Montana Fly Fishing
The Madison River

Madison River

The Madison River : Fly Fishing

Varney Bridge FAS to Highway 287 Access Site in Ennis

Madison River near Ennis, Montana
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Fishing this stretch of the Madison River is not entirely different than found upstream. However, the fishing pressure on this stretch of the Madison is significantly less. The majority of float fisherman take out at Varney Bridge, as this section of the river has somewhat less dense fish populations and a slower current. The Madison River also becomes more challenging to fish, as the un-ending riffles found upstream come to an end, providing the angler with less forgiving terrain. A precise cast on lighter tackle is required to take the larger brown trout that are found in this section.

While float fishing is allowed on this stretch of the Madison River, this section of the river is an excellent place for the wade angler due to the substantially reduced amount of float traffic. Additionally, just below Varney Bridge, the Madison River braids into two channels, with the main channel on the right. Successful wade fishing can be had in the channel and off the island in between the channels. As the current is slower and the fish are spookier, care must be used when fly fishing this section.


Madison River : Highway 287 Access Site to Ennis Lake

Below the Highway 287 Access Site, float fishing is not allowed. The current of the river begins to become very slow as well. Of all the places on the Madison River above Ennis Lake, this stretch of the Madison has the least fly fishing pressure, despite its close proximity to town. The relatively low fishing pressure combined with the prohibition on float fishing makes this an ideal place for the wade angler who is in search of large brown trout. Additionally, the Madison River takes on more of a characteristic trout stream look, with vegetation along the banks, some holes and undercut banks. Numerous braids and channels on this section also exist, creating a wide variety of fishing conditions not found elsewhere on the Madison River.

This section of the Madison River probably holds the largest trout of any place on the river, although their numbers per mile are not as dense as found further upstream. While rainbow trout can still be found in decent numbers, brown trout are the dominant trout species on this stretch.

Madison River below Beartrap Canyon
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Due to the slower water and the more finicky nature of brown trout, this stretch of the Madison River also is its most demanding. Precise casts and careful approaches are required to avoid spooking the fish.

Fishing this section of the Madison River is not very different than found further upstream. Early summer sees has the same Salmon Fly hatch spectacle as found elsewhere. During the summer, dry flies and hoppers work extremely well. In addition, streamer patterns can be used in the summer months to catch the larger brown trout. Fish the streamers right along the banks, with fast retrieves, focusing on the areas that have undercut banks and natural obstructions such as downed trees.

It is during the fall, however, that this stretch of the Madison River comes into its own and can become quite popular. With its undercut banks, holes and bushy banks, prime brown trout fishing occurs with large streamers. Each fall, very large brown trout migrate out of Ennis Lake to spawn. While the numbers of spawning fish are not very high, the fish tend to be very large, providing an angler with an excellent chance to take a very large brown trout. The technique used during the fall to catch these fish is the same as during the summer, fishing streamers right along the banks and in the holes. As the fish are large and the riverbanks have lots of timber and other obstructions, heavier tackle is required.


Madison River : Ennis Lake to Highway 84 Bridge Access Site

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This section of the Madison River flows through Beartrap Canyon. Flanked on both sides by tall mountains, the river roars through the canyon with a very fast current and lots of whitewater. Access to this stretch of the Madison River is difficult. The fast current and whitewater severely limits float fishing, while the hike in to the canyon brings its own hazards in the form of lots of rattlesnakes, rocky terrain and steep trails that have a habit of ending when least desired. A mix of brown trout and rainbow trout will be found along this stretch of the Madison River.

Not surprisingly, fly fishing pressure on this stretch of the Madison River is very low. The river, even from shore, is difficult to fish. During the middle of the summer, the water temperature can creep to high temperatures, hampering feeding activity. As a result, late spring and the fall are the best times to fish on this section. Use large streamers and attractors, heavily weighted, putting them down in the numerous holes in this section.


Madison River : Highway 84 Access Site to Three Forks

Lower Madison River
Photo Use Guidelines

As the river spills from Beartrap Canyon, the Madison River slows down substantially and turns into a decent fishery for brown trout with some rainbow trout scattered in as well. The best time to fly fish this section is during late spring and again in the fall. During the summer, the Madison River temperature can become quite warm, so warm that occasionally it results in fish kill. It needs to be noted that the Madison River directly below Beartrap Canyon can be swamped with recreational floaters during the summer - particularly on the weekends. Stay away from this section if you are seeking solitude or don't want to have to deal with numerous and noisy rafts floating by.

This section of the Madison River offers excellent wade fishing. As always, the best fishing will be found as far away from the popular access sites as possible. Anglers willing to walk away from these sites are likely to have the best fly fishing.

For those who hit the lower Madison River during the summer months, dry fly fishing is still possible in the early morning and again in the late evening. While the hatches that occur are not heavy, the hatches are frequently strong enough to bring some fish to the top. Use the same dry flies as when fishing further upstream, such as the Sparkle Dun, Elk Hair Caddis and the Parachute Adams.

As mentioned, spring and fall provide the best fishing opportunities on the lower Madison River. Streamer fishing can provide for solid action for brown trout, while attractor patterns such as Wolly Buggers work well for rainbow trout.

Next Page : Floating the Madison River


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