Upper and Lower Madison River Fishing Report

Last update: 3/9/2024

Report Overview

Current fishing tips and conditions for the Upper Madison River.

  • Fishing is picking up with the warm front moving in. Should be food fishing this week.
  • Starting to see some good midge hatches on the Upper.
  • Dry fly action is still best when overcast, but fish are rising all day.
  • When fish are rising a Peacock Cluster or small Parachute Adams will get them biting.
  • Most reliable setup is nymphing with stonefly, caddis and midge patterns below an indicator.
  • If fish aren’t biting try a San Juan worm with a perdigon. This will usually do the trick.
  • Fishing is strongest above McAttee. Best conditions here.
  • If fish aren’t rising, jig nymphs close to the bottom.

Current fishing tips and conditions for the Lower Madison River.

  • Good fishing but a bit windy presently.
  • Midge dry flies are producing, but nymphing is still more consistent.
  • When fish are rising Griffiths Gnat and parachute patterns are producing.
  • With the warmer weather fish are moving around a bit more this time of year. Move outside typical winter holding spots.
  • Nymphing scuds, worms, sowbugs, and midges is producing.
  • Streamers with crayfish patterns are also hot. Other patterns that produce are wooly buggers, Bow River buggers and mini Zirdles.
  • You’ll find most fish in deeper slow moving water.

Monthly Fishing Reports

Monthly fishing reports and conditions for the Upper and Lower Madison River.

March is the official start of the fly fishing season on the Madison River. After a cold winter, trout are hungry and fly fishing is outstanding.

The quality of fly fishing during March on the Madison is largely dependent on the weather. If winter hangs on, fishing conditions can be down right arctic along the river’s northern reaches. Planning an early March fishing trip to the Lower Madison is not recommended.

Fly fishing typically gets underway in mid-March along the Upper Madison near West Yellowstone. By late-March early April fishing is underway along the Lower Madison downstream of Ennis Lake.

Nymphing and streamer fishing are generally the most productive techniques during March. Dry fly fishing may also be productive along the Upper Madison on warmer days. March midge hatches can make for some great early Spring dry fly action.

When nymphing in March, target the slow deeper runs and pools. A two-nymph rig with a larger stonefly pattern (#4-8) as leader trailed by a small midge or mayfly pattern (#14-20) is one of the more effective presentations. Fishing a split shot rig is an effective technique for pulling trout out of deeper water.

Small, flashing streamers that imitate sculpin, baitfish, and local forage are effective. Downstream from Ennis Lake, passing through Bear Trap Canyon and the Lower Madison, crayfish imitations are effective. Fishing streamers in deeper waters using sinking tipet or line is one of the best strategies for targeting larger, trophy trout in March.

Dry fly fishing along the Lower Madison is somewhat limited during March. Midges are the primary hatch. Target trout with small midge patterns (#18-20). Recommended midge patterns include Harrop’s Hanging Midge which imitates an emerging or ingured adult image, as well as Renegades.

April on the Madison is characterized by scattered rain, mild snow showers, sunshine, and overcast. As tailwaters of the Hebgen and Madison dams, most of the Upper and Lower Madison rivers maintain consistent, clear flows through spring runoff. Fishing is particularly strong along the Upper Madison during April.

Nymphing with a double-nymph rig will produce consistent catches throughout early April. Dead drifting mayfly and stonefly nymph patterns is also effective. Stripping and dragging various streamer patterns in deeper runs and pools is still the best way to target lunker browns and trophy rainbows.

From the beginning to the end of April daily temperatures increase 10 degrees fehrenheit. As weather warms hatches emerge and dry fly fishing on the Madison River really picks up. Blue Winged Olive (BWO) and March Brown hatches take center stage in early April. By late April fly stonefly hatches—skwala, capnia, and pnemora—may be also seen emerging across many sections of the Upper and Lower Madison. Recommended dry flies include BWO (#16-18), March Brown (#10-12), caddis (#12-16), Skwala (#12) and parachute patterns. For nymphing try BWO nymphs and emergers (#14-16), stonefly nymphs (#6-10), Zebra Midges, (#12-14), Pat’s Rubber Legs and the San Juan worm (#6-8).

When hatches are not present, nymphing with a two-fly nymph rig should be your go-to presentation. To target larger trout use a larger leader nymph trailed by a smaller nymph pattern such as Blue Winged Olive (BWO). On the Upper Madison anglers report success using stonefly nymph, worm, or sculpin patterns for the lead fly. On the Lower Madison, downstream from Ennis Lake, sculpin, worm, and crayfish patterns are recommended for the lead fly.

