The New York Times Sports Sunday, August 8th, 1999
Worlds Best Trout Town
Amenities? In Craig, Montana Its All About the Fish.
By: Pete Bodo
CRAIG, Mont. - Larry Taramelli stood atop the seat of the picnic bench in front of the Missouri River Trout Shop and Lodge, smoking in a peculiar way. Rolling the cigarette from one side of his mouth to the other, he expelled from his nose blasts of blue smoke that occasionally got hung up in his beard. He developed that smoking technique because, for a good many of his waking hours on a typical day during trout season, Taramelli's hands are engaged holding a fly rod.
Taramelli removed his cigarette and gestured expansively as he spoke: "This rainbow trout, it was so big - big as a small person. Just so-o-o-o-o beautiful I had to sit down on a big rock just to look at the fish before I released it."
A growling pick-up crept down the road, towing a drift boat that squealed and clattered at every bump. It was 7:35 A.M. on yet another cool, bright Montana morning, hard by the Rocky Mountain front, in what may be the best little trout town on earth. Anglers who like to flesh out their fishing trips with some quality shopping here, a little fine dining there, may take exception to such a lofty assessment. But hard-core trout bums like Taramelli are a different breed. They are attuned to certain esoteric realities that may elude the rest of us. For instance, they know that one sure sign of a good fishing town, like Craig, is that a railroad runs through it.
Craig has plenty of other features to recommend itself to fly fishers. It is a small village, with an estimated permanent population of about 50, although the mystifying maze of propane tanks, satellite dishes, corrugated tin roofs, wooden sheds and clotheslines create the impression that the number ought to be higher. Taramelli works in the only shop in Craig, but everything sold there-in is fascinating, from the "crippled" version of the Pale Morning Dun (or PMD's to those who care about this dry fly, the one with the florescent orange, post-style wing for maximum visibility), to handsome Loomis fly rods, to goose blots and Zap-a-Gap glue.
Until last year, Craig also had a store called O'Connell's, which offered bread, gasoline and milk, but the establishment has closed down. Even though it will soon be replaced by another restaurant, folks around here apparently care only about essentials.
Two 30-something fly fishers, Jerry Lappier and Chris Goodman, own the trout shop and lodge, an operation that is to Craig what GM is to Detroit. Still, the word "lodge" is probably a misnomer, at least insofar as it evokes images of field stone fireplaces and mounted trophy moose's.
Granted, the building was built for the Craig Mercantile Company on Lot 1, Block 1, back in 1887, and the Great Northern Railroad often stopped in front of it to take on Water. But in less idyllic settings, the L-shaped, one-story building would have a neon sign in front, reading M-?-T-E-L. There are six rooms, some of which share a bath with other rooms, and a studio apartment that is the de facto Penthouse.
"That's as close as we get to luxury," said Lappier, a 36-year-old redhead with mischievous eyes. "But then that's not our stock-in-trade. Around here, it's all about the fishing. And that's just fine with the crowd we get."
That crowd includes devoted fly fishers from as far away as Japan, France, Britain and Italy, In addition to anglers from all over the United States. They are lured to Montana and the Missouri River between the cities of Helena and Great Falls by the challenge of catching and releasing rainbow and brown trout. The trout here often grow to over 20 inches, and are more prone to feed on the surface all day long, at least at certain times of the year, than the fish on many of Montana's other prime trout rivers.
Shaped by three reservoirs that discharge volumes of co1d nutrient-rich water, the Missouri is a broad, even tempered river with a prodigious population of aquatic insects. Living among the river's lush weed beds, they hatch en masse, creating rafts of caddis and mayflies that the trout sip and slurp off the glassy surface as if they were dim sum.
Of course, there is a catch: in order to fool the fish, a fly fisher must use the correct floating fly pattern, and present It with a natural drift over fish that have all the time in the world to examine each morsel, and a zillion other choices if they don't like what the see. On the Missouri, there are no desperate trout ready to fling themselves on anything that resembles food.
It is precisely for this reason that the most hard-bitten of anglers fish the Missouri and embrace the stark simplicity of Craig.
"Easy isn't usually interesting or ennobling," said Frank Rodriguez, a Portland, Ore., schoolteacher, who stops regularly on the Missouri during an annual two-month fishing and camping tour of the great Western trout streams. Rodriguez, in his mid-50's, has outgrown the basic challenge of the Missouri for an even more daunting discipline. He fishes exclusively for "bank feeders," those impossibly difficult - and often, impossible large - trout that live and feed in virtually inaccessible lies beneath overhanging bushes or beside dead falls. "Im consumed by the delicacy and accuracy required by this kind of fishing," he said. "I don't need to catch dozens of trout to be happy.
But even Rodriguez occasionally needs to come in out of the wet. After nightfall, he often pulls back the squeaky screen door and joins other anglers in the only place to eat in Craig - yep, the trout shop cafe. Some nights, defeated anglers sit staring into their coffee, some perhaps wondering what they are doing in Craig. On other nights, when the fishing has been good, the gathering is raucous.
The trout shop cafe, long known to anglers for its home-baked cherry and blueberry pies, now features an authentic chef in Mark Raisler, but he isn't even tempted to ply his trade in more gourmet-friendly precincts. "I love to cook but I'm working here because of the fishing," Raisler said.
Customers are free to shuttle back and forth across the dusty parking lot to the beer joint, a squat building the color of algae, languishing beneath a towering cottonwood tree. Real cowboys drink there, often while picking at guitars. The name of this place, as it appears in the pink neon sign atop the building is easy to remember: Bar.
