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Fishing the Jefferson River
in Southwest Montana's
Madison County

Map of Southwest Montana
Rainbow Trout Fishing on the Big Hole River, Beaverhead River, Ruby River & Jefferson River in Southwest Montana Rainbow Trout Fishing on the Big Hole River, Beaverhead River, Ruby River & Jefferson River in Southwest Montana Rainbow Trout Fishing on the Big Hole River, Beaverhead River, Ruby River & Jefferson River in Southwest Montana

Fishing the Jefferson River

Jefferson River in Madison County of Southwest Montana
Formed from the junction of the Big Hole and Beaverhead Rivers, the Jefferson River is one that many people overlook as its reputation is not that of the many other Southwest Montana rivers. Fortunately for the anglers that fish its waters, it is generally not crowded and can offer quality fishing for mostly Brown and some Rainbow Trout. Slow long pools interrupted by beautiful riffles characterize the river.

From the junction of the Big Hole and Beaverhead, the Jefferson flows for approximately twenty five miles before reaching the town of Cardwell. This stretch of river is characterized with long slow pools flowing through areas of agricultural farmland and ranches. Surrounding mountains spruce up the scenery which is already spectacular.
Jefferson River in Madison County of Southwest Montana
Here, the Jefferson averages 200 feet wide in many spots and is generally the most popular section because of its population of trout. Both floating and wading this stretch is very possible and can be very productive.

Routes 41, 287, 55, and 2 parallel the river from Twin Bridges to Cardwell. Streamers and big buggy nymphs are excellent during much of the year due to the sparce hatches. Golden Stones, Callibaetis, Pale Morning Duns, and Caddis will show themselves at times from spring through fall.

Jefferson River in Madison County of Southwest Montana
Just below Cardwell is the start of the Jefferson Canyon which extends approximately twelve miles to Sappington. The canyon's water remains very much the same. The river is slow moving with gentle long pools and shallow riffles. Jefferson Canyon is made up of limestone walls and beautiful rock formations carved from thousands of years of erosion.

The fishing in the canyon can be especially good since the canyon walls hide the sun sooner then later. The rivers quiet slow nature keeps the trout from feeding on top until the sun is either hidden from overcast skies, low in the sky, or shaded by the walls of this beautiful canyon. The river is paralleled by Route 10 from Cardwell to Three Forks and provides access along the way.

Jefferson River in Madison County of Southwest Montana
Below Sappington the river flows for approximately fifteen miles before reaching Headwaters State Park by Three Forks. At Headwaters State Park the Jefferson meets the Gallatin and Madison Rivers to form the Missouri River. This lower stretch of river is once again very slow moving with beautiful surroundings. Cottonwoods are prolific here with lush or snow covered mountains (depending on time of year) encircling the view. Wildlife is often seen throughout the rivers valley in these lower reaches. The water tends to warm faster during the summer months in this stretch.

Hatches on the Jefferson are not usually prolific but at times can be outstanding. Your best dry fly bets for fishing the Jefferson include Golden Stones, Pale Morning Duns, Blue-Winged Olives, Callibaetis, Caddis, and a few other less prolific mayflies. Attractor patterns such as Humpies, Wulffs and Coachmans can also work well when the right conditions exist.

Big nymphs and streamers can be very productive and often produce the largest fish. Woolly Buggers, Matukas, Muddler Minnows, Bitch Creeks and Girdle Bugs are a few local favorites.
Jefferson River in Madison County of Southwest Montana
Check the Special Regulations that apply to the Jefferson before venturing out.

If you are traveling to Montana and are interested in the Jefferson River, the nearest commercial airports are in Butte and Bozeman. The river is not the most popular in Southwestern Montana but is one worth trying. Runoff usually peaks in early June. Fishing is usually best on the Jefferson in the spring and fall or during the summer when the sun is low or overcast skies persist. Many other rivers are in the area to provide variety. The Jefferson is an excellent choice for the chance to catch a trophy brown trout.

(source: flyfishingconnection.com)