Missouri Loves Company

brntrt_dam I landed in Montana at the Great Falls airport last June, excited to see what the summer had to offer. Straight from baggage claim I raced to The Trout Shop for a license, changed into my waders in the parking lot, and kicked-off my summer on the Missouri River. About 120 minutes after my flight touched down, I caught a late afternoon caddis hatch and this brown trout.

I love the Missouri River.

So do thousands of other anglers. It’s no secret that The Missouri is a blue ribbon trout stream. Often described as a giant spring creek, it fosters an ideal setting for hatches that are as varied and abundant as the anglers that visit these waters. They come looking for the big browns and beautiful rainbows that thrive here. These are keen discriminating trout – you rarely dumb into a fish on The Missouri, especially not with a dry fly. The river is big and wide, with slow moving water that gives the fish ample advantage to see you coming a mile away.

But we come anyway, sometimes from miles and miles away. Anglers from all over the country and far flung continents travel to Montana just to fish The Missouri. The headquarters for this tailwater activity is an unincorporated community along Interstate 15 called Craig. Nicknamed The Vortex, Craig is a contagious and bewitchy little town. If it gets in your blood you’re blessed for life. And probably just a teeny bit screwed because as far as I can tell, there is no known antidote.

The charm of Craig is its utter lack of pretense. There are no art galleries, no upscale realtor offices, no hipster coffee shops, no grand lodges offering the latest in luxurious western interior design.

Just one restaurant, one bar, a campsite and three flyshops…and plenty of characters.

craig mt

photo courtesy of Scott Yetter

There are locals who are exceedingly kind, and just a few who are grumpy. There are Missouri guides who know every nook and crook of the river, not to mention some of the fish personally. And on any given day you’ll meet guides from other rivers who drift over to fish with clients, or perhaps to fish the Missouri just for themselves.

There are the fisherman who drive cross-country in old vans then splurge on a nice cabin for their stay. Others come in private planes and pitch a tent in the campground for two weeks. You have experienced anglers and novice anglers. Anglers with manners and anglers with mouths. Some have a sense of humor, some humility. And of course there’s no shortage of good old fashioned trout-fishing-testosterone. 

It’s a rich blend of troutbums, troutnuts and troutlaws, and at the end of the day they all come together to share their stories. When it’s really hoppin’, Craig is like summer camp for grownups. But with liquor, a jukebox and really big trout.

Of course it’s winter now, so Craig is calm and quiet. The fifty-or-so residents are enjoying their normal lives with work, school and family. They meet for a drink and relish the fact that their favorite barstool is available. Because when the temperatures start to rise, the anglers will flow into town as if they melted straight from the snowcaps. Year after year the population of Craig undulates up and down like a heart that beats with the rhythm of the seasons, pumping activity into this town and life back into its visitors.

Check your pulse and mark your calendars. June’s coming.

header nmj brown w mitch

20 thoughts on “Missouri Loves Company

  1. Those are a couple of beauties! And Craig looks like a bit of paradise – what a way to start the summer.
    ‘Tis a fine shiny new blog you’ve got here, FFC.

  2. Check your comments on Craig and insert the name Bozeman, Livingston, etc., and you get those towns 20-30 years ago. Just bigger. Too bad but the inevitability of progress will change that little town too. Some Hollywood star will buy a thousand acres up there and piss off all the ranchers. Still the best steaks I ever had were at the ‘Land of Magic’ and ‘Sir Scotts Oasis’. My only regret is I never fished MT. Working up there had me all tied up and all I got was a great view of Big Sky Mountain. I hate summer fishing. Too many elbows to deal with. I like steelheading when you can’t feel your toes. At least you get some solitude.

  3. Though I’m new to flyfishing and have only fished on the AuSable in Michigan, I would love to try the Missouri.

    Reading your writing style is like looking at a professionally done wedding cake–Yummy! I thoroughly enjoyed everything you’ve written so far and have added your site to my favorites, I’ll be keeping an eye on what you’re up to next.

  4. Very cool web site. It’s great to see your energy represented in your web site. I to fish and guide the Missouri and it is definately one of my favorite pieces of water in Montana, whether I am working or playing. This evening I will post on my blog your web site, so that other people can see it. I have an outfitting business located in Livingston, Montana and hope you have a chance to check out my web site soon ( http://www.yellowstonetroutscout.com ) Let me know what you think. I would like to know if it is possible to be added to your Montana Guides and Outfitters list.

    Thanks, Trey

  5. Come summer, we’re packing my truck, and I’m taking you to fish the Snake! Jackson Hole style! And some tributaries in Yellowstone.

    Excellent post, excellent read! My hearts thumping, I’m ready NOW!

  6. I have to admit, I too love the Missouri between Craig and Mountain Palace. However, last Sept we also made day trips to Belt Cr and the North Fork of the Blackfoot. The fish are not the size you’ll get on the Missouri but both rivers are really scenic. Belt Cr was cool because we could break out the 3wt rods and catch some nice little cutthroat.

  7. OOh, nice catch! The biggest thing I ever caught on a regular rod was a small yellow ocean flounder. At least I think it was a flounder, it was flat, and it had about a 3 inch circumference. hehehe. BUT, it was so damn fun to fish in the Gulf Of Mexico, ugly water, but fun. Have fun with your new blog. It looks great. And you go Fly Fish Chick.
    Much Love From Dallas

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  9. Welcome to Montana girl! Craig has its own, signature charm. The jukebox is still playing though! If you’re up during August, you’re invited to come along on the 2nd Annual WOW (Women on Water) float…….

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  11. Great just what Montana needs, another ‘tumbleweed’ livin’ “The Movie” … so did you contribute to a legal defense fund for your big time guide/friend turned poacher south of the border?

  12. Great, just what the fishing world needs; another grumpy, bitter old man resentful of anyone who can afford a tankful of gas and is willing to travel. Grab one of those things called “a job” and you’ll be able to afford gasoline too…

  13. “There are the fisherman who drive cross-country in old vans then splurge on a nice cabin for their stay. Others come in private planes and pitch a tent in the campground for two weeks.”

    Isn’t it interesting that the people you would expect to rent the nice cabins and vice versa are not what you would expect. For me these types of inconsistencies in human behavior are what make people so very interesting. Great story.

  14. Wow those are some nice fish! That looks like so much fun out there, I live in Missouri and fishing the Missouri river is not exactly the same as fishing the Missouri river in Montana ;) lol I think I definitely need to make the trip out to Montana to enjoy some of that scenery and great fishing. Thanks for the article and great advice.

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