PBD Fish Reports
Our float down the Dearborn was a day I will long remember. We put in rubber rafts just below a bridge that was the only bridge we would see until we joined the Missouri at the end of the day. With only a couple of exceptions where people had built cabins along the shore, we were in wilderness with looming bluffs punctuated by gentle green hills. We shared the river with one other boat which we only saw when they passed us at lunch. The scenery was an absolute delight. The fishing was good too.
My day started with a 17 inch brown who took my dry, a fluffy caddis like affair with a local name, but looking like an attractor I tie. Others came to the dry or the pheasanttail dropper. Jim and I shared one raft with guide Brett Matula. Bob was in the other with Ben. I would not say the fishing was fast and furious, but we did get plenty of fish; rainbows, browns, and even one brookie ranging from 12 to 17 inches. About half were taken on the dry. While the fishing was good, the scenery was outstanding. In the center section of the float, the canyon narrowed and the water quickened. Towering bluffs dove into the water. Pockets in the faces of those bluffs harbored fish. It was fascinating fishing. At one point, a tricky rapid showed why this river cannot be floated in low water. There would have been no path through. Eventually the canyon slowly opened before diving around another bluff and entering the Missouri. I will be forever thankful to Jim for suggesting this adventure. The scenery alone was worth the trip. It was truly a great day.
The last day we floated with guide Ardy (Art) Newman. Art took us right to the base of the dam. A sow bug was Art’s choice and boy did it work. He rowed us right up to the cable marking the upper boundary for boat traffic and carefully lined us up beside a break in the current. Half way through the drift, my indicator disappeared and a nice fish responded to my hook set with a lunge that I thought would break the tippet. Not to worry, Art was using 3x tippet. After Art landed my fish he rowed towards the shore and back up to where he started the first float. This was to be repeated several times. Each trip was productive. Jim and I landed a fish or two each on every run down that seam. All were rainbows and all were about 18 inches. Finally, three other boats arrived to float the seam so we headed down river.
During his research, Jim learned about the Dearborn River, a major tributary to the Missouri that enters a few miles below the dam. It can only be floated in late spring when the water has cleared but is still high enough to allow boats to pass. As luck would have it, the water was ideal for the float during our visit so off we went.
The Dearborn has an interesting history. Lewis and Clark were told by local Indians about a river called “highway to the buffalo” that entered the Missouri and offered an easy path over the continental divide on their way to the Pacific. They passed the Dearborn, not knowing that it was the river they were told about. Instead they traveled many extra miles, went across a pass to the River of No Return, back over the pass and up another pass; a trip that took a number of extra days.
For years I have been hearing about the high quality trout fishing below Holter Dam on the Missouri River in Montana but I had never made the trip. Last winter my friend Jim Othrow and I were discussion our fishing plans for this summer and the Missouri came up. Jim’s searching discovered that, being a tailwater, the Missouri fished well in June when most other waters we wanted to fish over the summer were high with runoff. We roped Bob Traver into joining us and plans were made. It could not have worked out better.
The Missouri is famous for the opportunity to catch 18 inch plus rainbows and browns on dry flies. The dry fly season starts with a caddis hatch, continues through stone flies and yellow sallies, various mayflies and, as summer progresses, terrestials. We should have been in the caddis hatch season. However, dry fly action requires lower flows. The week before our trip flows were quite high but clear as usual so deep nymphing was the ticket. OK, but not what we had hoped for. Then the word came from Headhunters Fly Shop that the flows were coming down and could be ideal for dry fly fishing when we were to fish. We arrived to news of continually dropping flows and the promise of dry fly action in the near future but not much surface action yet.
The first day Bob and I floated a canyon section with guide, Ben Hardy. The morning was spent nymphing with a scud and a midge. Almost immediately, we were into fish. A 15 inch brown then an 18 inch rainbow took our offering followed by several more in the same range. Interestingly, these fish were not where I expected them to be. They were out in the middle of the stream. We picked fish up in mid-stream current breaks, on flat runs, and what seemed to me to be the middle of nowhere. Still, what we were doing worked so I was content to let Ben do his thing.
I was completely enthralled with the fishing and the beauty of this river. Tall bluffs punctuated the scene. Rolling hills covered in green and sprinkled with trees spread before us. A bald eagle flew overhead. It must have looked like this when Lewis and Clark traveled up the Missouri to find a passage west. Just being on the water was a treat.
Slowly, the bluffs gave way to gentler terrain and the water slowed somewhat. While I had no complaints, I kept eyeing the shore for signs of rising trout. It turned out that Ben was doing the same thing. Shortly before lunch Ben asked if we would like to try dry flies. He had not seen a fish rise yet but he thought they should be looking up. We readily agreed to experiment, so we changed tactics.
Ben tied on a #14 black ant. Not what I expected. This was supposed to be the time of caddis hatches, but he was the guide. He must know what he was doing. Now, instead of fishing the middle of the stream we plied the shoreline pockets. Shortly, a 15 inch brown rose slowly from the bottom, opened its mouth, and engulfed my fly. A classic take. And a classic brown battle, as it dogged to bottom before coming to net. A propitious start to our dry fly experiment.
We caught a number of browns and rainbows on that ant but the one I remember most was one Bob caught. A large rainbow bolted from its shoreline hole, dashed downstream a couple of feet, and smashed the ant. I don’t know if Bob was ready or startled but his rod was up and the fish was on. That was the best take and the best fish of the day, a 20 incher. And a great first day it was.
Paul B Downing, June 2014
Again, like the first day, we fished where I did not expect. Art set us to the shore side of a faint seam and had us cast out into the middle of the river. This is called inside out fishing. It works. The action was not as fast as up at the dam but we did get a number of rainbows. One was 22.5 inches. (We measured it.) After we passed an island the fish stopped biting. Funny. Art told us that this section did not seem to produce many fish. It looked the same as the water above but was different in some way only the fish understood. Just before we got to the bridge, the fish started hitting again.
Through the rest of the day we switched from one side of the river to the other, lining up on invisible seams that Art knew were there, picking up fish as we went. At one point we came upon a nest with a pair of bald eagles and a couple of fledglings. The fledglings were perched on the edge ready to fly but not yet having the guts to make the commitment. One of the parents circled overhead encouraging them but to no avail.
Later in the day, Art found a pod of rising fish at the head of a side channel. He set me up with a small dry and told me to cast down and across to present the fly on a downstream drift. I did my best but the moment the fish saw the fly, they stopped feeding. I had the same experience a couple of days before when I saw a pod working just off shore where I could do a downstream drift from shore. The moment I cast in their direction they were gone. The rising fish on the Missouri are notorious for being difficult like this.Just downstream, a big pod of fish were rising in a back eddy. Swirling currents made it almost impossible to get a drift but I tried. Finally, one fish took pity on me and hit the fly. These midging trout are as challenging as any I have encountered.
I look forward to getting back to give them another shot.While the dry fly fishing was not yet in full swing, I could not have asked for more in a trip. Takes I will remember. Outstanding scenery and wildlife in every direction. And good friends to share them with. What more could one ask for?The Headhunters Fly Shop in Craig was our headquarters. These folks are knowledgeable and helpful. Our guides were outstanding. Lodging and food in the area is limited. Jim found us the Reel Inn, a cabin that sleeps three. Bob grilled bratwurst and we indulged in Wisconsin cheddar and liverwurst. Sitting on the porch, we watched a soaring bald eagle and a spectacular sunset as we relaxed from a full day of fishing. All in all, a great trip.