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Fly Fishing On The Missouri River In
The Missouri River is formed by the waters of the
Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers. It is a huge river,
even in drought years. During the wet years when there
is a heavy snow pack, the Missouri River is a giant. It's
probably the only stream in Montana where a drought
year possibly provides an advantage to anglers. Dams
along the upper part of the Missouri keep the water cool
and provide its excellent trout fishing. Fly fishing the
Missouri River isn't exactly for beginners. It can test the
skills of the best anglers, but it can pay big dividends.
The big river flows through wide-open country. Except
for the spring runoff, it flows at a rather slow pace. The
runoff is difficult to predict. The rivers water flows from
melting snow from several large mountain ranges, so the
snow pack can drastically change its flows.
The Missouri River starts near the town of Three Forks
Montana. It's a huge river, over seven hundred miles
long. It it damed at many locations. About two-hundred
miles of its total length consist of lakes. For the most
part, the Missouri River flows through valleys. There are
areas of forest and low mountain ranges bordering the
river but its banks mostly consist of agricultural fields
and pastures. There are a few areas that have some
cottonwood trees along the banks but that's about it.
After the Missouri is formed by the confluence of three
rivers, it flows over Totson Dam. This dam does little for
the trout. It's a top water drainage and the warmest
water is what flows over the dam. The next section of
river is approximately twenty miles long before flowing
into the Canyon Ferry Reservoir. Canyon Ferry
Reservoir is a good still water destination. It's a rather
large, wide body of water in a large wide open valley.
From Three Forks to the Canyon Ferry Reservoir trout
exist but are not very plentiful. Given all the water in
other nearby Montana Rivers, we consider this section
hardly worth fishing unless your a local angler and have
lots of time to explore it. Most of the trout found in this
section move out of Canyon Ferry Reservoir at certain
times of the year. Most of the trout are browns and some
very large ones exist, but the fishing opportunities are
only fair at best.
Just below the Canyon Ferry Dam, the Missouri enters
Hauser Lake. The Hauser Dam tailwater provides the
first real stream fly fishing opportunity on the Missouri
River. It's a short section of tailwater, only three miles
long, but well worth the effort it takes to access it. The
Hauser tailwater flows into Holter Lake formed by the
This short section of river is quite wide and the flows are
usually very fast making fishing difficult at times. Most
anglers wade it as opposed to using a drift boat due to
its short length.
Missouri River Montana
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Rainbows and brown trout exist but the
majority are rainbows. The trout average a
large size. Most of the fishing is done just
below the Hauser Dam using streamers.
When the flows are right, anglers fish further
downstream. There are sections of deep,
fast runs and long riffles and dry fly fishing
can be good at times.
In most anglers opinion, the Holter Dam
provides the best fly fishing opportunities on
the Missouri River. It's cold water discharge
provides thirty miles of good, fly fishing
opportunities. The river holds a very good
population of trout. Access is excellent from
the dam to Cascade.
This section is by far the most popular
section to fish, mostly due to the easy
access but also the large trout. They can be
very selective and are often difficult to catch.
Don't expect to fish by yourself. There are
usually plenty of anglers both wading and
drifting the river.
You can catch trout from the Missouri below
Holter Dam year-round.
The weather is cold most winter days in
Montana but the fishing is good because of
the constant water temperature of the
Spring time can be good if you miss the
affects of the runoff.
Fly Fishing Guide to the Missouri
Fly fishing the Missouri River tailwaters is
quite different from fly fishing most trout
streams because the river is very large,
extremely clear and smooth flowing.
The river is full of aquatic plants and
appears to be somewhat like a huge spring
creek. Its trout are large and can be very
selective to hatches. You could call them
picky and you could call the fishing
"technical" fishing. The trout are not easily
fooled but they are plentiful and can be
taken by anglers that are careful with their
presentations. It is a stream where large
trout can be caught on small flies. It is a
stream where dry fly fishing is very good and
for most of the entire year.
