Fly Fishing the Madison River

Madison River in Yellowstone National Park

The Madison River is one of Montana’s premiere blue ribbon fisheries. The Madison begins its journey at Madison Junction in Yellowstone National Park and flows just over 180 miles to Three Forks Montana where it joins the Gallatin and Jefferson rivers to form the Missouri River. The Madison River has a number of distinct personalities through its course and is home to rainbow trout, brown trout and mountain whitefish from tip to tail.

The Madison River in Yellowstone National Park to Hebgen Lake

The Madison River starts Madison Junction, where the mineral rich waters of the Gibbon and Firehole rivers meet.  The Madison flows at a slow and steady pace for the next 20 miles or so before pouring into Hebgen Lake. The Madison in Yellowstone Park holds fish year round, but is best known for its spring and fall fishing opportunities. Early season the Madison and long with the Firehole and Gibbon can produce prolific caddis, PMD golden stonefly and salmon fly hatches. Once runoff subsides and other area rivers come into shape this section of the

Madison is for the most part left alone by fishermen. As the days shorten and freezing nighttime temperatures become the norm, the Madison hosts large migrations of rainbow and brown trout from Hebgen lake.  Fishing the Madison in late September  and October is  a unique experience akin to steelhead fishing. Most fall run fish are taken by swinging soft hackles and streamers or by nymphing. On especially scuzzy days big baetis hatches can make for exciting dry fly opportunities.

Though float trips are not permitted in the park, a Lost Fork guide can take you on foot to some of the best fishing holes along the Madison. You’ll enjoy the mountainous landscape, the roaming wildlife, and of course, the trout.

As the Madison meanders out of the Park near West Yellowstone, it continues up toward Hebgen and Quake Lakes. If you’re looking for a West Yellowstone Fishing Guide, you found us!

Fishing Hebgen Lake to Quake Lake


Shortly after leaving Yellowstone Park, the Madison River flows onto Hebgen Lake. Hebgen is a reservoir created in 1914 with water storage and recreation in mind. The lake is 15 miles long and 4 miles across at it’s widest point. Hebgen is a primary destination for plenty of fly fishermen in search of “gulpers” sipping callibaetis in August and September or prolific spring midge hatches.


Below Hebgen dam, the Madison River flows again for around three miles before becoming part of Quake lake. Quake lake was formed in 1959 when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake caused a massive landslide that dammed up the River. This section of the Madison fishes well year round and the scenery is stunning.


Quake Lake to Ennis

Immediately quake lake is the “slide” section of the Madison. This water is fast and turbulent, but holds fish in its current breaks. The slide mellows out a few miles downstream and becomes the Madison most folks think of when the name is mentioned. The upper Madison is regularly referred to as the “50 mile riffle,” it is fast and shallow from here until Ennis. The upper Madison from quake lake to Lyons bridge is closed to fishing from  boats and is hallowed ground for wade fishermen.


The river  downstream of Lyons the River is most often enjoyed by floating in drift boats. Typical floats in this section range from 6 to 12 miles. The upper Madison is known for producing massive hatches of salmonflies  and golden stones, many species of caddis, PMDs , flavs and pink ladies. Aquatic insect hatches typically slow down in August and ant and hopper patterns become got to flies for dry fly fishermen until cool overcast weather in the fall brings baetis back to the surface. The Upper Madison fishes well with nymphs and streamers year round.

Ennis Lake to Three Forks

Below Ennis Lake, the Madison River flows through Beartrap Canyon. The canyon section is fast with technical Rapids that change as the rivers flow does. Outfitted trips are limited in this area, and solitude can be found by wade fishermen who are willing to walk a ways. Below Warm Springs the Madison slows down considerably and is shallow with a gravelly bottom and large weed beds. This section is typically referred to a the Lower Madison. The lower River is largely considered a spring and fall fishery like the Yellowstone section.


Winter and spring fishing is good with midge and baetis dries as well as nymphs and streamers. The lower Madison’s caddis hatch is on the of the biggest in south west Montana, and often coincides with the salmonfly hatch. In mid summer the River experiences “the bikini hatch” and is largely taken over by MSU students enjoying leisurely floats down the river in inner tubes.  Once the cottonwoods turn yellow fishermen get back to business, most hoping to turn a big brown trout on streamers.

Madison River Fly Fishing Guides

For dry fly fishing and nymph fishing alike, the Madison boasts prime real estate for wild rainbows and big browns. Typical hatches include Caddis, Salmon Flies, Yellow Sallies, Mayflies, Hoppers and Woolly Buggers. New to fishing? Our guides recommend, provide and tie all the tackle you’ll need to make the catch.

Whether you’re a beginning fisherman or have years of experience, a Lost Fork Outfitters fly fishing guide can help you find success on the Madison. Ready to fish? Give us a call at 406-581-9113 or contact us to request dates.