Fly Fishing the Madison River – A Guide

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The famous rivers of Montana are home to an abundance of trout, walleye and bass, ready to take a fly or lure.  Every year, anglers come to the Yellowstone area to enjoy the wide range of fishing options and beautiful scenery on our rivers and creeks. With 56 native species and other non-native fish, there is an abundance of challenging waters and fish.   Whether you’re someone who fly fishes in Montana every year, or are setting off on your first Montana fly fishing trip, there are certain tips, guidelines and rules that all fishermen who visit the area need to follow.


Montana Fly Fishing Resources

If you’re planning on fly fishing in Montana, visit the Montana FWP  website to research general rules and safety tips.  Dates for river access, proper river etiquette, catch limits and more are modified each year.  Take advantage of the listed resources for more information.


Montana Fishing License Resources

In order to fish in Montana, you must have two licenses:


  • A conservation license which you can pick up at most outdoor stores or tackle shops
  • A standard Montana fishing license
    • Convenient online licenses are available on the FWP site at
    • Licenses can be for different number of days but include all waters in the state.
    • Different rules apply to different rivers (and even stretches of certain rivers), so educate yourself before you dip a line.
    • Not all rivers and streams are catch-and-release; fish limits vary by species and area fished.

Serious Anglers Visit the Madison River

One of the most popular areas for Montana fly fishing is the gorgeous Madison River. The Madison River, running from Madison Junction in Yellowstone to Three Forks, is a fly fishing mecca for serious anglers. It is classified as a blue ribbon fishery in Montana and is one of the most productive streams in the state for brown trout, rainbow trout and mountain whitefish.


rainbow trout caught on madison river

There are four sections of the Madison River that anglers can fish.

Getting to the start of the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park is very easy, but the fishing is not recommended for novice fishermen. This 19 mile section of Madison River offers an abundance of brown and rainbow trout, as well as nymph and dry fly fishing. As it resembles a large spring creek, this part of the river is often referred to as the “World’s Largest Chalkstream”.

If you happen to be visiting the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park, check our Yellowstone Seasonal Guide to see the seasonal differences between times of the year.  The elevation of the Park makes the weather more extreme and unpredictable.  Late thaws and early snows can limit fishing days on the river – but the thermally enhanced waters are warmer than the elevation and climate would suggest.

After Madison River flows out of Yellowstone, it keeps running its course into Southwestern Montana. Here is where it first developed its reputation as a world-renowned fishing destination. It steadily streams through Madison Valley on it’s way past the west entrance of Yellowstone and into Hebgen Lake. Just past Hebgen Lake, the famous river flows into the famous lake, Quake Lake.

Quake Lake is a long whitewater section of the river that was created from the 1959 earthquake that struck the area and created the lake. More than 50 miles downstream, Madison River flows into Ennis Lake and provides the best fly fishing on the entire river.


How To Prepare for Fishing the Madison River

madison river brown trout



Tackleshops & Fishing Gear

If you’re going fly fishing on the Madison River, make sure to stop by one of the tackle shops in Ennis.  Daily updates on river conditions, they latest “hot” fly and great gear for your fishing expedition are offered with a dose of western friendliness.

Also, if you happened to forget anything at home – your fishing rod or waders, perhaps – you can visit the local sports store where you can pick up any fishing gear you may need!  Click on the links below to find out more about where you can prepare for your Montana fly fishing adventure:


Fish Hatcheries

Since fishing is such a huge part of Southwestern Montana culture, it’s fitting that the Ennis is home to one of the largest broodstock hatcheries in the entire Forest Service National Broodstock Program. The Ennis National Fish Hatchery has been one of only two rainbow trout hatcheries in the federal US that hatches rainbow trout. 20 million rainbow trout eggs are produced each year and sent to more than 20 states.  In an ironic twist, the nearby Madison River is managed as a wild fishery  and has not had stocked fish since the early 1970’s.

Fish Stocking

The Madison River has been untamed and unstocked since the 70’s, but there are fish stocked at another local pond at Lion’s Club Park in Ennis each father’s day. If you want a tour of the hatchery, you can stop by anytime between 9-3 during the week.

Conservation efforts of the Madison River are conducted by the Madison River Foundation, where “the voice of the river” can be heard through local residents and volunteers. The mission of the Foundation is “We  work to preserve, protect and enhance the Madison River ecosystem to benefit its wildlife and the people who enjoy it. We apply professional expertise and advocacy on behalf of worthy public policies to ensure the well-being of this valuable resource.”  Streambed restoration, species preservation, weed control and a ground-breaking whitefish study are some of the projects supported by this important Madison River organization.

Entry Points

There are several entry points to the Madison River that offer outstanding fly fishing opportunities. If you’re in search of the next best fishing in Montana, then visit the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks website. There you are able to search for the nearest Montana Fishing Access Site (FAS) of more than 300 locations.

Fish With Us On The Backroad to Yellowstone!

madison river montana



The Backroad to Yellowstone is Montana tourism’s best kept secret. If you want an authentic fishing experience, the Backroad to Yellowstone is the place to vacation. You’ll find breathtaking views, wild fishing experiences and Big Sky adventure. Head to Highway 287 now and do your fishing trip right!

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