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Three Dollar Bridge

Choose from Montana’s largest selection of fishing and lodging packages. Options include unique fishing lodges, exclusive ranch stays, riverside vacation rentals, and affordable hotel packages.When travelling downstream of $3 Bridge anglers will encounter private land .6 miles downstream of the bridge. Although one land owner in this reach allows trespass above the high water mark others do not. Continued downstream travel to reach the state section requires wading through swift currents and large boulders at average and above average flows. Reaching the state land section at the Big Bend on foot is realistic for aggressive waders at lower flows but is very difficult at higher flows when anglers must wade long stretches of the river in order to stay below the high water mark. Dead-fall, swift currents and huge slippery boulders are common in this reach.

Only 7% of the land on the East Bank of the river is private. The current land owners in the middle of this zone currently operate a fly shop and allow access. Access on foot is good. The river is very swift here with very large boulders. Even at the lowest flows it is very difficult to wade across the river in this reach and it is impossible to cross at normal or higher flows.

Public access on foot is significantly impacted at various locations from Pine Butte to Lyons Bridge on the east side of the river. This entire reach of river is bound by private land on the East Bank. At average and above average flows the Madison is difficult or impossible to wade across (so even though the west side is public, the East Bank is nearly impossible to get to by crossing the river by wading, even at average or below average flows).
If you just have a day or two to spare, day trips are a great way to experience Montana’s legendary fisheries. We offer both full and half day options.Although some landowners are generous and allow anglers to trespass above the high water mark; many land owners along the river post large no trespassing signs. Land owners in subdivisions between Quake Lake and Lyons bridge frequently advise anglers that they will be trespassing unless they remain in the river. In these reaches it is imperative that anglers wade in swift and challenging waters to legally use Montana’s Stream Access Law. Travelling long distances via wading is problematic in these zones and is a limiting factor in gaining full access in these reaches.

The current wade only zones are very substantial and actually make up 33% of all fish-able water on the Upper Madison from Quake Lake to Ennis Lake (18.6 total miles out of the 56.2 river miles in the upper)

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At average and low flows it is possible to walk along a trail just below the high water mark for .9 miles upstream from Raynolds Pass. There is a large back eddy .9 miles upstream from the bridge that is very deep and has a soft bottom. At average and higher flows this deep area makes wading upstream impossible. Signs are also posted warning against trespassing at this spot thus barring further upstream legal travel on foot at higher flows.
Wading across the river is very difficult at lower flows and impossible at average and higher flows. So even if you can publicly access one side of the river you rarely can cross the river. This is especially true on the upper 12.6 mile wade only zone.Montana State Law (annotated code 36.25.1102) clearly dictates the public’s right to boat, fish and practice commerce on navigable waters such as the Madison River: “(a) ensure the public’s right to fully use and enjoy this resource for commerce, navigation, fishing, hunting, recreation and other public trust values; and (b) generate income from navigable rivers for the public trust in a manner consistent with these rules and other laws.”

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The 85% of the land in this reach is privately owned. The banks here are often “cut banks” in many locations with several feet of vertical bank, so essentially to stay in the high water mark in these areas you must be wading. Much of the river here is also lined with heavy brush and dense willows – again complicating travel and requiring wading in the river. The currents are swift and while wading downstream is manageable, wading upstream is very challenging.

3) At the 1 year review the data collected from the stamp/pass system should be used to evaluate the need for a recreational carrying capacity for the river that would include non-commercial use as well as suggest management tools such as an allocated day pass system to be explored such as those used in Oregon, Michigan and British Columbia for setting upper limits on use.
Public access would be severely limited in the “Channels” between Ennis and Ennis Lake if restricted only to wade in fishing without the use of boats. The only public land in this reach is a half section of state land 2 miles downstream of Ennis Bridge: the Valley Garden FAS. The state land at Valley Garden gives anglers about 1 mile of public access in the middle of the Channels. At high flows however, the West Bank of the state land section cannot be accessed as it would require a river crossing from the FAS and it is bounded both above and below by private land.

