several years of Montana fishing the author took the big step and
hired a guide... with good results!
By Carl C. Oest-Larsen
I had fished Montana before. Every time I caught fish - and nice fish too.
This time was different - I had taken the big step, and hired a guide. We
were going to float the Missouri for a full day. On previous trips, I left
Seattle, and drove to Lincoln, Montana to fish the famous Blackfoot River.
The Blackfoot is one of the few Blue Ribbon rivers left in the US, and it never disappoints.
The fish are native, strong and not easy to catch. On the first trip I caught a
16 inch Rainbow and a 16 inch Montana Cutthroat. Both in the same hole. The
last fish was served about every fly I had in my box, before settling on a
red body with brown hackle. In Montana, you cannot keep any native
Cutthroats, and if you can read the regulations (complicated), every river
has different limits on Rainbows. Many guides practice "catch and release."
On our third trip - we started by fishing hoppers on the Blackfoot. This was
in early September, and the fields were busting with grasshoppers. I insisted on
fishing nymphs (don't ask me why) - and it was not until my friend Matthew hooked
his third fish on a hopper, that I was finally convinced. Stimulators seemed to work well also.
We fished a private stretch of land outside Lincoln. The river is relatively
low this time of year, and many of the fish were caught by logs in quite
After a great day on the Blackfoot - we camped outside Lincoln. The
temperature dropped to right above freezing, and in the morning, we were
ready for the big day on the famous Missouri. I had reserved a guide, Dan
Kelly out of Wolf Creek Outfitters, and he met us at his shop at around
8:30 AM. After stocking up on tackle (we had mistakenly brought tippets and
leaders that were too fine, 5 and 6x - we had no idea what we were in
for!) - we headed out to the Holter Dam.
There were lots of fishermen there - some wading, most in drift boats. I had
previously fished this stretch of the river, and caught a nice big rainbow,
but nothing prepared me for the fishing I was about to get into.
Dan (the guide) was patient with us. This was the first time I had actually
hired a guide - in all my 15 years of fishing, but it was well worth it. On
the Missouri - a somewhat contained river unaffected by rain and snow melt -
drag (or lack of it) is the key to fishing the big Rainbows. We fished
beadheads with a dropper the whole day. Interestingly enough, the fish went
for the dropper most of the time. The dropper we used was a size 18
flashback pheasant tail beadhead. After each strike - we checked the tiny
hook for damage, and lost many flies.
Our hands actually hurt from fighting big fish. If you managed to hook the
beast, and get the fish on the rod (a must) - you could experience anything
from 1 to 5 jumps. Dan told us that his record was 7 jumps...I netted a nice
fat Rainbow that jumped 5 times. Every time the fish jumped - you risked
losing it. We let the rod do the work for us. The fish were smart - if they could
not escape by jumping - they would often head straight into the weeds on the
bottom. Once in the weeds - the fish were impossible to land.
Natural drift is the key to fooling the large native rainbows. The largest
fish we caught was over 20 inches, and a drag-free drift was the recipe for
success. Growing up in Denmark fishing cod, and the occasional
"Groenlaender" or sea-run trout - if it flashed or wobbled, it was good
enough. This is probably the reason I was not convinced that the type of fly
could make that big of a difference. It did. We could have waved a myriad of
flies in front of these fish - but they wanted tiny beadheads. We fished
with strike indicators - and I quickly learned why. One second late with the
counter strike, and the fish would be long gone.
I started in the front of the boat - and wondered why I was catching all the
fish. Later, when I shifted to the back, I found out. The front gets the
best and longest drift - and just about all the attention from the guide.
We are going back this year - no doubt about it. Overall I still like the
wading of Blackfoot the best, but for the "big game," it is hard to beat the
Knaek og braek!