Fishing the Missouri River - May 2014 – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Fishing the Missouri River - May 2014

Missouri River Guide Trip

As the spring melt is fully underway now here in SW Montana, folks are wondering if there is any fishing around. I have been spending more time than not up on the Missouri the last two weeks and can safely say that it’s not too bad of choice right now. By Missouri, I am referring to the stretch below Holter Dam. Sure, Hauser is fishing well and there are some big fish to be had…but it is a junk show most days this time of year. The Toston stretch is blown, I’ve never fished below Canyon Ferry…. suppose if you can get a boat in there somehow, it would be all right. So I stick to the water below Holter this time of year and do my best to avoid the crowds and get my clients on a bunch of fish, be that with a dry, nymph, or streamer (usually nymphing this time of year).

Missouri River Trout with Fly
Flows have been in the 8-9 grand range the last few weeks which makes wade fishing tough but boat fishing great. There are a few things to keep in mind when fishing the MO in higher water right now that most experienced MO angler understand, but many don’t as well. For one thing, try to be the first one to the ramp and stay ahead of everyone else! The “A-Class” holding water is limited as flows go up, so being the first one through makes all the difference when it comes to finding the easy and hungry fish! That means leaving earlier and watching your 6 as the day goes by. If you do get into a run where fish are eating really well, milk it for a while but move on as there will be more boats behind you and there are plenty of fresh fish and runs downstream. If someone decides to join your run in a row around, move over and let them in….there are plenty of fish to be had and it’s your fault for not moving on before they got there!

Missouri River Guide Trip Fish
The water temps are warming up and caddis are starting to show in good numbers. Sooner or later, that dry fly fishing is going to get really good in the evenings and during cloudy periods of the day. I like to throw an Elk Hair with a pupa underneath it to rising fish and a BH PT when I’m boat fishing the banks (about 2″ below the dropper) The key to doing the boat fishing with dry dropper rigs right now is to understand how the water is moving on the banks and only fish the banks that are right for this type of fishing. I avoid the banks full of back eddies and even depth drop-offs. I like steep banks with some structure and bushes along them as the bugs are in the bushes and there is usually some shade around too. Get good drifts down from the boat…side and behind the boat drifts aren’t going to work as well. But again, I think the most important part is to know the banks that fish are working the surface or higher in the water column. Watch some guide boats and look for rising fish is a great way to pick up on a few of these banks. Once you see the type of water the rising fish are holding in, life gets simpler.

Doubled up on the MO
Nymphing is my thing on the MO this time of year, its most people’s thing too as it’s just the most effective way to find fish right now. Look for inside seams and banks, avoiding the long outside banks and fast, swirling water. I like to stick with a 9′ leader and fish 7-8 feet below the indicator with a big split shot and a couple of heavy nymphs like Czech nymphs, Wire Worms, and Tungsten PT’s. There are fish all over the river, so I try to focus on fishing the water that my rig works best in, avoiding the stuff like deep eddies, center seams, and rip rap banks. There are fish there too, but the techniques are different. Short, heavy rigs for the heavy banks, long leaders and small flies for the slow, deep eddies. Regardless of what type of water you are in, mixing up your technique per the water makes a big difference, so experiment and try it all. The big, slow eddies can be really challenging until you figure out the seams that the fish are moving in and then you’ll find they eat the crap out of little bugs about 6′ below the foam and they pull hard when you get them.
The Missouri is going to be a great choice for a while now and it is possible to have some relative quietness and great fishing up there right now. The flies are simple, but the techniques can be different than many of us are used to. Have some small BH softhackes, Tungsten PT’S, Various Caddis Pupa patterns, sowbugs and worms. If you aren’t getting fish, mix up the length of the leader, change the weight, and most importantly…try to understand what the water is doing and if your rig is right for that type of water. You could have the best bugs ever created, but if the weight is wrong and the water is too fast…it will never happen. When it does go right, you’ll understand what all the hype is about the Missouri in the spring.

Hidden Brown Trout…he ate a wire worm!