My wife and I stayed at the Madison Valley Ranch (MVR) from July 29-August 3rd, 2010.
I had grown up fly fishing, but hadn't done it in 15 years. My wife had never been fly fishing, but wanted to try it... so I felt like I had one chance to do it right, and hopefully get her hooked on fly fishing too! I checked around on the internet and made some phone calls.
1. phenomenal fishing
2. beautiful scenery
3. gourmet food
4. not roughing it
5. easy place for my wife to get some fly fishing lessons
From the get go, Elizabeth Warren, the ranch manager at MVR, was far and away the most responsive, helpful, and punctual of the many emails I sent out. She's so friendly and enthusiastic, and even more so in person.
Several things set this lodge apart from the others:
1. it has its own 2 acre casting pond which is stocked with a British Columbian strain of rainbows that's perfect for learning to flycast. On arrival, Elizabeth greeted us and helped us with our luggage. After about 15 minutes, Elizabeth met us at the pond and gave my wife her first fly casting lesson and my reintroduction lesson. The lodge is an Orvis endorsed lodge, and has many nice Orvis rods and reels that are "house rods" which are free to use for all lodge guests on the pond or for daily fishing. There's also a whole section for leaders, flies, etc. that guests can register on the lodge's log to sign out.
2. There's fantastic fishing in the Madison River for experts and beginners alike. We had planned on guided fishing 3 days with one rest day. My wife enjoyed it so much that we decided to fish 4 days straight! I think she's hooked on flyfishing! We fished several stretches of the Madison River by drift boat with several guides (Chris Connor and Rob Kessler were awesome guides). We caught many brown and rainbow trout, with some in the 18-20 inch range. It was a blast. We fished nymphs, streamers, and dry flies. Most importantly, my wife absolutely loved it -- and it was her first time!
Although we didn't have time to try it, there's also fantastic fishing in Jack's creek and the Channels section of the Madison River, both of which are on the lodge's premises. I walked down the short path from the lodge to the Channels section on my last day and was really bummed I didn't have time to fish it. Incredibly beautiful and the waters looked ideal for fishing.
You don't need any equipment. We brought our own waders, but they have Orvis waders at the lodge for your use too. We used the house rods or rods provided by the guides, all of which were top notch quality.
3. THE FOOD IS INCREDIBLE
So Scott is the chef at MVR. He's the real deal. Graduated culinary school in the Pacific Northwest with graduate training at the Culinary Inst. of America in Napa Valley (Greystone). Scott makes breakfast daily with some of the best pancakes and French toast I've ever had. His eggs benedict is great too.
But, the real highlights are the appetizers and dinners. Appetizers are served daily at 6:45 pm. Over our 5 nights, some appetizer highlights included: spicy bison meatballs, shrimp nachos with fresh guacomole and pico de gallo, chicken quesadillas, teriyaki beef skewers,etc. Scott's dinners are incredible. Non fatty, non-fried. Healthy and incredibly tasty meals that highlight local farm raised meats. Daily four course dinners with a salad, soup or small plate, main entree, and dessert. Highlights from our stay included: stuffed pheasant, local farm raised bison tenderloin, dijon herb crusted pork tenderloin, local cornmeal crusted rainbow trout, housemade duck confit salad, red pepper and roasted garlic soup, crab and shrimp cakes, molasses ginger cake, and probably the best bread pudding I've ever had.
My wife has some dietary restrictions (lactose intolerant) and Scott was always on top of this.
There's always wine (CA zinfandel, CA cabernet, CA sauv blanc, Argentine Malbec, CA Chardonnay) and local microbrew beer available for you at the lodge. There's also several fridges stocked with Perrier, Pellegrino, bottled water, cokes, diet drinks, etc. Wine, beer, all the food, and soft drinks are all included in your stay (free of additional charges).
4. The company. Wow. Didn't think of this or expect it. The lodge is small, catering to up to around 20 guests. During our stay occupancy was from 7-18. Dinners and appetizers are communal in the dining room. Everyone we met was incredibly nice and conversation super easy. Another example of the above and beyond of this lodge are the many "house digital cameras". Elizabeth encourages you to take one while fishing. When you return she downloads the images, prints up the fish pics and then has them ready for appetizers which leads to some great conversation. I used my own camera, as many others did, and she still did the same for us.
5. The Service. We've been to some pretty high end hotels around the country and international. Elizabeth and Scott are among the best hosts we've ever had. The vibe here is relaxed, convivial, and fun. NOT stuffy or high brow. BUT all of your needs or requests are promptly attended to. The vast majority of those staying here were all repeat guests, some of whom have been coming for 15 years.
I've written a lot. I've been a Trip Advisor user for at least 5 years, but mainly just a reader. We just wanted to make sure others who were looking for a fly fishing experience in Montana know how great MVR is. This is quite honestly one of the best vacations we've ever had! If you're a foodie and a fisherman, this is heaven on Earth.
I've loaded some pics so check them out!