Advice on the Missouri

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Recent speaker at the April meeting of the Flathead Chapter of Trout Unlimited was Mark Raisler, co-owner of Headhunters Fly Shop in Craig, Montana.

Any fly fisher who knows the difference between a double haul and a Cat Puke knows Craig is located on the most popular fly fishing section of the Missouri River--below Holter Dam--and attracts anglers from all over the world.

Here’s some highlights of Raisler’s presentation:

• Prior to l983, the water levels of this section of the “Mo” were managed by Montana Power Company for peak power production. Basically, 8000 cfs in daytime; 2000 cfs at night.

Fish counts at that time averaged 1500 trout over 10” per mile. Water levels were not consistent enough for prolific and reliable insect hatches.

• In recent years, minimum water releases from Holter Dam are mandated at 2,800 cfs. Higher releases are sometimes necessary to move water through the Missouri River system.

In 2011, there were 10 days of 23,000 cfs. Releases over 15,000 cfs (a real possibility this year!) scour and clean the riverbed, moving gravel. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Following the high water of 2011, trout counts went to 6,500/mile.

In other words, both trout numbers and sizes go up following high water years.

• 6000 cfs is pretty much the high end for safe wading.

• A three-year old rainbow trout will measure 12-18 inches, growing 4 to 6 inches per year.

• In 2015, 21 percent of anglers were on guided trips. Raisler says angler numbers are down from 2015.

• June and July are the peak guided months and also see the highest numbers of non-residents.

• Raisler’s three tips for beating the crowds:

1) Be the first fly to the fish. In other words, you might have to pass up some “heads” to beat the crowds downstream.

2) Approach like a pro. Don’t spook fish, then expect them to quickly return.

3) Patience. “Catching fish on the Mo is a marathon, not a sprint!”

For more info, including some great instructional videos, check out

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