Fly Fishing,    Planning

Fly fishing Off the Beaten Path at Axolotl Lakes Near Ennis Montana

By Alex Hammer 11/17/2015 5 minutes

There are simply those occasions when fishing the usual waters just won’t do. Unexpected water flows, heavy boat or foot traffic, hoot owl restrictions, you name it, sometimes we just need another option. For those of you that are solid on foot and don’t mind a little hike there is a very special place nestled away in the hills above Ennis, Montana. Stop by the fly shop before you leave town.

The Axolotl lakes are a series of three lakes that are within an easy 20 minutes hiking distance from each other. They are inhabited by a strange pre-historic creature that looks like a cross between a fish and a frog. These weird looking little animals are on the list of rare and endangered species. They are only found in a few spots and this is one of them. Axolotls are heavily studied for their ability to regenerate limbs and other vital body parts. 

Read More Top Hidden Fly Fishing Locations Near Ennis Montana 

To get there take highway 287 towards Virginia City. As you crest the hill, look for a turn off to the left. Signage is sparse, but you will find a dirt road that winds about a mile into the country side. Eventually the tracks will simply trail off. If you’re unfamiliar with the area it’s advisable to carry a topographical map and compass. The hike up to the first lake takes about 45 minutes, which is made worth by the vista that awaits you. As you stand at its edge, the lake will drop off like an infinity pool into the Madison valley beyond. This is the spot that Axolotls roam and at least on our visit we did not spot any fish. 

Here is a short video of the hike three of us made up there years ago. 

Fish live in the next two lakes farther to the south
and a short 20 minute hike along the mountain. From the first lake pick up one of the tiny trails. You might lose the path every now and so often. Both lakes hold giant fish. The lakes do not have good wading access and are sparse in area for back casting. These lakes are however perfect to practice our roll cast. Some pods will stay out of range and require you to get some air into a float tube. Once there you can enjoy the solitude, sounds, and magnificent vistas that the Axolotl lakes have to offer. This area is bear country so do bring your bear spray and carry it accessible. It helps to make some noise along the way. As you take in nature in all its glory you will undoubtedly come across something special. On our hike we discovered a beaver skull. Teeth intact. 

Fly Fishing Packing List: 

  • Water and some energy bars 

  • Fly rod 

  • Lightest Float Tube you can find 

  • Bear spray 

  • Dress to hike, not to fish. That means leave your waders and wading boots at home unless you plan to pop into a float tube 



Bureau of Land Management overview of the area. The detail page has great directions

Check fishing regulations before embarking on any fishing adventure

This is a small town with a big heart, a veritable fisherman’s paradise. Located near the fish-filled Madison River, and surrounded by the waters of Ennis Lake, the Ruby River, Hebgen ... moreLake, Quake Lake, Henry’s Lake, the Big Hole River and scores of smaller streams, the town boasts what many consider the best trout fishing in the world. As well known for its wranglers as its anglers, Ennis has succeeded in maintaining the look and feel of its original, gold town roots. Warm and hospitable, the area offers a wide variety of accommodations ranging from simple campsites, rustic motels and gracious hotels, to full-service, luxury resorts. Fly shops are numerous, stocked by local experts ready to advise and assist, while guides can be booked for trips throughout the area.

Boredom is the only thing unavailable in Ennis. Throughout the summer season the city hosts a series of events, including its renowned 4th of July Celebration Parade and a genuine, old-fashioned rodeo. In August, fly-fishing luminaries from around the US, flock to Montana to compete in the Madison Fly Fishing Festival. Athletes also find their way to Ennis to compete in the city’s Madison Trifecta, two shorter races followed by a full Marathon at 9000 feet, the highest elevation run in America. For the true sportsman, October falls in with the annual Hunter’s Feed. What’s caught, typically elk, moose deer, pheasant and bobcat, gets cooked on the streets and served up to hungry spectators.

Flanked by three grand mountain ranges, The Tobacco Root, Gravelly and Madison, Ennis is scenic and entertaining – truly an authentic, fly fisher’s haven.
Fishing Waters
The Madison River is arguably one of the best trout fishing rivers in all of southwest Montana, if not the entire world! It’s certainly the most talked over, written up and frequented ... morein the state of Montana – which is considered by some the capital of fly fishing. Anglers will find plenty of great access sites to wade or float along the Madison’s banks and reservoirs (including Hebgen Lake and Ennis Lake). Rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and more abound in this majestic fishing stream.

