The Epic State of The Missouri

Missouri River trout fishing.

We have some great news from the Montana FWP about our beloved Missouri River. According to a presentation given from biologist Jason Mullen earlier this week, our fishery below Holter Dam is in great shape. The fish are in good health which not only bodes well for our current fishing season, but for the future of the river as well. Read below for some of the highlights from Jason's presentation, it is interesting to compare our notes and thoughts as anglers to the scientific research that is done by the biologist gurus from the state.

In the Craig section of the river, which is a sample taken from Wolf Creek Bridge to Craig, there are 4,816 rainbow trout per mile and 269 brown trout per mile. While the rainbow trout population is well over the running average, the brown trout have fallen slightly below their historical average of 563. Jason assured this is nothing to worry about as there is a large population of 7-9 inch fish that are not included in the survey. A trout must be at least 10 inches to count toward the population.

Perhaps the most interesting and exciting data about this section of river is the average size of the rainbows with many falling in the 16-19 inch range and many topping the 20+ mark, see the graph below. 

This explains all of the large and acrobatic fish we know and love in the upper river!

In the Cascade section of the river, which is a sample taken from a few miles above and below Pelican Point FAS, there are 2,156 rainbow trout per mile and 433 brown trout per mile. Both species are at a level that is above their respective historical average. If you like big brown trout this is the place to be, there are over 20 fish per mile in the 20-24 inch class. And these big fish still regularly eat dry flies on The Mo, which is one of the reasons we love this river.

Cascade Browns.jpg

Although fish population and size is what most interests us as anglers, there was an additional horde of information that was shared in this great presentation from the FWP. Enjoy some of the highlights in the list below. 

Random Missouri River Fun Facts

  • In 1973 hydro peaking was eliminated as a management plan for Holter Dam.
  • The average peak annual flow is 14,082 cfs.
  • The highest water year in the last 15 years is 2011.
  • The Missouri River is the most popular river for fishing in Montana.
  • In 2015 the ratio of resident anglers to non-resident anglers is almost even.
  • In 2015 anglers reported a catch rate of approx. .6 rainbow trout per hour.
  • In 1987 anglers reported a catch rate of .29 mountain whitefish per hour.

So what do we think of all this? We are pretty happy the river is in great shape as far as trout health is concerned. And even though everything is firing on all cylinders there are always improvements to be made and a resource to protect; we are grateful for groups like TU and UMOWA who work hard to advocate for our rivers and improve the fisheries. 

For the time being, The Missouri River is shaping up for a great fishing season and has many large fish lurking in the waters from Holter Dam to Cascade. Many of these fish are a superb quarry that we can take a crack at with our top-notch angling skills. Bring your reach cast this summer if you want to see one of those 20+'ers sip your rusty spinner.