Although there are four tailwaters on the
upper portion of the Missouri River, the most
popular and probably the best tailwater is
below Holter Dam near Craig, Montana. The
river can be fished from the bank, waded
and fished from various types of boats
including drift boats, canoes and pontoon
type boats. The stream can be accessed on
both sides of the river below Holter Dam.
The Missouri River has some very large
rainbow trout. They average about 16
inches but we have seen them caught over
20 inches. They claim that they are over
4000 trout per mile and we don't doubt it at
all. All the trout are wild and all of them will
test your skills to the utmost. They can still
be caught provided you do a few things
right. The prove the point, I meet a man on
the Ruby River from Washington D.C., that
claimed he caught large rainbows on
Parachute Adams on the Missouri River. I
didn't know whether or not he was telling the
truth until I ran into him there a week later.
He caught three all over 16 inches while I
watched him fish. I tried it just upstream from
him and couldn't catch the first one. When
he left, I tried it where he was fishing and still
couldn't catch one on the same fly he was
using. It really had me bugged.
The river has few riffles and runs. Most of it
runs smooth and it is of course, normally
very clear.The key is the presentation. Not
just a drag free drift but also, making very
sneaky presentations with a minimum
number of cast.
When the flows are right, some anglers
fish it from tube floats. It's flows are smooth
but sometimes tricky. Good presentations
are a must.
Not far below the dam and bridge, the river
flows through a small, short canyon
section. It flows through a valley below the
short canyon section below the Wolf Creek
Access Sites. The mighty Missouri enters a
wide valley flanked by low elevation
mountain ranges before it reaches the
plains. The Dearborn River enters the
Missouri in this section. The condition of
the water downstream of the Dearborn
confluence often depends on the water
from the Dearborn River.
The water downstream of Cascade
becomes marginal trout water because the
river slows down, widens out and become
warmer in the Summer. The rainbows
gradually disappear but the browns exist a
few more miles downstream.
You can also spot trout eating and often
rising to the surface. If you will take the time
to skim the surface and see what they are
eating, you can usually match it and catch
plenty of trout.
The Trico hatch runs for a long time and is
one of the largest ones we have ever seen
on any stream. It is a tough hatch to fish, but
fish can be taken once you get everything
down right. When that happens, nothing
could be more rewarding. We have taken a
couple close to 18 inch rainbows on the
Trico hatch using 7x tippet and #20 flies.
That is something else.
One thing that can frustrate you, is that you
can be wading along maybe thirty feet from
the bank, and start spotting rising fish out in
the middle of the river. When you work you
way near enough to reach them, you can
turn around and see risers behind you rising
where you left from. That means one thing.
You have spooked the trout with your
presentations or you are using the wrong fly.
All of the river below Holter Dam isn't like a
huge spring creek. There is a section of
rough, fast water with large rocks and
boulders. There are some riffles and runs in
other places, so the entire river is actually
The section below the dam, where the water
is smooth, has a gravel bottom and
averages from one to three feet deep. The
large trout are often very shallow, so you
don't have to wade out in the stream very
far. In fact, that may be a big mistake.
Trout can also be caught on streamers and
nymphs. Anglers also use scuds, San Juan
worms and caddis larvae imitations. The
river also has plenty of brown trout that
range from 12 to 24 inches. Often streamers
and nymphs work best for them.
Missouri River Hatches and Trout
Our information on aquatic insects is based
on our stream samples of larvae and
nymphs, not guess work. We base fly
suggestions on imitating the most plentiful
and most available insects and other foods
at the particular time you are fishing. Unlike
the generic fly shop trout flies, we have
specific imitations of all the insects in the
Missouri River and in all stages of life that
are applicable to fishing. If you want to fish
better, more realistic trout flies, have a
much higher degree of success, give us a
call. We not only will help you with
selections, you will learn why, after trying
Perfect Flies, 92% of the thousands of our
customers will use nothing else.
