THE JEFFERSON River - AKA - "THE JEFF":
When guests ask their guide “where do you like to fish on your day off?” often the Jefferson river tops the list. The Jefferson is a bit of a “sleeper.” This river does not get a lot of traffic and many days we do not see another boat on our floats. Despite having the lowest number of fish per mile of any river that we fish, the Jefferson can produce some of the most exciting fishing days of a season.
The Jefferson is a “fishy” looking river. Cut banks with logs and roots hanging from them are prime brown trout structure. Tall grasses lean over the water creating textbook hopper banks. It is one of our smaller rivers and in mid-summer its flows are usually around half of those on the Madison. The serpentine nature of the Jefferson creates a maze of channels, riffles and holes to explore. Not every hole on the Jefferson river holds the biggest brown trout of the trip but they certainly all feel like they should. This river produces some huge browns and you never know what you might hook up with on a cloudy streamer day.
Moose, deer and eagles are common sights in the rural Jefferson valley. This valley is not nearly as populated as the Yellowstone and Gallatin valleys and houses along the river are an infrequent sight. Lewis and Clark traveled the full length of the river. Consequently there are historic sites and campgrounds along some of the stretches that we float. Ennis, Montana is a great place to stay if you want to fish Jefferson. Ennis is in a unique location that allows anglers to access several points on the Jefferson without a grueling drive. West of Ennis the upper stretches of the Jefferson are only forty five minutes away and north of Ennis the lower part of the river is also just a forty five minute drive.
Lower numbers of trout per mile and warmer summer water make the river a less consistent river than the Madison. However, the good days on the Jefferson are something that guests are still talking about years later. Like the lower Madison, some years the river can get too warm to fish in the heat of the summer (late July-August) but if the water levels don’t get too low it can be one of the best places to throw a hopper in August.
The best times to fish the Jefferson, before and after runoff or after the waters cool in the fall. April-June, September are my favorites, although if the water temperatures stay low enough during August, hopper fishing on the Jefferson can be a blast. This may not be the river to target on a one day fishing trip but it could end up being the best day of a multi-day, multi-river journey. Hitting a good day on the Jefferson can be one of the most exciting fly fishing experiences in Montana…with nobody else around to obstruct your view.