The Madison has lots of fishing access sites on both state land and BLM land.
No Fishing From a Boat
From the Slide to Lyons Bridge, and from the 287 Highway Bridge in Ennis to Ennis Lake, float fishing is prohibited. Fishing must be done by wading. If you float these section of the river, get out of the watercraft before casting a line.
Fishing from a boat is allowed downstream from Lyon’s Bridge to the highway bridge in Ennis, just downstream from the Ennis Fishing Access.
The Slide to Raynolds Pass
While there is no actual fishing access above the Raynolds pass Fishing Access, getting into the river is not hard. The river comes close to Highway 287 and there is an interpretive sign for the 1959 earthquake where you can park. from here you can access upstream to Quake Lake and downstream for a little way too.
Going upstream, it leads you into the ‘slide’ area. Here is where the Madison River finally broke free from the newly formed Earthquake Lake and rushed out of the canyon forming new a river channel. Dead standing trees defy the whitewater that rushes by. You’ll need no waders to fish this stretch – the river is far too swift to step in.
Years ago, a guide explained how to fish the ‘slide’. “Get a good drift with a double nymph rig. Fish within a foot of shore in the soft water. Use no strike indicator. Just when the drift looks perfect, set the hook.” Hard to imagine, but man, did this work great!
At Raynold Pass Fishing access, you can follow the well-worn path upstream on both sides of the river and fish for huge brown trout that lurk in these waters. Just look at the photos on Slide Inn’s website for proof!
Three Dollar Bridge
Three Dollar Bridge on the Madison River
Perhaps one of the most famous fishing accesses there is, the Three Dollar Bridge on the Madison. Take Cliff Lake Road off Highway 287. Access the river upstream or down on both sides of Three Dollar Bridge.
Named for the sign a landowner placed on the property requiring a $3 per day use fee to park and access the river, the land was purchased with matching funds from the public, corporate donors such as Orvis, and Montana FWP. Today the land is held by the Trust For Public Lands that permanently protects 4 miles of river frontage. Three Dollar Bridge is 40 miles south of Ennis.
West Fork Bridge
Access the Madison River where the West Fork joins the main stem. There is good access for wade fishing.
Turn by the Rest Area on Highway 287 to get to Lyons Bridge. There is ample parking for boat trailers. There is no fishing from a boat above the bridge. If you are floating, be sure no rods in the water until you get under the bridge. This is really fishy water here so be ready to cast downstream of the bridge. This is a popular float so do not expect solitude. In my opinion, the views of the mountains are the best here. Lyons Bridge is 33 miles south of Ennis.
As the name suggests, the wind can be a challenge here. The boat launch is good here and you are not far from the Palisades. Launch here for a longer day float to McAtee. Access is located approximately 28 miles south of Ennis, off US Highway 287.
One of my favorites floats is Lyons to Palisades. The palisades tower above the launch, very picturesque. Great launch with lots of parking. There is camping as well. Access is located approximately 27 miles south of Ennis, off US Highway 287. The river braids a bit here giving opportunities for wade fishing.
The Ruby Creek Campground and Boat Launch are located near herds of elk. Look for elk in early winter through late spring here. This area is more sheltered from the relentless southern winds that can howl some days so if you are thinking about dry camping, this would be a great spot. There is a really nice overlook just about a mile past the campground if you are wanting to take some nice photos. Take the road to the McAtee Fishing Access off US Highway 287.
the McAtee Fishing Access is located approximately 19 miles south of Ennis. Turn off US Highway 287 to access this launch by the bridge. Floating from McAtee to Varney Bridge is a full day float. The river is pretty straight forward in this stretch.
Just 16 miles south of Ennis, just off US 287, you’ll find Storey Ditch. Another great option for making a longer or shorter float.
the Varney Bridge Fishing Access is located approximately 10 miles south of Ennis. Take US Highway 287 south of Ennis to Varney Road or pick up Varney Road from MT 287 (the road to Virginia City). This picturesque spot has spots to camp under trees. The river begins to braid more downstream of the Varney Bridge. Varney to Ennis is a full day float.
If you love photography, here is another great spot. The high bench over the river has parking while the launch puts you right into good, fishy braided water. Take Varney Road to the access. Fish to town for a half day float or go to Valley Garden for a half float, half wade day.
Burnt Tree Hole
Access the Burnt Tree Hole launch off Varney Road, just downstream from 8 Mile, float from here to do a shorter float to Valley Garden for a half float, half wade day.
Also known as “town” when floating from Varney Bridge to town. There are campsites and decent places to wade fish. Just downstream is the 287 Highway Bridge. At that point, fishing from a boat is not allowed until Ennis Lake. From here, the Madison River braids through meadow and bushes all the way to the lake.
Take the road to Jeffers to get to the Valley Garden Fishing Access. There are campsites available and a boat launch. Downstream is Ennis Lake. If you start a float here, you’ll need to take out at one of the boat launches on the lake. Beware, the lake can fetch up on windy days . There is no fishing from a boat until you are in the lake.
Wade fishing is good here. You’ll find numerous paths made by anglers to fishy spots. This is a great spot to fish at the end of the day as the valley is wide here and daylight is long.
Fishing the River
We have always fished the river with a hard boat, and most guides do too. A raft with easily work here. And fishing the river from a kickboat or kayak is a good option.
The river during normal summer flows, in my opinion, is fairly easy to row. Hidden boulders and braids that run shallow without warning, are the challenges. There are no crazy rapids, diversion dams that span the river, or falls.
While you certainly can wade the river in a lot of places, I’d stick with the water below the Slide to Lyons Bridge, the Valley Garden area, and the water immediately near fishing accesses. The river flows through private ranch land and folks really like anglers to stay at or below the high water mark. Much of the river is lined with bushes which makes staying below the high water mark and wading tough.