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Fly Fishing the Madison River at West Fork Cabin Camp

Lyons bridge madison river

If you want to experience some of the best blue ribbon fly fishing in Montana’s “Big Sky Country” there’s no better cold water fishery than the Madison River. If you’ll looking for the best stretch of river along the Madison to wet your line, there’s no better place than West Fork. Just a stone’s throw from West Yellowstone, the Madison River near the West Fork is a mecca for trophy trout fly fishing.

Fly Fishing the West Fork of Madison

The West Fork of the Madison River originates just north of Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and flows northeast until its confluence with the Madison River just north of Cliff Lake. The West Fork of the Madison River itself is a fairly small stream and the trout here tend to be smaller as well.

The best fly fishing opportunities for trophy size trout are actually from the West Fork Madison River confluence—where the West Fork River meets the main Madison River—about 40 miles downstream to the city of Ennis. Here you’ll find one of the most outstanding trout fishery in the lower forty eight.

west fork madison river fly fisherman

While the Madison river is a year round fishery, it’s most productive from late spring through mid autumn. If you really want to up your odds of landing some trophy catches, try to match the hatch during the times of the year when fly hatches are in full swing. Timing hatches can be a bit challenging but from Lyons Bridge near the West Fork confluence downstream through Ennis serious hatches usually start emerging mid- to late-June and have fully exploded by the end of the month.

Weather and water conditions can cause hatches to emerge earlier or later. If it’s a big snow year, expect runoffs to extend through the end of June and hatches to emerge in late June early July. If it’s a dry winter, and weather is warm, hatches can be in full swing by mid-June.

One of the most popular hatches that occurs each year on the Upper Madison is the salmonfly hatch. 3″ long salmonflies are quite the treat for any trout and will bring lunkers from the deep to the surface to feed. The salmonfly hatch occurs along the entire Upper Madison River from Earthquake Lake downstream passing the West Fork confluence and Lyons Bridge, and from there on down to the town of Ennis.

From Lyons Bridge to Ennis fly fishing is dominated by drift fishing with hard boats and float rafts. Due to private land ownership and overgrown banks, walk and wade access is somewhat restricted along this stretch. From Lyons Bridge upstream to Earthquake lake, hatches and fishing are strong and there’s a lot more public access for wade fishing.

Fly Fishing Tips and Techniques

If you’re able to stay on top of the salmonfly hatch, I recommend wetting your line using a salmonfly pattern dry fly anywhere from 4-6 days behind the main hatch. At the height of the hatch trout have usually gorged themselves on salmonflies to the point they’re ready to explode. Give them a few days to digest their meal, and wait for the hatch do die down just a little, and the trout will be biting hard again.

If nymphing is your preferred technique, or your fishing during the beginning of the season, try fishing jsut in front of the hatch. Salmonfly nymphs are often very active under the surface just before the main hatch. If you’re fishing the Upper Madison during late spring early June, fishing a salmonfly nymph can be productive.

If you want to enhance your presentation and increase your chances of getting a bite, I recommend trying a double dry fly rig with a second fly trailing the first by a good two feet. For the second fly you can use another salmonfly pattern or mix it up by adding a smaller dry fly. Salmonfly hatches aren’t the only hatches on the Upper Madison and sometimes a small stonefly or caddis pattern is just as attractive to a hungry trout as the larger salmonfly.

All types of fly fishing—dry fly, nymph and streamers—can be employed along the upper section of the Madison River. The following are few more recommended fly patterns.

  • Pheasant Tail
  • Elk Hair Caddis
  • Gray CDC Caddis
  • Foam Salmonfly
  • Cat Puke
  • Lightning Bug
  • Pheasant Tail
  • Elk Hair Caddis

What you’ll catch

The West Fork stretch of the Madison below its confluence is relatively shallow and resembles one large neverending riffle interspersed with giant glacial boulders. It’s also one of the most productive places to wet your line if giant brown trout is on the menu. At 3,000 to 5,000 fish per mile, trout concentrations along this stretch of the Upper Madison are high and you can expect to catch browns, rainbows, and some Westslope cutthroats—if you’re lucky.

brown trout caught on the west fork of the madison river

A high catch rate, trophy size trout, and some of the most picturesque scenery Montana has to offer make the West Fork of Madison River a fly fisherman’s paradise. As good a fishery as it is, the West Fork stretch receives surprisingly light walk and wade fishing pressure compared to other reaches of the river.

Drift Fishing Below Madison’s West Fork

While the Madison below the West Fork receives light fishing pressure from the bank, the same can’t be said for drift fishing. From Lyons Bridge—just beyond the West Fork confluence—downstream to Hwy 287 in Ennis, is one of the most popular stretches of the Madison river for fly fishing by drift boat.

madison river drift fishing

In addition to Lyons bridge, there several other access points and float routes along this section of the Madison—including Windy Point, Palisades, Ruby Creek, McAtee, Storey Ditch, Varney Bridge, 8 mile, Burnt Tree Hole, and Ennis.

