Zebra Midge #16
Czech Nymph #14
Lower Madison River Fishing Report, December, 2017
Zebra Midge #16
Providing anglers with abundant public access, relatively easy wading and a healthy population of rainbow and brown trout, the water of the Lower Madison River is an exceptional alternative to the Upper Madison River, considered the river upstream of the town of Ennis. Starting immediately below the Madison Dam, the Lower Madison’s journey to the town of Three Forks takes it through the picturesque Bear Trap Canyon, open ranchlands and cottonwood bottoms.
Considering the absence of a boat ramp below the dam and the presence of a Class IV rapid known locally as the “Kitchen Sink,” the eight-mile stretch through the canyon is rarely floated except by those with rafts and solid whitewater experience. Fortunately, traveling this stretch on foot is a viable alternative. There is nearly a mile of great wade fishing opportunities below the dam, and this combined with trails starting at the northern mouth of the canyon gives those fly fisherman willing to hike great access to pocketwater, deep holes and boulder strewn runs.
Starting around the Warm Springs Boat access, the river begins its gradual retreat from the canyon towards the open valley below. It is here, with a well maintained boat ramp, that most floating begins. Wade fishing is also popular between Warm Springs and Black’s Ford fishing access. This seven mile stretch is nearly 100 percent accessible through state land that borders the river. Generally speaking, this is a shallow stretch of water with a forgiving river bottom that makes for easy wading.
Trout populations are substantial between the Warm Springs and Greycliff fishing access points, and while this stretch is often considered difficult to read and figure out, the effort it takes to do so is well worthwhile. Concentrate on weedbed edges and deep holes, keeping in mind that such “deep” spots are seldom more than 2-3’. Many such spots exist in the middle of this river and those who stay oriented towards the banks will miss much of what the Lower Madison River has to offer.
Downstream from Black’s Ford, wading access is limited to the Greycliff Fishing Access Site and the Cobblestone Fishing Access Site. Boat fishermen should note that Cobblestone does not have a boat ramp, and as a result floaters must travel from Greycliff to the Blackbird fishing access point at the I-90 bridge near Three Forks, nearly a 17-mile float trip. Meandering through cottonwood bottoms and an open high desert landscape, this last stretch of the Madison River boasts beautiful water with fish numbers somewhat lower than those found upstream. This is a quality over quantity stretch well suited to streamer fly fishing.
Because of its shallow nature and warm water discharges from Ennis Lake during the summer months, the Lower Madison could be considered a seasonal fishery. From mid-September through the end of June, water temperatures are prime. Once the water warms to the 70 degree mark during July and August, the river’s fish become relatively inactive. This, coupled with the fact that the Lower Madison becomes a popular inner tubing destination during the summer, tends to make it less popular during these months.
Midges, Blue Winged Olives, Pale Morning Duns, caddis flies and a variety of stoneflies are readily present, and anglers can find a variety of classic insect hatches. While surface activity can be tremendous at times, particularly with the Mother’s Day caddis hatch, the Lower Madison isn’t often considered a dry fly haven.
Nymphs and streamers are typically the flies of choice. Sculpin and crayfish patterns trailed by small beadhead nymphs and soft hackles are very effective. As a shallow river, heavily weighted flies aren’t entirely necessary nor are long leaders and fine tippets. Stealth is always helpful when moving into position to fish a run or cast to a rising fish. Because the river is shallow, it is easily wadeable, but you have to be concientous of what the fish can see and feel.
The Lower Madison River has long been one of the favorite rivers in southwest Montana for many reasons. Its proximity to Bozeman and large trout are just two of the many reasons why people make the trip every year to fish this river. A spring or fall afternoon on this river with its big trout are as good a reason to come out and fish as any we know!
For other updates from the Lower Madison River, visit our Blog Site. There, you will find many tips and tricks, information on shop events, and gear reviews. Visit the Madison River Fishing Reports page on the Blog Site for in-depth fishing reports and condition reports.