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Montana's Cool Missouri


The recent hot and dry weather in Alberta that closed many of southern Alberta streams due to high water temperatures got me thinking of alternate locations for trout stream addicts such as myself. There were a few Alberta alternatives. The Crowsnest remained open probably because it stays a little cooler with its source being the very deep and cool Crowsnest Lake. Also the North Raven River (Stauffer Creek) while very low remained cool due to it source being springs that come out of the ground at around 54 degrees. Over the border in B.C. they were dealing with the same problems with high water temperatures. This got me thinking of one of my favourite trout streams, namely the Missouri River in Montana. The Mo as the local’s call it has always been one of my favourite streams to visit and is always a good alternative when water temperatures are unfavourable elsewhere. While it is a whole travel day away, Craig, where most anglers make their headquarters, is 262 km south of the Coutts/Sweetgrass border crossing. Because the dam regulates the flow on August 22 the water temperature on the Missouri was in the low sixties, well below the water temps we were experiencing in Alberta and B.C.

Montana's spectacular Missouri River

Montana's spectacular Missouri River

I was first introduced many years ago by a trip I bought at a Trout Unlimited auction. After spending one day on the river I was hooked. A few years later I arranged for the Trout Unlimited chapter to bring up Arnie Gidlow to give a seminar. Arnie was just getting his Missouri Riverside Lodge and Guiding business off the ground. I have remained friends with Arnie to this day and stay at his place on my annual visits. Craig Montana is the ultimate "trout town" that has to be seen to be believed; with a population of eighty people it has THREE full service fly shops. These shops make their living in the short summer due strictly to the large number of visiting anglers that come to fish the Missouri. These shops are open from around 6-6:30 am to 9:00 pm or later seven days a week. You can buy everything you'll need on the river from flies and floatant to waders, rods and reels and even lunch and ice for the cooler. You had better get what you need at the fly shop because there's no gas station or corner store. If you don't have a drift boat, or don't want to drag yours down, and want to float the river you can rent one from the shops. Rental rates run around $130.00 to $150.00 which includes drop off and pick up of the boat, as well as, the shuttling of your vehicle. Split three ways it's a real bargain. Guide services are also available through the shops and shuttle services are available if you bring your own boat.

Drift rentals are available in Craig

Drift rentals are available in Craig

Due to its consistent flows and reliable fishing the Missouri does get extremely busy in the summer. When other Montana streams get closed due to low flows and high water temperatures it seems like every fisherman and guide in Montana is on the Missouri. Anglers form all over the world travel to fish the river and I often run into other Albertans, including Bow River guides and shop owners on the water. On my last trip in June of this year as I was getting out of the vehicle to go into Isaacs restaurant for dinner I ran into Alberta trout guru Jim McLennan and his wife Lynda. They had just been commenting to themselves about the amount of Alberta plates they had seen in town, and when we pulled in they commented, "and look there's another one"! Fishing on weekdays is usually a little quieter with the locals at work and the recreational floaters in their inner tubes and pool toys at a minimum. We usually drive down on Sunday, fish Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and return home on Thursday.

Getting ready for another day on the Missouri

Getting ready for another day on the Missouri

The Missouri River is basically a large "spring creek", formed by the joining of three equally famous trout streams, the Jefferson, the Madison and the Gallatin. After converging to form the Missouri, the river passes four dams, Totson, Canyon Ferry, Hauser and Holter. Below Holter Dam the Missouri becomes a "Blue Ribbon" trout stream for next 30 or so miles to the town of Cascade. The dams help control the flow. Spring runoff is used to fill the reservoirs and the dams help keep the water cool. The dams are managed in such a way that the trout have a good flow of water, winter and summer. Fish populations are estimated to be in the 7,000 to 8,000 trout per mile! The river is dotted by well marked access points along this section. Some have boat launches while others are walk and wade accesses. Much of this section of river is paralleled by what is now known as the "Recreation Road". This was the old highway before Interstate 15, which also parallels this stretch. Sometimes the two are on opposite sides, sometimes the same side but the fishing accesses are all off of the recreation road. The Montana government realized the value of recreational fishing a long time ago and stream access is both plentiful and well marked.

Lunch Time!!!

Lunch Time!!!

The Missouri has fishing year round and all methods work well, however, many anglers come for the fabled dry fly fishing available from March through November and hatches can be incredible. The combination of steady water flows and temperatures promote vigorous weed growth making excellent conditions for a wide variety of insects. Pods of rainbows and browns will line up in the feeding lanes to chow down on these hatching insects and can be notoriously picky and spooky, providing a challenging dry situation. That being said you never know what to expect. Last June I was fishing a small back channel that was no more than knee deep in most places, it was the middle of the day, bright and sunny with no overcast. Trout were rising everywhere, not small fish, not rainbows, but browns defying everything ever written about them. The Pale Morning duns hatch was on and a well placed cast over them was very successful. I managed to hook and land numerous browns in the 16 to 19 inch range. The next day under similar conditions and PMD's dotting the surface not a brown was in sight and the best I could muster was a couple of small rainbows.