Public access is significantly limited at higher flows on this reach when limited to travel on foot only. The middle 2.2 miles of this reach of river on the west side poses significant issues for walk in anglers. There is a section of state land at “the Big Bend” which is locked in both above and below by private land owners in subdivisions with large and prominent signs warning against trespassing and walking on banks with vegetation. To access the middle reach of this river from the lower end anglers can park at the end of a public gravel road on BLM. Upstream travel becomes very difficult just upstream of the BLM boundary (.2 miles) where a very steep bank and rock band comes down to the river. At average and higher flows anglers cannot get around this obstacle for legal travel upstream. When travelling downstream of $3 bridge anglers will encounter a fence extending into the river 1.3 miles downstream of the bridge. The 1.3 miles below the bridge is state land. Continued downstream travel after encountering the no trespassing signs and fence requires anglers to hug the bank at lower flows or wade the river at higher flows. Dead-fall and large boulders are common in this area. Reaching the state land section at the Big Bend on foot is realistic for aggressive waders at lower flows but is very difficult at higher flows when anglers must wade long stretches of the river in order to stay below the high water mark. Dead-fall, swift currents and huge slippery boulders are common in this reach.
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We encourage everyone that is concerned about preserving public access on the Madison River to share their voice. Banning boats on any reach of the river would dramatically limit fishing access for the general public. Please email your comments to: madisonrivercom [at] (most important) by October 30th, 2020
Most of our trips include rods, flies and we rent waders. Many avid anglers, however, enjoy bringing their own gear. Here are our recommendations for rods, lines, flies, tippet, waders and more.Public access is good in this section of river from the West Bank. The reach from Lyons Bridge to Pine Butte is all federal land (about 80% Forest Service and 20% BLM). There is a forest service road that parallels the river in this stretch. Parking is only available at Lyons Bridge and at a pull out across from Pine Butte. To fish the middle of this section from the West Bank anglers can walk up or down the USFS road and then drop down the steep bank to the river.Access on the West side of this entire reach is difficult, especially at higher flows (including the public land upstream of Raynolds which either requires hiking overland for more than a mile or upstream travel through private land). Most rocks on the bottom are the size of bowling balls or larger and accessing the West Bank from the public water on the east side of the river is often impossible, even at lower flows due to the steep gradient and swift currents. Forest Service extends from the earthquake formed dam downstream for 2 miles (although accessing this public water requires either a 1 mile hike or walking/wading upstream through private land upstream of Raynolds Pass). The lower 1.6 miles are private.

Fishing changes by the week in Montana. Read about the seasonal patterns in our fisheries. Not all locations fish well every month but there is always something peaking on any given week.The Madison is a swift but broad river. The difference in high water and low water is often only a few feet. At higher flows common in spring and early summer, the river’s surface is essentially the “high water mark” which requires wading as the only legal option when moving up and down the river corridor where it travels through private land. Even in zones where the current is not too swift or the water not too deep wading long distances in the Madison is an extreme challenge and is exhausting even for young adult anglers in good shape. For youths and older adults the prospect of gaining access to much of the wade zones on foot is nearly impossible. Public access is significantly limited at higher flows on this reach when limited to travel on foot only. The middle 2.5 miles of this reach of river on the east side poses significant issues for walk in anglers. There is a section of state land at “the Big Bend” which is locked in both above and below by private land. No trespassing signs are common (see the video below). To access the middle reach of this river from the lower end anglers can park at Pine Butte access along the highway. Upstream travel becomes very difficult just upstream Pine Butte (.5 miles) where heavy timber with frequent dead-fall bounds the river banks. At average and higher flows anglers cannot wade upstream in the swift currents with numerous log jams and sweepers. Beyond the sweepers walk-in anglers encounter a large cliff band which restricts both upstream and downstream foot access travel at average and above average flows.Both East and West Banks in the 1.4 miles from Raynolds Pass to Three Dollar Bridge allow excellent walk in access above the high water mark thanks to public lands or easements that allow public access.

2) Add more detail to the free Madison River stamp proposal so the stamp is a free daily pass. This will provide better data for non-commercial use (less than 15% is commercial).
The purpose of this blog post is to provide accurate, realistic information regarding accessing the Madison River while traveling on foot below the high water mark. If we are going to change rules affecting public access anglers need to understand exactly what sections of the river can (and cannot) be effectively and legally accessed on foot.