The following map and table show the more popular access points and float routes I recommend for drift fishing the Madison River downstream of Lyons Bridge.

access points and float route map for madison river below lyons bridge

Float Trip RouteDistancePut inTake out
Lyons Bridge to Windy Point6.2 milesLyons BridgeWindy Point
Lyons Bridge to Palisades7.9 milesLyons BridgePalisades
Lyons Bridge to McAtee Bridge15.3 milesLyons BridgeMcAtee Bridge
Lyons Bridge to Storey Ditch17.8 milesLyons BridgeStorey Ditch
Ruby Creek to Ennis23 milesRuby CreekEnnis
Storey Ditch to Varney Bridge9.5 milesStorey DitchVarney Bridge
Varney Bridge to 8-mile Ford5.1 milesVarney Bridge8-mile Ford
8 Mile Ford to Ennis4 miles8-mile FordEnnis
Burnt Tree Hole to Ennis3.6 milesBurnt Tree HoleEnnis

One of the biggest benefits of drift fishing this portion of the Madison is you’re able to access and fish parts of the river that run through private land which are otherwise inaccessible for fishing. If you want to increase your chances of a hooking trophy trout, there’s no better way than drift fishing.

If you want to fly fish the Madison River below the West Fork confluence, or just want to take in all the beauty the river has to offer, you have a couple of rafting options. You can book a guided tour, or you can rent some rafts and setup a self-guided trip tailored to your needs.

At West Fork Cabin Camp we offer day rentals for Maravia and Hyside style rafts that are ideal for drifting the West Fork section of the Madison. These rafts have ergonomic swivel chairs ideal for fly fishing or just relaxing and taking in the sights. Rafts also come with an ice chest, anchoring system, and everything you need to have an amazing float trip.

We can also help you put in, take out, even shuttle your vehicle for you.

About West Fork Cabin Camp

West Fork Cabin Camp is conveniently located at the edge of Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in Madison County, Montana. Its just a few minutes from the heart of “Yellowstone Country” and provides access to all public lands, spectacular scenery, and unlimited outdoor recreation opportunities.

west fork cabin camp

Fly fishing the Yellowstone Basin is an unforgettable experience that is second to none, and it is why most anglers find their way to our doorstep, but at West Fork Cabin Camp we offer much more than just fishing.

Fly Fishing

West Fork Cabin Camp brings you several world class fly fishing options. Step outside and fish blue ribbon trout right from your doorstep. There are also numerous other options to fish the Yellowstone Basin within an hour’s drive, including Hebgen Lake, Gallatin River, Wade Lakes, and Quake Lake, to name just a few.

fly shop and west fork cabin camp

Just bring your gear and appetite to fish, and we’ll provide the rest. Our fly fishing shop offers all the fishing supplies, tackle and flies you’ll need for productive and fun fill fly fishing adventure.

West Fork Camp Cabin is located at the West Fork confluence. The section of the Madison River from our location at the confluence downstream to Ennis truly offers some of the best trout fly fishing you can experience, but there are several other blue ribbon lakes, creeks, and fisheries within driving distance from West Fork Camp Cabin that also offer excellent fly fishing opportunities. The following are few of my favorite.

  • Hebgen Lake
  • Ennis Lake
  • Cliff and Wade Lake
  • Sure Shot Lakes
  • O’Dell Spring Creek
  • Ruby River
  • North Fork of the Madison
  • Good ol’ Yellowstone Park

It’s not just the fishing that drives people to stay at West Fork Cabin Camp year after year—it’s also the hunting. We’re strategically located near all the best waterfowl and big game hunting regions including Montana’s famous Gravelly Range in Beaverhead National Forest.

West Fork Cabin Camp puts you at the doorstep of some of the best bow and rifle hunting for deer, elk, moose, big horn, antelope, bear and upland bird hunting in the lower fourty eight.

Wildlife Viewing

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem provides excellent opportunities to view and photograph a spectacular array of wildlife in their natural environment. Bird watching is particularly popular and productive. From the great bald eagle to songbirds of every variety, birders and bird watching enthusiastas travel from around the world to experience and record Yellowstone at its best.

In addition to fly fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing, horseback riding, hiking and ATV touring are all available at West Fork Cabin Camp.

You can learn more about West Fork Cabin Camp or book a reservation by contacting Chance Allen at 1-406-682-4802 or emailing

Mark (Chance) Allen was raised around the mountains of Utah. Camping, hunting, fishing and outdoors sports have been a life long passion—and something he loves to share with family and friends. Chance.... read more
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