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The Madison River is a headwater tributary of the Missouri Rivermarker, approximately 183 miles (295 km) long, in Wyomingmarker and Montanamarker. Its confluence with the Jefferson and Gallatin rivers near Three Forks, Montanamarker form the Missouri River.

The Madison rises in Park Countymarker in northwestern Wyoming at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon rivers, a location known as Madison Junction in Yellowstone National Parkmarker. It flows west then north through the mountains of southwestern Montana to join the Jefferson and Gallatin rivers at Three Forks. The Missouri River Headwaters State Parkmarker is located on the Madison at Three Forks. In its upper reaches in Gallatin County, Montanamarker, the Hebgen Dam forms Hebgen Lakemarker. In its middle reaches in Madison County, Montanamarker, the Madison Dam forms Ennis Lake and provides hydroelectric power. In 1959, the Hebgen Lake earthquake formed Quake Lakemarker just downstream from Hebgen Dam. Downstream from Ennis, the Madison flows through Bear Trap Canyon, known for its class IV-V whitewater. The Bear Trap Canyon section is part of the Lee Metcalf Wildernessmarker area.

The river was named in July 1805 by Meriwether Lewis at Three Forks. The central fork of the three, it was named for U.S. Secretary of State James Madison, who would succeed Thomas Jefferson as President in 1809. The western fork, the largest, was named for President Jefferson and the east fork for Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin.
The Madison is a Class I river in Montana for the purposes of access for recreational use.

Angling The Madison

The Madison River, from Madison Junction in Yellowstone to Three Forks, is a fly fishing mecca for serious anglers. It is classified as a blue ribbon fishery in Montana and is one of the most productive streams in Montana for brown trout, rainbow trout and mountain whitefish.

For angling purposes, the Madison can be divided into four distinct sections.
Madison River in Yellowstone National Park
Madison River near Seven Mile (11 km) bridge
The of the Madison in the park, although easily accessible, is not suited for beginners and offers technical dry fly and nymph fishing for rainbow and brown trout averaging from ten to fourteen inches (356 mm), with an occasional 20-incher. Most of the river inside the park resembles a large spring creek and has been called the world's largest chalkstream.

The Madison is an early summer and fall river and offers poor fishing in midsummer because of high temperatures contributed by the Firehole. Fishing in the fall is excellent when significant numbers of brown and rainbow trout enter the river from Hebgen Lake. These are usually taken with large streamer patterns. Many pools and runs on the Madison have angler-given names reminiscent of eastern trout stream and British salmon rivers--The Barns, Beaver Meadows, Grasshopper Bank, Cable Car Run and Baker's Hole, .

The Madison River is fly fishing only in Yellowstone National Park and all fishing is catch and release.
Yellowstone National Park Boundary to Quake Lake
After the Madison River takes its leave from Yellowstone Park, it meanders out into the beautiful ranch lands of southwestern Montana. It is here that its true character is revealed and its reputation as a world-class fishery is secured. The Madison rolls majestically through cottonwood lined banks and over riffles and quiet runs that harbor large rainbows and trophy browns. The Madison River flows along Yellowstone’s West Entrance road into Hebgen Lake outside the park. In 1959, the Hebgen Lake earthquake formed Quake Lake just downstream from Hebgen Dam.
Upper Madison- Quake Lake to Ennis Lake
Madison River at Ennis in January
Directly below Quake Lake a three mile (5 km) long whitewater section resulted from the 1959 earthquake. It is characterized by a steep gradient of river including large boulders with Class III and Class IV whitewater.

Below the whitewater section the river turns into a swift flowing but gentle river for to Ennis lake. This section has often been called the Fifty Mile Riffle and provides the best fly fishing on the river.
Lower Madison- Ennis Lake to Three Forks
Lower Madison River Near Black's Ford access, September


  • Trout UnlimitedTrout Unlimited's mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America's coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.
  • Western Watersheds Project — The mission of Western Watersheds Project is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation.
  • Montana River Action — The clean flowing waters of Montana belong to the people and are held in trust by the State for a pollution-free healthful environment guaranteed by our Montana Constitution. Montana River Action's mission is to protect and restore rivers, streams and other water bodies.

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