Craig, Montana is booming and bustling with trout bums grinning from ear to ear. The sun is shining high in the sky for longer than it has in the past two weeks, and bugs are just starting to come off like we’re used to out here. We’ve got a few thunderstorms forecasted for the next few days, but I doubt that will affect the fishing much. Lots of boats are out all over the river, with the highest concentration around the Dam and Wolf Creek Bridge. If you’re a dry fly fanatic like most here at CrossCurrents Fly Shop the upper will be the most productive for PMD fishing. Throughout the canyon will be the best for caddis for at least another five days or a week until the caddis hatch riverwide. I will say that when the caddis first begin to hatch along the entire river (Cascade to the Dam), it will be the best fishing of the entire season. The first week of caddis action, when the fish are still relatively bashful and interested in bushy caddis dries, is simply amazing. On the fly side of the equation, you’ve got a huge array of options. Some dry fly purists will be sticking mainly to size 18 yellow parachutes and PMD duns; others will be fishing bigger caddis stuff like the Bloom’s Parachute Caddis in a 16. Personally, I enjoy swinging 16 and 18 soft hackles for fishing taking mayfly and caddis emergers. If I’m in a stretch where PMDs are coming off I will swing something with more yellow in the body, and if caddis are coming off I’ll bump the size up to a 16 and fish a brown or olive soft hackle. That being said, a lot of guys are out fishing buggers and like for the bigger, more aggressive fishies in the river (like the one pictured below).
Just a small note for those who have grown up hearing about the exceptional dry fly action that can be had on the Missouri: Don’t be too stubborn to fish an emerger below a dry. I’ve been fishing the Missouri since I was about ten years old and all of my best evenings have come in the years since I learned to fish emergers the right way. There are three routes an angler can choose, and they all have specific times when they’re most effective. During an evening hatch you’ll see fishing lifting their noses out of the water (eating dry flies) but much more often you’ll see fishing coming to the surface only to see their dorsal, adipose or tail fin. This means that fish are either eating pupas, emergers or dead insects just below the surface film. In order to catch fish eating in this area of the water column you’ve got to fish subsurface flies. That’s not to say a fish that is gobbling up emergers won’t take a dry, but they are much less likely to.
I’ve found the most effective way to imitate emergers or dead insects in the surface film is to tie a caddis or mayfly emerger on 6-12” below your dry fly. When they eat it, their backs will often come very close to your dry, but do not lift your rod unless you see your dry take a dive. The second way to fish an emerger very similar to how steelhead junkies swing for steelies on the west coast: the down and across steady swing. When I fish down and across I like to either hold a 12” loop of line in my hand or fish with a really light drag so that the fish has enough time to grab the fly fully. The third and last way to fish emergers is definitely my favorite way. When you spot a dorsal rise form downstream cast down and across the same as you would a steady swing, but cast ten feet further. As the fly makes its way closer to the fish, start taking in 4-6” strips of line to imitate the emergent insect. I find these takes are the most aggressive and enjoyable. Not matter how you like to fish now is the time on the MO so get out there and catch some fish.
Tight Lines, Marcus Mattioli