Missouri River Fishing

February 21, 2009 by  

By Jed Fluhrer

Garrison Tailrace

Garrison Tailrace

The stretch of the Missouri River in North Dakota from the tailrace to the North Dakota South Dakota State line offers anglers a variety of challenges. This portion of the river is know for its exceptional walleye fishing but also offers anglers the chance at northern pike, rainbow trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout, lake trout, Chinook salmon, catfish and a variety of other species. In fact all of North Dakota’s trout and salmon records have come from the Garrison tailrace.

With such a variety of opportunities, an angler could spend an entire lifetime fishing this stretch of the Missouri and never fully understand all its subtleties. While the fishing is good the navigation is interesting to say the least. Navigation on the river to and from the access to the actual fishing site does provide some unique challenges.

Jed working the slack water off the bars west of Washburn

Jed working the slack water off the bars west of Washburn

The Missouri is notorious for its changing bottom contour. The location of the main channel and the many sandbars changes regularly and because the channel was in a particular location last spring doesn’t mean it will be this spring. The old saying “it’s not a matter of if, but when” applies here. If you fish enough you are going to hit something. I know a few friends who have gone a little too fast and ended up high and dry on a sandbar that was a few inches below the water. Not such a big deal when you are fishing out of a lightweight 16 footer but not much fun when you hang up a 21 foot deep bottom and have to literally dig out the boat. Most outboards have a latch that allows the motor to lock at the bottom position. I run the river with my motor in the free movement position in case I hit a sandbar or a deadhead. The use of a GPS to track the location of the main channel is a very valuable tool. Once charted an angler can move quickly from spot to spot.

Day to day water levels on the river change frequently. A spot that was producing yesterday may not produce today because of the change in water flow. The river angler must constantly monitor water levels and the best place to do that is here: http://www.nwdmr.usace.army.mil/rcc/reports/showomarep.cgi?0TRIB_RESERVOIRS

Water levels also dictate the availability of boat access on various portions of the river. Drought conditions have left many of the boat accesses on the lower portion of the river inoperable. The following links give information on boat access locations as well as information regarding their availability.

Missouri River System Boating Access:


Missouri River System Boat Ramp Status:


Lots of shorefishing opportunities available

Lots of shorefishing opportunities available

Once an angler has chosen a stretch of river to fish. The next step is to find the structure holding the fish. I am going to concentrate on walleyes here. Sandbars offer the most obvious structure above water and can lead an angler to potential spots. The slack water behind a sandbar is a great place to start. Walleyes are lazy and will find the easiest way to catch a meal, which means hanging in the slack water just off the current.

Boat control is probably one of the most important and most difficult aspects of river fishing. Keeping the boat in the proper position to present the bait takes some practice. This is one area where I need a lot of work. Running the trolling motor or the outboard, watching the depth finder, and holding a rod are not always the easiest things to do simultaneously and effectively. Usually about the time I’m trying to keep the boat in position a walleye will hit my jig and I miss, but that’s just part of the game.

Walleyes can be taken on the river with a variety of presentations. Many anglers troll crank baits, jig, or use three way rigs to catch walleyes on the river. Presentation depends on the structure the fish are using and how aggressive they are feeding. Cranks are great when fish are scattered and aggressive. When fish are a little more lethargic a jig and minnow combo fished slowly will out fish most everything else.

Bald Eagle nest between Stanton and the tailrace

Bald Eagle nest between Stanton and the tailrace

If you like fishing in beautiful scenery without the intrusion of other anglers, obnoxious jet skis and the neighbors barking dog three cabins down; give the Missouri River below the Garrison Dam a try. You won’t be disappointed, unless of course you dislike the honking of Canada geese or screeching bald eagles.


One Comment on "Missouri River Fishing"

  1. ken jundt on Mon, 16th Apr 2012 4:23 pm 

    bald eagles don’t screech. Red tailed hawks do though.

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