Fly Fishing the Missouri River

Ultimate Missouri River fly fishing guide: Best spots and tips.

Missouri River Fly Fishing: An Angler’s Ultimate Guide

The Missouri River flows through Montana for over seven hundred miles. So, naturally, looking for the best Missouri River fly fishing spot can be challenging for any angler considering a visit. Fortunately, solving this issue might be simpler than you think. 

Imagine the perfect fly fishing trip in the Western United States. You will find just what you’re picturing when you visit the Missouri River. Here, the fish are large and abundant, and regardless of your preferred fishing method, you’ll surely have a great experience.

Missouri River fly fishing might seem daunting, causing many fishermen to avoid it for fear of not catching any fish. However, there's no need to fear! It has the potential to offer you lasting memories.

Best Spots for Missouri River Fly Fishing

Like the Green River in Utah, the Missouri River also has excellent spots that all fishermen should explore. You are not restricted to just this section of the river! 

But you can also discover other great Missouri River fly fishing spots by researching and tapping into your creative side. It's very hectic, as you can probably guess, so here’s a beginner-friendly guide to help you.

Three Forks to Canyon Ferry Reservoir

The trout fishing is inconsistent between Three Forks and Canyon Ferry Reservoir. After migrating upstream or downstream, most fish in this fifty-mile stretch of the Missouri River come from either Canyon Ferry Reservoir or a nearby tributary.

Big brown trout are abundant in this area of the Missouri River. The issue lies in the low fish numbers per mile compared to the trout populations downstream.

This part of the Missouri River is frequently murky, which hinders surface fishing opportunities. Due to the murky waters, it’s best to use streamers and nymphs. You can also use bulky streamers with sturdy gear, dragging them across the riverbed and concentrating on the deeper sections of the river.

There is one prime fishing period here, especially from Canyon Ferry Reservoir to Totson Dam. Many brown trout migrate from Canyon Ferry Reservoir to spawn in the fall. So, wet fly attractors can be effective when you use them in deeper waters.

If you are new to Missouri River fly fishing, visiting the nearby fly shop to get information on current conditions and effective flies is best. Doing so will help you avoid hours or days of frustrating fishing.

Hauser Dam to Holter Lake

The Missouri River flows for just three miles from Hauser Dam to the upper part of Holter Lake. It is broad and swift, and due to its limited length, floating is not commonly practiced in this section. 

Rainbow trout are the prevailing species in this area, while big browns are frequently seen just beneath Hauser Dam.

Big rainbows can be found directly beneath the Hauser dam, consuming the fish and other food carried by the dam.

Pursuing the bigger fish requires using big streamers on heavily weighted sinking lines. By successfully getting big streamers deep in the water, you’ll likely catch rainbow trout weighing between three to five pounds.

While passing through the Missouri Breaks, the river travels through a stunning combination of canyons, buttes, dry mountains, and windswept prairie. Although fishing is not common along this part of the Missouri River, more and more people are enjoying recreational floating along this untamed section of the river.

Pelican Fishing Access Site to Great Falls

After passing by the Pelican FAS, located close to Cascade town, the Missouri River exits the mountains and starts its path across the Montana prairie. The currents decrease in speed, particularly as they approach Great Falls. 

The warming waters of the Missouri River restrict rainbow trout fishing. But you’ll find large brown trout along this part of the river, hiding in the deeper pools and underneath the numerous banks. 

Since the water is mainly inhabited by brown trout, you can use a common fly fishing technique involving streamers on sunk tip lines, casting them into the pockets and alongside the numerous undercut banks.

Other fishes present in this area are carp and smallmouth bass. Failing to consider fishing for smallmouth bass would be a mistake, as they provide a lot of enjoyment when caught.

The Best Time for Missouri River Fly Fishing

Anglers can enjoy Missouri River fly fishing all year long. However, the optimal time to fish the river is from the end of June to the beginning of August. It is the time when you will enjoy the most pleasant weather and water conditions.

You should also note that different techniques are effective depending on the timing. If you're a fan of dry flies, April, May, July, and October are the best months. If you enjoy catching many fish with nymphs, May, June, and September may be the best months. If you prefer big foam attractors, you should concentrate on July, August, and September. 

If you're not too concerned about the fish but dislike large groups, March, late August, and November are hard to top. During that time, you could potentially discover exceptional dry fly fishing on a global level. In the winter, using spey rods and trout swinging opportunities are more common. 

Even when the Missouri River is high and muddy, it is not often affected by runoff and offers excellent fishing opportunities. So, no matter when you decide to visit, the fishing will still be good.