We support a recreation plan for the Madison River that includes setting limits to prevent future growth of guided fishing. Banning boats would be counter productive in a recreation plan since it limits access and would only compress anglers in other reaches. Banning boats as a tool for navigation on a large river such as the Madison River would severely diminish the full power of our stream access laws and effectively limit access on large sections of the river from the general public. While such a rule change would benefit land owners in these reaches, the vast majority of users would lose significant access without the right to use watercraft as an access tool. The wade only areas make up one third of all waters between Quake Lake and Ennis Bridge.
At higher flows the public access along the river in the forest service area is difficult to get to. Upstream travel through the private land would require wading at higher flows which as noted is impossible due to a large back eddy (and even without this it is very, very difficult to wade for long distances upstream through heavy current). The upper water can be accessed by parking at the Sheep Creek USFS access and then hiking for just over 1 mile to reach the river. Fortunately, some land owners on the opposite bank including Kelly Galloup at the Slide Inn allow limited watercraft launches so that anglers can still access the productive waters in this area when flows are higher.Get away from it all on our extensive network of private access waters. Enjoy lightly fished streams and trophy lakes on one our exclusive ranch leases

Recent petitions have been filed to propose rules that would be part of a recreational plan for the Madison River. One of the petitions recommends banning boats for public fishing access on 18.6 miles of the Madison River.The rivers, streams and lakes of Yellowstone National Park hold a special place in the hearts of many anglers. Montana Angler holds a federal permit to guide our guests on these legendary watersApproximately 54% of all lands along the Madison River in these wade fishing only zones are privately held without trespass easements or are landlocked public parcels surrounded by private lands. Two sections of state land are also found in these areas that are surrounded by private land and only accessible via the river corridor. There are numerous zones where heavy willows, cliffs, and dense dead-fall block travel along banks and force anglers to wade if they are going to legally stay under the high water mark. Even at average flows this is difficult and at higher flows it is impossible. Banning boats as a tool for access will limit access to many reaches of the river and compress the public into smaller zones.

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Even at lower flows the high water window is often razor thin and sometimes impassable due to large rocks, thick willows, and cliffs or steep banks. In these areas wading is not always possible due to swift waters and slick boulders.

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Shot from the three dollar bridge site of the fishing access on the Madison River in 2006. The site, now owned by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks used to be a toll bridge operated by a local rancher and gives access to the spectacular Quake and Wade Lakes area.

With so many different types of food sources and river features it is difficult to say what tactic will work best day-to-day on this river, but if you are willing to try a couple of different tactics great fishing can usually be found on this river. The Upper Madison River has a well deserved reputation as one of Montana’s most famous trout rivers. We urge you to give it a try and find out about that reputation yourself. If you have further questions or are looking for a Madison River guided fly fishing trip, please contact us for more information.
Everyone watched in the spring of 2022 as devastating floods affected the Yellowstone River and communities throughout southwest Montana. As a Bozeman area fly shop that relies on the Yellowstone River to provide angling opportunities for clients from all over the world, the River’s Edge is proud to support Simms and Montana Freshwater Partners with the brand-new, limited-edition Simms Watershed Wader.One of Montana’s most well known trout fisheries, the Madison River has earned its fabled reputation for good reason. Consisting of two dramatically different stretches outside of Yellowstone National Park, and widespread public access along the way, this Madison River offers plenty of diversity for boat fishermen and wading anglers alike. Having made a strong recovery from whirling disease it is safe to say that the river is back, and once again one of southwest Montana’s top fly fishing destinations.Of course, there’s nothing quite like a day of fishing dries through the Upper Madison River’s endless riffles. Not only can it be productive, but few things can test your timing and vision like trying to watch for strikes in the Madison’s quick current. Early mornings and late evenings are prime time to walk the banks and watch for rising fish. Evening caddis hatches are prolific throughout much of the summer. Highly visible attractor dry flies trailed by specific caddis fly imitations work well. Terrestrial fishing can be spectacular on a windy and warm summer afternoon with grasshoppers, beetles and ants. One would certainly do themself a favor by spending an afternoon casting hoppers on this beautiful river.

Formed by the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers in Yellowstone National Park, the Madison River flows a distance of 14 miles before entering Hebgen Lake, another excellent fishery located 8 miles north of West Yellowstone. From the Hebgen Dam, a short stretch of fishable water sends the river into Quake Lake, the product of a landslide that occurred in 1959. Once leaving Quake Lake, more than 50 miles of boulder strewn riffles and runs carry the river to the town of Ennis, Montana. This famous stretch, referred to as the “Upper Madison River,” serves up consistent action for rainbow trout, brown trout and plenty of whitefish.Due to the nature of the water and the above mentioned regulations, the stretch from Lyons Bridge to Ennis is typically considered best suited for boat fishermen with the ability to cover water. Fishing from a comfortable driftboat allows anglers to get the most out of the experience and also allows them to take in the majestic views of the Madison Valley.

