Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Guide to the Madison River - Yellowstone National Park
There are several things that makes catching trout on the Madison River inside the park, day
in and day out, difficult. One is the added warm water from the geyser heated Firehole River.
This increases the temperature of the Madison River over what one may otherwise assume
normal at any given time of year. Another factor that affects the river is Hedgen Lake. Trout will
move out of the Madison River during the summer, especially during low water years, and seek
the refuge of the lake's cool deep water. In the fall, large rainbow and brown trout will move out
of the Hebgen Lake into the river. You must keep track of the changes in water temperature
and the migration of the trout. The extent of this movement of trout depends on the annual
snowpack, rainfall amounts and seasonal temperatures.

In general, the Madison can be in good condition when the season first opens, provided the
runoff hasn't started. Usually this period of time is short and the spring runoff will swell the river
out of its banks for a couple of weeks during June. When the water recedes, it's a prime time to
be fishing the river. Depending on the weather, early July may find the water warming to the
point the trout that remain in the river become lethargic due to a lack of oxygen. Many of the
larger ones will move into Hedgen Lake. During times the locals call "good water years", it may
be that the Madison's water remains cool enough for good fishing the entire summer. On the
average, however, July and most of August isn't a good time to be fishing the Madison River
inside the park. Near the first to middle of the month of September the water will begin to cool
and trout will begin to move back into the river. Near the first of October, the large browns will
migrate up the Madison to spawn as far as and even into the lower Gibbons and Firehole
Rivers. Fishing is usually great until the season ends.  

Another factor that can complicate the Madison is multiple hatches. The river's fertile waters
offer the perfect habitat for many species of aquatic insects as well as sculpin, baitfish and
crustaceans. The fish can become selective on certain hatches. It's one of the few places in
the country that you can expect to catch large, wild trout on a hook size 20 dry fly. Paying close
attention to the hatches is very necessary in order to be able to consistently catch the
Madison's rainbow and brown trout.

Another factor that complicates the Madison River is the variety of water types. The stream can
appear almost spring creek like, with very clear, smooth flowing water. These areas can be
very deceptive. The surface of the water can appear to be as slick as glass when the currents
flowing through the heavy vegetation is actually creating all types of conflicting currents. It can
be very difficult to get a drag free drift in these areas. There are also many areas of pocket
water with large, deep pools and fast flowing runs. There are areas of both deep and shallow
riffles. The bottom of the stream can vary from smooth sand and fine gravel with heavy
vegetation, to almost solid volcano rock. There are areas of huge boulders, log jams, deep
grass beds, soft bottoms and just about any type of water you can imagine.  

I don't want to make the Madison River seem to complicated and difficult to fish because it isn't.
It can be difficult enough to challenge anyone to the point they can be proud of a good catch. It
isn't a pushover and it isn't a stream that rewards sloppy presentations, careless caution, and
anglers that fail to pay close attention to the stream conditions and what the trout are eating. It
is a stream where you can catch a large brown trout on a streamer and a large rainbow trout
on a tiny dry fly. Its meadow sections can produce good catches on terrestrial insect imitations
at the right time of the season. Its fast water sections can produce good catches on large
Salmonfly imitations cast without any precision at the right time of the season. It's a stream that
constantly changes and challenges any angler's abilities, yet rewards those well who do things
Madison River, YNP
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