The 50 mile riffle
The Madison River starts in Yellowstone National Park with the junction of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers. It flows west and then north for 140 miles to Three Forks, MT. The Madison joins the Jefferson and the Gallatin Rivers to form the Missouri. It was named by Lewis and Clark for the Secretary of the State at the time, James Madison. Just beyond where the Madison leaves Yellowstone National Park, it flows into Hebgen Lake. Hebgen is best known for it's "Gulper" fishing in August and September. This addicting fishing usually occurs in the morning, or until the wind picks up, mid afternoon. Rainbow and brown trout in the two pound plus range are Pac-manning on the surface of the lake eatting Callibaeits and tricos. This techinal fishing is not for everyone but if you like hunting, selective dry fly eatting trout, you'll love Hebgen.
The Madison flows out of the Hebgen Dam (built in 1914) and continues for two miles before flowing into Earthquake Lake. This section of the Madison, "between the lakes" is productive during most of the open trout season in Montana. Siginicant hatches in this water include, but are not limited to stoneflies, caddis, drakes and summer terrestrials. The trout between the lakes benefit from seasonally migrating from the river downstream into the very fertile, 190 feet deep Quake Lake. Earthquake Lake was formed from a landslide that blocked the Madison River. Around midnight on August 17, 1959 the whole region was rocked by a 7.3 and a 7.5 earthquake. Almost one million tons of rock and rubble slid down the mountain damming up the Madison River for about 48 hours. Eventually the water broke through and continued on its course down into the Madison Valley.
The water in the "Slide" area of the Madison, downstream of Quake Lake, is very fast moving with Class III and IV rapids. Wade fishing in this area for hearty rainbows and browns can be very rewarding, if you have solid footing. After two miles the Madison begins to mellow to a swift but manageable river. This also begins what is referred to as the "fifty mile riffle" of the Madison which extends down to the town of Ennis, MT. This is the most famous section of the Madison, for good reason. There is an abundance of great fish habitat, cool water and fantastic insect hatches. Stoneflies start off the bug soup, followed by several caddis species, PMD's, Drakes and finally Blue winged olives. Terrestrial hatches of hoppers, beetles and ants help fill the trouts belly during the warmer months of the summer. This section of the Madison is populated with rocks, riffles and slicks, all great places for trout to lie while waiting their next meal.
Alice Owsley is a Madison River Special Recreation Permit holder.