“Home waters” for Falls Outfitters, the Missouri is one of the finest dry fly rivers in the country. In the tailwater below Holter Dam, anglers will find thousands of brown and rainbow trout that are as surface oriented as any fish in the west. A broad, slow moving river, the Missouri seems to have been made with the dry fly fisherman in mind. Drift boats are used to float the river, but you’ll often stop and get out to work riffles and tailouts. Spring and early summer provides fast action using nymphs and streamers. From June through October, a variety of dry flies will deceive the Missouri’s inhabitants including hoppers, mayfly adults and spinners, and caddis. As the Brown Trout begin to spawn in October, streamers and dries put most of the fish in the boat.
Fishing on the Missouri begins at Holter Dam, 50 miles south of Great Falls. From there, the river flows north, past the town of Craig and then through the beautiful Missouri Canyon. After leaving the Canyon, the river spills out onto the prairie and begins to slow down. Fishing ends at Cascade, about 30 air miles north of the dam. While most anglers concentrate their efforts on the section immediately below Holter Dam, we float the entire river between the dam and Cascade. The lower floats offer more solitude and can produce faster action. The lowest sections (near Cascade) provide fantastic streamer fishing early and late in the year, and great hopper fishing during the summer with little or no competition from other anglers.
Hatches on the Missouri are typical of most western tailwaters. Baetis hatches begin to appear in March and continue through the year, particularly on warm cloudy days. Caddis and Pale Morning Duns begin hatching in June and offer some of the best dry fly fishing of the season. The famous Missouri Trico hatch (actually a spinner fall) begins in mid-July and continues through mid-September. In the fall, Baetis again become the predominant hatch. Below is a quick “what to expect” rundown of the season.
JANUARY – APRIL
Midges and Baetis can produce great dry fly fishing, but expect to be throwing a variety of nymphs including midge pupa, pheasantails, red worms, etc. Streamers also work well, especially in late spring. Fishing tends to be good all day long. Be prepared for cool to cold weather.
MAY – JUNE
The first strong hatches of the year begin to appear. Baetis continue to hatch, but as the weather heats up, PMD and caddis begin to hatch in numbers, along with localized hatches of other mayflies. Days typically involve nymphing in the morning and dry fly fishing in the afternoon. Attractor fishing with Tarantulas and Wulffs can also be excellent. Again, be prepared for cool weather.
JULY – AUGUST – SEPTEMBER
In July, the caddis hatch is at its peak. Dry fly fishing is good to excellent for most of the day. May fly and attractor fishing remains good, and hoppers begin taking fish. By the end of the month, the trico hatch is in full swing and mornings are spent working “pods” of risers. When the wind comes up in the afternoon, get in the boat and pound the banks with hopper patterns. As the summer progresses, hatches stay the same but the fish become more and more “educated”. Late August and early September can be tough, especially during long hot weather spells. It pays to explore areas that are seldom fished during this period. Be prepared for hot days and early morning departures.
OCTOBER – NOVEMBER
Like elsewhere in the West, October can be the best fishing of the year. As the water cools and the crowds disperse, fishing again reverts to afternoon mayfly hatches, with a little streamer and nymph fishing mixed in. Action is best in the afternoons and the fishing pace is more leisurely than the madness of July and August. During the weekdays you can have the Missouri to yourself – A great time to come and fish. Winter is right around the corner so be prepared for cool to cold weather, although warm afternoons are not uncommon.
Forget it… I’ll be hunting ducks!
Delta, Alaska, American, Northwest, Horizon and Big Sky all have regularly scheduled flights into Great Falls.