During the first few week of April there is still an abundance of trout eggs in the Madison and anglers can make some good catches fishing egg patterns. Egg pattern tend to work well for targeting rainbow trout.

Trout hold in the calmer water throughtout April. Anglers should target slow currents, “bucket” water that forms behind boulders, slower runs, and the inside of river bends. Rainbows may still be found on shallow gravel bars with their redds until spawning ends toward the middle of the month.

Winters is officially over and variety of fishing techniques including nymphing, streaming as well as dry fly fishing are equally effective—although the best dry fly fishing typically occurs on the middle to lower reaches of the Madison. Compared to April, hatches in May become more abundant and consistent.

From the beginning to the end of May daily air temperatures increase 10 degrees fehrenheit. As air temperatures rise, water temperatures follow suit, and trout activity and feeding increase. Hatches are in full swing with the Mother’s Day caddis hatch being one of the more prolific—especially along the Blacks Ford and Greycliffs stretches of the Lower Madison. If you’re fortunate enough to hit the Mother’s Day caddis hatch in full swing fishing a #16 Elk Hair caddis pattern is productive.

Fishing in early May is often different than fishing in late May due to changing weather conditions and snowmelt runoff. May on the Madison can be wet notwithstanding an average precipitation of no more than 1 to 3 inches of moisture. However, being a tailwater fishery of two dams, water flows, clarity, and fishing remains fairly consistent throughout the month.

By the end of May it’s a warm 75 degrees outside and the Madison begins to see the most substantial snowmelt runoff of the year. This results in a few tributary streams running high and carrying sediment downstream into the Madison and muddying up the water in a few areas. However, runoff is short lived and it’s fishing as normal within a few days. During the first few days of runoff, trout tend to move out of the faster currents into softer, deeper water where two-nymph rigs and slip shot fly rigs are effective.

The Upper Madison and Lower Madison fish differently throughout the month of May. On the Upper Madison, upstream from Ennis Lake, a two-fly mayfly or stonefly nymph rig under an indicator is one of the more productive presentations on non-hatch days. Dead drift or swing the rig across the current. Upstream from Ennis it is common to spot schools of trout rising to the surface on cloudy days in the slower runs and “bucket” water behind rocks to feed on abundant BWO and March Brown hatches.

On the Lower Madison, downstream of Ennis Lake, the Mother’s Day caddis hatch steals the limelight. The Mother’s Day caddis hatch can run into late May. As on the Upper Madison, March Brown hatches are abundant on the Lower Madison, although a bit more sporadic. To target the caddis hatch, fish caddis dry flies (#12-16). Fish BWO and March Brown hatches using size #14-16 and #12-14 patterns, respectively.

June on the Madison is a time of transition. In with the warm and out with the cold as spring ends and summer begins. During the first week or two of June flows from remaining snowmelt runoff subside, flow rates decline and stabilize. Fishing conditions for anglers improve as sunny days begin to out-weigh overcast days.

Fishing action is hot and heavy, streamer anglers really begin reeling in the lunker trout, and weighted two-fly nymph rigs continue to produce high catch rates. A two-fly nymph rig below an indicator with a stonefly nymph leader (#4-8) trailed by a smaller (size #10-12) Prince nymph or Pheasant tail is your go-to setup until dry fly fishing picks up later in the month.

The Upper Madison—upstream from Ennis Lake—and the Lower Madison—dowstream from Ennis Lake—experience similar behavior. Caddis hatches continue while Salmonfly, Golden Stonefly, Yellow Sally and Pale Morning Dun (PMD) hatches enter the scene. Dry fly fishing larger caddis patterns can land some trophy browns and rainbows. Hatches along the Lower Madison subside by the end of June as water temperatures rise and most of the fishing action moves to the Upper Madison.

Mid June the world famous salmonfly (Pteronarcys californica) hatch emerges and takes center stage on the Madison River. This is when dry fly fishing on the Madison really takes off. Salmonfly hatches begin on the Lower Madison around June 15th and make their appearance on the Upper Madison around June 25th. Golden Stonefly and Yellow Sally hatches appear on the scene shortly thereafter and dry fly fishing picks up.

