The sign on the highway entering Ennis, Mont., says it all: Population 660 people, 11 million trout.
Fishing is the reason residents of the town set in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains never leave. Its the reason thousands from around the globe make a pilgrimage here each year.
Located on the banks of the Madison Rivera world-class, blue-ribbon trout streamthis southwestern Montana town is a mecca for fly fishermen. In fact, while many towns in America have statues of military heroes or statesmen, Ennis has a life-size, bronze statue of a fly fisherman with a trout at the end of his line.
The Madison is a big draw because it fishes so consistently on a year-round basis. Anyone from off the streets can catch a fish at least with a guide, says J.T. France, a third-generation outfitter and 20-year fishing guide who grew up on the river.
The Madison originates in Yellowstone National Park, then flows north and meets with the Jefferson and Gallatin rivers to form the Missouri River. Anglers describe the crystal-clear Madison as a 70-mile free-stone riffle with open rock bottoms. Unpolluted by industry, the placid waters of the mostly knee-deep river run at about 2.5 mph.
The aquatic habitat with its rock bottom makes it a good base for spawning beds and bug life that hatches during different seasons, says Glen Gallentine, a retired outfitter and manager of Ennis Tackle Shop.
Teeming with rainbow and brown trout, and the occasional cutthroat trout, grayling, and whitefish, the Madison hasnt needed stocking since the early 1970s, Gallentine notes. Hes traveled and lived in big cities but always comes back to Ennis for mountains and rivers, France says.
Its just being outside and enjoying the sights and sounds, the sunrises, hearing a flock of geese or ducks, or seeing a whitetail or mule deer along the shore, France says.
The owner of Rod-N-Dog Outfitters, France enjoys sharing his mountains and stream with clients from as far away as Bulgaria, England, Australia and Argentina.
If the Madison werent enough, Ennis is in what is known as the golden circle because of its close proximity to other world-renowned trout streams, including the Jefferson, Yellowstone, and the Big Hole rivers. And the town is within an hours drive of Yellowstone Park and several ski resorts.
Whitewater rafting, floating, golfing, hunting, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and horseback riding are just a few of the recreational opportunities available.
But its the towns lifestyle and true Western spirit that enamors both visitors and residents.
Its a lifestyle that takes you away from the hustle and bustle of city life, France explains. You have to drive an hour to come to a red light.
The Madison may be the towns lifeblood, but the communitys economy benefits from agriculture, with working cattle ranches and farms spread across the valley.
Old West history surrounds Ennis. Lewis and Clark traveled near in 1805, and American Indians hunted in the valley before white men discovered gold near Ennis in 1863. Two months later, William Ennis homesteaded along the banks of the Madison, and the town soon became known as Ennis.
A stroll down Main Street is still amid century-old buildings with original Western facades and saloons with cowboys clad in Stetson hats, Wrangler jeans, and Justin boots. The town also offers art galleries, upscale shops, and fine dining.
But Ennis is no Hollywood set.
What makes Ennis special is its a very real Western town with a very strong cowboy tradition, says Kris Hauck, owner of El Western Resort.
Terry Mumey and his wife, Marilyn, fell in love with Ennis at first sight and thought it was the perfect place to open West of the Madison, an upscale clothing and gift shop.
We gave up the highest paying job and sold the nicest house we ever owned to come to this small town because of the lifestyle, Terry says.