The Missouri - Holter Dam to Cascade
Map Size 17" x 72"
The Great American Trout Stream
What is America's Greatest Trout Stream? Is it the Letort or the Delaware in Pennsylvania? The Rogue in Oregon? or maybe the San Juan in New Mexico? New Englanders might argue for the Merrimack or perhaps the Battenkill. For our money the Great American Trout Stream is surely to be found in Montana and certainly one of the best in Montana is the Missouri. It doesn't hurt that there are just simply more tailwater, freestone & spring creek trout streams concentrated in Montana than in most of the rest of the Nation. Consider the Big Horn which is conveniently located about 40 miles east of Billings, the largest city in Montana - it surely ranks right up there as one of the best trout streams in the Nation. There is also the Yellowstone and its famous spring creek tributaries, Armstrong’s and DePuy’s. In other parts of the state there are the Kootenai, Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Clark Fork to name just a few. But of all these great streams and rivers, the Missouri, if not the best Trout Stream in America, ranks right up there with the very best. The Missouri originates from a drainage complex of world class fisheries: the Firehole, Gibbon and the Madison, the Ruby, Beaverhead, Big Hole and the Jefferson which all join the Gallatin at the small town of Three Forks to form the Missouri. From Three Forks the river flows to the small reservoir created by Toston Dam and from there through the Canyon Ferry, Hauser and Holter reservoirs to ultimately spill out into what is beyond a doubt the “jewel” of the river - the stretch from Holter Dam to Cascade.
Started in 1909 and completed in 1918, Holter Dam is the keystone of this unique fishery. Abbey & Brower (wherever they may be) will cringe, but the fact is that this dam provides the mechanism for sediment removal and temperature control that transforms what would otherwise be a seasonal mud bath into 40+ miles of spring-creek-like trout heaven. These conditions make the Missouri unique in the sense that while you can take fish on nymphs and streamers year-round, it is for 7 months of the year, also a classic dry fly stream. In 2008, the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks survey found 2,890 ten inch and larger rainbow trout per mile and 1,126 browns. That is over 4,000 fish per mile. Informal reports from fishermen contend that the typical fish landed is in the 15 to 18 inch-range. Twenty-five miles downstream, in the Pelican Point area, the character of the river changes dramatically, Browns rule and the river slows down. There are deep holes and large fish, albeit not nearly as many. In ‘08 there were 1,680 browns per mile and 490 rainbows. Nevertheless, 2,000 fish per mile is nothing to be sneezed at. The epicenter of the trout fishing on this stretch of the river is the small town of Craig which is filled with everything an angler needs from guides to flys with food & beer and a healthy dose of fish stories mixed in.
For the angler (when the bite slows) and the non-angler (whatever that is) this portion of the Missouri is also one of the most scenic rivers in the state. In the hills and fields Muleys and Whitetail abound, with incidental sightings of Bighorn Sheep and Elk. Beaver, Otter, Mink and Muskrats permeate the shoreline along with waterfowl ranging from the rare Harlequin duck to the ubiquitous Canada goose. As you pour out of the canyon at Half-Breed rapids and onto the plain, pheasants, Hungarian partridge and sharptail grouse pop up more and more in the fields alongside the river.
Put all this together at one place, at one time and regardless of where you are, you have just found The Great American Trout Stream.