If I could choose 3 words to describe the Missouri, they would have to be Relentless, Tough and Remarkable. Relentless, because as if the "Mo" was an actual cruel, cold hearted person, it'll knock you down and not let you get back up. Tough, because there is always a moment that is rough on the Missouri. Whether its snapping off a big fish on 6x tippet or getting hit in the back of the head with a heavy streamer because of a random wind gust, there is always at least one moment where the going gets tough. And finally, Remarkable. The Missouri is remarkable simply because it is what it is. The fish are powerful, in abundance and if presented to in the right way, will take a fly.
There are no shortage of great days on the Missouri. I have only been to the Mo less than a handful of times and I've experienced a wide variety of harsh conditions including 30mph winds that make casting almost impossible, rogue thunder storms, super hot days, and in this case, bitter cold ones. But never have I had a terrible day on the Mo. I've always landed fish and had a great time with my friends. Going back to Relentless, I think that the key to being successful on the Missouri during harsh conditions is to not let those conditions ruin the mood. Keep the hopes up and eventually you'll have a better day than you expected.
Our trip started yesterday afternoon. Chris, Cody and I packed up our floats and gear and left around 2:30. The drive to the Mo is a beautiful one and especially when the sun is setting.
We spent a little time searching for a hotel when we got to Craig but were unsuccessful. We stayed at the campground in Craig. The nice part was that we had a fire. We spent the evening eating ramen and cheez-its and we even went across the street to the local bar where I played some guitar. The locals really seemed to like it. One of the locals even offered us a place to stay for the next time that we take a trip to the Mo. Very generous people.
It was a cold night and I don't think either of us managed to get much sleep. I guess that's what makes it an adventure though. We woke pretty early and made a stop at Headhunters fly shop to set up our shuttle. We decided to float from Holter dam to the Craig boat launch. It would be a good distance to float. We got to the dam and assembled our boats and gear.
We started on a nice side braid of the river and Cody and I immediately spotted some fish rising to midges. On a high bank, we watched a big fish feeding. Cody tied on some 6x tippet and went at it. A few casts later, he broke the fish off on the hook set. I moved down the braid to where Chris was. We witnessed a feeding frenzy of midges and wouldn't you know it.....we didn't have any midges to fish with. We were so prepared. We watched the fish feeding for a while and then headed back up to our rafts.
We rowed on through flocks of hundreds of geese and ducks. I've never seen so many waterfowl in one place. I had seen a ton of shot gun shells on the side braid. About a mile below the dam, Cody stopped near a guy who was telling him how he was catching fish on every cast. I got on the bank downstream and just as Chris was going by me, he hooked into a very nice fish with a flashy streamer. He somehow managed to row to shore while fighting the fish. It was a beautiful fish and a big one at that. It looked more like a mini steelhead than a rainbow, with big red gill plates and a big red stripe. We estimated the fish was around 20 or 21 inches. I snapped a couple pics and a release vid of the fish with Chris' new olympus tough camera.
Meanwhile, Cody was upstream just wrecking the fish. The guy who had told him about the numbers of fish there was not lying. Cody had hooked about 20 fish in an hour and had landed about 6 or 7 fish in the one spot that he was fishing, with the biggest being around 20 inches. Supposedly there was hundreds of fish stacked up there. I was still just trying to get hooked up! I started fishing a streamer. I had a few follows and then landed one 12 inch bow. Not quite the fish I was looking for, but a fish is a fish. I was happy.
From then on, streamer fishing was the game. It was very slow streamer fishing though, with small strips and pauses in between. 90% of the time the fish would hit on the pause. It was very difficult to pick up a strike unless you could feel the tightness of your line. I missed a bunch of fish and lost about 4 nice ones. I was getting discouraged but then I hooked into a decent bow which I brought to shore and snapped a couple pictures of.
After stopping at wolf creek campground to eat a snack, we realized that we had some river to cover. We had only gone two miles out of the 7 mile float and it was already 2pm. We quickly ate and returned to our boats. Cody Immediately hooked up with a nice bow.
We got to a point where we were all pretty cold and we wanted to get off the river before dark. Me especially because I couldn't feel my feet. I basically gave up fishing (to save my feet), and rowed the last 3 miles or so to our takeout. The temps were dropping fast and the wind was picking up. I was very relieved(and tired) when I got to the boat launch and was able to get off the water. It was miserable conditions, but a great day of fishing. I only landed 2 fish and lost a handful. Not too bad of a day. Cody landed around 12 fish and Chris landed the fish of the day.
Although I've had a couple rough times on the Missouri so far, there's something about the Mo that keeps me coming back for more. It's almost like the Mo is a calling. To those who will go through the harsh conditions and frustration. The Relentlessness and toughness......just to have one of those Remarkable days.