On a whim (and a couple good reports), I called a guy on my list of folks to float with named Arty, and we were on our way...
All the while dodging antelope that appeared to be in RUT, on the trip up toward Helena... .....
We arrived in the tiny town of Craig and checked out some local fly shops -(the town) has at least five all within fifty feet of each other - but my favorite was Headhunters; as they seemed most knowledgeable and hooked us up with proven patterns and informed us of 'the short-leash method' guides were using to catch fish.
They also informed us they "had fourteen trips out that day"; so when we got to the Dam, we knew we were in trouble when we spied at least 20 more (boats) a few hundred yards down (just out of frame).
They call it “the Shit Show” and for good reason, as before us were no less than 32 drift boats (I counted) hovering over an area roughly 200 yards long and only 50 yards wide and all seemingly working in a choreographed sequence to catch as many of the fish stacked beneath them by the thousands; and doing so quite well it seemed as double-hookups were spotted all around as 'the bite was clearly on’.
What appeared to the untrained eye to be a seamless group of boaters and anglers all happily getting along and working as a team, was far from it the closer you got to the chaos as slurs' were hurled freely and cursing seemed par for the course.
The guides seemed to have the system down pat, but were also the ones throwing around the most expletives when some interloper who was just trying to enjoy what the Missouri offered; attempted to ‘ease into the pack’ and God forbid got even slightly out of sequence - when he foolishly tried to take a picture of a big fish Arty caught - which meant letting off the oars for more than a few seconds....
"Hey you sorry &%$#@"...!
The shit show pretty much comes down to this – the drift boats would float sometimes a mere ten or at the most twenty feet from each other with anglers on-board casting toward the outer banks and then once they reach a certain tail-out point - get over between the two visible thick mats of weeds, suspended in the middle of the river, and 'row like sons of bitches back upstream' only twenty feet apart - until they reached some invisible point where they let off the oars and drifted back outside ...and the flotilla continued without end for hours at a time.
Without built-in rearview mirrors for the rowers’ seat, and/or constantly turning around so you don’t ram into one another; it’s a cluster&%$# of massive proportions I just couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to get into ever again.
Being from the South I felt obliged to hurl my own share of expletives around as well, complete with threatening life and limb if they wanted to pursue it further on shore, and it was at least nice to know Arty 'had my back' he said (though thankfully no one took us up on the offer).
Because of this I recommend if you ever get an opportunity or invite to do it you turn it down and try a different stretch of river on the Missouri below Craig' or elsewhere in the state maybe. Especially if it’s your first trip up here to Montana, as it has the real potential to turn you off in such a way you never want to come back.
...Or its possible this is exactly what you want when you come up for a float, and if numbers are what your after then “a 60 fish day” on the Missouri might be the just the trip to book (those fellas catching that many didnt seem upset about it at all).
For the most part though, we had the river about to oursleves' once we passed by the chaos just below the Dam. Only problem being the hopper fishing, though it was apparently 'the best they'd had in years up there', was now officially over (and the weeds at this low a flow have now taken over).
Still, as the last frame above shows, there's a whole lot of the Missouri River yet unseen by myself or the new boat; and judging by the looks of the amazing canyon ahead...'one that I will be revisiting again very soon.'