January on the Madison Can Be a Blast

Written by: John McKinnie


A bluebird day on the Madison chases the winter blues away.
All photos by John McKinnie

We were headed to the Madison on a blustery January day. We departed the ranch around 8 a.m. with the temperatures hovering around 5 degrees. As we drove through the Gallatin Canyon south of Big Sky, we spotted a group of elk and peered through the fog coming off the river into the bright sun and blue sky. Heading through the northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park, I watched the temperature on my truck thermometer plummet down to 8 degrees below zero.


You won’t run into many other anglers when you fish in January in Montana.

Despite the temperatures, we were excited about getting over to the Madison and being able to spend a day on the river in January. The road opened up into the scenic Madison Valley, temperatures finally started to climb into double digits, and the bluebird sky was set off by the snow-capped peaks in the distance.


Nothing makes cold finger feel better than wrapping them around a fine trout.

The fishing started out a little slow, but finally the sun started to warm the water temperatures enough for the fish to begin feeding. Once we found the right holding water, plenty of healthy rainbow trout were more than willing to take a well presented Rubber Legs or emerging-midge imitation. By mid-afternoon, it was a comfortable 25-30 degrees, and the cooperative fish helped to off-set any thoughts of being cold.


After a slow start, the sun warmed things enough to get the fish feeding.

The next month is one of my favorite times of year to hit the Upper Madison, before the section between Earthquake Lake and McAtee Bridge closes for the spring on March 1st. If conditions are good, you can get opportunities to fish dry flies to pods of rainbows and browns that are feeding on midges on the surface. You get the chance to throw dry flies in February on only a few rivers in the West, and luckily the Madison is one of them.


Watching them swim away is one of the best parts of landing a winter trout.

If you cannot get to the Madison, the Gallatin remains a consistent winter option. Find the deep holes and runs on the Gallatin, and you will almost always find a couple of fish willing to take your nymph rig!

John McKinnie is the former Fly-Fishing Manager at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. He now runs McKinnie Fly Fishing Outfitters of Montana, in Philipsburg, Montana.

2 thoughts on “January on the Madison Can Be a Blast”

  1. Pingback: Winter Fishing on the Madison | mckinnieflyfishingmontanadotnet

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