5:30 came a little to early but the chance to fish got me out of bed after only a couple snoozes. With the local rivers looking nice and brown, we decided to hit up the Missouri River with our good friend Jeff and get a couple days of fishing in. [If you missed our first trip to the Missouri River read about it here.] After a couple hours we rolled into Craig and got our shuttle situated at the Headhunters Fly Shop. These guys know how to run a fly shop and if your in need of almost anything, chances are they can get it for you or point you in the right direction. Soon we were on the river and the weather was impeccable. No wind and decently warm temperatures kept our hopes high.
The day started off with a handful of small fish. Although fun, we were hoping for something a touch bigger to get the rods bent on.
We soon drifted off the main channel of the Mo and got into one of the small side channels. There were a lot of midges on the water and a few risers. We stripped streamers through the slower holes but with minimal success.
We kept moving and found a pod of risers. After about an hour of fishing we only came away with two misses on top. We were running 5X tippet and a small BWO and were able to trick a few but no fish in hand. We learned that some days 6 or 7X and a very, very tiny fly are the only option on these trouts meal plan.
We kept the train chugging downriver only to be interrupted by another bathroom break. Only this time is was a very opportune time to pull over. As we sat on the side of the river cracking fresh PBR’s, we saw a single riser about 100 yards downstream. A short drift and we were anchored up on the entrance to a small side channel with one slurping fish in sight. A few empty handed drifts with the nymphs and I had had enough. We were going to get one on top or go out trying. I was able to get a slurp from the back of the boat and we decided to get out and put our dry fly fishing to the test. After about an hour all three of us were able to catch rainbows on dries ranging from 17-20 inches. These fish had moved up into a small hole only about 40′ square and about 2-3 feet deep.
After putting the hurt on the few risers in that hole we pulled anchor and kept things rolling. Again we found pods of rising fish but couldn’t connect with the setup we were running. When they say these fish will humble you, they aren’t lying.
After floating past countless risers with no luck we slowly drifted back into Craig America. It’s definitely a very cool experience to see a big fish nosing up and sipping ever so slightly. To catch one like that is even more exciting. We rolled in around 730 and drifting past the last seam we were able to see a train of rising fish. There were at least 20-30 trout nosing out of the water with anywhere from 5-10 up at a time. And there were some big ones in the bunch. That’s something you just don’t see around Missoula and I can see the appeal that the Missouri has to offer. Unfortunately, our batting average on these fish was probably close to like 5% or less. When it’s midges on the meal plan the fishing can be agonizingly tough and a little maddening.
Day 2 we were up an hoping for a bit better day on the river. After some eggs in camp scrambled up with a tasty stick, we were back over to the Headhunters to pick up a few flies and get a shuttle all squared up. Contrary to the weather forecast, we had strong winds and clear skies. The bugs weren’t out in the numbers they were from the day before and the fishing was just plain slow.
We again floated the dam to Craig. The fish were few and far between and small. Not exactly fulfilling our vision for the day.
Around 3PM the wind started to die down and the fish started rising again. We were again in a side channel, trying to snipe those pesky sipping trout.
We counted close to a hundred noses over the last two hours of the float but just couldn’t find the mojo. The casts were right but the setup wasn’t fooling them. 5X wasn’t cutting it and a #18 midge apparently wasn’t either. Hey we’ve been fishing nymphs all winter and spring so we were happy just to get a few over the course of the two days on top. We weren’t the only ones having trouble either. Lots of fellow floaters were complaining of slow conditions from the dam to Craig. Apparently we should have floated from Craig to Mid-Canyon as we found a note from our buddy Tyler Trudeau saying they got into about 40 fish on their float. The Missouri River is one that your going to spend some serious time on before you can say you understand it. We had a great time and hopefully next time the river will be a touch more generous. We did get a small amount of video so we’ll probably make a short mash up here in the next couple of weeks. Be checking back as we near spring hunting season, get closer to getting Contrast done, and hopefully get a small video from this trip up on the site.