After seeing so many large fake Salmonfly patterns it’s not uncommong for trout start going after the smaller flies. A popular presentation for fishing the Salmonfly hatch on the Madison is the dry fly dropper (aka “double dropper rig”) which employs a larger high floating dry fly leader (#6-10) followed by a small subsurface nymph attractor (#8-12). Often the leader will draw in the trout but it’s the smaller attractor the trout commits to.

While the Stonefly hatch is the crown jewel of dry fly fishing on the Madison, it’s the prolific PMD mayfly hatch that occurs on both the Lower and Upper Madison that is responsible for most of the best fishing days during June. PMDs make up the majority of trouts’ diet during the month. For best catch rates, fish PMD patterns (#12-16). When PMD hatches are in full bloom target riffles, shelves, and runs. When targeting stonefly hatches fish the banks and mid-river structure.

Recommended flies for June:

  • PMD nymphs, emergers and dry flies #14-18
  • Stonefly nymphs #4-8
  • Salmonfly dry flies #4-8
  • Golden stonefly dry flies #8-10
  • Yellow Sally nymphs and dry flies #10-16
  • Caddis pupae, emergers and dry flies #14-16
  • Sculpin patterns #2-6
  • Crawfish patterns #2-6

Raining days are far and few between, weather is mild, river flows are consistent and dry fly fishing is at its pinnacle. If you’re a dry fly angler, July on the Madison is your month.

Salmonfly hatches linger on through the first week or two of the month, while Golden Stonefly and caddis hatches remain in full force. PMD and Yellow Sally hatches that entered the scene in late June are now abundant. PMDs and caddis hatches are the primary focus of trout and angler alike during July. PMD hatches emerge mid morning. Both PMD emerger and dry flies are productive.

While dry fly fishing occurs along the entire Madison throughout July, the best fly fishing takes place on the Upper Madison. As summer temperatures near 80 degrees Ennis Lake water temperatures rise above the ideal range for trout activity. As a tailwater of Ennis Lake Dam, the entire Lower Madison through Three Forks experiences higher water temperatures and trout activity declines. The main destinations for dry fly fishing during July are found upstream from Ennis Lake along the Upper Madison.

Dry fly fishing takes main stage but opportunities for nymph fishing subsurface and prospecting for larger trout using streamers still exist. Targeting trophy trout fishing a two-fly weighted nymph rig, or stripping a larger streamer pattern, will continue to produce solid and consistent catches. Stonefly nymphs are a year round food source for trout and stonefly patterns will produce the entire month.

July days are long and hot. The cooler lowlight hours of early morning and evening tend to produce best for fishing dry flies and streamers, but caddis and PMD patterns can be fished around the clock. Earth bound insects, including grasshoppers, ants, and beetles enter the fray in July. Terrestrial patterns fished along the banks quickly attract the attention of the foraging trout. Mid day and late afternoon are the ideal times to fish terrestrials during July.

A key to fishing success during July is fishing the right habitat. Trout often migrate away from the bank toward the middle of the river and other structure to pursue hatch insects. Anglers should target less obvious habitats.

Recommended flies for July:

  • PMD nymphs, emergers and dry flies #12-18
  • Stonefly nymphs #4-10
  • Golden stonefly dry flies #8-10
  • Yellow Sally nymphs and dry flies #10-16
  • Caddis pupae, emergers and dry flies #14-16
  • Salmonfly dry flies #6-8
  • Sculpin patterns #2-6
  • Crayfish patterns #2-6
  • Grasshopper patterns #6-10
  • Ants #12-16
  • Beetles #12-16

Fly fishing the Madison River in early August is much as it is in July. Toward the end of the month the weather is more reminiscent of September with cooler mornings and evenings. PMD, caddis, and stonefly hatches begin to dwindle, but terrestrials—grasshoppers, ants, beetles, and spruce moths—continue to produce.

Fly fishing in August is challenging, yet exciting. Early morning provides excellent nymphing opportunities along much of the Upper Madison. Fishing a two-fly weighted nymph rig in early mornings remains an effective technique throughout the month of August. Even though many hatches are over, stonefly, PMD and caddis nymph patterns are still effective since these nymphs and pupae are active year-round in the Madison.

By afternoon trout are going after terrestrials, and hopper, ant, and beetle patterns is where the fly fishing action is at. Target larger trout by swinging or stripping larger streamer patterns. August is a great month to use a double dry fly rig to fish a grasshopper and ant pattern together.

Sporadic hatches of spruce moths provide a bit of a twist and an exciting opportunity to fish some unique fly patterns. Spruce moths can hatch throughout the day and often end up floating on the surface where they attract the attention of opportunistic trout. Spruce moths hatches are most abundant upstream of Ruby Creek.

