When the Yellowstone is high, the Mighty Mo’ performs

Justin Post

My pal Nick said the fish wouldn’t take my oversized streamer.

He even laughed as I hoisted the fly over the edge of the boat.

I reached for my thermos and refilled my coffee cup while studying the big black and red streamer, which I purchased a few years back at a fly shop in downtown Missoula.

The streamer, which was about 5 inches long, quickly absorbed water and sank toward the bottom of the Missouri River, with the help of my sink-tip line setup.

I retrieved the first cast with a quick twitch of the end of the rod, through the water on the shallow side of the river.

We watched the articulated streamer work through the clear water as it neared the boat, and Nick, who fashions himself somewhat of a dry-fly purist, continued the ribbing:

“That fly’s just going to scare the fish.

“You might catch a log with that thing, but no trout.

“What cha’ trying to do, scare the fish to death?”

I let out a good bit of line toward the bank with the second cast, and within just three strips of the line with my left hand I felt the take: an angry agressive pull on the end of the line.

I answered with a quick pull with my left hand to set the hook. The fish jumped, and I played the big brown trout for about a minute before bringing him into the net.

When the Yellowstone River, or any of the other favorite Montana rivers are fast and muddy, the Missouri River is often a go-to river for anglers. While it’s a two-hour drive to Helena from Livingston, the fishing is worth the haul even with a boat in tow. 

I had the opportunity a few years ago to live and work in Helena while owning a wooden Mackenzie River drift boat. The boat handled beautifully on the big, slow river. I’ve since replaced the Mackenzie with a raft, which is ideal for me and my two young boys, and return to the Missouri at every opportunity.

While tiny dries and nymphs — sizes 18 to 22 — are the norm on the tailwater, a big aggressive brown trout or rainbow will attack even a large articulated streamer just about any time of the year.

Nick was happy behind the oars, and I found fish on the smallest nymphs in my fly box before switching to streamers in the evening.

I found two large rainbows in a long, deep run before making the switch to streamers.

The next morning we ate breakfast burritos made with antelope sausage and cheese, and drank coffee while en route to the river for a second day of fishing the Missouri. 

There were bugs in the air as I backed the boat down the ramp, thinking few things are better than a good cup of coffee. And a day on a Montana river.