The amazing roughfishing mecca of the plains

Ever since Shorefisherman has posted his reports of a multi species bonanza on the Missouri River, we've been hoping to take a trip there. Through some personal messages we got the word that fishing has been really good and we made plans to go. My brother Phil, Sturgasauras and myself were looking to rack up some species for the contest and some lifers as well. Not to mention the chance to bring home some fish.   8 hours drive time and Garrison was within our grasp. The Garrison Dam is the 5th largest earthen dam in the world, and takes a bit of driving just to get across it. There are some beautiful views here, and the river looks like it's full of fish. I have to also say the reservoir above is absolutely huge and should not be ignored on additional trips.  Setting up our camp was the first priority, this place was already looking good, nice flat grass to put a tent with sand dunes below us out to the river's edge. We surely would hit this spot at some point. Shorefisherman gave us a spot to bank fish before fishing from our boat at the dam later that night. Phil and Josh bottom fished while I drifted worms hoping for buffalo and goldeye. I sure got lots of bites doing this but couldn't hook anything. The real action was bottom fishing here. Lots of carp, channel cats, and shortheads were coming in. Phil got a sauger towards evening, one he needed. It was hard to move but we knew Shorefisherman was coming into town. GO TIME! We rigged up some bottom bouncers which is a different style of fishing for Phil and me. Prepping our boat before setting off was exciting and unnerving, this was unfamiliar territory, big water and at night. No matter how much you imagine doing something, you have to actually get out there and go for it. The water out here is so clear that some of the best fishing is at night. Shorefisherman arrived around 10:30 and after a quick greeting he proceeded to empty most of the items in the boat. "Don't need that, don't need this" apparently there would be some chaos going on inside the boat and it made sense to make room. We were off.  Running up to the dam at night full out is a bit scary. First of all the speed and wind combo. Add in big waves from other boats and you're rocking around pretty good. It's all worth it though cause once you start your drift downstream, bites come fast and furious. It's only around 20 feet deep here which is surprising. The first fish that came in were goldeyes. It wasn't too long and we all had them flopping in the bottom of the boat. It was nice to get one of our targets right off the bat. After releasing the fish we got ready for another run. Shorefisherman caught a real nice rainbow, probably 4 or 5 pounds. He then continued to show us how it's done with some nice walleyes which went in the live well. We all had solid hook ups on good sized fish that came off. More goldeyes came into the boat then I had a nice fish on that was staying deep. "That might be a buffalo or something" Shorefisherman exclaimed. This fishery is truly exciting as you don't know what you might catch next. And it could be something gigantic. No buffalo this time, but a real nice walleye, 26", I'm guessing 6 to 7 lbs. Phil and I each added walleyes for the contest. Phil also caught a nice rainbow that went close to 4 pounds. At the end of the night he showed us another spot that would produce fish, and we pulled some more big walleyes out. We'd be coming back here later in the trip for sure. As we took the boat up Shorefisherman pointed out the huge schools of cisco up shallow. He also gave us some more spots to try from shore for later. Just like that he disappeared back into the night. We'd for sure hit these schools of cisco tomorrow.  The next day we had to check out the fish hatchery, which is right next to the dam and our camp. Self guided tours which is cool. Nice mounts of paddlefish and pallid sturgeon right up front. We all had thoughts of catching a pallid but we also knew how rare they were. What an amazing fish. Also at the front were tanks with river carpsucker, shortnose gar and other fish. Nice to see they respect other types of fish here. (smalllmouth buffalo) Observations of juvenile paddlefish were interesting, when they surface feed they lean on their side and pick stuff up using the side of their mouth kinda like a pike or gar might do. Hopefully we could see them doing this at some point on our trip and get a legal catch - tough odds though. Unfortunately they had taken all the pallid and shovelnose sturgeon out of the tanks, maybe next time.  Next on the menu was cisco. The schools were still in session. Amazing to look down in clear water and see them right off the boat. [Wish I had a picture of this] Minnows were tried first without much interest. Phil tried a wax worm... Bingo! caught one right away. Next Josh and I had our turn though it took me a little longer. Nice to get a lifer on the board, cisco have been a tough one in the past for me when ice fishing. We went to try the dam again. Something was different because of a serious lack of boats. The day before dozens of boats were fishing the dam. We learned later that the bite had slowed way down due to lack of bait coming through the dam. We weren't deterred though and we weren't going to be swayed by what everyone else was doing. Doing the same drifts as the night before, something big inhaled the crawler on Phil's line and the fight was on. We knew we had something good, it was staying down a long time. He fought it really hard, and eventually had it closer to the boat... still can't see it. Finally Phil put in a big effort to haul it's butt to the surface. All I remember here is Josh going to net it and not being able to see what it was yet. The beast was in the net. A huge brown, and what a sight it was. 18 lbs. on my digital scale! What a monster. A quick measurement of 33 - 34". We had never imagined catching a trout this big. It was a sight to behold. We had been told to expect trout of 10 pounds or more, which didn't seem real. Now it was real. Kept fishing this area for a while, the fishing in general had slowed though and we were off. After hitching up the boat we fished a creek by the boat launch full of big carp. Some 10+ pound fish in here as well as something silvery surfacing upstream. I think we all hooked up on carp here. Garrison continued to amaze us with something new each day.  