Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Guide to the Missouri River, Montana
The river is full of aquatic plants and appears to be somewhat like a huge spring creek. Its
trout are large and can be very selective to hatches. You could call them picky and you could
call the fishing "technical" fishing. The trout are not easily fooled but they are plentiful and can
be taken by anglers that are careful with their presentations. It is a stream where large trout
can be caught on small flies. It is a stream where dry fly fishing is very good and for most of the
Although there are four tailwaters on the upper portion of the Missouri River, the most popular
and probably the best tailwater is below Holter Dam near Craig, Montana. The river can be
fished from the bank, waded and fished from various types of boats including drift boats,
canoes and pontoon type boats. The stream can be accessed on both sides of the river below
The Missouri River has some very large rainbow trout. They average about 16 inches but we
have seen them caught over 20 inches. They claim that they are over 4000 trout per mile and
we don't doubt it at all. All the trout are wild and all of them will test your skills to the utmost.
They can still be caught provided you do a few things right. The prove the point, I meet a man
on the Ruby River from Washington D.C., that claimed he caught large rainbows on Parachute
Adams on the Missouri River. I didn't know whether or not he was telling the truth until I ran into
him there a week later. He caught three all over 16 inches while I watched him fish. I tried it just
upstream from him and couldn't catch the first one. When he left, I tried it where he was fishing
and still couldn't catch one on the same fly he was using. It really had me bugged.
The river has few riffles and runs. Most of it runs smooth and it is of course, normally very
clear.The key is the presentation. Not just a drag free drift but also, making very sneaky
presentations with a minimum number of cast. You can also spot trout eating and often rising
to the surface. If you will take the time to skim the surface and see what they are eating, you
can usually match it and catch plenty of trout.
The Trico hatch runs for a long time and is one of the largest ones we have ever seen on any
stream. It is a tough hatch to fish, but fish can be taken once you get everything down right.
When that happens, nothing could be more rewarding. We have taken a couple close to 18
inch rainbows on the Trico hatch using 7x tippet and #20 flies. That is something else.
One thing that can frustrate you, is that you can be wading along maybe thirty feet from the
bank, and start spotting rising fish out in the middle of the river. When you work you way near
enough to reach them, you can turn around and see risers behind you rising where you left
from. That means one thing. You have spooked the trout with your presentations or you are
using the wrong fly. All of the river below Holter Dam isn't like a huge spring creek. There is a
section of rough, fast water with large rocks and boulders. There are some riffles and runs in
other places, so the entire river is actually very diverse.
The section below the dam, where the water is smooth, has a gravel bottom and averages from
one to three feet deep. The large trout are often very shallow, so you don't have to wade out in
the stream very far. In fact, that may be a big mistake.
Trout can also be caught on streamers and nymphs. Anglers also use scuds, San Juan worms
and caddis larvae imitations. The river also has plenty of brown trout that range from 12 to 24
inches. Often streamers and nymphs work best for them.
Missouri River, Montana
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