During early mornings in August trout will often move near shore to feed for a few hours before returning to deeper runs and water when the sun comes up. Fly fishing is more productive along the Upper Madison throughout August.

Recommended flies for August:

  • PMD nymphs, emergers and dry flies #12-18
  • Caddis pupae, emergers and dry flies #14-16
  • Sculpin patterns #2-6
  • Crayfish patterns #2-6
  • Grasshopper patterns #6-10
  • Ant patterns #12-18
  • Beetle patterns #10-18
  • Spruce moths #12-16
  • Streamers #2-6

September is a transition month on the Madison. Daytime temperatures drop from the mid 80s to below 70 by month’s end. Days get shorter, water cools, and fly hatches dwindle. There are still some sporadic mayflies (BWO), caddis, and terrestrials, but insect hatches are sparse. Locals report September one of the best months to fish the Madison, but overall fishing pressure drops off as tourism subsides. Dry fly fishing is still good but takes a back seat as nymphing and streaming take over. Fishing a two-fly nymph rig, or stripping or dragging a streamer, may catch more trout than a dry fly.

Most of the Madison is fish-friendly during September. As water temperatures cool trout activity on the Lower Madison—downstream of Ennis Lake in Beartrap Canyon—once again picks up. With the warmer weather of July and August over, trout are now actively feeding and can be found in a greater variety of habitats. The warmer water temperatures of the Lower Madison also support good terrestrial—hopper, cricket, beetle, and spruce moth—fishing well into September. Anglers can also find good populations of spawning brown trout near the Black Fords stretch of the Lower Madison in late September.

Water temperatures along the Upper (“Middle”) Madison from Ennis upstream to West Yellowstone tend to cool sooner than the Lower Madison. Fall Blue Winged Olive (BWO) hatches also tend to appear earlier along the Upper Madison. As water temperatures cool along the Upper Madison (“Yellowstone”) , the river becomes flush with trout as big browns from Hebgen Lake migrate upstream to spawn and resident trout return. It is not uncommon to land 3-4 pound brown trout along the Upper Madison.

This time of year, brown trout are often found in the deeper water next to shallow water—along undercut banks and near structure. Most brown trout activity occurs at the end of September moving into October.

The major hatch to pay attention to in September is the Blue Winged Olive (BWO) hatch that gets under way mid to late September. Along some stretches of the Madison BWO hatches are abundant and provide anglers a unique fall season nymphing and dry fly fishing opportunity. BWO fall mayflies are slightly smaller than spring mayflies. They range in size from 16 to 22. Anglers can look foward to sporadic caddis hatches in early September and the possibility of October caddis toward the end of the month.

Recommended flies for September:

  • BWO nymphs, emergers and dry flies #16-22
  • Grasshopper patterns #4-12
  • Ant patterns #12-20
  • Beetle patterns #10-18
  • Spruce moths #12-16
  • Caddis pupae, emergers and dry flies #14-16
  • October caddis #8
  • Sculpin patterns #2-6
  • Crayfish patterns #2-6
  • Streamers #2-6

Weather during October is varied and unpredictable. One day you may have sunshine and temperatures in the upper 70s and the next rain and snow with temperatures below 30. Average daily temperatures during October hover around 60 degrees. Mild rain and snow storms are an ever-present possibility and some of the lousiest weather can produce the best fishing conditions.

October is streamer month and this is what anglers are fishing to get a shot at landing a big brown. A 6- to 7-weight fly rod, with a sink tip leader, and articulated sculpin is all you need to reel in a 24-26″ pre-spawn brown. Two-fly nymph rigs are also popular during October and still catch the most fish. Trailing a small mayfly nymph (#16-18) behind a stonefly leader (#12-14) is a lethal combo for catching trophy rainbow. On sunny days when temperatures reach above 60 degrees terrestrial patterns also produce.

Outside of streamers, dry fly fishing Blue Winged Olive (BWO) and October caddis hatches will generate catches. Blue Winged Olives are the main hatch on the Madison during October. Caddis hatches are sporadic and typically small in size and number compared to BWO hatches. Be prepared to fish the caddis hatch, but don’t expect to. Absent a hatch, stonefly, mayfly, and caddis nymph patterns are your go-to flies.