Later in the evening we decided to rest a bit so we fished off the sand dunes near our camp site. Some different species were available here and we were hoping for a shovelnose. It was a nice sand bottom with gradual drop offs. This was more our kind of fishing - from the bank and crawlers on the bottom. The bite was on big time! Drum, hefty white suckers, goldeyes, and more walleyes were brought in like on a conveyor belt. It was nice sitting in the sand with a beer. Phil was reeling in a fish that seemed to grow in size, something big for sure but it cut his line. Possibly a big northern? Josh went further down the shoreline looking for different spots. We continued to haul in fish and had to run back to camp for some more bait. Casting a gold spoon for predators produced more goldeyes- how many of these things were in here? Josh returned from his scouting mission and had news of a gar sighting, otherwise more similar shoreline.  Towards sun down the bank becomes lined with people wading in and casting for walleye. We're talking hundreds of people fishing late into the night. After dark I got onto a nice channel cat bite using dead minnows. Caught a couple in the 5 to 6 pound range. Most people started to clear out around 1 or 2 in the morning but I stuck it out hoping for a bigger fish. One weird thing out here is the water level goes down at night, so you can walk 20 or 30 feet out where the river used to be. I did a quick scan of the edge of the water with my light to see if I could see anything. Ciscos and other fish were stacked in the shallows. Pretty cool. Last day. We had to stock up on ice, bait and supplies at the store. The nearest town is Pick City, and has just about anything you need. But I now know why it's called Pick City, considering the amount of bait you lose during your trip from all the fish... plus with the heat we had to resupply the coolers with ice. This store must clean house. It was always full of people. I don't know how many bait containers we went through but it was a lot! If you plan a trip here bring a lot of night crawlers and extra blocks of ice to keep fish. Shorefisherman had given us some spots to try from shore up by the dam so we went there hoping to find bigmouth buffalo or anything else we needed. First thing of note, lots of slack water, so it's going to draw in other types of fish. Also, many pelicans and other birds sitting on the water, always a good sign. Fist fish I hooked up on was a small northern. Then Phil caught a northern on his spoon which he needed. I also had a big carp hooked up but it got off. Lots of dark shapes under the surface, including paddles, but it was tricky since many were dark colored carp. But I for sure was noticing small buffalo right off the rocks. Phil accidentally hooked into a good sized fish after missing the hook set on a bite. His line got caught in a groove of the cement wall out of reach. The fish still was there, so I used the rod that still had the spoon on to snag the line and bring it up to us. One of the guys there hand lined the fish in, a medium sized paddlefish. Would have been nice to a least see it up close and get a picture but the hook pulled out. Spent the rest of the time targeting buffalo. I think I had one take my fly but it turned out to be a snagged carp. Nice one though! Again, had another take but missed the hook set. The buffalo pretty much disappeared. I would like to be here when the buffalo are thick, similar to Shorefisherman's photo. We caught some more carp and northerns, I also caught another cisco. Phil once again hooked into a paddlefish, this time much bigger, that escaped. Some rain came in and we retreated back to camp.  Figuring a new spot might mean different species, we went to the other spillway. This other side looks like it's been abandoned for years, and the water is clouded and stagnant. The water level dropped drastically here, leaving the boat ramp hanging up in the air. Lots of dead fish, mainly channel cats, as well as birds lead us to calling it the Dead Zone. There are definitely fish still alive though, as we missed several nice bites. And Sturgesauras saw some lethargic carp by the bottom of the spillway. Dead paddlefish are also found along the bank, which is a bit sad to see. The bank is very hard to walk along here, there is clay which you sink into and get stuck in. Makes it very difficult to get through. Didn't spend much time here. (layers of coal along the bank) We relaxed a while at camp and planned our next attack. It would be one last run up to the dam. We picked up a few more small walleye, goldeyes and some brown trout. Josh got his contest brown, one he was really hoping to get. We went back to our secondary spot and did some bottom fishing from the boat. Seems like whenever the dam bite slows down, you can find fast action on the bottom in slower water. Drum, goldeyes, white sucker and walleyes started coming into the boat almost right away. And it didn't let up. The goldeyes in particular were non stop, almost like bluegills off a dock. We had been discussing how to tell cisco from whitefish. I had a different fish on and was careful in swinging it into the boat. After some id research on Josh's phone we realized it was a lake whitefish. Another lifer, and a really great feeling to catch another contest fish. We hadn't put enough time in trying to find whitefish the day before and we regretted that. Catching another whitefish off the bottom seemed a ridiculous challenge. But we sure tried, boating a few cisco and checking the mouth to for a positive id. It was nice to have a whitefish to compare them to. But that was the only one to come to hand for us. All the ciscos and the whitefish were kept and would be put into Josh's smoker back at home. (lake whitefish) (cisco) We took more runs up to the dam, until midnight (3 day license). It was a fun trip and we hope to go back again soon. Even though we had some great catches, there's still quite a bit left to catch. Pallid sturgeon, shovelnose sturgeon, bigmouth buffalo, shortnose gar, whitefish, lake trout, paddlefish, and salmon are all future targets. The nice weather and lack of bugs were great, this place is really fishing heaven. Thanks again Shorefisherman for sharing your spots and inspiring us to get out there!