The Missouri holds large numbers of both rainbows and browns

The Missouri holds large numbers of both rainbows and browns

Nymphing is the most successful method early in the year and successful patterns include mayfly nymphs like the Evil Weevil, Lightning Bug and Copper Johns. In July the caddis hatches get going and swinging a Sparkle Pupa pattern can bring great results. Once the weeds start to get really bad it can be tough to get a good drift without picking them up. This is when dry fly fishing or "hopper-dropper" fishing works great. Trico hatches start in August and run through September providing some challenging fishing on small dries and spinner patterns. The Zebra midge in sizes 18-22 works all season long due to large number of midges found in the river.

The fish are healthy and fat due to the prolific insect population on the Missouri

The fish are healthy and fat due to the prolific insect population on the Missouri

The fish on the Missouri are as hard fighting as you'll find on any trout stream, second only in my books to Alberta's Bow River rainbows. They know how to use the weed beds to their benefit and both the rainbows and browns will jump in an effort to shake your fly. The Missouri has all the things that make a great trout stream but that doesn't make it a sure thing. Even after all these years I have been skunked. In fact on my last trip I got zippo on day one but then had 7 fish in the first hour on the second day. That's trout fishing on the Big Mo! If you haven't ever fished the Missouri you owe it to yourself to experience not only the great trout fishing but also the unique "trout town" Craig Montana. Give it a try, you’ll be glad you did.

It can get crowded on the Missouri but there's plenty of river and fish to go around!

It can get crowded on the Missouri but there's plenty of river and fish to go around!

Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator

(2) What to expect when fishing the West Coast

(3) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing

(4) There’s No Place Like Home

(5) A Golden Opportunity

(6) The Observational Trout Fisherman

(7) Un-matching the Hatch

(8) Alberta Super Bugs

(9) Glass is Back

(10) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca

(11) Speed Kills

(12) Entering the Twilight Zone

(13) Old Man River

(14) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River

(15) Small stream BT fishing

(16) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started

(17) In The Walleye Zone

(18) Zoo Trout

(19) Fly Selection for Beginners

(20) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(21) New Waters

(22) Big Bad Burbot

(23) Looking Back

(24) Out of Africa

(25) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

(26) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish

(27) The Browns of Autumn

(28) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(29) Walleye Town

(30) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(31) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(32) Going With The Flow

(33) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(34) Swinging The Fences

(35) A View From The Aerie

(36) Dixieland Delight

(37) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(38) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(39) Montana's Cool Missouri

(40) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(41) Toothy Critters

(42) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(43) Top Ten Flies

(44) Northern Exposure

(45) Home Water Lessons

(46) Chicken Of The Sea

(47) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(48) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(49) Keep It Up!

(50) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(51) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(52) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(53) Hawg Holes

(54) Saltwater Salmon

(55) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(56) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(57) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead



(60) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(61) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(62) Fall Walleye

(63) Wet Flies

(64) Versatility the Key to Success

(65) Grayling of the Boreal

(66) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(67) Size Matters

(68) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(69) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(70) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(71) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(72) The Point Of It All

(73) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(74) Fall Fly Fishing

(75) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(76) Big River, Big Fish

(77) Bottom Bonanza

(78) Fishing Small Flies

(79) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(80) Four Seasons of the Bow

(81) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot


(83) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(84) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(85) Edge Walleye


(87) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(88) Four Corners – Four Waters

(89) Chasing Pothole Trout

(90) Springtime Stoneflies

(91) The Torrents of Spring

(92) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(93) Bust Them With Bait

(94) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(95) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(96) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(97) Terrestrials

(98) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(99) Rocky Mountain High

(100) Reading the clues

(101) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(102) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(103) Fly Fishing 101

(104) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(105) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(106) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(107) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(108) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(109) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(110) Trust Your Electronics

(111) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(112) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(113) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(114) Walleye can be Humbling

(115) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(116) Winter Flyfishing

(117) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(118) Hot Fall Pike Action

(119) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(120) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(121) Frequently Asked Questions

(122) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(123) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(124) Deep Water Perch

(125) Post Spawn Brookies

(126) A Fisher's Life

(127) The River's Last Stand

(128) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(129) Coho on the Coast

(130) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(131) Summer in the Mountains

(132) Peak Walleye Season

(133) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(134) Last Ice Rainbows

(135) The Burbot Event

(136) Tackle Matching

(137) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(138) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(139) The Lure of Brook Trout

(140) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(141) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(142) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(143) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(144) The Vesatile Plug

(145) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(146) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(147) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(148) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(149) Daily Fish Migrations

(150) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(151) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(152) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(153) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(154) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(155) The Fun in Ultra Light

(156) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(157) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(158) Never Stop Learning

(159) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(160) Jigging through the Ice

(161) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(162) Rainbows on Ice

(163) The Season of Ice Begins

(164) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(165) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(166) Facts On Cats

(167) West Coast Adventure

(168) June Walleye Frenzy

(169) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(170) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(171) "Northern Exposure"

(172) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(173) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(174) Man Overboard