Goose hunt

One of the most recognized trout streams in the world, the Madison River is a “must see” on all fly fishers lists.  The fast, boulder filled Madison is home to both Brown and Rainbow Trout, and offers some of the finest scenery in all of Montana.  While renowned for its Salmonfly hatch, the Madison fishes well all season long.  From big nymphs and streamers during pre-runoff, to small caddis and mayfly patterns in late summer, the Madison always seems to produce quality fishing.

Near Twin Bridges, MT., the Big Hole, Beaverhead and Ruby Rivers join to form the mighty Jefferson.  The “Jeff” is not as well known as it’s several famous neighbors, but holds some of the largest fish in the area.  Because hatches on the Jefferson are sparse and inconsistent, streamer fishing produces most fish.  The Jefferson is loaded with crawdads and forage fish that produce some legendary Browns and Rainbows.

These two great trout streams are a short drive from each other, and make a great combo trip in beautiful Southwest Montana.


The “blue ribbon” portion of the Madison begins at Earthquake Lake, near West Yellowstone, MT., and flows north to Ennis Lake, near the town of Ennis.  The upper section is very fast and shallow, and fishes best during spring and early summer.  As the river approaches the town of Ennis, it begins to deepen and provides good late season cover for the large trout that reside there.

The Jefferson begins near Twin Bridges, MT., and flows north to Three Forks where it joins with the Madison and Gallatin to form the Missouri River.  We’ll be fishing on the “upper” Jefferson, near the towns of Silver Star and Whitehall.  Several floats and very few anglers make this area a pleasure to fish.


Nearly every month of the year, something is hatching on the Madison River.  Spring fishing usually means midges and baetis, and caddis begin to appear as the weather heats up.  Sometime in late-June or early-July, the famous Salmonfly hatch begins to move up the river.  If you’re in front of the hatch, large stonefly nymphs work best.  If you’re lucky enough to hit it dead on, large Salmonfly dries can bring strikes on nearly every cast.  During the rest of the season, a variety of mayflies, caddis and stoneflies keep the fish occupied.

Unlike the Madison, the Jefferson has few hatches worth chasing.  The exception is the late summer/fall trico and baetis hatches.  The river runs low and clear and the fish pod up to feed on these small mayflies throughout the day.  Fishing is excellent during this time.  Below is “what you can expect” on the Madison and Jefferson.


Pre-runoff on both rivers usually means nymph and streamer fishing.  Weather can be chilly, but the fishing is usually good to great and the rivers are not crowded.  The Madison is more consistent than the Jefferson, until the weather begins to warm.  Dead-drifting prince nymphs and brassies can be very effective during pre-runoff.  On cloudy days expect to throw some streamers, especially on the Jefferson.  Be prepared for cold weather.


As the water warms, fish begin to get more active and fishing gets better.  Depending on runoff, the Madison Salmonfly hatch usually begins in late June or the first week of July.  If the water is high and off color, big nymphs work best during this period.  If it’s clear, large salmonfly imitations produce incredible results.  Prepare for big crowds during this hatch.

Streamer fishing on the Jefferson is usually excellent right through runoff.  Plan on heavy equipment – 7 weights, size 2 and 4 streamers, and heavy tippets.  Occasionally there may be some dry fly fishing with clearing water.


The Madison usually fishes well during this period.  Small nymphs, hoppers and evening caddis produce best.  Launching early can pay big dividends.  We like to float early, take a break at mid-day, and float or wade fish in the evening. 

Depending on snowpack, the Jefferson is often unfishable during this period.  The river is heavily de-watered for irrigation, and even if you can get the boat down the river, warm water temperatures make releasing fish impractical.  Not the best time to plan a trip to the Jefferson.


Both rivers produce excellent fishing during this period.  The Madison fish look for hoppers and small nymphs, especially as the Browns begin to stage up for spawning in October.  Streamer fishing is excellent on cloudy days.

The Jefferson fish pod up to feed on baetis every afternoon and large gaudy streamers work well in the faster runs.  Very easy fishing.  This is the best time to hit both of these rivers in one trip.  Be prepared for winter weather.


Southwest Montana offers great accommodations and food for the angler.  Fishing is very popular in the area, and there is no shortage of services for visitors.  The tourist town of Ennis is our base for fishing the Madison.  If the Jefferson is on the itinerary, we’ll stay in Sheridan, halfway between the Madison and Jefferson, in the beautiful Ruby Valley.  If we have time, we’ll squeeze in some wade fishing on the Ruby.  Other area attractions include historic Virginia City and the R.L.Winston rod factory.


Driving…  If driving, both east and west approaches are on I-90.  From the east, you’ll turn south at Bozeman and drive 1 ½ hours to Ennis.  From the West, you’ll get off I-90 at Whitehall (just east of Butte), and drive 1 hour to the town of Sheridan. 

Flying…  From the West Coast, most visitors arrive in Butte on Delta (Skywest) or Horizon.  From the East Coast, most fly into Bozeman on Northwest or Delta.