Early spring on the Missouri River

fly fisher


Fly fisher on Logan Creek. Photo by Garrison Reese


A pod of about eight fish slurped at the river's surface behind a large boulder.
Wading along the shore of the Missouri River I was able to get within casting distance of the fish without being detected. First cast, nothing. Then on the second cast, my blue wing-olive dry fly and midge dropper, fell just upstream from the fish, which continued to roll at the surface. The line tightened, then WHAM! The fish took the dropper fly and made a run out into the main stream of the Missouri. I waded into a shallow pool and attempted to haul the rainbow trout in that way; the fish took off downstream, and as I tightened the line, it leaped into a graceful dance on the surface of the water.
In a few minutes I had landed the trout, a hefty three-pounder with a bright red streak along its side. After gently unhooking the fly, I held the wild animal in the water so it could regain its strength before I released it. The fish wiggled in my hand, then shot back upstream toward the hole it came from, its wide tail leaving a swirl of dust on the bottom of the river.
Any time of of year is a good time to fish the mighty Missouri, but now the river excells. The summer tourists have not arrived, and while the water flows are bit low coming out of Holter Dam, the Missouri River near Craig, Mont., offers world-class fly fishing within a few hours' drive of the Flathead Valley. 
As the fly fishing around the Flathead Valley begins to muddy up due to higher water, anglers will be looking to other spots like the Missouri to enjoy their sport. The forks of Flathead River have yet to become too discolored to fish, but it's only a matter of time before they become unfishable until the water recedes.
Meanwhile, anglers are also finding good fishing at area waters like the Thompson River. The river runs out of the Thompson chain of lakes, so it tends to stay a bit clearer. 
The lakes on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation are also fishing well, says Lester Matsumoto of Lakestream Fly Shop in Whitefish.
Anglers have 27 lakes to choose from on the reservation, where the fish feed on abundant forage that helps them grow big. "They're all fishing really good right now," Matsumoto said. 
Spring is one of the best times to fish the reservation lakes, because by summer the fish go deeper. The big rainbows are now in a pre-spawn mode and the fatties can be seen cruising the shorelines. Some anglers use float tubes, although fishing from shore can also work, Matsumoto said.
Permits to fish the reservation are $65 a year, $20 daily or $30 for a three-day pass. The permits are available at local fishing shops.
Matsumoto returned from a trip to Rogers Lake last weekend, where he fared well angling for native arctic grayling and cutthroat trout. He was successful using a pheasant-colored beadhead along the shore near the state fishing access on Rogers. "We must have caught 40 or 50 fish," he said. "But you kinda lose count after a while."

He's following that trip with an excursion to the Missouri River this weekend - one of his favorite haunts.
"It's just great fishing," Matsumoto said. "You're catching wild fish, and you can stay in one hole and knock them down, fish after fish."
Spring is a good time to fish the Missouri because as summer rolls around, the weeds in this tailwater fishery grow thicker and inhibit the efforts of nymph fishing. The weeds don't help when you're fighting fish, either.
Anglers heading to the Missouri will do well to stock up on beadheads, baetis and midges. Throw in some blue-wing olives (BWOs) in case the fish begin feeding on the surface. If this happens, Matsumoto recommends using a BWO with a midge dropper - something that proved quite effective last weekend.
"That'll hit them pretty good," Matsumoto said.
Good places to key on are where creeks enter the Missouri. The rainbow trout are spawning in the creeks, and where there are rainbow spawning there's sure to be lunker brown trout following, feeding on the eggs cast off downstream. 

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