Lewis and Clark County, Craig, Montana, July 13-19, 2012
The SUV bounced along the rutted gravel road as I drove towards the Wolf Creek Bridge. I had just dropped off Big Sky Anglers guides Joe Moore and Greg Falls at the Holter Dam parking lot so they could pick up their rigs after we completed a float and was driving back to the Wolf Creek parking lot to meet Jin, Tom and Jack so we could head to Izaak's Restaurant for an early dinner and hopefully do some evening dry fly fishing on a nearby gravel bar.
It wasn't oppressively hot and the windows were rolled down as I rattled down the narrow road. As I came around a bend I saw a huge dust cloud in the distance so I quickly buttoned up the SUV. But as I drew closer I saw that it wasn't dust, the cloud was alive. Millions of caddis were hovering over bushes that lined both sides of the road, spiraling into the sky. As I drove past the swarm their bodies made faint ticking sounds as they bounced off the windshield and car body. I had a feeling the evening dry fly fishing would be awesome. It was summer on the Missouri River.
I was invited to Craig, Montana, by Jin and joined Tom, Jack and Ben for a week-long fishing expedition on the Missouri River with the guides from Big Sky Anglers. Again, as in previous years, the fishing was excellent.
We began each day drift boat fishing based on a float plan drawn up by Joe and Greg. Water and weather conditions dictated whether it was nymphing or tossing dries, either from the boat or put up on a gravel bar somewhere to pursue fish on foot. For the first few days we had cool conditions with overcast skies so we got to play the dry fly game. We all got into fish but the one major lesson I walked away with--work on the reach cast, you'll use it. A lot.
But the weather can be fickle. On another day we had some pretty good fishing that tapered off in the late afternoon as a huge storm approached the area. We had pulled in a fair share of fish on nymphs under bobbers and a couple of fatties on dries but after lunch we felt the temperature begin to drop, the cloud cover thickened as the booming rumble of distant thunder echoed off the mountains. We continued to fish, but within a few hours you could feel the occasional spatter of rain. It started to look ugly and soon the guides (and other anglers) were frantically pulling downstream to the take-out as we hauled jackets out of backpacks. The boats were just being hooked to the trailers when the sky cut loose with a hellacious rain.
Dry fly fishing was good if you fished at the right time with the right bug. Going out to do serious headhunting in the middle of the day is difficult and sometimes it just won't work no matter how hard you try. Your best chance of success is to be on the water throwing bugs at sunrise or casting to trout near dusk or sunset. I won't say that it's impossible to find risers during the day, there are always fish feeding on top somewhere on the Missouri, but your best shot would be early or late unless the fishing gods smile on you and provide a heavy overcast all day. And you also need to have the right fly in the right size with the correct presentation. There's lots of food moving down river and if they don't like what you've got they're going to pass on it and eat the natural. On some days we got them on size 14 bugs while the next day they'd want a size 18 caddis or PMD. You just gotta have it.
LOCATION: Craig, Montana, in Lewis and Clark County. Official population is 50 but during the peak trout season there can be a couple hundred people somewhere around town and if you count all the watercraft, Craig probably has the 7th largest navy in the world. There are three fly shops in town--Headhunters, The Trout Shop and Cross Currents and all are well stocked with rods, reels, flies, fly tying material, lines, tippet, clothing, food and beverages. Drift boats, belly boats, canoes and kayaks are available for rental.
EQUIPMENT: We brought rods from 4 to 6 weight for dry fly or nymph fishing. If you had to bring only one rod, bring a 5 weight. We used floating lines from Rio and Orvis. We brought flies with us, but consult with a guide or fly shop if you intend to tie your own. And it doesn't hurt to buy a few at the shops because some of the patterns are specific to the Missouri River and won't be found in any fly catalog. Other items--a good waterproof jacket and pack, sunscreen, bug dope, fly line dressing, dry fly floatant (Frog Fanny, Loon Aquel, Mucilin paste, Fly-agra), a Buff so you don't inhale caddis and midges.
The slideshow--go there now