Fort Peck has been on my mind since I started ice fishing it a few years back. We caught a ton of awesome fish and I always wondered what it would be like to get into them on a fly rod. Needless to say, this trip has been on the to-do list for a few years now and this spring we were finally able to make it work. My brother graduated college in early May and my roommate Dan and I are eyeing the end of our lease in July so we decided to do one last big trip together before we all went on our ways.
We headed out to fish Fort Peck Reservoir on Thursday May 29th. The goal was to catch something other than rainbow or brown trout.
After a hectic day at work and a scramble to get everything packed, we got on the road for the long drive up to Fort Peck Dam… no AC in the truck didn’t help. 6 hours and 30 minutes later, and a few pints of sweat later we were marveling at the sheer magnitude of earth that is Fort Peck Dam.
Originally, our plan was to camp at the Downriver Campground, wake up, do a few quick repairs to the boat, and fish the Dredge Cuts in the morning. The Dredge Cuts are where the earth was removed to make the earthen dam. The Missouri now flows very slowly through the cuts before making its way East. After looking over weather forecasts for the weekend, it was apparent that the best weather of the weekend was going to be the first day so we scrapped the Dredge Cuts and launched onto Fort Peck Lake, with the intention of fishing the rocky face of the dam. You couldn’t have asked for a better day, the wind was calm and the sun was up. Unfortunately, the fishing was the only thing that could have been better. We moved a few fish the first morning but didn’t land anything. We began to worry that this was going to be another long weekend with slow action.
After regrouping with some lunch we changed our focus back to the Dredge Cuts we had originally planned to target. We jetted up to the Dam and began trolling near the floodgates unsure of what type of fish we were even targeting. Almost immediately Nate hooked into a fish, and it was quickly apparent that this was a nice fish. After a solid fight, Nate landed his first Lake Trout! While it only taped 21” it was a heavy, thick fish that knew how to use the fast water below the dam to its advantage.
Now that we knew what color the fish were eating (chartreuse) and where the fish were holding, we got the fly rods out with heavy sink tips and chartreuse and white streamers. The Lakers were holding in 4-5 feet of fast water on the edge of ledges and drops. We made a few passes, motoring up to the top of the run and drifting down. It didn’t take long for me to hook into a laker on the fly. The laker hit the streamer as I stripped it back to the boat after swinging through a run. There was no question of whether or not it was a fish. It hit my fly like a ton of bricks and then ripped line off downstream bending my nine weight to the cork. We got the second laker to the boat, snapped some pictures, and released it back to the cool water.
Fishing slowed down after we landed the second Lake trout so we moved into the Dredge Cuts and picked up a few Pike trolling Rapalas. We headed in, drove up to the gas station to top off the boat and talked with some locals who recommended we check out the points around Duck Creek the following morning. After a few steaks on the grill and a couple pulls of bourbon, we went to bed early with dreams of Pike and Walleye making fly reels sing.
Morning brought wind, and wind brought waves. We launched the boat on the reservoir at 6 am and started trolling points watching the fish finder in order to get an idea of where the fish were holding. We started marking them at 20-30’ on the finder and threw on some deep diving crankbaits. Action was almost immediate and once you found them you’d pick up pike every pass. We boated around 8 pike and a couple walleye before we got bored. We were here to fly fish and because of the wind and depth the fish were holding at it was next to impossible. We trailered the boat after a successful morning frustrated. Frustration would build as we listened to the radio issue a severe storm warning, calling for baseball sized hail, lightning, tornadoes, and damaging winds. Shit. We had about two minutes of torrential downpour and then everything lifted and became eerily calm. Unsure of what to do, we drove to the boat launch near the dam face and tried to make a decision. The decision was made for us when two sheriff’s deputies drove up to let us know that the short rainstorm we just received was not the actual storm and we should think twice about heading out. Afternoon two was shot. Back to the campgrounds for beers, whiskey and a campfire cooked meal.
Sunday morning we woke up to a change in wind direction. We went back to Duck Creek thinking we could find some places to get out of the wind and use our fly rods. I swear the wind could find a way into every bay and around every point we tried. We anchored up and had a team meeting, with just one afternoon and one morning of fishing left ahead of us and no pike on fly rods we decided to trailer the boat and back track as fast as possible to Hell Creek Marina 26 miles outside of Jordan, Montana. This decision proved to be the right one.
After grabbing another case of beer and some firewood at the marina, we launched at Boy Scout Point and started working our way up into flooded willows at the mouth of the creek. Five minutes into our evening fishing I saw a green flash and watched my black and gold angel hair streamer disappear into the mouth of a 20” pike. He wasn’t big by any means, but he was the first pike on the fly rod and we were jacked to say the least.
Dan was the next to hook up on a pike with a fire tiger rabbit strip fly. His pike was bigger and after dancing him around a few submerged trees he landed it. Two pike on the fly in half an hour and we were stoked. Dan hooked up again almost immediately and it was apparent that this fish was much bigger than the previous two. We had him to the boat a few times before he made a final run into the willows and broke off. Based on what we’d caught and what we saw of the fish at the boat I’d guess he was at 40 inches. After losing that fish Dan changed from 30 lb fluoro to 30 lb wire bite tippet. We called it a day as the sun was going down and stoked the campfire for our final night of camping.
Dawn brought calm conditions for our last morning of fishing before heading back to reality. We ran the boat over to a bay we had yet to fish (there are thousands), and Nate immediately hooked into a really nice pike. After a couple long runs, and a scary moment when he wrapped himself around the trolling motor, we had our best pike of the trip on the boat. He measured a thick 32 inches. After some pictures and a few more hours of slow fishing we called it quits in order to get back to Bozeman at a decent hour. We were already planning our next trip back to Fort Peck.
If you’re thinking of trying your hand at fly fishing Fort Peck I’d recommend starting with the Hell Creek area. There is more water conducive to fly fishing and more places you can hide from the wind. With it being closer to the mouth of the Missouri and Musselshell, the water temps warm up faster making it a better option for the spring. If I were to return to the dam I’d wait until later in the summer or early fall when water temperatures are warm enough to bring the pike into the shallows.
For gear we were generally using eight and nine weight rods with either intermediate or S3 sink tips. These were the most effective for us at this time of year, but later on I’d recommend having a floating line as well. We ran 40 lb P-Line Fluorocarbon to 30 lb wire bite tippet for our pike leaders. We built leaders tapering down to 15 lb fluoro for lake trout. Our most successful pattern was a fly pattern tied in similar fashion to the slump buster in the fire tiger colors. That being said, I don’t think the fish are as picky as we make them out to be. I’m sure a wooly bugger or baitfish pattern would get you into fish as long as the conditions are right.
I highly recommend checking out Fort Peck, there’s something about reeling in a fish with no idea what species it is going to be. If you’re thinking of heading up to the reservoir and have any questions feel free to call the shop, my trip was definitely a learning experience, and I’d be happy to pass on whatever info I can.
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