Known as the 60 mile riffle, the world famous Upper Madison River is a large shallow rocky river originating in Yellowstone Park and flowing through Hebgen and Quake lakes then north to the town of Ennis.
Subtle changes in the river bottom create many of the best and most overlooked runs. Slightly more obvious spots are depressions above and below rocks as well as the pocket water along the banks. Such places are always worth a shot so long as anglers work on proper presentation and good drift as the Madison’s trout have seen a few flies and want it just right. Heavily weighted nymph rigs and tungsten beaded flies might be necessary to get flies down to the fish. One way to entice some of the river’s biggest fish is to cast large streamers tight to the bank and then strip them quickly back to the boat, and then hold on!Wading anglers should note that negotiating the swift, boulder strewn runs of the Upper Madison River is not easy. Felt or cleated rubber soles, wading staffs and waterproof cameras are recommended. Closed to fishing from a boat, the stretch between Hebgen Dam and Lyons Bridge as well as that between Ennis and Ennis Lake are popular wading options. Raynolds Pass, Three Dollar Bridge, Eight Mile Ford and Valley Garden are all good access points for wading anglers.

Throughout the season a variety of angling techniques can produce fish making a current Upper Madison Fishing Report extremely important before a days fly fishing. Nymph fishing is always a productive option for anglers on foot or in a boat. Throughout the year, extremely small patterns fished behind standard attractor-type nymphs or rubber-legged stonefly patterns can work wonders under an indicator.The land surrounding the bridge is in private ownership, and three dollars is the daily fee to park and access this great stretch of the Madison. Payment is on the honor system, reinforced by a forcefully worded, hand-painted, grammatically creative sign (“Non-payers will be baned”). Compliance is nearly 100%, and about a thousand payments are dutifully deposited each year into the rusty steel box near the bridge. For fly fishers who have tangled with the river-tempered rainbows and brawling browns in this swift, boulder-dotted water, the parking fee represents one of the great modern-day bargains.

