Montana Fly Fishing
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The Madison River
River : Floating & Rafting
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The Madison River in Montana provides an exceptionally scenic float, by any standard. The wide open Madison Valley, combined with snow-capped peaks lining the sky line, make any day spent on the Madison River, whether it be fishing or just floating, worthwhile and thoroughly memorable.
Floating can begin just outside West Yellowstone. However, due to Hebgen Dam, which requires a long paddle across, floating generally begins further downstream. Floaters can also put in directly beneath Hebgen Dam, allowing for a short float down to Quake Lake that also requires a short paddle.
Directly below Quake Lake outlet exists a wild, whitewater ride lasting for 3.5 miles for those willing to try it. Constant whitewater of Class III and Class IV rapids along with many drops exist, challenging even the most skilled whitewater enthusiasts. Only experienced paddlers in high quality kayaks, rafts or whitewater canoes should attempt to float this stretch. Additionally, due to the rivers narrow width and extremely fast flows, fishing from a speeding boat is exceptionally difficult.
The wild ride on the Madison ends just above the Highway 87 Bridge. Below the bridge, and for the next eight miles up to Lyons Bridge, the Madison River has an extremely fast flow with quite a few pockets of Class II whitewater, along with some large waves. While this section is not immensely challenging for floating, it can make for a bumpy ride.
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Below Lyons Bridge up to Varney Bridge, the Madison River turns into a swift flowing river with seemingly endless riffles. No section on this river should pose any problem to floating. Other than the fast current and lots of riffles, no rapids exist other than some small waves that are scattered about.
Below Varney Bridge, the river still runs quickly up until Ennis, where it begins to slow substantially up until Ennis Lake. The Madison River also has a number of channels in this stretch. Above the town of Ennis, a channel braids off to the left, which should be avoided as there is a diversion dam on that channel that must be portaged. Below Ennis, three channels exist for its run into Ennis Lake. The Madison runs right past the town of Ennis, making for a convenient take out point before Ennis Lake and the slow water downstream to the lake.
As the river flows through the Madison Dam, it enters Bear Trap Canyon, which has extensive whitewater sections. Several Class IV rapids and numerous Class II and III rapids exist, requiring a high quality raft with an experienced paddler. Due to the very fast flows, fishing is very difficult on this section from a boat. The rivers trip through the canyon lasts for nine miles.
Once the Madison River emerges from Beartrap Canyon, the flows slow down and the pressure on the river lessens considerably. The lower portion of the river runs through an open and relatively arid valley, with no obstacles in the river other than an occasional wave or rock.
The Madison River ends where the Missouri River begins, near the town of Three Forks and the Missouri River Headwaters State Park.
Listed below are river miles between selected access points to the Madison River. Click on any of the links to obtain more information about a selected access point.
River Origin in Wyoming: 149
Yellowstone National Park Boundary: 126
Hebgen Lake Inlet: 124
Hebgen Dam: 109
Quake Lake Inlet: 105
Quake Lake Slide Dam: 101.5
Raynolds Pass Fishing Access Site (FAS): 97.7
West Fork Bridge Access Site: 90
Lyons Bridge FAS: 87.9
South Madison Access Site: 79
West Madison Access Site: 75
McAtee Bridge FAS: 71.4
Varney Bridge: 59.7
Eight Mile Ford FAS: 54.6
Burnt Tree Hole FAS: 53.5
Ennis FAS: 51.1
Valley Garden FAS: 48.5
Ennis Reservoir Inlet: 45
Madison dam: 40.3
Highway 84 Bridge (end Beartrap Canyon): 31
Beartrap Access Site: 29.4
Blacks Ford FAS: 23.8
Grey Cliff FAS: 19.6
Cobblestone FAS: 12.9
Milwaukee FAS: 3.6
Blackbird FAS: 3.2
Missouri Headwaters State Park: 0.4
End of River at Beginning of Missouri River: 0