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.
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.