If I had to pick one aquatic insect to imitate
the entire year on the Missouri River, it
would be the Blue-winged Olives. Of course
there are several different species of them
that hatch for most of the year. They
usually start around the middle of March
and last until about middle of June. Some
species are bi-brooded and will hatch again
in the Fall. Other species, along with the
bi-brooded species, start again about the
first of September and hatch until the
middle of November.
Western Green Drakes hatch from about
the middle of May through June, but the
hatch is usually sparse. The Little Western
Green Drakes, or Flavs, hatch during July
and August, but it is also a sparse hatch.
Pale Morning Duns hatch from about the
middle of June to the middle of August.
These hatches can be fairly good and
consistent. From about the first of
September into the first week or two of
October, you will find a few Mahogany
One of the better hatches that occurs on
the Missouri River are the Tricos. They
start about the first of July and last through
the month of August. These hatches can
be very prolific.
There are many species of caddisflies that
hatch on the Missouri. Probably the most
plentiful species are those called Spotted
Sedges. They hatch during the months of
June and July. You also have a Little Black
Caddis, or Brachycentrus hatch that occurs
in May and again, during from the middle of
July through August. The first hatch is
usually called the Mother's Day Hatch.
Little Short-horned Sedges, which are
the saddle cased caddis, hatch from
about the first of June through July. In
October and November, you will find
hatches of October Caddis. This can be
a very good hatch to fish on the Missouri
Green Sedges hatch from about the first
of July through September. Imitations of
their larva stage of life, called Rock
Worms, can be a good fly to use anytime
of the year.
Scuds and Sowbugs are very plentiful
and fish can be caught using imitations of
both just about anytime of the year. Our
Perfect Fly imitations are the best you
can buy along with just about any other
insect you will find on the river. Crayfish
are also plentiful. Imitations of them will
catch the large brown and large rainbow
There are also plenty of the various
species of baitfish and sculpin in the
river. Streamers that imitate them are
effective anytime during the season, but
are most effective when it is near dark or
very early in the morning. They also work
good if the water has any color to it, but
that is rather rare.
Terrestrials are very important starting
about the first of July and lasting through
September. Grasshoppers are very
abundant because the river is
surrounded by hay fields in most areas.
Hoppers are very, very plentiful. Ants and
beetles also work at times, so don't forget
As alway, we recommend our "Perfect
Flies". Simply put, they are the best flies
you can buy. They are not only the most
realistic imitations of the insects, they are
the most effective in catching trout. If you
haven't already done so, we hope you
will give them a try.
The cool water releases keep the fishing in
great shape through the summer months.
Fall is an excellent time to fish the
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Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (email@example.com)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
All orders are shipped free in the
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Headlines: The big river is in
good shape and our customers
sent in some good reports this
past week. The preferred section
to fish is the upper part within a
couple miles of the tailwater. The
water is a little warmer there. The
middle and lower sections in near
the high thirties. Midges are
hatching good. Winter stoneflies
and Black flies are hatching. Keep
up with the latest info by clicking
on the above link to our weekly
updated fishing report.
Missouri River Map
10/13/15 There are some October Caddis hatching in some areas of the river. Brown trout
are spawning in some areas. While we recommend leaving them alone, it isn't against the
rules to catch them. There will soon be a change the insects listed on our report, so be sure
to keep up with that. Flows during September are normally fairly stable and it is one of the
best times to fish the river.
10/20/15 The October Caddis are at the peak of their hatch and bringing trout to the
surface but they aren't just everywhere. They are mostly on the fast water areas of the lower
section. Brown trout are either spawning or in the pre-spawn mode and taking streamers
very aggressively. Our Brown and White Belly Sculpin works great for this. The river has few
anglers fishing and a lot of big trout ready to fight.
10/27/15 The October Caddis are still hatching in the lower section of the river. The egg
layers bring trout to the surface to feed on them. Blue-winged Olives, in two different sizes,
20 and 16, are hatching. Of course the hatches are much better during cloudy or overcast
days. There is rain or snow in the forecast every day for the coming week, so what the
11/03/15 The tropical heat wave in Montana is over. Normal, cold weather is here and that is
going to change a lot of fly fishing strategies. Midges and Blue-winged Olives will be the
center of attention for the insects. There has been some big brown trout caught the last two
weeks on the Brown Sculpin streamer and that should continue to work.
