The Missouri River is the longest river in North America. Starting in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, the Missouri River flows southeast for over 2,300 miles. It enters the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis, Missouri. The river takes drainage from a sparsely populated, semi-arid watershed of more than half a million square miles. This includes parts of ten U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. When combined with the lower Mississippi River, it forms the fourth longest river system in the world.
In particular, the Missouri River begins at the junction of the Jefferson, Gallatin and Madison Rivers. This junction is appropriately named Three Forks. From here, the river flows for approximately twenty miles before reaching Toston Dam. This stretch of the Missouri runs slow and warm during the hot summer months, and is not very popular with trout fishermen. It does however have some great carp fishing. The carp here grow large and strong as their diet of crayfish provides an unprecedented amount of protein.
Below Toston, the river flows for about twelve miles before reaching Canyon Ferry Lake. Gentle sloping hills and meadows surround the river and the trout fishing here becomes better. The trout fishing here is for a healthy grade of fish that push up from the reservoir. Big rainbows and browns are the norm. These fish can be found throughout this stretch typically starting in early fall.
Downstream of Canyon Ferry Lake, the river flows for one mile down to Hauser Lake. This short but enticing stretch of water is noted for very large fish and a lot of fishing pressure. Every day, trophy fish of over 24" are caught here. Trophy streamers and nymphs are usually the best way to fish this area.
Similar to that of the water below Toston, the area from Hauser Dam to Holter Lake is also known for its large lake run trout. During the fall months, you have the chance of catching a monster fish. This is also a highly used recreational area, and finding solitude is usually out of the question.
The river below Holter Dam is what makes this river famous. After passing by three impoundments already, the river here takes on characteristics as being a large "spring creek" type of water. This tail-water stretch all the way to the town of Cascade, spans over thirty miles long, and is made up of nothing but cold, clean water. Trout here flourish in these waters and the abundant population of insects makes it a fantastic dry fly fishery. These are resident trout unlike most of the fish in the other areas above Holter Lake, and they are known to put up a hell of a fight. These fish will easily strip you into your backing, especially using the light tippets that are needed to catch them.
From Holter dam down to Cascade, the water is very flat in most areas. Riffles and runs do break up the large pools in some spots. An area called Half Breed Rapids can make drifting through very difficult, especially for an inexperienced boater. It is an area that has quite a few boulders and fast water, making the stretch between the Prewett Recreation Area and the Pelican Point Recreation Area more for the experienced oarsman, especially during high water.
Hatches on the Missouri include a few different insects. Blue-winged Olives, Pale Morning Duns and Tricos make up much of the mayflies. Black, Tan, and October caddis make up much of the caddis hatches. Although there is not a diverse range of insects here, the ones that do occur come off in significant numbers. The water at times can be covered with bugs making the fishing difficult but exciting. Sometimes fishing streamers during the middle of these epic hatches can get wary fish to react in a carnivorous manner. Don't be afraid to think outside the box here.
If you plan on fishing the Missouri River, the closest airports with commercial flights are either in Helena or Great Falls. Helena will put you closer to some of the other more fabled rivers to the south. The Missouri River should be on every anglers list of places to must fish. Its diverse waters are among the finest that Montana has to offer.
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