After years of waiting for the opportunity to fish one of Montana’s famous trout waters, I finally found myself on the Missouri River near the hamlet of Craig. A quick look around and there’s no mistaking that this tiny burg, situated as it is on the Missouri’s edge, is all about fishing.
It was mid-October, and the trees along the river were covered in yellow leaves. I was in Craig to take part in an outdoor writers’ summit hosted by the late Jim Range, then-chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. As a side note, if there was ever a person every hunter and angler should’ve had the opportunity to meet, it was Range. His truly is an outdoor legacy, but that’s a story for another time.
Being more than a little wary of the ever-changing rules for carrying fishing rods on commercial airlines, and not wanting to give the Transportation Security Administration folks any reason to pull me aside for a one-on-one conversation, I left my favorite two-piece fly-rod at home and packed my five-piece travel rod instead. Unfortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out that was a mistake.
The summit agenda called for two days of fishing, and for both of those days we were buffeted by stiff, gusty winds that gained speed wherever the canyon narrowed. To say conditions made casting difficult would be an understatement, but being a glutton for punishment, I chose to stay on the water for both days.
On the first day, we launched the drift boat at Craig and fished our way to the takeout several miles downstream. As my young guide rowed and fought the river’s currents to put our boat into proper casting position at choice fishing holes, he also showed me where to cast my fly so I could hook into one of the heavy rainbow trout or feisty browns that lay in wait for my offering. Try as I might, however, I found myself losing the battle with the wind.
The action on my travel rod was too soft, too slow. I found myself using too much power in my casting stroke, which led to poor presentation and missed casts. Though I managed to bring a few fish to the net, I missed many more. By day’s end, I was frustrated and exhausted, and wished I had brought another rod. The next morning that wish came true.
As we prepared for the second day of rod-to-wind combat, I borrowed a fast-action six-weight from among a selection of Scott fly rods the company provided for use by summit participants. The decision to change equipment turned out to be a good one. With the faster rod, I didn’t have to work as hard to cast in the windy conditions. My presentation improved, as did my success. I started the day by pulling a 20-inch German brown from behind a check dam along the shore and finished with a 16-inch brown as we neared the takeout. Sandwiched in between were more than a dozen rainbows.
Sure we fished a new stretch of water, but the winds were just as bad on the second day as they were the first. The difference was having the correct rod for the conditions.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.