The upper Madison River is perhaps the most famous and highly regarded wild trout stream in the Western US. The river is formed in Yellowstone National Park at the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole rivers, just outside of West Yellowstone, Montana. As the upper Madison River leaves Yellowstone National Park, it flows into Hebgen Lake and then works its way north through the Hebgen Dam and then Quake Lake. The stretch of river between Quake Lake and Ennis, Montana is known as the “50 Mile Riffle” and is typically the portion of the Madison River that people refer to as the "Upper Madison."
As the first river in the west designated catch and release, the Madison River served as the springboard from which MTFWP shifted their fisheries management away from hatcheries in the 1970s. All of Montana’s trout streams are wild trout fisheries in that their populations are fully self-sustaining.
The upper Madison river flows through a wide-open valley with the Madison and Gravelly mountains forming dramatic backdrops throughout its course. Reminders of the glacial periods are everywhere you look and the river itself is unlike any other in the world. Classic runs and holes that typical of most western trout streams are not the norm on the upper; here it is literally one big riffle that goes for miles and miles. Holding water is everywhere and there are days when it seems like there is a big fish sitting just behind every boulder in the middle of the river. Floating the upper Madison is a unique Montana fly fishing experience and draws anglers back to the river every year.
The Madison River offers year-round fly fishing opportunities throughout the river. It is a great fishery in the spring and fall and relatively uncrowded as well. Mid-summer fishing has steadily been improving the last few years and we are expecting this trend to continue with the repairs to Hebgen Dam now complete. Summer crowds generally disperse throughout the river and our Bozeman fly fishing guides are able to work around the crowds by leaving early and avoiding the busiest sections of the river.
As with most of the larger rivers in the area, the Madison River is affected by the spring runoff and is often too high and dirty for fishing at some point each year (mid-May-mid June). However, the upper Madison River tends to clear quicker than the Yellowstone or Gallatin rivers and is typically in decent condition by the first week of June. This varies year to year depending on the winter snowpack and spring moisture, but it is unusual for us to not be guiding on the upper by mid-June at the latest.
Like all of the rivers and streams that we offer guided fly fishing trips on in Montana, the upper Madison is a wild trout fishery. As a result, it is common to catch a wide size range of trout on any given day. Anglers can expect to catch primarily Rainbows in the 12-16 inch with a few reaching the 22” mark on the net coming to hand every year. It is not uncommon to catch more Browns than Rainbows on some days and many of the larger trout that come out of the Madison will be over 24”.