The Madison River


Madison River fly fishing is our business and the Trout Stalkers Fly Shop is conveniently located just a stone's throw away from it in Ennis, Montana. 

Named by Lewis & Clark after Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, the Madison River is one of Montana's most iconic and beloved Trout streams. It begins with the confluence of the Gibbon and the Firehole rivers 14 miles inside the Northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. It then flows almost due north for 120 miles to its ultimate confluence with the Jefferson from the West and the Gallatin from the east to form the Headwaters of the Missouri River. And one of the most awesome things about the Madison River, in addition to the stunning natural beauty of its surroundings is that it is completely infested with wild Trout throughout its entire course!!

The upper-most stretch of the Madison from its inception to Hebgen Lake is largely in Yellowstone Park, and is a unique stream unto itself. Then there is a short 3 mile stretch of river "between the lakes." A 1959 earthquake caused a giant rockslide that created a natural dam in the Madison and formed Earthquake Lake. Below Quake Lake the river runs for 50 miles to Ennis Lake just a few miles downstream from the little town of Ennis. This stretch is most commonly referred to as the "Upper Madison" although as you no know that is somewhat of a misnomer. Technically this is the Middle Madison. This wonderful stretch of the river is also called the "50 Mile Riffle" because of it's unique nature. Below Ennis Lake the "Lower Madison" flows through the Bear Trap Canyon for about 9 miles before the canyon gives way to an open, pastoral valley all the way to Three Forks, Montana where it joins up with the Jefferson and Gallatin Rivers.


We focus most of our angling efforts on the "Upper" (or Middle) and the Lower sections of the Madison. Both of these sections offer plenty of different float and wade fishing options and both fish well for good size Rainbows and Browns. The most common fish are Brown and Rainbow Trout in the 14-16” range, but many very large Rainbows and Browns, 20 inches and larger, are being caught regularly during all seasons. Don't forget about the Whitefish! These fish bite and they fight.

The Madison River fishes well throughout the year, including the extreme winter months if you've got the right clothing and attitude! Although peak summertime is the most popular time of year to fish around here.  April/May and October/November are not considered our busy season, but are really some of the best months of the year on the upper and lower Madison. Check out our Montana fishing seasons page for more information.

Like most Montana trout streams, Madison River trout can be caught using all the standard tactics. Dry fly, nymphs and streamers. Pick your poison. Best dry fly action is generally in the mid-summer months of July and August although you can also see great dry fly action intermittently throughout the year, including winter.


Insect hatches on the Madison are similar to those found throughout the Rockies, with some variations in time. Spring Baetis or "Blue Winged Olives'' kick it off sometime in late March or early April. The first significant hatches of these mayflies appear on the Lower Madison and work their way upstream through the entire river system. We usually see some very good dry fly action on the Lower Madison during this hatch. Cloudy and generally crappy weather conditions tend to produce the best BWO hatches and the best surface activity.

The "Mother's Day Caddis" is the next big event in the natural world. It is predictable and prolific, usually beginning right around the end of April or early May depending on weather conditions. This hatch is most predictable on the Lower Madison where we like to spend as many evenings as possible while this hatch is happening. Once the sun goes off the water, the big fish will often begin to rise. In recent years however, we have been seeing these same prolific hatches of Spring Caddis on the Upper Madison also. Best action occurring from Varney Bridge down to Ennis Lake. 

The Upper Madison has a decent March Brown hatch that seems to have increased in recent years. This tends to be about a 2-3 week hatch in early to mid-May. Although not really known as a Skwala river, the Madison does have Skwala stoneflies and this hatch also seems to be proliferating in recent years. The tan rubberleg nymphs pretty much always produce, but we also occasionally have some good Skwala dry fly fishing too.

Spring runoff usually comes to Montana and The Madison sometime in the Month of May. The timing and intensity of the runoff varies widely over time depending on a number of weather related factors. Although the river levels will often rise significantly, we usually have good nymph fishing throughout most of this period each year. By late June the runoff is usually well on its way to subsiding and the river is clearing daily.

Dropping and clearing water gives way to "The Hatch."  The most significant event in the natural world of Trout is unquestionably the annual Madison River Salmon Fly hatch. These giant stoneflies are found on many rivers, but the intensity of the hatch and the nature of the fishing during the hatch can vary widely. It usually begins around June 20th on the Madison and lasts for 2-3 weeks or more as it works its way up-river to the Slide area. On the Upper Madison the Salmon Flies also hatch concurrently with a prolific hatch of giant Golden Stones. Sometimes the best dry action will be had by using the slightly smaller Golden Stone patterns instead of the Sammies. This is a great time on the Madison and it's a spectacle that all anglers should witness at least once. In addition, it's the one time of year when you know every big fish in the river will rise to a dry fly!! We have seen some true giants on the big bug over the years.

After the Sammy hatch we ease into the mid-summer period on The Madison. This tends to be the most popular time of year for traveling anglers, probably due to the excellent climate and weather of the Rocky Mountains in the summertime. Fishing is consistently good too. We will have good hatches of PMD's, Yellow Sallies, and Caddis during July. Then the next big thing starts to happen with the emergence of the Nocturnal Stones. This large stonefly hatches at night, and the males have a mutated wing so they don't fly. You won't typically see very many of the adults, but you will see many shucks left behind each morning on the stream bank and river rocks. This hatch brings fish up to the Chubbies and also offers some good nymph fishing.

By mid to late August the Nocturnal Golden hatch is waning and we come into a relatively hatchless time of year for aquatic insects. This is when the terrestrials come into play. Though once a great hopper river, the trout of the Madison don't respond to hoppers like the once did. However, flying ants are another story. There are genuine Flying Ant hatches that are awesome to witness. These little bugs will drive trout crazy like few other things. It is not easy to predict exactly when and where these hatches will occur, but generally they will happen on late August and early September afternoons where it is pretty warm and muggy. Often following or preceding thunderstorms. These bugs hatch from trees so the best action is usually in the reach of the Madison from the first cottonwood trees downstream to Ennis Lake. Trust me, you don't want to get caught in a Madison River flying ant hatch without the right flies!! Fish will rise with abandon for these little morsels.


Be sure to check out our recent Madison River Fishing Report and our Madison River Flows for up to date information. And if you are interested in a float trip on the Madison, check out our Montana fly fishing trips page. We also have some information about places to stay in Ennis and lodges on the Madison River on our Lodging page.