This beautiful rainbow ate a sowbug pattern in late May. Just look at that head!
Does the name "Land of the Giants" sound evocative? It should. This short tailwater between Hauser Dam and Upper Holter Lake on the Missouri River upstream from the far more famous tailwater below Holter Dam is home to the largest trout in the Parks' Fly Shop area of operations, and probably the largest average-sized trout in Montana. We didn't coin the name, but it's well-earned. Most fish caught here range from 14-20 inches, and many fish will be even bigger. Our best in 2016 was a rainbow of around 25 inches that weighed close to seven pounds. There are also some brown trout, a few streamer-eating walleye, and even the odd kokanee salmon. Except during the peak spawn period, from mid-April through mid-May, these are also rock-solid, fat, powerful fish that will almost make your reel smoke. Having a trout drag you into your backing is even more unusual in a moving drift boat than on foot, but it can happen here.
Even better than the fish size, access to this section of river is difficult. There's no boat ramp at the upstream end and the river is constrained by a roadless canyon, so except for the first mile or so below Hauser Dam and one other access where walking in to reach small sections of river is feasible, the only access is by motoring up from Holter Lake via a boat powered by a jet outboard. Why isn't every guide in Montana rushing out to buy a power boat? Guiding on this water via motorboat requires a US Coast Guard captain's license, which less than 1% of Montana fly fishing guides possess. PFS Head Guide Walter Wiese is one of these guides, and we're VERY EAGER to offer power boat trips on this exceptional piece of water.
We often see a dozen or more fish per day in this size bracket per day at Land of the Giants, along with some bigger ones, though this one was extra pretty.
While it can fish well all season, the Land of Giants section of the Missouri is at its best from March through early July. From March through the middle of May, trout from Holter Reservoir downstream run up into the river on their spawning runs, increasing fish numbers into the stratosphere, while from mid-May until early July these same fish hang around gorging on the smorgasbord of aquatic food available here to recover from their spawn. Fishing gets tougher for the remainder of the season. It can still be good, and crowds actually drop in late summer and early fall rather than increasing as they do elsewhere, but there are better options closer to home.
While there's some dry fly fishing here, with BWO and midges bringing a few fish up in late April and May and PMD and caddisflies good choices in late June and July, plus some "gulper" fishing to trout rising to Callibaetis mayflies and chironomid midges out in Upper Holter Lake itself, the bulk of the fishing here is subsurface. In early spring, when the fish are fixated on eggs, nymphing with egg patterns and nymphs that resemble mayflies, midges, or scuds but also push the egg "button" are the top tickets. As the fish begin to shift off eggs, sowbugs, scuds, and BWO and PMD nymphs are better bets, and if the river is high, large San Juan Worms are also excellent choices. By mid-June, PMD nymphs and caddis larvae and pupae are the tickets. They remain the best options until fall, when BWO nymphs take over again. Streamers can work throughout the season and typically produce the largest fish, but also fewer of them than nymphs.
No description needed for this monster...
Regardless of time of year, fishing Land of the Giants is quite different from standard river float trips. The trip begins with a beautiful run upstream from Holter Lake, at the upstream end of the famous Gates of the Mountains, a canyon first seen by people of European descent during the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The river enters the southern side of the lake and is often slow and lazy, so much of the time we will anchor and fish a run thoroughly, something that seldom works well on the Yellowstone. In addition, the motor makes it possible to repeatedly run upriver, so even when drift-fishing, we may jump upstream several times to hit the best water again and again. In regards to flies and tackle: while the fish are bigger here than anywhere else Parks' Fly Shop guides, most of the flies these big fish like to eat are smaller than most we use, so you can expect plenty of breakoffs and long, epic fights on light tippets.
Suffice it to say, this isn't a place for the faint-of-heart or for rookies. For intermediate to expert anglers who are interested in doing something different and catching some seriously large trout, it's a great bet.
Unfortunately, it's a heck of a long way from Gardiner. If it weren't so good, we wouldn't even think of guiding here due to the distance involved. It's more than a three hour drive from our shop just to put the boat in the water. For this reason, we give significant discounts for multi-day bookings to the Land of Giants, planning to stay overnight in Helena. We realize the overall price of fishing here is high, but it needs to be due to the specialized boat and licensing required; our rates are very competitive with those of our competitors, especially early and late in the season and when we fish for multiple days.
Colored-up April male rainbow.
Richard Parks is Montana Outfitter #327. Under his licensure, Parks' Fly Shop is licensed to operate in Yellowstone National Park, Montana waters under general regulations, and the Custer-Gallatin National Forest. Walter J. Wiese is Montana Outfitter #22001. Under his licensure, the shop is licensed to operate on the Madison and Missouri Rivers.
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