Pouring out of the Gates of the Mountains, the Missouri River below Holter Dam winds past sage studded buttes and vertical cliff walls before spilling across the Eastern plains of Montana. As a tailrace, the Missouri runs consistently cold and clear year round like a giant spring creek, creating a veritable trout factory. Rainbow and brown trout in staggering numbers and size call this water home. This is classic tailwater fly fishing with a Montana flair.
The prolific aquatic nature of the Missouri is unparalleled in this portion of the West. Caddis, mayflies, and midges make up the bulk of hatches here, enhanced with a smorgasbord of scuds, sow bugs, leaches and crayfish. Trout are not lacking for food and grow at ridiculous rate. We keep saying that the Missouri is reaching a threshold on a bell curve plotting the number and size of fish but year after year it continues to surpass expectations.
What is more, the Missouri offers up a surprising variety of water to fish. Riffles extending across the river for hundreds of yards, bottomless cliff side pools, foam covered eddies, grassy undercuts, expansive knee deep flats and riprap banks – pick your passion. As a big trout river, even by Western standards, float fishing affords the greatest access but wade fishers need not be intimidated as plenty of water can be covered by foot.
Most anglers here employ nymphing techniques with great results but the real joy of the Missouri is casting small dries to big sipping trout. These fish are wary and even intermediate anglers will be tested. Expect to settle down casts exceeding forty feet and in lanes the width of a clip board. Those up to the task experience line ripping runs and tippet snapping leaps from some of Montana’s most powerful, energetic trout.
Rainbow trout averaging 17"+ with several over 20", browns of similar size with top end fish exceeding 24"! the largest whitefish in Montana, carp from 22"- over 30" (super fun and technical), walleyed pike 16-24".
Total Area of Drainage
The Missouri drains about 5% of North America (nearly 550,000 sq. miles) but for our purposes nearly 25,000 square miles.
Total River Miles We Guide
Primarily the 30 miles below Holter Dam
Travel Distances from Missoula
Just under 2 hours to most putins.
There are a few camp grounds but not a great multi-day float, many riverside cabins for rent (all overpriced), few motel rooms near Craig.
Primary Style of Fishing
About 90% of trout caught in the Missouri are taken on deep nymphing rigs. We are adept at this but prefer short line techniques and fish shallow seams and riffles. Unfortunately, the fishing pressure keeps many of the heads down but in hatch conditions the small dry fly fishing is superb. Big fish stay high in the water column providing plenty of targets but they are tricky. When the wind is up (most of the time ; ) swinging streamers across riffle drop offs and rocky banks produces arm straightening strikes.
BRO’s Top Six Patterns for Missouri River
- Zebra Midge #20-18 (black, olive or red)
- Midge Adult #18-22 (black or olive)
- Beadhead Baetis Nymph #20 (olive)
- Wire San Juan Worm #12-8 (red, orange or pink)
- Parachute Caddis #16 (tan or lt olive)
- Articulated Love Bunny #4 (tan, black or olive)