May on the Missouri River is always one of our favorite times of the season. MTO is over on the mighty Missouri dodging run off in Missoula and enjoying the finest tailwater fishing in the state. We really like early May on the Missouri because the river is typically low, the tributaries are clear, and there is some exceptional dry fly fishing and fun short leash nymphing. This year is anything but typical when it comes to streamflows though. We came into May with a river that was twice as high as normal, blown out tributaries, and cold water temps.
That made for some tough conditions in late April. Fortunately things started to turn in our favor for our first groups in May. The water started warming up just in time, and the guides used their creativity with the floats to avoid the bulk of the river traffic. Since the tributaries were blown out, everyone who was fishing was forced to the upper river. That can make for a crowded river, but we managed to stay out of the herd by using different meet times.
The fishing has been consistent all month. The deep nymph rig has been best for steady action, but in the last week the water has warmed up enough to fish some shorter nymph rigs with good success in the right spots. The tributaries are starting to clear up too and that has allowed the traffic to spread out throughout the entire river.
May on the Missouri River can spoil an angler and guide. Most would consider the high water less than ideal and still we are having good fishing everyday with lots of big rainbows from 16-20+” and some hefty 20+” browns mixed in. We probably won’t see the great dry fly fishing in these high flows which is disappointing. Despite that, every group of anglers we have had so far in May are already planning a return trip to the Missouri next year.
We love May on the Missouri River and look forward to what the second half of the month will have in store.
Run-off has finally arrived in Missoula, and our Missouri river guide season has started. We always look forward to spending the month of May on the Missouri. This big tailwater rarely disappoints with consistent nymphing, exciting streamer action, and some of the finest dry fly fishing of the year.
With a bigger than average snowpack we are expecting higher water on the Missouri this year than the last couple of seasons. That is not ideal for our dry fly plans, but just like in Missoula, higher water equals more big brown trout and everyone loves big browns!
The big browns are always a special treat, but it is a steady diet of 16-20+ inch rainbows that keep our anglers coming back year after year to the Missouri in May. The spawn seems to be nearly over for the season and those big rainbows return to the main river ready to eat anything that moves.
While the higher flows aren’t the best for midge and blue-wing olive hatches, the trout won’t be able to resist big March Browns and the hordes of caddis that are coming. The March Browns should show up any day, and size 12-14 mayflies covering the river will get some big snouts breaking the surface. The caddis will come next and we will get explosive takes in fast water.
We had an unbelievable spring dry fly season in Missoula with some of the most consistent conditions ever on our local rivers. Now it is time to switch gears as our Missouri river guide season has already started. We will be on the big river for the next month with heavy nets and smiles as wide as the big sky. We look forward to seeing a lot of familiar anglers and introducing a few new ones to the Mighty Mo.
Missouri River Fishing in May
We love our freestone streams around Missoula, but we also readily look forward to May when we make the drive over Rodgers Pass for some Missouri river fishing. We spend most of the month on this awesome tailwater. It has become one of our favorite times of year during the Montana fly fishing season. There is a lot to love about the Mighty Mo.
Large Trout and Lots of Them
The Missouri river boasts large trout populations. Some years the counts have approached 8,000 trout per mile. This year it’s closer to 4,500 trout per mile on the upper stretches, but the real kicker is that the average size is a legit 17-18″ with several chances at 20″ class trout each day. Venture a little further down river and you will find more of a mix in age classes, but there are some giant brown trout lurking that can provide you with the fish of a lifetime. These are all hard fighting, line-ripping wild trout that can leave you with a sore forearm by the end of the day.
Variety is the Spice of Life
For a tailwater, the Missouri river has loads of variety both in the insect life and the styles of fishing available. Of course, nymph fishing is the most consistent way to find trout on the Mo but there is even variety with that. The safe bet is deep nymphing in the classic lanes, but short leash nymph rigs in the shallows produce some of the biggest trout in the river. Streamer fishing is effective and there is almost always dry fly fishing to be had in May too. There are loads of midges, blue-wing olives, march browns, and caddis that all hatch during the month. Anglers can search with dry/dropper rigs, headhunt for rising trout, or just prospect the likely water with a dry. Some days I wish we could 4 or 5 different rods rigged up because every technique would produce well in the right spot.
There’s really no place we’d rather be during May, and for the rest of the month you will find us over on the Missouri fishing the greatest tailwater in Montana. It’s not too late to join us!
This week’s photo is from a section of the Missouri river dubbed the Land of the Giants. It was a special treat for me as one of my long-time clients asked me to join him for a day of fly fishing at Land of the Giants. This particular stretch of river is only accessible by jet boat, and we were guided by Capt. Scott Willumsen. This piece of water surely lives up to it’s reputation as we caught a pile of big rainbows. The canyon is absolutely stunning and the fishing makes it a trip that everyone should experience at least once.
This week’s shot is from the Missouri River. It’s almost that time of year again when we will be spending a good amount of time fly fishing the waters of the Missouri. The canyon stretch is one of our favorites for scenery along with some great dry fly and streamer fishing. The landscape is such a stark contrast from our western rivers that we always enjoy our days on the Missouri River each season.