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A Top Spot for Madison River Fishing

Posted by: Nick Bacon
Date: 11/27/2023

The Madison River is home to some of the world's most revered wild trout populations. This blue ribbon stream spans 183 miles of accessible water, offering prolific insect hatches and robust, fighting Montana fish set against astounding scenery.

Whether it's the precision of technical casts with microscopic mayflies or the thrill of pulling large streamers along undercuts, fly fishing here is undeniably an angler's dream. After years of spending time on this home river, here is my favorite place to fly fish on the Madison River.

$3 Bridge Madison River Fishing Access

About an hour and a half outside of Bozeman lies one of the Madison River's premier access sites: Three Dollar Bridge. Maintained by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, this fishing site offers nearly 100 acres of public land stretching approximately two miles along the river.

Thanks to the contribution from Olliffe Ranch, there's a block management area extending eastward, connecting to Raynold's Pass access site and further expanding the accessible area. This amalgamation results in over 2,100 acres of public land and approximately 3.5 miles of direct access to the Madison River

This stretch of river is walk-wade fishing only, meaning, you will not see many drift floaters in this area since they are required to exit the boat in order to fish, somewhat evening the playing field for those on foot. Full of boulders and fast moving riffles, trout seemingly have endless holding areas. When the fishing is on - it is on - and it seems that every pocket has an eager Montana Rainbow Trout waiting to be caught, there is no other place quite like it.

Madison River Hatches

Open year-round for angling, fishing here is always an option. Here, you truly get to experience the epitome of Montana trout fishing. Expect to see millions of tiny midges hatching in February and the chaotic emergence of Salmonflies in early summer along the banks.

The majority of the best bug activity occurs from mid-June through early October, with prime time being July.

Due to thermal springs feeding into the river near West Yellowstone, the Madison River boasts plenty of biomass ideal for aquatic insects. This is a key factor that makes this river so special. My favorite hatches to fish here are the Golden Stones, Caddis, and Grasshoppers.

Madison River Hatch Chart
							The Madison River near $3 Bridge during a winter Montana fly fishing outing with Fins and Feathers Guide Service

Madison River Fishing Techniques

The greatest aspect of Madison River fishing is the abundance of holding spots, practically everywhere. You often don't need to venture far from the access points to find fish. The water conditions here lend themselves well to various fishing techniques, including using dry flies, nymphs, and streamers. However, a few things are worth keeping in mind.

  • The water flows swiftly, and the riverbed is filled with rocks. I usually opt for nymph fishing, using larger jigs to reach the trout's feeding lanes while avoiding bottom snags. Experimenting with depth is crucial, as fish aren't always at the riverbed's bottom in this stretch; sometimes, a shorter leader does the trick.
  • Numerous small micro-currents pose a challenge in achieving a 'drag-free' drift. Employ the high stick method by raising your arm and keeping your line off the water. This reduces drag influenced by the current, especially useful when fishing dry flies around multiple boulders.
  • Swinging small baitfish and emerger imitations can prove highly effective here. The rich, Montana trout population coupled with diverse insect activity makes trout opportunistic feeders. They recognize the array of feeding options available, and swinging patterns can trigger instinctual behavior while allowing you to cover a considerable area of water.