11/10/15 Yes, it is colder than it has been but really just mild compared to normal weather at
this time of the year. Snow is in the forecast a few days this coming week but Blue-winged
olives and Midges both hatch in the snow. Stream levels are currently good for wading in
many areas. Few anglers are fishing and you should be one of them sitting home on the
11/17/15 Temperatures are about average for this time of the year. It is snowing and that
should end Friday but it has little effect on the trout in the tailwater, only the anglers fishing
and that's mostly mental. Blue-winged olives will hatch during a light snow if it is not too cold.
Stream levels are running normal and post-spawn brown trout are hungry. The Brown
Sculpin streamer is the fly to use to fool them.
11/24/15 There is a winter storm warning in effect through tomorrow, not exactly a good time
to be on the river. It will clear after Thanksgiving and those willing to give it a try should do
well. Midges will be key and as always, we recommend fishing a tandem rig with the larva the
bottom fly and the pupa up the tippet a foot or more. The Brown sculpin streamer should still
be a great fly selection.
12/01/15 It will warm up a little and anyone fishing will be more comfortable than last week.
There is snow in the forecast at the end of the week. Midges are catching trout for those
willing to use the minature flies. Fish the larva and pupa in tandem with the pupa the top fly.
The Brown sculpin streamer has also been catching trout. The stream levels should be fine
12/08/15 There is a high wind warning for the next two days. The weather isn't going to be
very cold, just a lot of rain and snow. We added Winter stoneflies to the list because they
are already hatching in some areas. Midges will still be the most important insects to imitate
but don't forget about the Brown and White Belly sculpin. They have been catching fish.
12/22/15 The Holter tailwater is a good destination for those who want to fly fish for trout at
this time. The weather isn't all that bad, or at least in Montana terms. The water is cold and
the closer you fish to the bottom discharge of water from Holter dam, the warmer it will be.
We recommend staying within the first four or five miles of it. Midges and Winter stonefly
nymphs are the only flies you need.
12/29/15 The river is flowing along at a good rate for a boat or wading right now, but be sure
ou check the levels out. The water temperature is about 40 coming from the dam but drops
to near freezing a few miles downstream. You should fish within a close proximity to the dam.
Midges and winter stonefly nymphs are catching trout. Rig the midge larva as the bottom fly
and the pupa up the tippet a foot or more.
01/05/16 The Big Missouri is in great shape compared to its lower end hundreds of miles
downstream in Missouri. Stream levels are actually good in Montana. You can catch trout all
winter long due to the constant water temperature of the tailwater discharge. We
recommend fishing near the dam in the coldest weather. Midges and Winter stoneflies are
the main insects yu should be imitating.
01/12/16 The river is in as good of shape as it ever gets this time of the new year. Fish near
the dam. The further you get downstream, the colder the water will be. It is about 39 degrees
at the bottom discharge. Midges and Winter stonefly nymphs will work good. So with the
White Belly sculpin streamer since the skies will be cloudy about all the time.
01/26/16 The weather isn't as cold ad one would expect. This makes little difference to the
trout in the tailwater of Holter Dam but it does to the guys in a drift boat or wading. The flows
are good by the way, and little change is expected in them. Winter stoneflies are hatching
and of course, midges is the staple. When it is cloudy, try the Brown Sculpin streamer. It is
getting some of the big ones.
02/02/16 Stream levels are good and the weather not bad, just normal wintertime weather.
Some snow is in the forecast but that just means there is some cloud cover and good midge
hatches. Both Cream midges and red or blood midges are hatching. Winter stoneflies are
also hatching. Fish as near the dam as legal and for the first two miles downstream for the
02/16/16 It feels like spring but it is really still smack in the middle of Winter. It makes it nice
on those who enjoy getting out on the big river. Midges are hatching good and we got one
report recently of some trout caught on the surface feeding on midges. Both reds and
creams are hatching. There are still some winter stoneflies but in the fast, shallower water.
