A brand new Otter Raft from NRS has been sitting on it’s trailer in my garage since May. Pathetic. Last weekend, Julie and decided it was time to get it wet. Our search for some good flows for a family fish/float led us to the Madison River. A good excuse to get out of Craiglandia and do a little camping.

We chose that option over a Big Hole or Blackfoot mission, both of which are under “hoot-owl” restrictions. We don’t mind no fishing after 2pm, but both rivers are extremely low. Dad wanted some water to push that new raft down the river instead of doing it himself, and the Madison has it. I also wanted Adair to be able to row without navigating shallow boulder fields (above).

Milky Way over our camp at the Palisades.

After battling crazy traffic and crowds in Ennis (an art festival weekend), we slid into a campsite up at the Palisades. Nice and quiet, and a beautiful view.

Saturday afternoon turned out to be raining like Oregon, so we chose to hang around camp and do some fishing with our campsite neighbors. Adair went out with a boy her age and immediately stuck her first Madison Rainbow. All by herself on a Copper John while I was helping the other young angler get his fly out of the tree. Awesome.

First Madison Rainbow Trout

We had a chance to use Shuttlesnap for our shuttles while we were fishing the Madison. Headhunters is the Shuttlesnap provider on the Missouri River, so it was interesting to try it as a consumer. Worked great – as expected – and the Meadowlark Shuttle Service returned our request almost immediately.

The guys at Montana Trout Stalkers told us that Meadowlark quit taking shuttles at 10am on Monday because they were full (80 shuttles). Like I said, there were folks around. Good to know, as were were starting around 9am. Both Montana Trout Stalkers and The Tackle Shop gave us some good Madison intel.

Sunday saw some more unsettled weather with some big thunderstorms rolling through the upper valley. Out came the rain gear.

Madison River Thunderstorms

Fishing was what I expected and what we were told upon arrival. Kind of tough, and the crowds don’t help.¬†Hatches consisted of some fly ants, beetles and not much else.

But unlike the Missouri, you’re always sure to catch lots of little fish on dries, and they ate the Ant all day long. We caught a few good ones as well.

The lack of great fishing didn’t really bother us. We were there to enjoy a beautiful river and float in normal flows. We roasted some marshmallows, looked for nymphs (which the Madison is awesome for) and enjoyed the end of summer. School starts in a few weeks.

I also caught the first trout on my beautiful Sweetgrass Rods, 7′ 3 weight “Pent”. I have been waiting for the right opportunitly to break it in. And an evening alone on the Madison seemed right. Of course I envisioned a 23″ Brown inhaling my Blooms Ant, but this 12 inch Rainbow is more than good enough. And what I expected.

Sweetgrass Rods Madison River

While the fishing wasn’t spectacular in the middle of the day, and the crowds were an issue, I still recommend the Madison River. The river, scenery and camping are all great. On a drought year like we’re experiencing, it’s a treat to float in normal to above normal flows.

If you’re into the “town” thing, Ennis has some great fly shops, festivals and food. It’s as legendary as a trout stream gets, and is full of fish. Many years ago I was a guide on the Madison, and I know that if you’re in tune with the river – which I no longer am – you’ll get the big ones. They are there. But even without them it’s a special place.

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  • The best route between SLC and Craig takes one through some of the most scenic areas an best fly water in the country. Each time I do this I find myself in a rush to get to Craig. after reading this I’ll be sure to allow some ‘extra’ time to stop and take it all in….

  • Rt 20 to Rt 87 to Rt 287 that is

  • Milky Way over our camp at the Palisades. —- Killer Photos!

  • Glad you and your family had a wonderful time….kudos!

  • Uh oh, Adair is fishing with boys, Mom and Dad better watch out! And in true female fashion, out-fishing the boys…atta girl!

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