Friday, August 29, 2008

Trout Camp on the Missouri River

" On my return, I found the RBF Pro Staffers at camp. They had butchered the buffalo and brought in some more meat, as I had directed. Wade Rivers had caught half a dozen very fine trout and a number of both species of the white fish. These trout (caught in the Falls) are from sixteen to twenty-three inches in length, precisely resemble our mountain or speckled trout in form and the position of their fins, but the specks on these are of a deep black instead of the red or gold color of those common to the U. States. These are furnished long sharp teeth on the palate and tongue, and have generally a small dash of red on each side behind the front ventral fins. The flesh is of a pale yellowish red or, when in good order, of a rose red. "

-Meriwether Lewis at the Great Falls of the Missouri, June 12, 1805

Trout Camp - Craig, Montana
My good friend and fellow Pro Staffer, Matt (aka Agrontrutta), had suggested that we spend a few days on the Missouri River below Holter Dam to lower our over inflated egos back down a notch or two after enjoying a lovely week of wilderness fishing for westslope cutts on the South Fork of the Flathead River. Matt's nephew, Mike Kuhnert, is a guide on the river and works out of Headhunters Fly Shop in the little town of Craig which sits hard on the bank of the big river not quite half way between Holter and Cascade. Craig, Montana is perhaps the best little trout town in Montana and a little slice of fly fishing nirvana. Maybe 1/2 mile square in size it boasts at least 3 fly shops, a restaurant named Izaak's that'll knock your socks off, a small mercantile/deli, grocery store and two distinctive bars.

Missouri River Basin
Enormous fields of fertile & well irrigated grass, hay & alfalfa along the Missouri River bottoms produce prodigious crops of grasshoppers in late summer. As recommended by my guide for the day, Mark Raisler, I threw a tandem set of hoppers tight to the banks during the afternoon hours and those Missouri River browns and rainbows proceeded to hammer 'em like they hadn't eaten in days. In fact my largest brown of the trip was hooked in this manner but he did a couple of 360's around the boat before diving directly under it and then "weeded" me in relatively deep water before I had a chance to get him in close and have Mark net him.

The Old Sutton Place
Back Row L to R: Mike (Bowhunter), Matt (Agrontrutta), guide Mike Kuhnert, JohnW.
Front Row: Joe Walsh.

We stayed right in town for 3 days and 3 nights at the Old Sutton Place which is part of the Craig Trout Camp . Everything in town, including Izaak's and some fine wade fishing right at the Craig Bridge are within easy walking distance from here. It sounds too good to be true I know but this place really exists. On our first evening in town Matt took a 22" brown trout that had been feeding on a non-stop chow line of dead and decaying insects despite a heavy flight of caddis flies (our rental cars were covered with them). The insect life in this river made Penn's Creek during the month of May look like it had been hit by a slug of acid mine drainage. It was simply overwhelming.

Missouri River Rainbow
On our second day in town we launched two boats at the Holter Dam access and did a full day (10 hour) float down to the Stickney Access, a few miles downstream of Craig. Matt's nephew Mike Kuhnert took the oars of the first boat with Matt & John aboard while Mark commanded the second boat with Bowhunter and myself along for the ride. Although the previous evenings flight of caddis adults was thicker than all the caddis hatches I had ever seen in my life rolled into one event, they were nowhere to be seen this morning. We started the day by nymphing with small beadheads below an indicator and it wasn't but 5 minutes before Bowhunters indicator took a nose dive. Fish on! Solid, chunky, hard fighting acrobatic rainbows & browns kept us giddy as schoolgirls for the next few hours until things warmed up enough to throw some hoppers at the banks.

Wolf Creek Bridge
It had been a good water year in the Missouri River Basin this year. The river had earlier in the season received a good cleansing flush and was still pushing a lot water (approx. 4,400 CFS on this day) for mid-August. There are close to 5,000 fish per mile on this section of the Missouri and they hold over, under and along side the ubiquitous weed beds that are scattered across the entire breadth of the river, not just the bank zone.

Double Rainbow
Obviously, my fish is the bigger of the two. Bowhunter caught that puny rainbow on the right. I think he accidentally snagged it :^)

The Catch...
Reflecting some quality light and fine fishing.

...And the Release
A typical Missouri River hopper eater. I just hope Raisler doesn't raise those oars until I get out of the way if you know what I mean.

Another One In the Net
John puts another one in the boat just downstream of the Wolf Creek Bridge.

Mark Raisler - Our Guide & Co-Owner of Headhunters Fly Shop
Mark wrote a nice little treatise on what it takes to be a successful angler on the Missouri River. You can read it yourself by clicking right here. Of course, Bowhunter & I heard it over and over and over again while in the boat and I now have it committed to memory. We did exactly as we where told and sure enough if Mark wasn't right on the money with his advice. He rowed his ass off for 10 hours to put us over all the best water and, for that matter, did a super professional job in all the other aspects of the float too. All his hard work did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by these two Pro Staffers. Legendary Missouri River guide Pete Cardinal even cleans out Marks boat for him at the end of a day on the river. Thanks again, Mark!

The Channel Islands
The rivers side channels in the Holter to Craig stretch are my personal favorite spots when I'm wading on my own without the luxury of a drift boat.

A Giant Spring Creek
The water is wide; but you can cross over -during low flows if you pick your spots carefully as the Missouri River is eminently wadeable in most sections. Obviously the presence of a viable hatch will increase your odds of locating fish if you have your heart set on dry fly fishing.

Cooler Casting?
L to R: Matt, Guide Mike Kuhnert and John.

Another One Like the Other Ones
That Mike was wearing long pants this day did little to stop him from jumping out of the boat to cradle & release this butte of a bow.

Bowhunter Chillin'
Just downstream of the new Craig Bridge. Despite the lack of any viable insect emergences during these August doldrums, it had been a very productive day of nymphing and hopper fishing on the Mighty Mo.

Evening Light
The quality of light in the Missouri River Basin is second to none in Big Sky Country.

From the Sutton House, aka the Rossiter Lodge-West in Craig, Montana.

Next up: Lewistown, Montana and Big Spring Creek.