The Madison Valley's watery offerings.
There’s something about the twilight season that repels an angler from the river’s unceasing roll. Lakes lend themselves to fall fishing in ways that rivers can’t. Stillwaters tend to inspire reflection: waiting for a bump on a drowning nightcrawler; chucking Daredevils followed by the steady rhythm of the undulating spinning reel; or stripping streamers after long-metered casts… lake fishing is an ideal way to contemplate the past summer’s adventures and recharge the soul for the coming winter. Fortunately, the Madison Valley happens to be home to several lakes that offer a slower alternative to the famous rushing river.
The first major lake in the Madison drainage, Hebgen is formed by the Hebgen dam. Autumn angling on this lake can be good from shore, float tube, or other non-motorized craft; however, a worthy powerboat is recommended for those looking to venture further from shore, as sudden storms with high winds are common in this area. Rainbow and brown trout are the preferred game fish species in this body of water, and healthy specimens of each can be taken on a variety of tackle. If searching for large pre-spawn browns, concentrate angling efforts at one of the mouths of Hebgen’s several tributaries. Favorite and proven bait, lure, and fly choices are as follows: nightcrawlers fished just off the bottom; small to medium spinners, spoons, and crankbaits; and leech patterns in brown, black, or olive. Large trout can even be taken on dry flies on warmer autumn days, provided the wind is calm and the temperatures are warm enough to spur a hatch.
As the name implies, this lake was formed in 1959 by a massive earthquake and the resulting landslide that blocked the flow of the Madison River just a few miles downstream from the Hebgen dam. Due to its sudden and violent creation, snags, submerged timber, and numerous other obstacles make this lake all but impossible to troll for trout using conventional methods. However, all of this structure is fantastic habitat for the fish and can provide great opportunities for light-tackle anglers to catch a bruiser. Angling from shore can be productive, but due to steep, rocky banks, a small boat or canoe is recommend for mobility and increased opportunities. Float-tubers should exercise caution when plying the waters of Quake Lake; storms with high wind are common and the loose, floating debris could cause a dangerous situation. Tackle options in Quake are similar to those in Hebgen, but bring several spare lures, hooks, and flies. Tackle losses are common among the sunken forests of this lake.
As the days shorten and the air cools, Ennis Lake once again becomes a fantastic fishery. To fish this lake in the fall, a good craft is almost a necessity. Rainbows and browns can be stalked in the shallow flats as they try to fatten up for winter. Crawlers tipped with “flavored” marshmallows can work wonders, as will leech and crayfish patterns, and small to medium spinners and spoons.
Not unlike Ennis Lake, Harrison Lake (aka, Willow Creek Reservoir) receives more than its fair share of power-craft usage during summer months. However, in the autumn it can be a great place to chase trout, although it may lack some of the scenic qualities of the aforementioned stillwaters. Bank fishing here is easy, and a boat may not be required, but wind can be an issue so prepare for sudden weather changes and plan accordingly.
Kurt Dehmer owns Durty Kurty's Guide Service and is a frequent contributor to Outside Bozeman.