The Mighty Missouri: My All Time Favorite Trout River


A few days ago as I sat watching “A River Runs Through It” for about the one thousandth time, I couldn’t help but wonder,  why would anybody ever want to fish for trout anywhere other than the Blackfoot River?  Being from Missoula, every time I watch this movie I ask myself this same question.  It’s easy to do after one listens to the effortless, beautiful and near perfect way that fishing the Blackfoot is described by Norman Maclean.

That being said, I’ll get back to my actual point.  For those of you who have never seen this film, you should as soon as possible, because it tells the story of life in Missoula in the early 20th century and the rivers that made that life so special.  It is clear after listening to how it is described that the “Big Blackfoot” meant a great deal to the Maclean family, who is of course, the inspiration for the film.

Fishing the Mighty Missouri River in Montana; Bryce McLean

It is more than just a great place to cast a fly rod, it was a spiritual place for them.  With this in mind, I then started to think more deeply about this topic.  As amazing as the fishing on the Blackfoot can be, what do I think is my absolute favorite river to fish?  After a lengthy debate with myself, I decided it has to be the mighty Missouri.

Deep down, we are all going to be partial to a certain river here or there, because we learned to fish there, lived near it, etc.  My love of the Missouri is a result of many different reasons, too many to count really.  I did learn to fish there though, but it seems so long ago that I really can’t remember the first fish I caught on a fly rod.  That being said, I definitely remember the first big brown I watched eat my hopper pattern, and that happened when I was still spending most of my time playing with ninja turtle action figures.

I also remember when that big brown trout finally made it to the net, and I got to celebrate it with my parents and my two brothers.  Memories like that are why those of us who fly fish will never stop casting little fake bugs to trout until the day we take our last breath.  Needless to say, that fish eating that hopper will forever be one of my absolute favorite moments in my life.

Rainbow Trout; fly fishing the Missouri River in Montana

Like I said, my passion for fishing the Missouri is the product of many years of incredible moments, but it’s also because of how insanely good the fishing on that river is.  Some of you are probably thinking to yourselves right now, “Aren’t most good fishing memories usually the the product of good fishing?”  A lot of the time yes, but not always.  The Missouri is incredible because it just is.  It’s only flaw is that it can get crowded during peak season, but usually one forgets about that pretty quickly after experiencing a prolific caddis hatch on a warm July evening.

Aside from that, here are a few more reasons it has to be on your bucket list if you have never had the chance to fish it.  The dry fly fishing is arguably the greatest and most consistent on planet earth, there are now 7,000 fish per mile, Joe’s bar never fails you…ever, the fish are almost always either big or HUGE, the fish fight as hard or harder than a small bonefish, you can drag nymphs off the back of a drift boat and hook fish without even looking at your indicator, the brown trout population is making a strong comeback, the water moves slow enough to drink a beer and row at the same time, and last but not least, a true Missouri monster will eat a mouse pattern.  Yes, that myth is actually not a myth at all.  Trust me, it’s true.

Skwalas on the Missouri River; Fly Fishing; Bryce McLean

Sure, the Bighole, Beaverhead, and the Bitterroot will always have a place on my top ten list, but the Missouri is just simply on another level.

I bring this topic up because I wanted to hear about some of your favorite rivers, and the memories that those rivers and their fish have so graciously given to you.  I wanted to ask this question simply because it’s just flat out fun to think about, and because if nothing else, it stirs up countless memories of past days on the water that we sometimes need to remind ourselves of.

With that, let’s get this started.  In your opinion what is the greatest trout fishing river you have ever fished, and more specifically, why?


Here’s a little video fun.  I should point out that not all but most of this video is shot on the Missouri.



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Bryce McLean BioBryce McLean was born and raised in Montana, and has been fly fishing here for almost 20 years. He first learned to fish on the Missouri River, but when he was ten, his family moved to the Bitterroot Valley. He’s been fishing the Bitterroot River ever since. This has been his third season guiding the Missoula area rivers, which he consider to be some of the best trout fisheries on planet Earth.