Given that the trout shop and bar are the only two businesses in downtown Craig, and that at any given time you're apt to find more dogs than people wandering the streets, Craig begs to be called a one-horse town. Technically, though, that wouldn't be accurate: the gray mare that once pastured next to the trout shop is gone now. But the Missouri is still there, rolling by the town that would have no trouble coming up with a tourist friendly slogan: Trout Count.
Craig, Montana Almost 10 Years Later......
Larry Taramelli is no longer with us... But us and the trout on the Delaware River in New York wish he would return to Craig.
O'Connell's store has been replaced with Izzacks restaurant and bar. Thank god! It is a great place to enjoy a fine meal. Their menu selections range from Montana steaks, Chesapeake Bay crab cakes, rack of lamb and Alaska King crab, just to name a few.. They also have an amazing selection of wines, micro brews and single malt scotches.
Almost ten years later Jerry Lappier and Chris Goodman still own the Trout Shop and Lodge...although it probably seems longer to them... The Trout Shop Cafe is THE place for breakfast on the river. Start your day with a Starbucks coffee and meet with the other anglers. Chose from several great breakfast specials, have a glass of orange juice and compare notes with your fellow fisherman. O'Connell's store is long gone, but the Trout Shop has a full service deli and an assortment of river snacks for your convenience. Also a great selection of beer and wines. Need a shuttle...drift boat rental...rod or wader rental...flies...guides...advise...The Trout Shop can help you out..Just ask for Mike.(half the people that work there are named Mike)
The Trout Shop
Ten years later, Mark Raisler is still with us as well.. However he is no longer sleeping in a tent by the river, tying flies for beer money, making sauces or grilling steaks. Mark made the transition from trout bum to fly fishing guide. From there he went on to become one of the busiest outfitters on the river. This year he opened Head Hunters Fly Shop in Craig. Whats next Mark?
Head Hunters Fly Shop
The Crag Bar, also know as Joe's still remains the same after all these years. The sign still says "Where Every One Is Kin". How ever, there are a lot more bras hanging on the front of the building, but that is a whole other story... Joe's is a locals bar with ranchers, cowboys and farmers. It is also an after river hang out for fly fishing guides, outfitters, trout bums, vacationing anglers, shuttle drivers, fly shop employes and other river rats... There are millionaires, wishing they were fishing guides and fishing guides, wishing they were millionaires, or at least thousand aires....all here because of one common denominator..They Love the Missouri River.
Fishing Stories That Bite Back: February 3rd, 2008
Missouri Loves Company
By: Fly Fish Chick
I landed in Montana at the Great Falls airport last June, excited to see what the summer had to offer. Straight from baggage claim I raced to The Trout Shop for a license, changed into my waders in the parking lot, and kicked-off my summer on the Missouri River. About 120 minutes after my flight touched down, I caught a late afternoon caddis hatch and this brown trout.
I love the Missouri River.
So do thousands of other anglers. Its no secret that The Missouri is a blue ribbon trout stream. Often described as a giant spring creek, it fosters an ideal setting for hatches that are as varied and abundant as the anglers that visit these waters. They come looking for the big browns and beautiful rainbows that thrive here. These are keen discriminating trout you rarely dumb into a fish on The Missouri, especially not with a dry fly. The river is big and wide, with slow moving water that gives the fish ample advantage to see you coming a mile away.
But we come anyway, sometimes from miles and miles away. Anglers from all over the country and far flung continents travel to Montana just to fish The Missouri. The headquarters for this tailwater activity is an unincorporated community along Interstate 15 called Craig. Nicknamed The Vortex, Craig is a contagious and bewitchy little town. If it gets in your blood youre blessed for life. And probably just a teeny bit screwed because as far as I can tell, there is no known antidote.
The charm of Craig is its utter lack of pretense. There are no art galleries, no upscale realtor offices, no hipster coffee shops, no grand lodges offering the latest in luxurious western interior design.
Just one restaurant, one bar, a campsite and three flyshops
and plenty of characters.
There are locals who are exceedingly kind, and just a few who are grumpy. There are Missouri guides who know every nook and crook of the river, not to mention some of the fish personally. And on any given day youll meet guides from other rivers who drift over to fish with clients, or perhaps to fish the Missouri just for themselves.
There are the fisherman who drive cross-country in old vans then splurge on a nice cabin for their stay. Others come in private planes and pitch a tent in the campground for two weeks. You have experienced anglers and novice anglers. Anglers with manners and anglers with mouths. Some have a sense of humor, some humility. And of course theres no shortage of good old fashioned trout-fishing-testosterone.
Its a rich blend of troutbums, troutnuts and troutlaws, and at the end of the day they all come together to share their stories. When its really hoppin, Craig is like summer camp for grownups. But with liquor, a jukebox and really big trout.
Of course its winter now, so Craig is calm and quiet. The fifty-or-so residents are enjoying their normal lives with work, school and family. They meet for a drink and relish the fact that their favorite barstool is available. Because when the temperatures start to rise, the anglers will flow into town as if they melted straight from the snowcaps. Year after year the population of Craig undulates up and down like a heart that beats with the rhythm of the seasons, pumping activity into this town and life back into its visitors.
Check your pulse and mark your calendars. Junes coming.
Any questions, I can answer for you? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Missouri River Vacation House Rental Near Craig, Montana.