The lower Madison River is considered to be the Madison River from below Ennis Lake, downstream to the headwaters of the Missouri River. This section of the Madison flows through the Beartrap Wilderness Area in a narrow gorge characterized by some serious whitewater and difficult access. Once the river leaves the Beartrap Canyon, the river dramatically changes character, becoming wider with a seemingly gentle flow all the way to Three Forks, where it joins the Jefferson River and Gallatin River to form the Missouri River.
The river is only 20 minutes from our Bozeman fly shop and works well as a choice for both floating or wading guided fly fishing trips. We offer both full and half-day guided fly fishing trips on the Lower Madison. Notoriously tough to figure out, this is one river in the area where having an experienced guide at your side or on the oars really makes the difference between catching a few fish and having an amazing day. All of our Montana fly fishing guides are on this stretch of the Madison River throughout the year and generally consider it a great choice for both large fish and overall numbers of wild trout most of the year.
The Lower Madison is a year-round fishery that typically fishes well in a variety of water conditions and stream flows. Because it flows out of Ennis Lake, the river is less affected by the spring runoff than other local rivers like the Yellowstone and Gallatin. The river will typically be in pretty poor shape for 2-3 weeks each year in late May and early June but still remains fishable to some degree. Outside of the spring melt, the river stays in fine shape the rest of the year with a few exceptions as Ennis Lake turns over in the spring and fall.
Winter dry fly fishing on the lower is classic “match the hatch” midge and Baetis dry fly fishing at its best. Give us a few clouds and a wisp of a breeze any day in February or March and we’ll be over on the lower hunting for big head coming up to little dries in skinny water. It’s just one of those things that happen on the lower every year that gets everyone around here excited to get on the water. If the wind is blowing and the insects aren’t out, the nymphing is always great this time of year too.
The Mother’s Day Caddis hatch on the lower Madison is characterized by a mass emergence of insects on a daily basis that usually goes on for a few weeks. Unlike the Yellowstone, this particular stretch of the Madison typically remains fishable throughout the peak periods of the hatch. The dry fly fishing can be amazing on the lower Madison during the hatch, but the best fishing is typically had on warm, cloudy days and during the last few hours of daylight.
Early summer on the lower Madison is the best time of year to find the big browns that live throughout the lower Madison. This is the time of year when water temperatures are ideal to keep the fish feeding throughout the day, water levels keep the larger fish spread out throughout the river, and the weeds are not an issue. We’ll be looking primarily for big Browns in the 20”-25” range this time that are looking for slow moving crayfish and sculpin patterns fished under an indicator.
Many of the big Browns seem to disappear once the heat of the summer gets here, but are found once again as the days get shorter and the nights cooler. Usually, by mid-September, we will be fishing the lower every day with large, lightly weighted streamers over the shallow weed beds in the hope of finding a few large fish. This is always a great time of year to be on the lower Madison and is a great example of what Montana fly fishing can be like during the fall
As all of the rivers Montana fly fishing rivers that we offer guided trips on, the lower Madison is a wild trout fishery. Wild trout waters are characterized by having a wide range of age classes in the resident fish populations. The overall trout population in the lower Madison has skewed toward Rainbow Trout in the last 2-3 years. The majority of trout we catch day in and day out are in the 14-16” range in both Browns and Rainbows, and it’s not uncommon to hook into a few of each species that are well over 18”. We typically get several Brown Trout a year that are 23-25” to the net on this stretch of river, but that does not happen every day!