Destinations: West Coast / Yellowstone Area / Madison River

The Madison River - The Madison River headwaters are in Yellowstone Park at the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers and it ends near Three Forks, Montana where it joins with the Jefferson and Gallatin to form the headwaters of the Missouri River. It is 183 miles long and offers great fly fishing along its entire course. The Madison is known for both Rainbows and Browns. In the park, the wading is fairly easy. Once you get below Hebgen and Quake Lakes, the wading is considerably more difficult...a good friend describes it as "wading on greased bowling balls". Fishing the banks and shallow edges is fine but really covering the river really requires a high sided boat or raft.

Madison River

The Madison below Quake Lake


Hebgen Lake Brown Trout

credit: Firehole Ranch

If you are close to the Madison...

Some not so hidden secrets...The fact that the Madison is such a great trout river and so much has been written about it causes many fly fishermen to overlook a couple of real gems. I am talking about Hebgen Lake and Quake Lake (see more below)...both formed by the Madison. Hebgen is certainly the largest of the two being 15 miles long and 4 miles at it's widest. Hebgen is just 10 miles or so North of West Yellowstone off hwy. 191. For those of us that have spent a lot of time in the area, Hebgen is well known for it's "gulper" fishing...what's a "gulper" you say? See more here...

Hebgen Lake Brown


The second little gem is Quake Lake. This is much smaller than Hebgen and is located just 4-5 miles beneath the Hebgen Lake dam. It was formed in 1959 when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake caused a massive mountain side to slide down and across the Madison River creating a big dam thus the name...see more here... A boat or other flotation is highly recommended here. There is some shore access towards the head of the lake just off hwy.287. The dry fly activity and the fishing can be very similar to Hebgen Lake.

I have mostly fished Quake Lake in a float tube and a sinking line for the real monster brown trout that live here. The lake is chocked full of dead trees so expect to lose some streamers. I would fish a 6-7 wt. as the fish can be very big and it is just easier to throw a sinking line with a heavier rod. I have hooked several very large browns here that I was just unable to land. I did get one that was 23-24" and probably 6 lbs. I had another larger one in the 8-10 lb. range right up to my tube but lost it in the netting process. In a float tube, these fish tow you around fast enough that you create a wake behind the tube. The best time is early and late in the day. Quake Lake is just 20 minutes from some of the very best (but difficult) wading on the Madison so there is a backup plan.

Quake Lake Brown Trout

credit: Jeff Currier

Outfitters and Guides:

Montana is one of the states that requires fishing guides to work for a state licensed outfitter. Do not hire a guide unless it is through a licensed outfitter. There are probably 30 legitimate outfitters that know the Madison well. If you will be fishing the upper stretches (Yellowstone Park or within 20 miles of the town of West Yellowstone, Mt, you should look in West Yellowstone or in Island Park, Idaho as the guides in these areas will be most familiar with these upper stretches. Quality guides are also available in Ennis and Bozeman.


Like outfitters, there are plentiful accommodations in the area. The biggest concentration is in West Yellowstone, Mt.  for the upper Madison and Park area. Island Park, Idaho (the Henry's Fork) is just 35 miles away on Hwy. 20 and Ennis, Mt. is just over 70 miles from West Yellowstone on US Hwy, 289. If you plan to fish the lower sections more than 30-40 miles from West Yellowstone, then staying in Ennis is a better idea.