02/23/16 We are still recommending fishing near the dam, because the water is still colder
downstream in spite of the nice warm weather taking place. Midges, both cream and reds, or
blood midges, are hatching. Winter stoneflies are hatching in some sections. The weather
should remain good until at least this weekend.
03/01/16 The weather is very warm for the first day of March. It tends to melt snow along the
banks and in the little tributaries and creeks that feed the middle and lower sections. This
stains the water some, but for the most part, it remains clear. Midges, little Blue-winged
olives and winter stoneflies are hatching. Sculpin streamer are good flies to use in the
03/15/16 The big river is back to normal. Actually, it hasn't changed much, just the weather
which has little effect on the fish. Midges, blood or red, and cream midges are hatching, and
providing the best opportunity for anglers. The discharges and stream levels remain in good
shape, and we still think the best location is near the Holter dam tailwater discharge.
04/02/16 The mighty Missouri is in great shape for the end of the month of March. The
weather forecast for the coming week has little rain or snow and warm temperatures. It is a
great time to be out on the water. Big trout will be eating little tiny bugs. Midges and little
BWOs are the main insects you will need to imitate. Sculpin streamers will catch big trout
under low light conditions.
04/19/16 Discharges and stream levels are good and the weather getting much warmer. The
water is warming a little but mostly in the middle and lower sections of the river. Midges and
little Blue-winged olives are still the main insects to imitate. Little Black Caddis should start
hatching very soon.
05/03/16 The nice warm weather of last week is over and things are returning back to a
more normal weather pattern on the Missouri. The weather has little to no effect on the
water close to the dams at the two tailwaters. It does affect it some in the lower reaches of
the tailwater. This is going to be the situation until the end of runoff. Midges and little BWOs,
will continue to be the only insects hatching.
05/17/16 The big Missouri is flowing high and strong. The discharges below Holter are stong
and likely to remain that way for some time to lower the lakes. There was a lot of melting
snow from early season runoff in the watershed. There is a lot of rain in the forecat this
week, and the discharges are likely to remain heavy. The water is slightly stained. Little
Black Caddis are hatching in the lower river.
05/31/16 The river is high and dirty, with Spring runoff in all its tributaries and headwaters. In
addition, to add insult to injury, it is raining every day. The runoff and high water levels will
likely continue for the next several days. At this time there is little to no fly fishing opportunity
on the Missouri. Keep checking back with us and we will be letting you know as soon as
06/14/16 From the looks of the discharges, you would think the runoff is over, but it isn't. We
do think it will end earlier than normal this year. It started earlier than normal. The river is in
good shape and one of our customers caught some nice bows this past week. Streamers
and nymph rigs are working. The water is stained in some areas.
06/20/16 The Missouri is in good shape in all sections. The water below Holter Dam is
producing some big rainbows for one of our customers. He is using the Brown Sculpin
streamers. Hatches should really pick up this coming week. The water levels are down and
the water mostly clear. There are a lot of caddis hatching, including Green Sedges and
Spotted Sedges. There are some little short-horned sedges as well.
06/27/16 Low discharge have provided anglers some very good opportunities to catch trout
this past week. There will be some good cloud cover this coming week as the forecast is
calling for rain every day but tomorrow. The caddisfly egg laying activity in the late afternoon
is providing some good action. Pale Morning duns are hatching in the lower end of the river
07/05/16 The river continues to be in very good shape for this time of the year. The
discharges from the dams have been low and stream levels are allowing anglers some
opportunity to wade in some places. There are a lot of insects hatching and the weather
forecast for the coming week looks great. Our customers reported catching some very nice
rainbows this past week. It is a great time to be fishing the Missouri.
07/12/16 The Missouri is in good shape in all sections. The discharges at the dams and
resulting stream levels are good. There is a chance of rain everyday for the next week, but it
will mostly be scattered showers and some thunderstorms. This could change the levels, so
be sure to check them. Lot of insects are hatching with the main ones being the Pale
Morning duns and Spotted sedges.
