I was sitting in Joe’s Bar the other day,
no really, and someone made the comment,
You should have seen the river years ago, it was so much better.
So being a nosy guy I thought I would ask,
Q: How long ago are we talking about?
A: Oh, early 80’s.
Now, I am dating myself. My first memory that I can conjure up had to have in the late 60’s. I probably started to seriously fish the river in the early 70’s. About the time that Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) came out in the theaters.
Disclaimer by me, Dewey: This is simply Dewey’s lifetime observations of the Missouri as they pertain to the quality of the river. I may disagree with someone’s opinion of the river. That said it doesn’t mean I am right.
In my late teens my buddies and I would jump in my 69 Ford F-150 and race up to the river above Craig to fish the evening caddis hatch. I remember needing only one pattern to get through the night the Missouri River Special.
That was due to most fly selections came on a card from Skagg’s Drug Store or Great Falls Sporting Goods. This spawned my desire to tie my own flies.
We would be the only anglers on the river as this was pre “The River Runs Through It” (1992) days. Yes this was the good old days with fish rising everywhere and most eating our flies. Good thing because our floating lines didn’t float very well and what the heck was a tapered leader!?
All would be well until those in charge at Holter Dam decided to bump the river flow up. That would be the end of the bite. In the good old days the river fluctuation occurred often. (Our understanding is 2K<8K>2K as the power generation was needed.)
Stocking of the river was still in practice with a 10 fish limit. (Stocking of Montana rivers until 1983.) I can imagine how this could be a gratifying memory. My recollection is less fish per mile with the average size of 14 to 15 inches. Once the stocking practice ceased the size and fish per mile increased. Although currently the angling pressure has increased the fish per mile and size continues to be far better than the past.
In the good old days I would fish much larger flies and presentation did not have to be perfect. In the late-eighties to mid-nineties I would fish sink tip lines with a sz. 8 Bitch Creek Special or Peacock Wooly Bugger. This was my nymph, streamer, and dry fly set up for all conditions.
Gradually my go to method ceased to be effective. Now I could blame it on the increased fishing pressure but I have always had the desire to learn more about the sport and become a better angler. It forced me to learn to nymph, tie better patterns, and present the dry fly drag free. I learned to fish down stream with a reach cart before I new the cast had a name.
Once the sport exploded the Missouri was not left behind with the angling pressure increasing exponentially. I’ll admit driving up to fish the Mo and finding someone occupying the spot I wanted to fish was frustrating. Again it forced me to seek out new water and deal with. I could whine about it but the fact is it forced me learn new water. If not for more people I would probably be stuck in the same old water.
I am much more fulfilled to the challenge of the Missouri River today over yesterday. All of the local folks and fishing folks in Craig Montana are pretty chill. The Missouri is a large river with lots of room. I dig the younger fisherman as their talent and expertise amazes me.
Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong era, but I get over that in a hurry when I look at the job market. Remember, fishing isn’t always about catching fish. It’s about being in the moment and enjoying it.
Enough bull sh#$ from me. People are always commenting on the good old days and that ‘you should have seen the fishing.’
I believe that today is and are the good old days and don’t let anybody ruin your own personal Missouri River Montana experiences!
Headhunters: Good old days…great post!
Agree. I first fished the Mo around Craig in June 1981 with a military man from Texas. I too was a young military man who learned to flyfish on the east coast (Hudson Valley/Catskill Mountains area in NY State…Esopus, Schoharie, Beaverkill, Fishkill, Sprout, Wappinger, etc. etc.) and now that I was in the country I had heretofore only read about in well thumbed Outdoor Lifes or Sports Afield, etc. I was crazed to just go fishin’. The Texan whom I’m forever indebted to introduced me to the Mighty Missouri, albeit not the way I would have liked. Where Izaak’s is now (I think) there used to be a small store. The Texan called it the BIB stop (Beer, Ice and Bait) and that was just what we stopped there for. Most people in those days tossed spinners and or worms and the 10 fish limit was a given. We started below the dam in the company of several others (not one flyrod in sight) and I bowed to the pressure, after the Texan, giving my fly rod a look of disdain handed me one of his “poles” rigged with the unheard worm and marshmallow combo. Shockingly this technique worked and my first Missouri Rainbow, at 15″ larger than most trout I had ever seen, soon exploded from the depths. Obviously, to a kid who cut his teeth on 7″-10″ stocked brookies, browns and the rare “bows” of the Esopus, this fish was magnificent. But then they all are, aren’t they? Yes, even those 7″ brookies. Sadly, my first Mo’ bow was taken on bait but I didn’t care. All around me fish were breaking the surface and I soon had my fly rod in hand much to the disbelief of the Texan. I couldn’t determine what the fish were taking and tied on a Gold Ribbed Hares Ear. No beads then…pretty sure it was before that time, but to this day (beadhead or not) still my favorite pattern. The remainder of the day was as any one of you fishes can imagine. Fish after fish succumbed to my Hares Ear and like the post before me, most were in the 14″-16″ range. Only one brown (14″ or so)came to that day and that one much farther down river after several stops at watering holes in Wolf Creek, the Dearborn Inn and Mountain Palace (I think). My memory is poor these days and after these last 30+ years of fishing all over the planet (courtesy in some ways to Uncle Sam) I still come to the Upper Missouri and find the fishing better than ever. Thanks for the memories and thanks to Headhunters for plying their trade on this finest of fine “troutstreams”.
Funny thing…Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was on cable over the holiday weekend…bush and all.
This past season seemed really busy, unlike the past several years on the ‘mo. Just curious if it was my perception or if the shop and others thought the same? I had a few “bumper boat ” days, something I never experienced on the Missouri …
Yes, truly busy.
Great post Dewey…..good ole days were great…..but that is only a memory…..we now look forward to what it is and appreciate all we have…..keep posting!
Thanks Mark, it truly is great to be on the river then and now.
A primary difference between the old ” good old days ” and the present ” good old days ” is the drift boat hatch. In the seventies and eighties, boats were rarities, now they’re part of the landscape. Not complainin’ , just an observation, I left the ranks of the shore maggots in the new millennia, I ‘ m not looking back.