Fish of the Missouri River

When fishing the Missouri River near Pierre in the spring, you never really know what you're going to catch on a fly. It's an interesting time of year to be casting a fly into the currents of the Missouri because you can run into Smallmouth Bass, White Bass, Walleye, Pike, Catfish, Carp, Drum, Largemouth, and even Gar, all in pretty much the same locations. Many of these fish will all eat the same flies, but there's subtle differences in where to look and what to throw to maximize your chances for each particular species. Here's our brief take on what, where, and how to catch the fish of the Missouri River on a fly!
This White Bass was so bright Hans couldn't even keep his eyes open. This White Bass was so bright Hans couldn't even keep his eyes open.
White Bass - Fishing for White Bass can be some of the most fun fishing of the year, and it can be hot and heavy when you get into them. There's been days where there were three or four of us fishing the same school, and there were a couple of us hooked up at a time pretty much constantly. The biggest part of fly fishing for White Bass is finding them, and when the conditions are right it's usually not too difficult. I've found them most often over sandy bottomed areas that are between 2-6 feet deep, but you can find them deeper than that at times. Covering water is the key to this kind of fishing, as the majority of the fish are in big schools, not by themselves. Think of them like big panfish - how often do you see a bluegill by itself? Once you find the fish, you've got it made. You can almost always chase the school around, and there's often other schools that move into the same place. When they're running water out of the dam, they're in the same places that a trout would be - eddies behind points and current breaks like boulders are great places to look. Finding the fish is the key to this kind of fishing, but I've had the best luck with Bully Buggers, Clouser Minnows, Murdich Minnows, and Kreelexes. Whites and Chartreuses are always good bets, but it depends on the year - they'll eat just about every color!
Fat Missouri Smallie Fat Missouri Smallie
Smallmouth Bass - Smallies are some of the hardest-fighting fish in freshwater, and the Missouri River has a ton of them swimming around. Fishing for smallmouth bass generally isn't as hot and heavy as fishing for white bass, but they eat flies well and during the right conditions you can sight fish them. We've had the best luck fishing for smallmouth on rocky shorelines and riprap during the majority of the season, but when they're spawning you can often find them in the same sandy-bottomed areas as White Bass. When fishing rocky shorelines, we generally cast pretty close - 25 feet off the shoreline is plenty usually. We almost always fish a sinking tip line, and oftentimes use crawdad-like patterns. Smallies like to hide in the rocks, so fish every likely-looking hole and crevice in the rocks. Another thing to keep in mind when fishing for smallmouth - bring your fly all the way to the bank. Once you strip your fly in and you have a couple feet of fly line outside of your tip, start bringing the rod up and jigging the fly in short, foot long jerks. You'll hook a lot of fish doing this! Flies to try include Murdich Minnows, Ehler's Crazy Craw, Dave Gamet's Jig Craw, Rabbit Strip Clouser Minnows, and the always-productive Bully Bugger. I like more natural tan and brown colors most of the time, but bright colors like white are chartreuse work well at times also. Walleye - There's generally a couple weeks where the walleye are shallow enough to really target with a fly rod, and I've caught quite a few of them throughout late May and early June. They seem to like rocks, and I've caught the vast majority of the ones in the past in the same places I've been fishing for smallies. Walleyes seem to like a slower retrieve generally, and they're almost always close to the bottom. I generally fish a type 3 sink tip, but you can do it with an intermediate line as well. I've found the best success with minnow patterns like the Murdich Minnow, but I've caught a number of walleyes on crayfish patterns as well. Ehler's Crazy Craw and Near Nuff Crayfish are good patterns as well! Keep your retrieve slow and close to the bottom and you'll find walleyes!
Carp on a dry fly! Carp on a dry fly!
Carp - Carp fishing at Pierre can be off the charts at times, and there's no shortage of them there at all! Generally carp fishing is better once the water warms up - late May throughout the summer is good, but it can be good earlier if we have some warmer than average weather. Muddy-bottomed areas have been where I've found the best success targeting carp, but they can honestly be found about anywhere, and I've seen them nearly everywhere I've fished in the Pierre area. Small little inlet creeks have been really productive for me as well. If the fish are mudding and rooting around on the bottom, small buggy patterns are the best. Hybrids, Carp Carrots, Carp Craws, Carp Coachman, and Ryan's EZ Carp Fly are all good bets in sizes 2-8 depending on the day. Oftentimes at Pierre you can find Carp on the surface as well, which is a lot of fun and I've found the fish to be easier to catch. Good flies include Klinkhamers, big Adams, various Grasshopper patterns, and Cottonwood seed flies when the cotton is blowing onto the water.
Jeff with a nice Oahe Pike! Jeff with a nice Oahe Pike!
Pike - There's not a lot that's more fun than catching a big, vicious pike on a fly rod, and the Missouri is a good place to do just that. Pike can be found in a number of areas, but I've found the biggest concentrations in shallow bays, oftentimes really close to the shoreline. Many times you can see the fish and just cast to them, but if you can't just find a likely edge or point and cover it methodically. As with smallies, fish the fly all the way up to you, as they'll quite oftentimes eat within a couple feet of the shore. Good patterns to try include Piketola Minnows, Flashtail Whistlers, Gandalfs, and even Murdich Minnows. These aren't the only fish available to the fly angler at Pierre, but these are the most targeted and easiest to catch on a fly rod. We're offering a Pierre Warmwater Class on Saturday, May 21st here at the shop - click the link for more information. There's still a few spots left, call the shop at 605-341-2450 or shoot us an email at to reserve your spot! Ryan