07/19/16 Our customers are sending in some good reports. They are catching plenty of
rainbows and some rather large. There are lot of insects hatching including three species of
caddisflies, and lot of Pale Morning duns. The best time to fish is late in the day but few
anglers are doing so. Most are stopping way to early.
07/26/16 The river is in good shape in all sections. The flows and discharges are good and
allow for wading in many places. The hatches are still going strong, especially the Pale
Morning Duns, Spotted and Green Sedges, little Yellow stoneflies and others. The area is
surrounded by a lot of hay fields and that means a lot of grass hoppers. Terrestrials will
soon be a big factor.
08/02/16 This is one of the better destinations at this time. Many Montana streams have
Hoot Owl restrictions in place meaning you cannot fish after 2:00 PM. The Missouri's
tailwaters remain cool during the summer. There are lots of Pale Morning duns and two
species of caddisflies hatching. Customers are sending in some very good reports.
08/09/16 The Missouri is one of the best destinations in Montana at this time, due to the low
water and high temperatures of the freestone streams. The section below Holter is the best
bet and in good shape. Discharges and stream levels are normal and there are plenty of
PMDs and caddisflies hatching. Terrestrials are also working good.
09/23/16 The section below Holter dam is one of the best destinations you could select at
this time of the season. The water is in good shape, with good discharge and stream levels.
There are some very large rainbows being caught and some from the surface. Anglers are
wading, fishing from tube floats and drift boats of all types. Fish the upper section of the
09/30/16 he big river below Holter is in great shape and our customers are catching some
big rainbows. There are Mahogany duns, Blue-winged olive olives, October caddis and
other insects hatching. They are also doing good with sculpin streamers early and late.
Hopper fished close to the banks along the hayfield is also catching a lot of trout. It is a
great time to be fishing the river.
10/12/16 Few anglers are fishing and conditions are excellent. The warm weather and cloud
cover is ideal for some big Blue-winged olive and Mahogany dun hatches. October caddis
are still hatching as well. The Brown sculpin will get the big pre-spawn brown trout as well as
some of the 18 inch rainbows as well.
10/19/16 The discharges from Holter are low and the stream lvels just a little below normal.
There is rain forecast for a couple of day during the coming week. This past week was very
good. Our customers caught some very large brown and rainbow trout. Streamers, Blue-
winged olive nymphs, hoppers and beetles were used. Few anglers are fishing and
conditions are great.
10/27/16 It doesn't get any better in the Fall than it is right now, yet few anglers are fishing. I
guess it is hunting and football season that keeps the numbers down but those that are
fishing are catching lots of trout. Some, especially the pre-spawn brown trout, are big. Blue-
winged olive hatches are huge and bring trout to the surface to feed each afternoon.
11/03/16 The river is flowing high and strong but clear and in good shape otherwise. There
is no rain in the forecast this coming week. Sculpin streamers have been catching some big
brown and rainbow trout lately. There are some very good Blue-winged olive hatches taking
place. Midges are beginning to hatch good as well.
11/10/16 Few anglers are fishing but they should be. The discharges and levels are still a
little high and fast but those fishing are catching some nice trout and plenty of them.
Hatches of Blue-winged olives are taking place along with Cream Midges. Sculpin streamers,
like our Olive or Black Matuka or Brown sculpin streamer are good for the larger trout.
11/17/16 The river levels are great, thanks to low discharges. The weather is turning colder
but that will affect the fishing in the upper part of the tailwater very little. Blue-winged olives
and Cream and red midges are hatching good. It is as good as it gets at this time of the year.
11/24/16 The river is in good shape. Blue-winged olives and midges, both creams and reds
or blood midges, are hatching. Sculpin streamers like the Matukas and our Brown and White
Belly sculpin are catching the larger trout. Fish the upper section of the tailwater, The lower
down stream you fish, the colder the water is..