Craiglandia – Surviving the Missouri River Season

Missouri river
The view from the Missouri river near Craig

It’s that time of year again when our local Missoula rivers start to go out of shape and we head on over east of the divide to the Missouri river.  Craig, Montana is the hub for fly fishing on the Missouri, and it’s a funky little trout town that I absolutely love.  I was just over there and at the end of the day had a beer with three local guides.  Over the course of 10 minutes I heard stories about “Blue Truck Joey”, “Teardrop John”, and “Mudpuddle.”  Yeah, it’s that kind of place.  There are 3 fly shops, one restaurant, and one bar in Craig.  If you need gas head upstream to Wolf Creek and for groceries look downstream to Cascade.  If you show up in early March the town is nearly dead.  Joe’s bar is the only place guaranteed to be open although a couple fly shops are usually staffed if the weather isn’t horrendous.  Roll through Craig in June and it’s a completely different story.  Every flat piece of ground will have a drift boat parked on it, clusters of guides and clients mill around in the morning, and Izaak’s restaurant and Joe’s bar will both be packed in the evening.  Depending on the season, we will spend 6 to 10 weeks over on the Missouri each year and over time we have learned a few things to make surviving the Missouri river season a little easier.

  1. You will drink too much….be prepared!  There’s no reason to even say, try not to drink too much.  There are only 3 things to do in Craig, fish, eat, and drink.  You can only fish so much, and after dinner there is nothing left to do except drink.  Don’t believe me?  Just watch the locals.  Your best bet is to down some advil and a Gatorade before bed.  Wake up and add more advil and Gatorade, hope the fishing is good in the morning and you’ll be OK by lunch.
  2. Take good care of your buddies who live in Craig.  Lodging is a challenge in Craig so if you are lucky enough to have friends in the area then treat them like gold.  Lodging options range from staying with clients in a rental cabin on the high end to sleeping in the back of your truck on the low end.  Treat your Craig friends to copious amounts of wild game and beer, maybe even do the dishes once in a while.
  3. Don’t be an A-hole on the river.  The Missour river is a busy stream, but it’s big and there are usually plenty of fish to go around.  That guide you low-holed in the morning might be on a bar stool next to you that night with 6 of his buddies.
  4. Bring cash!  Joe’s bar doesn’t take credit cards or checks, and yes you will find yourself at Joe’s bar if you are staying in Craig.
  5. Go home when they start pouring shots of  Fireball!!!  I know I already said you will drink too much in Craig, but when the locals start buying rounds of Fireball it’s time for you to leave.  Most non-residents of Craig can’t handle that level of drinking.  Being a little hungover in the morning is one thing, getting black-out drunk and barely functioning in the AM is only made worse when you see the locals already at work and looking just fine.