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The Madison Valley and Yellowstone

This post is a Reel Time column I write for the Anna Maria Island sun.

Rounding a corner outside of Virginia City, Montana, I pulled to the side of the road to marvel at the vista. From horizon to horizon, the Madison River Valley stretched out below, an invitation to one of the most geologically and ecologically diverse regions on earth. For the next week I would be fishing and exploring an area anchored to the south by Hebgen Lake, Earthquake Lake and the Madison River flowing from Yellowstone National Park.

The world’s first national park and the largest in North America, Yellowstone sits atop North America’s largest volcanic field. The caldera (a large cauldron-like hollow) was formed when land collapsed following the last of three super-eruptions that took place over the past 2.1 million years. It’s a land of steaming springs, geysers, bubbling mud pots and soaring landscapes that almost defy imagination.

I began my adventure the next morning, entering the park at West Yellowstone before dawn. I explored an area I had not ventured into in my past trips to the area, heading towards the Lamar Valley to the north.

Usually crowded with tour buses and visitors in August, I was treated to large stretches of road and scenery devoid of cars and people, a rare and unexpected benefit of the pandemic.

That morning felt like the first day of creation and I marveled at the vast volcanic-sculpted landscape, the fields of grazing bison, antelope, mule deer and soaring eagles. Over the next week, I would visit the park two more times, but as I left the park that day, I was looking forward to exploring the fishing opportunities afforded by the Madison River and Lake Ennis.

This past summer I had spoken with Capt. Harrison King, a friend based in Cortez who splits his time guiding there and in Montana. When I told him I would be fishing near Dillon, he suggested I let him introduce me to fishing opportunities in the area near Ennis, Montana.

Situated on the banks of the Madison River, and flanked on three sides by the Gravelly Range, the Madison Mountains, and the Tobacco Root Mountains, it’s one of the west’s most iconic fly-fishing destinations. I took him up on his offer on Monday and was joined by friend and local restaurateur Ed Chiles, who has a summer home in the area.

We began the day on Lake Ennis, a large, impounded section of the Madison River where King specializes in targeting large brown and rainbow trout that cruise the lake, rising to the clouds of mayflies and other insects there. Known as “gulpers” for the sound they make as they feed, this is one of my favorite ways to catch trout.

The wind was down as we started and we all were able to feed brown and rainbow trout as they picked from the surface. When the wind came up, King returned to the ramp and we trailered his drift boat to the Madison, where we fished a long segment of the river.

Once again, I spent quality time just sitting back and absorbing the amazing scenery. Although the fishing was a bit slow that day, Chiles managed to entice several quality rainbow and brown trout to his dry flies. At the end of the day we both agreed that the combination of experiences that day was one of the most unique adventures we had ever had.

During my visit, I stayed at the Driftwaters Resort, just downstream from Earthquake Lake and facing the magnificent Gallatin Mountains. This RV park features six cabins and the Drift Wood Restaurant, where I spent my evenings enjoying the scenery and the culinary creations of chef Tim Sylvester and the service and hospitality offered by his wife, Trudy.

The amazing scenery and fishing opportunities afforded by Montana’s vast wilderness should be on any angler’s bucket list.

For accommodations, contact Driftwaters Resort at 406-682-3088 and visit their website at For an expert introduction to the fishing opportunities in Montana or locally, contact Capt. Harrison King at 941-525-8495. Check out King and his wife Laura’s Facebook Page at 941 Outfitters.

Next week: More fishing adventures in Montana