Both the Lower and Upper Madison experience consistent flows and hatches throughout the October. The Upper Madison has several runs of brown trout migrating upstream to spawn. The largest runs are upstream of Ennis, Quake, and Hebgen lakes. Hebgen Lake also produces an autumn rainbow trout run that reaches the west entrance to Yellowstone Park. Fishing a streamer or nymphing under an indicator here is effective.

Some of the best fall fishing during October is in the section of the river located between Hebgen Dam and the head of Quake Lake. Locally referred to as “Between the Lakes” this stretch of the Madison produces some of the highest catch rates of rainbow trout anywhere on the Madison. And while browns are not nearly as plentify as rainbows, the largest browns on the entire Madison are found in this short two mile stretch of water.

Recommended flies for October:

  • BWO nymphs, emergers and dry flies #16-22
  • Micro Chubby dry flies #12-16
  • Griffith’s Gnat #18-22
  • Buzzball #18-20
  • Perdigon nymphs #16-18
  • Lightning Bug nymphs #16-20
  • CDC Pheasant Tail #16-18
  • October caddis #8
  • Sculpin patterns #2-6
  • Crayfish patterns #2-6
  • Streamers #2-6 (Sex Dungeons, Sparkle Minnows, Zonkers)

There is some good fishing along the Upper and Lower Madison throughout November. One of the best aspects of November fishing is that fishing pressure is low. Just about anywhere you decide to fish you’ll find peace and tranquility. The same fishing techniques employed during October continue to produce through November.

This time of year the water along the Lower Madison is typically a few degrees warmer than on the Upper Madison. The gradient along the Lower Madison is less, the water is a bit slower, and fish are typically found in the deeper holes, weedbeds, and riffles. Mayfly nymphs and crayfish patterns are sure bets along the Lower Madison.

The Upper Madison has swifter flows than the Lower and fish tend to hold in the slower, deeper runs. The two mile stretch between Hebgen Dam and Quake Lake continues to produce nice size browns and rainbows throughout November. Fall runs of brown trout continue from upstream of Hebgen inside of Yellowstone Park, above Ennis Lake, and above Quake Lake.

Unless weather is unseasonably warm, not many anglers fish the Madison during December. However, during warm spells winter fishing along the Upper and Lower Madison can be superb. The scenery is spectacular, the atmosphere serene, and the fishing productive.

For the best action, fish the slower flowing runs using egg, worm, or midge patterns. Two winter “hotspots” on the Madison—Bear Trap Canyon and just above Hebgen Lake—are typically accessible and provide good winter fly fishing.

It’s cold this time of year, so make sure to come with a good set of waders and some high quality gear.

Most fishing during January occurs on the Lower Madison downstream from Ennis Dam. Popular fishing spots include Bear Trap Canyon and the stretch of river between Warm Springs access and Blacks Ford. Along the Upper Madison Three Dollar Bridge and Raynolds Pass Bridge provide fishing access and productive fly fishing.

Target the “bucket” water behind boulders, and slower, deeper runs using crayfish nymph patterns, San Juan worms, Pat’s Rubber Legs, or midge emerger patterns. When fishing a two-nymph rig, use a smaller #16-18 nymph midge pattern for the dropper.

Dry fly fishing can be productive on days with good weather and low wind. Fish the midge hatches and target calm, slower water in back eddies and along the banks.

Fishing the Madison during January starts out slow in the morning and picks up in the early afternoon as the sun warms water temperatures.

Fishing conditions in February on the Madison River are similar to January. Sporadic midge hatches will bring trout to the surface to feed and provide anglers windows of spectacular dry fly fishing. Small griffiths gnat, rojo midge and mating midge patterns (#18-22) are ideal for dry fly fishing midge hatches during February. Juju emergers and winter stoneflies are also productive.

Fishing on the Upper Madison is productive during February, weather permitting. Anglers will find consistent fishing near Three Dollar Bridge and Raynolds Pass. During the heat of the day it’s not uncommon to see pods of trout rising to the surface to gorge on midge clusters. Midge patterns are your ticket during February. Attractor nymphs such as lightning bugs and pheasant tails also rarely fail to produce strikes. Target slow moving pools.

The Lower Madison is also a consistent winter fishery. Viewing pods of fish picking midge flies and emergers from the surface is a common sight along the Lower Madison during hatches. Fish hatches with midge dry fly patterns and the deep troughs with nymphs.

Top Catches

The following are the most common catches on Madison River reported by anglers.

Rainbow trout, Brown trout, Cutthroat trout, Mountain whitefish