Trout Town USA

downtown ennis montana the tackle shop

Exploring the fly fishing capital of Montana.

Ennis is one of those places that feels as though it’s frozen in time. Strolling down Main Street, nostalgia overtakes you among the plethora of wood-sided buildings and lack of stoplights. The warm smell of dry grass and the sound of the Madison—a turbulent, fresh rippling—swirl in the air. Unless you’re on the west end of town, that is, where strong notes of fermenting alcohol from Willie’s Distillery and Burnt Tree Brewing fill the air. Despite its quaint and humble appearance, there’s no shortage of accommodations and activities to fill an entire season in this fly-fishing mecca, let alone a weekend getaway. If you happen to find yourself ’round these parts when the fish are biting, use this guide to both bend your rod and fill your belly.

While planning your visit, or at least while sipping a morning coffee, check in with the Ennis Chamber of Commerce to see if there’s anything going on around town that suits your fancy. The town hosts a calendar full of festivals, parades, rodeos, and concerts to get into the western spirit, with the climax being the 19th iteration of the Fly Fishing & Outdoor Festival on August 26 and 27. There are free events and talks all weekend long. That’s right—no charge for admission. So what do you have to lose, besides a few flies in the bushes? Luckily, there are fly-tying seminars hosted by the best tiers in the area, and you’ll be better off without those raggedy old flies anyway.

Next, meet with some local and nearby shops, and put faces to the names of some of your favorite businesses. Finally, to top off the weekend festivities, Dead Sky will play a show in Peter T’s Park. You’ll be surprised by how many of the polite, Simms-clad old fisherman you saw that day are really just reformed deadheads at heart.

Throughout the weekend, if you need a room to stay in and a place to rest your head, Lure Me Inn should be your first choice. You’ll be treated to your own private cabin with Varney Bridge just around the corner.

Though beer bellies and bucking broncs are fun and all, you’re probably here for something else: beefcake browns and bodacious rainbows. Let’s get to it. We’ll find our footing on the banks first. Start small at O’Dell Creek on the west side of town. These smaller waters can be a bit tricky to find fish in at first, so don’t hesitate to drop into the O’Dell Spring Creek Fly Shop just around the bend for advice.

The water braids gracefully through tall reeds until it eventually meets up with the Madison River near Valley Garden in Jeffers. You can easily spend days back here, exploring the endless pockets and pools hidden around the next island. But if you’re able to peel yourself away, there are plenty more trout to scout elsewhere. Check out some bigger water along the Madison at a couple nearby public-access points. Venture into the main channel at Valley Garden or go for a quick drive over to Varney Bridge to visit some other classic spots.

madison river fly fishing

Most people would agree that the peak fly-fishing experience is had from a boat, under the watchful eyes of an experienced guide. Call the Tackle Shop to get some direction and find out when you can climb aboard. They’ve been helping folks get fish on their lines for 80 years, and offer full- and half-day guided options to get you out on the water. If you aren’t able to, or prefer not to float, there are still some incredible and worthwhile spots to hit south of town that’ll get you out into the wide-open range. Consider the wade-only section of river between Quake Lake and Lyon’s Bridge, where you’ll get the last laugh over all the river jockeys.

Around town, you can’t go wrong with a place to refuel after a long day on the water. There are plenty of spots to grab a pint and spin your fish tales. However, if you stop into the Gravel Bar, you’ll likely see many of the town’s guides bellied up to the bar. Listen closely, and you might hear about some secret spots to check out next time you’re in town.

For those looking for a more elevated dining experience, the Continental Divide will take you there. With menu items like Wild Walleye, Crispy Duck, and Montana Angus Fillet Mignon, you’re sure to leave with a more refined pallet.

On your way out of town, you're likely to be exhausted from a weekend of fishing, fishing, and more fishing. And as your passengers hit the hay and drool on the windows, you'll want something to snack on. Before leaving Ennis behind, make sure to grab some jerky at Deemo’s Meats.

Author’s note: I highly recommend (proper) catch-and-release, since fishing pressure in the area is so high. Leave ’em for next time you visit! For more information on river conservation and education, check out the Madison River Foundation and consider donating.