Fly Fishing The Madison River, Below Ennis – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Fly Fishing The Madison River, Below Ennis

The Madison River, in between Ennis and Ennis Lake, is open year-round and offers excellent wade-fishing opportunities for the fit angler. Although boats are allowed on this stretch of the river, regulations prohibit angling from a boat or personal watercraft. Drifting anglers can use a boat to get from spot to spot, but must get out of the boat to fish. Ennis and Valley Garden Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks are two public access sites used to access this stretch of the upper Madison River. The river here is full of interesting water that includes myriad skinny runs, braids, buckets, and small plunge pools which are all ideal for wading and exploring.

At first glance, the upper Madison River looks like a wide, shallow riffle that gently bends and braids in seemingly every direction. The novice angler oftentimes struggles to successfully read the water and find likely holding water for the thousands of wild trout that inhabit the Madison River. Although fish can be found in the skinny, drawn out riffles at times, the best holding water is found along current seams, drop-offs, and mid-river buckets.

Since 2009, the upper Madison has fished, overall, very different than in previous years and even generations. The explanation lies in the fact that Hebgen Dam failed over Labor Day weekend back in 2009. Although the river stayed within its established course, there was substantial scouring and bank erosion. Since that time, the dam has been under a continual state of repair and the water releases that feed the upper Madison River have come over the top of the dam rather than the bottom. As a result, we see good water temperatures, stable flows, and healthy dissolved oxygen levels in the winter, spring, early summer, and fall. Repairs are nearly complete and we are hoping for a return to a bottom release regime for 2018!

Fly Fishing the Madison River at Valley Gardens

Because of the Hebgen Dam failure and repair process, the fly fishing the upper Madison is most productive outside of the mid-summer seasons. The stretch of the Madison River, below Ennis certainly follows this same pattern with anglers having their best success during the fall and spring months.

The heavily braided section of the Madison River between Varney Bridge and Ennis Lake has become a vital area for spawning of Rainbow Trout, Mountain Whitefish, and Brown Trout. Anglers should practice care when wading these waters in October-November and March-April to avoid steeping on and disturbing spawning redds. Generally, it is considered unethical to fish over spawning, wild trout that are actively spawning. However, there are many fish in the river and plenty of opportunities to fish waters that are not necessarily active spawning redds both in the spring and the fall

Anglers can expect to have success on the fly using nymphs, dries, and streamers in these braided sections of the Madison River, downstream of Ennis, Montana. The most common technique is nymph-fishing under a strike indicator, focusing on the seams and drop-offs that are indicative of depth changes. Spring Midges, summer Caddis, and Fall BWO’s are the most important hatches in terms of enabling an angler to find predictably rising trout. Stoneflies are prevalent here as well, but the water levels are generally too high for safe wading during these times of the year. These are idyllic waters for swinging soft-hackles and streamers, year-round with especially good results in the fall.

Madison River Brown Trout near Valley Garden Fishing Access Site

Accessing the river at Valley Gardens or Ennis fishing access sites maintained By Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks is the best place to start. Remember that anglers are required to stay below the high water while fishing adjacent to private lands. Most of the “high-banks: along both sides of the main river channel are private, so be sure to respect the landowners and stay within the high-water boundaries at all times. The Madison River, below Ennis, is wide and shallow and we rarely hear of any trespassing issues as an angler should have no problem getting around while avoiding trespassing.

There is great fly fishing water throughout the river and the braided sections between Ennis and Ennis Lake are among our favorites here at Fins & Feathers of Bozeman. Our Bozeman fly fishing guides frequent this stretch of the river during the “off-season” peaks with anglers that can handle a full day of wade fishing in fast water that can be over knee-deep at times. The typical drive time from Bozeman is a little less than an hour and we leave early as we like to be the first boat down the river whenever possible. The day ends with a short row across Ennis Lake where we can find some terrific dry fly fishing action at certain times of the year.

If you are looking for a spot to do some wade fishing and can handle walking a mile or more in the river bottom, the Madison River between Ennis and Ennis Lake should be on your radar. The numbers of trout in this stretch of the river does vary depending on the season so expect to see more fish in the spring and fall months. Stop by our Bozeman fly shop or send us an email if you have any questions about fly fishing Madison River. Booking a Madison River guided fly fishing trip is a great way to learn more about the techniques, river, and the more productive parts of the river downstream of Ennis as well.