I fished the Missouri River last Friday from Holter Dam down to Craig for the first time in 25 years, not the river, but this particular stretch which is usually littered with boats and fishermen with no casting skills who cast strike indicators and two sunken nymphs to catch the large trout that live there. It is the only way they can catch the fish in this river that has turned over and changed its face to survive. The once hungry dry fly eaters won’t stick their faces up and take a hook in the lips anymore. So they feed on millions of chronomid larvae to save themselves the terminal exposure to hooks and thus extend their mortality a few more years perhaps.
The Missouri below Holter Dam, once the most famous big fish on a small fly river in the country is still the best river in the lower 48 but its guts have been torn out by the onslaught of yuppies who migrate here to fish. It’s good for the economy and its good for the sleepy little town of Craig but it ain’t much for the fish and the river.
We caught a few fish on the beautiful spring day in the low seventies, no wind and warm sun on our faces, big strong fish from 18″ to a monster 24″Rainbow taken on a purple prince nymph on a #16 hook. So we released the fish and finished the float, had dinner and departed to out separate domiciles secure in the beauty of the moment.
Its a few days later and I think of other waters that were like that way back when, like Pleasant Valley Creek above Markleeville CA which I fished as an 11 year old with my dad. It was the only stream in the Sierras that was artificial flys and lures only in an era that this was unheard of. I fished it one time when I was 17, and caught 18 trout I released, my dad caught 5 and the other guy with us caught none. My dad remarked that “He had learn’t me too good”, lapsing into rhetoric to show his incredible sense of humor and his pride at making me the fisherman I was.
I fished it with Danny Abbett in my mid twenties and he caught a 17+ inch rainbow on a McGinty which was pure art and when I asked him about it a few minutes ago on the phone , he told me that it had been bought by a landowner and no one could fish it anymore except his friends. So It was, and is no more, now a reflection of the past . Does this all make sense to you, this fall from grace we are experiencing in the West as all the last best places get eaten up by the developers and the gentry?
It should make sense to you and you should be offended but you probably won’t be as you load up your nymph boxes and prepare to head West this summer to fish the Missouri with your hired guide, who will row you down stream and steer you into the fish he knows are there beneath the foam line and currents of this great river. You will catch lots of fish and restore your sense of place in time, and at the end of the day you will give him a handsome tip for his work. And you should, because without him you would have had a boat ride and a fish less day. So as you retire to your smart phone and send selfies and tweets to all your buddies to make them feel jealous of your Montana vacation, take the time to look in the mirror in the morning and see the enemy for what it really is, vanity unfettered in an all too cosmetic world without a blemish to mar its perfection…