missouri river walleyes and more

Something Is Always Biting in Loma, Montana, In or Out of the River

For a diverse and unusual experience, try fishing for warm-water species on the Mighty Mo.
You’re guaranteed to get some kind of bite.

By Bill Schneider, video by Gene Colling, August 27, 2010

Now I know what I’ve been missing every time I sped through Loma, Montana, on my way to somewhere else. This sleepy little ranching and farming community, located 55 miles north of Great Falls on U.S. Highway 87, is a gateway to some fast-action fishing like you probably have never experienced - catching a variety of warm-water species on a free-flowing section of the Mighty Mo.

To call it “diverse” might an understatement. In our first hole, for example, we quickly caught five fish, all different species. At the same time, all around us, we could soak in the incredible diversity of flora and fauna and the unspoiled scenery of this still wild stretch of the Missouri River.

My fishing partner, Gene Colling, and I had the good fortune to fish with local expert Greg Broussard who also owns and manages Ma’s Loma Café and Cabins, but only for an hour or two in the morning and evening, leaving the rest of the day for fishing.

The good folks at the Central Montana tourism office helped us hook up with Greg, and we spent two days in his big jet boat on the river, fishing all the way from Fort Benton to Virgelle and seeing a lot of wild nature and stunning scenery along the way.

We were primarily after walleyes, and we caught some nice ones, but we ended up catching more sauger, the walleye’s close cousin and a species that’s supposed to be rare and hard to catch. We also caught freshwater drum, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, goldeye and even one monster smallmouth buffalo. And we had a few northern pike bite off our walleye jigs. About the only local game fish we didn’t catch was shovelnose sturgeon, so we’ll have to go back next year for that one.

And never a dull moment. When the fish weren’t biting, the mosquitoes were. When neither the fish nor the mosquitoes were biting, well, that’s because Gene and I were sitting inside Ma’s Loma Café biting into the consistently tasty - and affordable - meals prepared by Master Chef Maria, Greg’s wife. Thursday is Maria’s Mexico Night, so if you can only come to Loma for one dinner, make it Thursday night. Gene and I agreed it was the best Mexican food we’ve ever had.

One morning, we had “Poor Man’s Lobster” for breakfast. Yep, breakfast; we’re always open to new adventures, even culinary adventures. Not real lobster, but boiled sturgeon dipped in melted butter. Bet that’s something you haven’t tried, right? We hadn’t either, but I sure hope it isn’t the last time.

Actually, the only time something wasn’t biting in Loma was when we were snoring away at night in Greg’s comfy cabins.

Fishing with Greg was a real treat. I knew we’d get along just fine when he matched up perfectly with the words I live by when he said, “Why work when you can go fishing?”

I confess that this way of life has held me back a bit. I might even be a rich man without it, but through the years, I’ve learned to cope with my addiction. Greg, too, it seems. In fact, he has the ultimate cure; he goes fishing almost every day.

Greg knows this stretch of river better than his backyard, and spends a lot more time there, too, which is a big deal in this fishery. Fishing the Missouri isn’t for newbies with traditional walleye boats. You need a jet boat, and you need to know to use it. If I’d launched my prop-driven Crestliner into the river, its aluminum hulk - along with my bones, perhaps - might still be bleaching in the sun along the riverbank downstream from Fort Benton.

Greg uses a 20-foot aluminum johnboat powered by an 80-horse Mercury jet, ideal for this big river, but you could get by with a smaller johnboat and jet. The river is loaded with sandbars and rocks, so if you take a prop-driven boat, be sure to also take two or three extra props.

“This river is nothing to play around with,” Greg agrees. “It can eat you alive.”

You can safely fish the river with a drift boat, canoe or raft, and some anglers do, but you can’t go back upstream to fish a good hole again or jet back to your boat trailer. Instead, you have to arrange a shuttle, which means less time for fishing. It takes a while to learn this river, so don’t be surprised if you get your butt kicked the first few trips. Local knowledge is always a key element to fishing success, but especially so here on the Missouri River. “I fished this river for almost two years before I caught a fish,” Greg admitted.

Those days are gone, though, because now he catches lots of fish every day, even with our bad luck aboard and the bad water conditions we had in early July. That’s often a good time for this river, but the usually high water level made finding fish a challenge. With Greg’s guidance, though, we had lots of action. Without him, we’d had to settle for mosquito bites.

I’m not sure why this is, but it’s also difficult to get a hook up. I’m actually fairly good at hooking walleye and other fish with subtle bites, but I got schooled on the Missouri. I attempted to keep a running tally on the second day and scored a dismal 9 fish hooked out of 33 bites until I stopped counting. Ouch!

Greg tried to soothe my ego by insisting those river fish are much harder to hook and that my ratio was about average. Hmm. I so want to believe him. I did notice he missed a few, too, so I guess I’ll go with it. We mainly used small jigs with twisty tails or small swimbaits, both tipped with a piece of nightcrawler. We fished slow-moving pools and the downstream tips of islands and also found some fish “caked up,” as Greg puts it, against rocky banks.

At the end of the trip, I asked Greg to give me his best shot at describing this fishery. “It’s definitely unique,” he started. “There’s no other walleye fishery like it for sure. There are so many fish and so little pressure. Not one even one outfitter works this stretch of river. But what I like most about it is that every bite is a new adventure. You never know what’s going to come out of the water.”

Sound like something you need to check out?

Walleye Highway
The Wild Missouri: Ma's Loma Cafe; Bill (left) and Greg with twin walleyes; and the Virgelle Ferry. Photos by Bill Schneider and Gene Colling.The Wild Missouri.
Ma's Cafe in Loma, MontanaMa’s Loma Cafe.
Fishing Central MontanaBill (left) and Greg with twin walleyes.
Boarding the Virgelle Ferry in Central MontanaThe Virgelle Ferry.