Missouri River Fly Fishing Tips

It’s crucial to know the prime spots, fish behavior, and various river fly fishing techniques for a successful trip. But it’s also equally essential to practice some basic tips so you can enjoy a great Missouri River fly fishing trip.

Be Patient

One key thing that every angler must understand is patience. Remember, remaining calm is vital for your fishing success.

Various sources, including the media, blogs, and experts, repeatedly highlight this aspect of fly fishing. You’ll need to practice your patience, as anticipating the crucial moment when a fish bites and addressing typical challenges in river fly fishing, such as wind, water levels, and insect hatching times, requires a lot.

When the fish bite, it is also crucial that you react calmly. The ultimate truth is that selecting the best spots, equipment, and flies before casting into the water makes a significant difference. 

Choose the Best Flies for Missouri River Fly Fishing

A wide variety of flies are effective for Missouri River fly fishing. If the fly you are using is not producing results, feel free to change it without hesitation after a few casts. These fish can be selective, so you must properly display the best flies.

Woolly Bugger

Using Woolly Buggers for Missouri River fly fishing is an excellent choice. They can mimic whatever you want, so the fish will struggle to resist these flies. 

You can swing and dead drift these flies in the river with freedom. But it’s best to test and observe what causes strikes or flashes. Olive and black colors are frequently the top choices and tend to have the best outcomes.

Czech Nymph

The Czech Nymph is widely used on the Missouri River. You can collect this fly's available colors since it will function effectively just before the hatching. 

It performs well as a dropper in a dry-dropper setup. A slightly bigger dry fly might help ensure the nymph remains correctly positioned beneath the water's surface.

Pheasant Tail

The Pheasant Tail nymph is another excellent fly for Missouri River fly fishing. You can use it for fishing in different types of water and throughout the entire year.

You can use it in a dropper rig or attach it with a couple of split shots. It will function in both scenarios, but you may need to try different approaches.

Parachute Adams

There are so many insects that it's hard to believe a fish would choose to bite your bait.  But the Parachute Adams is a traditional fly used often in the Missouri River. Many fishermen are familiar with this fly and eagerly anticipate using it. Once you observe a hatch, fasten this one and prepare for an exciting journey!

Zebra Midge

The Zebra Midge is great if you want something simple but highly efficient. This fly is perfect for a dropper rig setup. Be it a small terrestrial or a big caddis, ensure it is situated below the surface.

Where to Fish?

Looking for the best spots in the Missouri River is a primary concern, especially for beginners. Various fish have a preference for specific feeding conditions, although there are some similarities you might discover.

Starting with underwater vegetation and structure is typically a good idea. Plants offer protection from predators and attract bait fish and insects, which is essential for fish. 

One option is to throw your fishing line near vegetation, submerged wood, logs, and overhanging branches by the water. Large stones, huge rocks, and piles of rocks can also lure small fish, attracting predators that prey on them.

When navigating a swift river, looking for a fishing spot in slower-flowing areas like backwaters and tailwaters is recommended. Fish are unlikely to notice your bait if the water is turbulent because they struggle to feed in those conditions. Try your chances by casting your line into tranquil waters to catch something valuable.

A shift in both current and depth indicates the presence of fish feeding in the vicinity. Spots in the river where the water swirls or slows down, or drop-offs in the bottom, are signals to begin fishing. Baitfish gather near shifts in currents, with their predators (your catch) typically nearby.

Should You Hire A Guide?

Guided anglers usually catch larger fish than non-guided anglers. The main distinction lies in the knowledge gained rather than the catch itself. So, hiring a guide for your Missouri River fly fishing trip is highly recommended, especially if you want to learn about holding water, casting techniques, fish behavior, and hatches.

Problem-solving is crucial; hiring a guide can make all the difference for successful fishing. An ideal guide will help you navigate the convenient entry points, smooth drifting, and outstanding insect activity.

Hiring a Missouri River fly fishing guide will provide valuable information on the latest hatches, areas, and methods. You are also guaranteeing an easier and more productive fishing trip.

Fly Fishing with Latitudes Outfitting Co.

Ready to embark on an elite Missouri River fly fishing experience? Go fly fishing with Latitudes Outfitting Company! The Missouri River is famous for its extensive stretches of calm, clear waters and large rainbow and brown trout populations, providing excellent fishing opportunities. 

Our knowledgeable guides at Latitudes Outfitting offer the excellent guidance and assistance you need to ensure your fishing trip is both productive and unforgettable, whether you use a drift boat or wade in specific spots.

Plan your Missouri River fly fishing trip with Latitudes Outfitting Company! 

sample directions

Learn More About Our Amazing Rivers.

DIScover more
Norra alt text.