places and creating massive waves on the lake that spilled over the dam and raced downstream in a massive flood. The landslide also caused tornado force winds that fanned out in front of the landslide and flood, destroying most everything in its path. Three different sections of Highway 287 slid into the newly formed lake and numerous cabins along the former Madison River were damaged or completely destroyed.

The result of the quake is that twenty-eight people died from the landslide and five more died from the resulting flood. The Madison River below the landslide dried up completely for a time, resulting in significant fish kill. The Army Corps of Engineers, in a race against time, blasted a channel through the landslide, allowing the Madison River to resume its flows before a catastrophic flood would have occurred if the newly formed lake had crested over the landslide.

Quake Lake in Southern Montana
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Following all of this, Quake Lake was formed. Quake Lake measures six miles long and up to a third of a mile wide, and is more than 180 feet deep. It offers decent fly fishing for brown trout, which are stocked yearly, along with rainbow trout. As Quake Lake flooded much of the former Madison River canyon, thousands of dead trees poke up through the lake. These trees, combined with the countless trees that are completely submerged, provide excellent cover and habitat for trout, although it can complicate the fishing. Fly fishing can be excellent using dry flies around all the dead standing timber.

The best fishing on Quake Lake occurs in late spring and early summer, and again later in the summer and fall. During the height of run-off, the lake can turn cloudy, severely limiting fly fishing opportunities.

Access to the lake is excellent. Shore fishing is possible from anywhere along Highway 287, and a boat ramp also exists, although it is rather hidden. Winds can occasionally be a problem on the lake, and combined with a current and lots of hidden obstructions, Quake Lake is less than ideal for float tubing. Instead, a fisherman should strongly consider using either a motorboat (a boat ramp exists half way down the lake off the highway) or using an inflatable kayak or traditional canoe.

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