Southwest Montana is home to some of the most beautiful and well-known rivers in the world. Our office location in Bozeman, Montana is just a stone’s throw away from world class fishing and floating. We’ve developed this River Resource page to help those looking to raft, float or fish any of the numerous waters in our backyard. Feel free to call our team any time at 406-922-0179 for local info and tips on floating, boating and fishing southwest Montana. Also, keep in mind that should you need any gear for your float or fish trip, we can supply you with top of the line equipment at rental rates to make sure you have the most enjoyable time possible.
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The Madison River is a local favorite and perhaps one of the most renowned rivers and fisheries in all of Montana. With ample public access and beautiful surrounding scenery, it’s no wonder the Madison is a fan favorite. Beginning in Yellowstone National Park, the river winds its way through park boundaries before spilling into Hebgen Lake near the town of West Yellowstone. Campgrounds that offer fishing access surround much of Hebgen Lake.
Just a few miles below Hebgen Lake the Madison dumps into Quake Lake, hitting a natural dam that was formed following the earthquake of 1958 that tragically killed 28 people. Quake Lake stretches 6 miles in length and at points is nearly 200 feet deep.
After leaving Quake Lake, the river runs through a turbulent stretch of whitewater before reaching Highway 87 bridge and Raynolds’ Pass public fishing access. Below Raynolds’ pass, the Madison flows to another popular fishing access site, Three Dollar Bridge. Known for evening bug hatches and top-notch wade fishing, Three Dollar Bridge is a great spot to throw on the waders and find a hole or run to cast to.
After passing Three Dollar Bridge, the rivers current runs quickly and soon passes one more public fishing access point, Lyons Bridge.
This section of the river, from Raynolds’ Pass to Lyons Bridge is closed to float fishing, meaning the only way to get a cast in on this section is wade fishing.
From Highway 287 Bridge to Ennis Lake fishing from a boat is not allowed.
Ennis Lake, however, is a great option for still water fishing or taking the boat out for a leisurely day on the water. One public boat ramp exists on at Meadow Lake fishing access.
Below Ennis Lake the river runs through Bear Trap Canyon, a steep-walled canyon that is accessible by boat or by hiking in only. This stretch of the river sees fewer anglers due to the more difficult access. The water in this section is typically fast moving.
Once out of Bear Trap canyon the Madison widens out, slows down, and meanders all the way to I-90 before meeting up with the Gallatin and Jefferson rivers to form the headwaters of the Missouri River. Public access points along this stretch include Damselfly, Black’s ford, Greycliff, Cobblestone, Milwaukee and Blackbird.
The most popular stretch of the river from a recreational standpoint is from Damselfly fishing access, through Black’s Ford fishing access, and ending at Greycliff fishing access. This stretch of the river is wide and scenic, and follows the course of Highway 84, making it an easy option to pull out and throw a couple of casts from shore. Keep in mind that during the summer months this stretch of the Madison is often flooded with tubers, riding the lazy river from Black’s ford to Damselfly or Greycliff. If you’re looking to fish this stretch during peak summer months, it may be worth going early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid tuber traffic.
From Greycliff to Blackbird, the river runs through a scenic stretch, often becoming braided and shallow. This stretch of the Madison is not often floated by anglers, as access is tough and the water thinner. While Cobblestone fishing access offers public land, there is no boat ramp, meaning that should you want to float past Greycliff in a raft or drift boat, you’ll need to go all the way to either Milwaukee or Blackbird fishing access near I-90.
The Yellowstone River
The famed Yellowstone River is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the United States and offers amazing scenery, beautiful water and great fishing with plenty of public access points. Know as one of the crown jewels of trout fishing, the Yellowstone is known for cutthroat, large brown trout and rainbows.
The river begins at Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park before flowing north past the park boundaries and through the town of Gardiner, MT. Just downstream of Gardiner is the first public access point, Queen of the Waters.
Below Queen of Waters, the river runs through Yankee Jim Canyon, a steep-walled whitewater section often run by whitewater enthusiasts in kayaks and whitewater rafts.
Most fishing on the river is done from Brogan’s Landing fishing access to Livingston, as the river opens up and slows down as it works its way through breathtaking Paradise Valley.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks does a great job maintaining public access along this stretch. Slip & Slide, Crystal Cross, Point of Rocks, Emigrant, Emigrant West, Grey Owl, Chicory, Dan Bailey, Loch Leven, Mallard’s Rest and Pine Creek all offer great options for floaters and anglers, and can be strung together for short a afternoon float or spend a night or two at some of the areas campgrounds.
From the Highway 89 Bridge to the town of Big Timber, MT, the river traces interstate 90, passing a handful of public access points including Sheep Mountain, Springdale Bridge, Grey Bear and Otter Creek.
Downriver from Big Timber the Yellowstone sees much less pressure from anglers and floaters, running some 100 miles until eventually reaching the Missouri River just east of the North Dakota border.
The Gallatin River
The Gallatin River is the closest stretch of river to Bozeman, just a hop skip and a jump from the heart of town. Starting in the high mountains of Yellowstone National Park at Gallatin Lake, the river runs over 100 miles until eventually merging with the Jefferson and Madison rivers near Three Forks, Montana to form the headwaters of the Missouri River. The Gallatin offers great fishing, solid public access and beautiful views.
Before breaking park boundaries the Gallatin flows some 25 miles through Yellowstone National Park. Floating is prohibited in the park, and a special Yellowstone fishing permit is required. Once leaving the National Park the Gallatin passes the town of Big Sky, MT and runs along side Highway 191 through the Gallatin Canyon. Fishing access is excellent through this stretch, as one can drive up and down the canyon, spot a stretch to fish, pull over and have a good chance at finding a nearby spot to access the river. This stretch has plenty of rapids and is a popular run for whitewater kayakers. It’s worth noting that float fishing is prohibited on this stretch of the Gallatin. As such, wade fishing is the go to option.
Once out of the canyon the Gallatin enters the wade and flat Gallatin Valley. A few handful of public access points including Kirk Wildlife Refuge, Axtell Bridge, Shed’s Bridge, Cameron Bridge, Erwin Bridge, Four Corners, Gallatin Forks and Bud Lilly break up what is mostly private land until the river meets the Jefferson and Madison to form the Missouri River. Floating fishing this section from Kirk Wildlife to the Missouri Rive headwaters is allowed.
The Jefferson River
The Jefferson river begins near the town of Twin Bridges, MT and flows some 80 miles before reaching the headwaters of the Missouri River. While not as renowned for its fishing as the Madison and Yellowstone, the Jefferson offers a less crowded option for the angler or floater looking to skip the crowds, and is a great option for the canoe or kayaker looking to get a day in on the water.
The first access point on the Jefferson is in the town of Twin Bridges, just up stream of where the Big Hole river meets the Beaverhead and Ruby Rivers to form the Jefferson. Following town, Hell’s Canyon is next public fishing access location. Silver Star, Parrot Castle, Kountz Bridge, Mayflower Bridge, Cardwell Bridge and Limespur round out the public fishing access points.
For more detailed information for canoe, kayakers, or other floaters on the Jefferson, check out the Jefferson River Canoe Trail website.