Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When Is the Best Fishing on the Mo?

I've been taking some phone calls for trips for the upcoming season and a common question I get, and all the shops get, is what time of year is the best for fishing the Missouri? People want some kind of assurance that they are going to get their money's worth, which is reasonable and everyone has a different expectation with some just wanting tons of fish, others want dry-fly fishing, and some honestly just want good weather. It's all understandable and as much as we want to be able to forecast the conditions, we can't. Snowpack, run-off, weather, temperature, fishing pressure, weeds; they all contribute to how the fishing is going to be and they all can change from day to day and what you're left with often is, "Well, you should have been here yesterday..." There are some general guide-lines however, for booking a trip but remember, we aren't fortune tellers and we can't make guarantees from one day to the next let alone three months out.

The first thing to note about the Missouri is that it's a tail-water. What that means is the flow is controlled by a dam and because of that, it almost never blows out and even though there are tributaries that will dump mud making some stretches unfishable for a little while, it usually clears up pretty quick. The most likely scenario would be a storm that comes in and blows out the Dearborn or Little Prickly Pear sometime in May-June but when that happens, there's plenty of fish upstream from where they dump in.

If you've fished out here in the last few years, you know what high water can look like on the Missouri. A few years ago we went from somewhere around 4,500 cfs to 22,000 in a matter of a few days in June. It scared a lot of people off, not only that year but for future trips as well. Early June can be kind of slow now because people don't want to take the chance of getting those kinds of flows again. It was an anomaly and even though we had a couple years in a row like that, it doesn't happen often. The reality, however, is that most of the guides were able to adjust and as long as you were willing to do what it takes to catch fish, the fishing was outstanding--just no dry-fly fishing.

Another thing that can scare people away is late summer weeds. The weeds can get pretty bad throughout the canyon around the first of August and into mid-September but if you're willing to deal with them, you can actually take advantage of the fact that most people will fish the dam and you can  have great days down river with absolutely no other boats. And tricos...if you want to really challenge yourself, there's usually enough tricos from mid-July through August to keep you busy for a few hours each morning before the sun get's too high and fish go down. The terrestrial fishing can be pretty insane too so don't rule out late summer necessarily; even in low-water years.

July is usually the busiest time of year on the Missouri. Flows have come down, bugs are hatching and fish are usually pretty happy. You'll have PMD's, late evening drakes, caddis, some stone flies, and some terrestrials. You can fish streamers, nymph fish or throw dries and usually the entire river is fishing. Like I said though, it's also the busiest time of year so if you want solitude, it's not a bad time to get off the big water and do some wade fishing.

For my money however, I love to fish in March and April and in fact, some of the best dry-fly fishing and streamer fishing I've had has been in late winter and early spring. Fish aren't getting pounded yet, there are usually pretty good midge hatches in the afternoon and BWO's as the water warms up and the nymph fishing is pretty insane as long as you can find the feeding fish. That's the trick in cold water but those of us that have lived and fished here through the winter are pretty well versed in that kind of fishing. The problem for some people is rolling the dice on the weather, which is definitely a legitimate concern. The good thing however, is you might get the entire river to yourself like what we had the other day. (What I've started doing for folks that want to book a trip in February through mid-April is to block off a stretch of days and you'll only get charged for the days you fish. It offers a little assurance that you will have at least a couple good days. Other outfitters also offer trip-insurance, which isn't a bad idea.)

Don't rule out October and November either. You'll get that transition from pseudos to BWO's and if the weather is right, you might see every fish in the river up gulping dries. It can be pretty insane. Again, snow can damper a person's spirit this time of year but if you come prepared and can spend a few hours without calling it quits, it can be pretty epic.

The reality is, is that just about every time of the year can be good as long as you're prepared and the weather cooperates. As a quick synopsis, you can just about nymph fish and do well anytime out here as long as you can keep your guides from freezing up. If you want consistent dry-fly fishing; March, April and May is my favorite time with the obvious diversity of bugs in July being pretty consistent as well and terrestrials in August and September. Late May, early June and September seem to be transitional periods for the bugs and the fish, which doesn't mean it's necessarily bad fishing but it's when I've had some tougher days. It's all relative, however. You are fishing the Missouri so a tough day on the Mo is like your best days on many other rivers.

Keep 'em where they live...

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