O/B Hit List: Fish the Missouri River

Springtime on the Mighty Mo.

Southwest Montana has no shortage of excellent trouting, so why would an angler spend his or her hard-earned gas money to drag a boat to some podunk town on the Missouri River? Could it be the 3,500 trout per mile that average 16 to 17 inches? Perhaps the congealed mats of baetis that gather in the eddies and the subsequent trout heads that poke through the foam? Possibly the trout-town vibes and abundant riverside lodging? Or maybe the libations at Shotgun Annie’s, the appetizers at Izaak’s, or the food-truck breakfast burritos?

To be safe, let’s go with all of the above. Local fishing is great, but you won’t regret a spring fishing trip on the Missouri.

fishing, fly-fishing, missouri river

Who: Anglers who enjoy catching big trout (aka, all anglers). Insect aficionados and cabin-fever sufferers. Anglers who have, in years past, already caught all the fish in southwest Montana. Road-trip-loving fishers who have yet to wet a line in 2020. Those in need of fresh grip-n-grins for Instagram.

What: Some of the world’s finest trout fishing and camaraderie. In the spring, excellent brown and rainbow trout fishing is readily available from Holter Dam to the town of Cascade—a stretch of about 35 miles.  

fishing, fly-fishing, missouri river

When: Before runoff, anytime you can get there. Once runoff has begun, weekdays are best as many Montana guides, along with weekend warriors, flock to the eminently fishable Missouri. Midge hatches have gone off since January, blue-winged olive emergences should be in full effect by early April, March browns and caddis get going in May, and pale morning duns start showing up in June. (Check fly-shop reports for exact timing.) When the bugs are shy, nymphs, pupae, larvae, crustaceans, leeches, and streamers should all produce fish at different times. Pay attention to the USGS streamflow graph for bumps in flow that could put the fish momentarily off their collective bite.

fishing, fly-fishing, missouri river

Where: There are several fishy sections of the Missouri River, the fishiest being the tailwater section from Holter Dam to Cascade. This is where you’ll find around 3,500 trout per mile averaging 16-plus inches, and where the bugs gather like they’re at a Rod Stewart concert in Brazil. Ice-off on the Missouri’s many reservoirs can be a great time to target cruising fish near the shore. Also look for a spring run of rainbows between Hauser Dam and Holter Reservoir.

Why: Because your fishiest buddy doesn’t take no for an answer. Because of the unique beauty found in this part of the state. Because of the piscatorial fellowship found only in genuine trout towns. Because big trout are important to a balanced Montanan’s soul.

Outside Bozeman fishing Missouri River