Every year anglers from across the country make their summer pilgrimage to Montana’s Madison River, seeking the challenge of wild trout in a matchless natural setting. For many, the experience is at its best at Three Dollar Bridge, where crystal waters are showcased against a backdrop of improbably flat grasslands and sharply rising mountain peaks. Located midway between the towns of Ennis and West Yellowstone, the bridge just happens to span some of Montana’s most productive freestone habitat.
The Madison’s diverse aquatic insect hatches, bolstered by seasonal windfalls of terrestrials, support an exceptional trout population. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for fish to trigger descriptions in pounds rather than inches. The no-harvest regulations mercifully absolve anglers from having to verify their estimates, but memories of these Madison trophies hang proudly in the collective consciousness of fly fishers long after the trout have been gently released back into the river’s cold currents.Fence extensions for temporary electric fencing were installed on livestock grazing pastures for the Three Dollar Ranch and previous electric fencing that is no longer utilized was removed to support the wildlife corridor. At the fishing access site, a jackleg fence was installed along the terrace trail to guide users to the newly installed trail developments in the wetland area. An educational sign was installed on the jackleg fence with a map depicting the locations of the access trails and information regarding the importance of protecting riparian corridors. The project was completed mid-July with the installation of a cattle guard on the east side of the river. By defining access routes and protecting native riparian plants and wetlands, the Three Dollar Bridge project helps support the balance of ecological river stewardship with the increase in use by fishermen and others who enjoy the Madison River. This is the first project of the Madison River Riparian Restoration Plan and results from monitoring this project will be used to inform future projects along the Madison River. The first project of the Madison River Riparian Restoration Plan, the Three Dollar Bridge Project is in now complete! Restoration work involved clearly defining fishing access trails, exclosure fencing, planting, and seasonal electric fencing to restore and protect connected off-channel riparian and aquatic habitat. The riparian area and slope wetland at the Three Dollar Bridge Fishing Access Site provide habitat for wildlife, shade and cover for fish, support the food web, and help sustain clean, cool water inputs to the river. The restoration project addressed limiting factors such as livestock trampling, wildlife browse, and recreational impacts to enhance the riparian corridor so the Madison River remains one of the world’s greatest fisheries for generations to come.The project has been made possible by support from generous donors and various partners including Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Three Dollar Ranch, Geum Environmental Consulting, Northwestern Energy, Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation, Montana Trout Foundation, and Three Rivers Communications.We then facilitated the purchase of the remaining 4,300 acres of the ranch by a private conservation buyer and the subsequent donation of a conservation easement to conserve habitat and maintain public access to this special area. Such an accomplishment was made possible by the essential support of the fly fishing community, local conservation groups and agencies.In 2002, fishing access and open space at Three Dollar Bridge were at serious risk of private real estate development. Western Rivers Conservancy stepped in to help save this seven-square-mile property, known as Candlestick Ranch, preserving public access to one of Montana’s premier fishing sites. Western Rivers Conservancy purchased the crucial 100-acre river portion of the ranch, including three miles of Madison River shoreline centered on Three Dollar Bridge, along with significant riparian, spring creek and wetland habitats.Every year anglers from across the country make their summer pilgrimage to Montana’s Madison River, seeking the challenge of wild trout in a matchless natural setting. For many the Madison River experience is at its best near Three Dollar Bridge, where jagged mountains rise above the river’s crystal waters, and a $3 parking fee provides access to world-class flyfishing. What type do I use???? Take a sec and watch the water flowing by you, usually you can see husks floating by. This will tell you the size and type of insect that is emerging. Then just dig in the box and try and match it up! Just remember, fishing is not catching! Hopefully this will help guide you to some chunky fish though! The water at Three Dollar Bridge is moving quite fast. Most of the best fishing is close to the bank and in seams that form behind the large boulders that are scattered throughout this section. You want to move slow in this water. I have spooked trout sitting under the bank before and also fish sitting in inches of water. Moving slow will also help you maneauver the river, it is very slick and falling in will ruin the day! Check out our Simms wadding boots to help you prevent a brisk spring swim! Three Dollar Bridge on the Madison is one of the most iconic fishing spots in the west. People travel here from all over the world to try their luck. If you are making the trip here is a bit of info that I have learned over the years about fooling these trout. The trout you will encounter in this stretch are very healthy and fight hard. The trick to landing them is keeping the fish under control. They know what you are up to and will shoot straight to the fast water if you aren’t using your rod pressure to steer them into the calm water. Most of the fish I have landed in the section range from 12 to 19 inches. There are some big ones up there, you just have to get lucky or spend a good amount of time looking for them. Rainbows and Browns are the most common trout you will catch. Mountain Whitefish are very abundant as well. These native fish are fun to catch and I usually call them Montana Bonefish!Lets talk gear and flies! Everyone has their favorite leader setup or you don’t have a clue what to use. For this upcoming spring the water will be high, but there is plenty of opportunity to catch these trout using all the tricks. If you like nymph fishing this will probably be your most effective method. Check out the Art! The top left picture below is my go to nymph setup. This setup allows you to change flies which is nice as well. I use a tripple overhand knot to tie the tab on and clip the top of it so you have a nice section to tie on to. I like to throw a dry dropper at Three Dollar, because you cover all the bases. The Bottom left picture shows how I set this up. This can be a very effective setup for Three Dollar. The fish are usually sitting pretty shallow and this allows them two feeding options. I usually throw a bead head nymph so it will get down a bit! Usually if you roll over a few stones you can see what is crawling around and the size/color of them. Just use the basics… if you see mayflies go with a pheasant tail. Pats rubber legs are a great stonefly imitation, and an olive caddis nymph pattern is always deadly. Keep an eye on the water during the day. How the fish are feeding will give you a great advantage. Nothing going on up top… Nymph it up! See explosive action on top but nothing is buzzing around? Put on a dry dropper or nymph rig with light weight. The fish are eating right in the film or picking bugs up as they rise towards the surface.Fly Time! Being a beginner or advanced fishing person, flies are the hardest. The shops are packed full of them! Colors, sizes, materials, bright, dull, etc.. Making a decision is overwhelming. I stick to the tried and true method of using my eyes and flipping rocks. Three Dollar is not complicated when it comes to what you should use. How you deliver the fly is usually the issue. The four main insects you will encounter in this section are mayflies, caddis, midges, and stoneflies. We actually caught this huge Salmon Fly Nymph, seen in the picture to the right, on a Rapala! In the spring when the water is high I really enjoy nymphing large stonefly nymphs with an emerging caddis or midge above them.

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Located in Bozeman, Montana since 2000, our fly shop has a complete selection of fly fishing gear and accessories for your next fly fishing adventure. Year round guided fly fishing trips in Bozeman are also offered.Part of what makes the fishing around Three Dollar Bridge so great are the numerous springs that feed into the Madison River there. But with all the anglers and animals trouncing around, some of that landscape is crumbling. Dubbed the Three Dollar Riparian Restoration Project, the Madison River Foundation is working to preserve and protect this amazing fishing zone. They are taking donations so they can build fencing, formalize fishing access trails and put bridges over some of those springs.