A fly trip to fish and film the Missouri river…
Winter?… What Winter? It’s pretty much spring here in the Western part of the state, and spring means one thing, some mean fishing to break in the new year. The plan was to cruise over to the Missouri River and catch some more nice fish to start off the year. We got up at 4:30 AM to get the boat and headed off down the highway headed east. Temperatures dipped to -8 degrees along the drive, and we were wondering if we may have underestimated Old Man Winter. Fortunately, as we wound down through the windy highway to Wolf Creek the temperature quickly rose into the mid 20s. We swung into Craig and stopped by the Headhunters fly shop. The guys were super nice and we picked up a few nymphs. The fly selection definitely can be drastically different at times compared to the river’s surrounding Missoula. If your lost just ask anyone at the Headhunters and they’ll put you on the right track.
After getting our shuttle taken care of with Mark, we got back in the truck and headed to the put-in at the dam. We quickly got to the put-in only to realize Travis had left our boots in the truck bed. They had been wet and had frozen on the way over. A mandatory beer delay had to take place while we did some thawing. We soon were in our waders and gearing up to another trio of Missoulian anglers. By the time we put the boat in there were about 7 other boats that had showed up for a day of fishing. Some of these fellows seemed to have a little attitude. As Jeff put it, “These dudes are mean muggin us.” Let’s just say we got the vibe that either these guys didn’t like us being there or they really must hate fly fishing. I can only account for the other boaters that day, but we all were pumped up to be getting on the river. We even left a PBR for the shuttle driver (we left a note telling him not to drink and drive).
Finally we were drifting down the river and fishing. Travis was rocking a Sow bug and a Lightning bug rig with some splitshot about 8′ deep. It was windy and on the cold side, but things soon heated up as Travis hooked into a solid rainbow. After a few missed netting attempts, Jeff was finally able to slide the black rubber net under our first fish of the day.
The Missouri River is known for it’s large fish size and entertaining wind. This respectable rainbow is extremely common and very often outdone proving this is an exceptional trout fishery and one everyone should fish at least once.
After that things started to pick up. Travis had multiple hookups on some large Whitefish and one smaller Brown trout. Jeff was getting itchy at the oars and soon the guys switched spots and we got back to fishing.
Finally we were catching up to some boats that had left earlier in the day. They were anchored up fishing some nice bends in the river. We stopped for lunch and then quickly drifted through in search of our own little slice of river that would hold a good number of hungry fish.
I immediately spotted a nice pool where a small branch of the Mo came back and met the main channel. We beached the boat and Jeff started casting. The pool was slow with a nice drop off providing some holding water for what appeared should be a good number of fish. After only a couple casts Jeff had a strong rainbow on the end of his line. I’m sure he told himself to “let er run!” Jeff had his first nice fish of the day just as another group of floaters drifted by.
We proceeded on as the sun was beginning to drift lower and lower. We continued to get into fish and we were more than happy with the day considering it was only the 4th of February. Travis and I have never fished this river before and Jeff has only a handful of times. Reading a river that large is definitely a different mindset. I’m glad we were able to read enough good water and get the fly in the right spot. Oh and it always helps when the fish cooperates.
The fishing only got better as the further the sun started to set over the western skies. Again this warm weather had some good things going for the river. There was a strong midge hatch from about 1-530 PM and we saw numerous fish hitting top water. With the fish feeding we were able to land another few good rainbows to add to the day’s list.
The river was in full form as we found good trout and good views throughout the whole float. I felt like I was capturing some good video of the day and vibes were high. As we neared the end of our day, Travis once again layed into another fun fighting rainbow. If you start it with a bang then ya better end it with one to.
We found our way to the boat ramp in Craig and got the raft loaded for the long ride home. Another solid day on the river in the books and many more on the way. Travis is working on editing all the footage together from that day and we hope to have that up for you guys by Friday. If your around Missoula we hope to see you at the Fly Fishing Film Tour on Friday night.