Montana Fly Fishing
The Madison River

Madison River

The Madison River : Overview

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Madison River near McAtee Bridge
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The Madison River, perhaps the most famous of all the rivers in Montana, begins in Yellowstone National Park at the confluence of the Firehole River and Gibbon River. From its origin, it flows for more than 140 miles through exceptionally beautiful scenery before it reaches the Missouri River near the town of Three Forks, Montana. With its beautiful scenery and excellent fishing, a visit to the Madison River is a top priority for many anglers on a Montana fly fishing trip.

The Madison River offers exceptional fishing in a beautiful setting. All fishermen can enjoy the river, as the dry fly fisherman, the nymph fisherman and the streamer fisherman all enjoy success on the river. Despite the Madison's run-in with whirling disease, discussed later, the Madison River still provides some of the finest fishing in the state for wild rainbow trout and large brown trout.

Madison River Characteristics

The Madison River runs for twenty-three miles in Yellowstone National Park before leaving the park near West Yellowstone, MT. Just below West Yellowstone, the river runs into Hebgen Lake, a fourteen-mile lake created by the Hebgen Dam.

Madison River provides great trout fishing
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Less than three miles below Hebgen Dam, the river runs into another dam, this time naturally made, at Quake Lake. Quake Lake was created in August of1959 when a 7.1 earthquake caused a massive rock slide that completely blocked the Madison River at the west end of Madison Canyon, creating a lake behind the slide. The channel of the river was also altered by the slide as the Army Corps of Engineers scrambled to build a channel for the river before a catastrophic flood would have occurred. The area around this rockslide has been set aside as the 38,000 acre Madison River Canyon Earthquake Area.

Directly beneath Quake Lake, the Madison River turns into a wild, rampaging river for three miles. The whitewater on this section of river was caused by earthquake. The gradient of river is very steep, with large boulders and drops scattered all along this stretch. Numerous Class III and Class IV rapids exist.

Beneath this whitewater section, which ends above the Highway 87 Bridge, the Madison River turns into a swift flowing but gentle river for the next fifty-three miles as it makes its way down the middle of the gorgeous Madison Valley and the town of Ennis. The float in this section is absolutely beautiful. Snow-capped mountains line the western and eastern skyline, and the open nature of the rivers banks allows almost non-stop views. Throughout this entire section of river, the Madison has countless riffles, runs and pools, and provides the best fly fishing on the river.

Soon after flowing through Ennis, the Madison River flows into Ennis Lake, a small five mile long lake created by the Madison Dam. Once the river passes through the dam, the Madison passes through Bear Trap Canyon. Through the canyon stretch, the Madison River is hemmed in by towering canyon walls and has almost constant whitewater. This section of the river is more heavily floated by whitewater enthusiasts than fisherman, as the river flows and whitewater hamper fishing from a boat.

The Madison River emerges from Bear Trap Canyon seven miles later, still thirty-one miles above the confluence with the Missouri River. For the rest of its length, the river flows fairly steadily at first and then more slowly through open, somewhat arid countryside, with no further rapids or obstructions. Brown trout are the main trout species in the Madison River below the Madison Dam.

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Madison River Resources on the Web
Integrated Ecological Science in the Madison River Area
Gallatin National Forest - Madison River Info.
Ennis, Montana, Chamber of Commerce

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