The Madison River comes to life in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming at the junction of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers. The Madison River then begins its journey north and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.
As the Madison exits the Park it enters Hebgen Lake where it is joined by several smaller streams. Below Hebgen Dam the river runs through a narrow canyon and into Quake Lake which was created in 1959 when an earthquake created a slide that dammed the river.
From Quake Lake the Madison heads toward Ennis, Montana and drops over 2000 feet in less than 70 miles. The upper section is commonly known as the ’50 Mile Riffle’ and the river maintains a consistent width and depth throughout this section while running over a bed of rocks varying in size from baseballs to small cars. The environment is perfect for aquatic insects and the result is a trout population that seems to be hiding behind every rock.
A few miles upstream of Ennis, in the area of Varney Bridge, the river braids into several channels and is lined with cottonwood trees. This is a favorite stretch of river for many anglers, as the braids twist and turn, causing undercut banks and lots of good holding water. Downstream from Ennis the valley flattens a bit and the river begins to break up into several channels where the river is it’s most wadable.
The Madison River then flows into Ennis Lake and as it exits Madison Dam it enters Bear Trap Canyon, an 8 mile whitewater adventure through rapids with names such as Whitehorse, Kitchen Sink, and Greenwave. Upon exiting Bear Trap Canyon the river widens and becomes slightly more gentle in its trek north toward Three Forks. Just downstream of Three Forks it joins with the Jefferson and Gallatin Rivers forming the Missouri River.
While wading is possible on the Madison River, we recommend you use studded wading boots and a wading staff. The current is strong and the rocks are round and slippery. Be careful in the faster water, as you will find current above your knees difficult to wade. For this reason, and because you have easier fishing access to a greater variety and quantity of water, float fishing is the most popular way to fly fish the Madison River. You can enjoy the fly fishing and experience the spectacular scenery of 10-15 miles of the river in a single day of guided float fishing.
The Madison River has many famous and many equally prolific (but less famous) hatches of stoneflies, mayflies, caddis flies, plus abundant terrestrials. From the Pteronarcys Californica (Giant Salmonfly) hatch in late June, to hopper season from mid August to September, the Madison is known for its hatches and dry fly fishing for rainbow and brown trout.
The Madison River is the most famous fly fishing river in the west and still today is the gold standard by which all other western rivers are judged.