The Madison begins its course almost twenty miles into Yellowstone National Park. Within the Park, fishing rules apply: no live bait and catch and release only. Once outside the Park the river meanders past working ranches, stately conifer forests and cottonwood lined banks, interrupted by riffles and quiet runs that contain large rainbow and trophy brown trout. Flowing alongside Yellowstone’s West entrance road, the river enters Hebgen Lake, created by Hebgen dam, until it reaches Quake Lake, a bit downstream from the dam. At this point the river is commonly called either the Upper Madison or the Lower Madison, although in fact, they are one and the same.

Upper Madison – Quake Lake to Ennis Lake
Directly below Quake Lake the river roars into 5 long miles of Class V whitewater with steep gradients and large boulders along the way. As the rapids decline, the magic begins. For the next 53 miles, often referred to as the 50 Mile Riffle, the cold river runs north and the fish jump high. Annual runs of spawning trout make their way from Hebgen Lake, rainbows in the spring and browns in the fall. Known the world over for its “hard fighting” trout, it’s not unusual to pull a 25” brown from these upper waters. In deference to the purists and fly-fishing enthusiasts, it’s wading only from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge. Boats may be used to access the river, but if you’re going to fish, your feet must be on the riverbed. Fortunately, the Hebgen Dam releases water throughout the year, leveling its flows and relieving it of spring runoff issues and summer shrinkage.

Lower Madison – Ennis Lakes to Three Forks
A short section of the river between Ennis Dam and the power station maintains relatively low water levels and provides wonderful opportunities for wading. Past the power station the river regains its muscle and for 7 miles winds through Bear Trap Canyon. Hiking trails offer the only entry, great for those that like to walk and seek the solitude of a designated wilderness area. Floating is permitted but requires a lengthy shuttle and the ability to work through Class III-IV whitewater. Once out of the canyon the river flows in shallow riffles until it reaches Three Forks and joins the Missouri. From Warm Springs to Greycliff, the river is easily accessible for drifters and wading.
/ Boat
1 - 3 anglers
5 days
Experience the Madison River Like Never Before Learn the best spots on the Madison River with 5 great fishing days with Red Mountain Adventures. Eric Shores, with over 35 years of ... moreexperiencing guiding on the Madison River will take you down a journey of the best places to fish.

The journey starts on the Upper Madison River on a guided float trip covering about 8-11 miles of premier fly fishing water. The following day includes a recipe (location flies, and technique) on a do it yourself wade location near the fly fishing town of Ennis. The third day moves you on to where the Madison River dumps into Ennis Lake for a full float day stalking the giants. The following day provides instructions again for a do it yourself wade day. Location will depend on the hot locations during your visit. The final day is another full day float day on the lower Madison River. All together, you will experience the Madison River like never before by true expert.

Note: The order or location may change based on where the best spots are at the time.
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
1 day
Fishing Waters:
With over 55 combined years of experience fishing Ennis Lake and Madison River, we have the deep knowledge needed to guide you to the monsters. Located in Ennis, Montana, one of the ... moretop fly fishing towns in the world, Red Mountain Adventures is conveniently located to help you with your fishing experience.

We'll take you to the land of giant trout that cruise Ennis Lake. Cast to rising trout or bring them in by stripping small lake buggers is a lot of fun. A day on Ennis lake is a special experience to enjoy the views and tangle with fincky monster trout.
/ Angler
1 - 2 anglers
1 day
With over 30 combined years of experience fishing the Ruby River, we have the deep knowledge needed to guide you down this Blue Ribbon River. Located in Ennis, Montana, one of the ... moretop fly fishing towns in the world, Red Mountain Adventures is conveniently located to help you with your fishing experience on the Ruby River.

Our guided wade trips on the Ruby River are perfect for:
First time anglers who come here first to get easy, effective, and mindful wade fishing instruction
Novices to experts who gain from our deep knowledge and instruction on wade fishing on the Ruby River

Book with us today and enjoy the best in Montana fly fishing.
Welcome to Southwest Montana's finest fly fishing adventures. Blue ribbon trout water is literally steps away when you visit us in the picturesque town of Ennis, Montana. You may spend ... morethe day on our home river, the world famous Madison or drive to one of our other local rivers such as the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Ruby or the Jefferson. Whether you are a new angler or an old pro we have the expertise and patience to make your time on the water chasing wild trout a success.


Alex Hammer

Alex got hooked on the fly rod 20 years ago. This passion for outdoor adventures led him to partner with his college buddy Reza and his long time fly fishing friend and mentor Eric to found Yobi Adventures. The idea was born on a drift boat one lazy afternoon while beating the water frothy.


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