The area of central Montana where the Missouri River and it's tributaries run is a different kind of place. Generally located between the hopsccotch of cities from Bozeman to Helena to Great Falls, this region is largely undeveloped compared to most major river valleys in the state. You won't find a lot of glitzy tourist attractions, billboards for fast food restaurants - or even gas stations for that matter.
What you will find is a lot of wide open spaces, amazing vistas, abundant wildlife and productive waters with the Missouri River running from Holter Dam to Cascade topping the list. This rainbow and brown trout filled tailwater has been on fire in recent years, growing big numbers of big fish, and has become the premiere destination fishery Montana has to offer. With over 7,000 trout per mile in our Blue Ribbon section, there are few other places on the planet where you can find such production.
Lewis and Clark journeyed right up this waterway over two hundred years ago, so there's a lot of history to be discovered while you're here. Since these explorers passed through we've built a few dams and reservoirs that have become awesome fisheries in their own right. Holter and Canyon Ferry reservoirs are both top-shelf trout and walleye fisheries that lake anglers flock to.
The upper Missouri is where we find some of our best carp fishing, which is the closest thing to saltwater flats fishing that we get to do here in Montana. Carp like to tail in shallow water just like a bonefish, except they are on average much larger - usually 10-20 pounds! In the fall when the weather cooperates you can also find some true trophy brown trout and rainbow trout in this section of the river, with 24-30 inch fish coming to the dedicated angler.
You will also find our Land of Giants section in this region, which is well worth investigating. Only accessible by foot or jetboat, this stunning river section has some of the consistently biggest trout found anywhere in Montana. We have yet to meet an angler who didn't find this trip to be fantastic, and we'll bet you will too.
The Missouri River Valley lies just to the east of the Continental Divide as it runs north-south from Glacier National Park down to Yellowstone National Park. Because of this geographical layout, the area is fairly arrid and sees a lot of sunny, beautiful big sky country days.
The Dearborn River, Smith River and Sun Rivers are all tributaries to the Missouri River that enter in the lower reaches and are excellent fisheries in themselves. The Smith River in particular is superb, with a 60 mile float through one of the most stunning canyons we've ever seen being the main attraction. Access to the Smith is difficult, but we can help get you there.
The Missouri River region offers a wide sampling of places to explore and certainly choice places to wet a line.
Our home water, the fabled Missouri River near Craig, Montana is arguably the most consistent fishery in the Rocky Mountain West and that's why we love it. The Mo, as the locals call her, is a broad tail-water river and is considered by many to be a true Montana trout fly fishing mecca. This river is best described as a gigantic spring creek where the rainbow trout grow fast and strong, the brown trout become husky and cunning, and the backdrops are just as gorgeous as the fish.
Fishing Seasons and Techniques
The Mo is fishable year-round but April through November is when it produces well and May through October is primetime. We cover all the bases in terms of technique on the Missouri, regularly fishing nymphs, streamers and dryflies. Deep nymphing is definitely the way to keep the action lively and catch more fish, which is especially handy for newer anglers. We also enjoy tugging streamers to trigger the predator response from our larger trout (and sometimes walleye!), but the dryfly fishing is why people travel from around the world to come to the Missouri River.
The Missouri River will amaze you with its dryfly fishing, average fish size, and over-all population of big rainbow trout and brown trout. Arguably, the Missouri River has no equal when it comes to consistently sight fishing dry flies for rising trout. The Missouri River is an insect factory, pumping out hatch after hatch throughout the seasons.
Midges and Blue-winged Olives will hatch from late March through May. Caddis will arrive in early May, leave in June and then come back in July and ususally stay through the fall. There is rarely a day on the Missouri where we can't get some trout to eat a caddis, even into late October. The Pale Morning duns arrive in June and this hatch usually corresponds with the end of run-off. Tricos will appear sometime in mid-July to mid-August, and this hatch is stunning in the millions and millions of bugs it produces - every day. The terrestrial is usually in full swing by August first, with grasshoppers, ants and beetles getting gobbled up by big-eyed trout up and down the river. The fall Blue-winged Olive and October Caddis hatches round out the season, and usually send us into winter with a last blast. It is a true insect smorgasbord.
Access and Ability
While the 35 mile section of blue-ribbon Missouri River has lots of public access and excellent wade fishing opportunities, it is considered by most to be a driftboat river, and that's how we fish it. A boat gives you two very important things on the Missouri; access to water and fish you otherwise wouldn't be able to reach, and the ability to be put in the best position to catch those trout. Plus, it puts a lot of the work on your guide's able shoulders while you get to relax, enjoy the ride, and be ready for the next fish.
You could spend a lifetime or two learning the secrets and nuances of the Missouri River, and there are lots who've tried. It's that good.
The locals have been fishing this river section regularly for many years, but the guiding community has only recently begun to utilize this incredibly productive piece of water. Running between the Hauser Dam and the Holter Reservoir of the Missouri River system, this canyon is chock full of fish and grows some absolute brutes too.
The Land of Giants is only accessible by jetboat with a US Coast Guard licensed Captain at the helm, and Montana Fishing Outfitters has one of those on our staff. We think a day spent sampling this unique fishery is a great way to compliment a multi-day Missouri region trip.
We have yet to send an angler to the Land of Giants who wasn't fully satisfied with the experience, and most likely caught the biggest trout of their life as well. Because these fish, mostly rainbows and a few browns, reside in the lake part of the year and move up into the river system to spawn and feed in the spring and summer, they are built differently than most river fish. They are generally longer and stockier, with 22 inch fish being common and 30 inch fish being caught every year by the lucky ones.
Fishing Seasons and Techniques
The Land of Giants section fishes well throughout the season but tends to fish the best after the spawn in May and then through the summer and fall. While fantastic dryfly and streamer fishing days can be had in the LOG, the majority of the fish caught here are subsurface on a wide variety of nymph patterns.
The daily rate is a bit more due to the exclusivity of the area and the need for a specialized boat to get there, but it's worth every penny. Please visit our rates page for more info on LOG trips.