Species List:


Phil's picture

It was really cool – many thanks to shorefisherman for helping us to realize the many amazing experiences!  He is truly an expert in this area and talented and dedicated roughfisherman.

I can’t even say what memory stands out the most now although most impressed is probably that first night. After a day-long drive and a great evening of fishing a multi-species stream flowing through a cow pasture (now that’s my normal “style”) we got to the landing at the tail race at full dusk, met shorefisherman, and after a semi- controlled rush to get the gear stowed and the boat in the water we were suddenly in and blasting up the “chute.”

Riding the boat somewhat like a surf board through the swirling current and jumping over a few substantial wakes we flew up towards the base of the somewhat ominously lit power house that loomed up before us into the night.  This was different fishing for me, and that made it all the more surreal.  “that’s as close we can go” barked shorefisherman and with a power slide the boat turned sideways, came to an abrupt halt, and just as quickly began to slide back down with the current.  “ OK, lines down!”

Grasping the rod with the heavy sinker frantically ticking the bottom down below in the darkness it literally was a feeling of ‘what’s gonna happen now?’   of course shorefisherman popped a couple of walleyes before anyone else got their bearings straight but suddenly there was the first bite , and fish on!  The first victims of the Minnesota boys were goldeyes.  We all stood up and focused our headlamps toward the gyrating line entering the black water until the glowing eyes could be seen and the silver flanks appeared.  No fooling around here – get the net! Each time we got one in the boat there were hoots and high fives.  This gave shorefisherman a chuckle of amusement: “you guys get too excited!”

Soon we got the rhythm going and walleyes were coming in and trout were flying through the night air: get-the-net!  Through all of that concentration and action there was definitely no sense of time but suddenly it was  time for one more last run since it was 2:30 and shorefisherman had an hour drive  and had to be to work by 6:30!

That was a night I will never forget and the way to tackle this spot if you go.  Definitely do not need a boat though as shorefishing seems to be just as popular.  There is a lot of fishing going on here but we never found it to be crowded.  People were arriving at 2 and 3 in the morning to set up and go fishing – its really a cool place and with the cold water discharge there is definitely a unique mixture and behavior of fish from what things are like at home.  While I had heard about this fishery from time to time for its “banner species” it really took shorefisherman to put the whole picture together.  Definitely an experience and some knowledge I will savor . . . hmm its Saturday – I have a pretty good picture in my mind where a certain shorefisherman is right now – thanks man!    

Jason E.'s picture

Nice report.  Sounds like a fantasy world of multi-species big fish action! 

shorefisherman's picture

I'm glad you guys had a great time, its a nice change to fish with guys that don't get irritated cause the goldeyes are biting, then again equally strange to see guys get that excited when the goldeyes are biting.  It was funny how the first few tips and instructions I gave were recieved with some disbelief, and subconsious eye rolls...until the fish started piling into the boat.  Phil, I never had the chance to appologize for removing the 4th seat in the boat.  in hind sight at 40mph dodging other boats and bouncing off 3ft wakes against fast current, I realized we maybe could have made room for 1 more chair so you didn't have to make chiropractic appointments for the following week.  next time you get the lazy boy I'll have bolted to the front of the boat, with adjustable heat and masssage.


I wish I had more time to fish with you guys, next time you'll have to give me at least a couple weeks notice and I'll take some time off work.


That was just the tip of the iceberg, theres at least 2 dozen more stellar spots within 20 miles of there you didn't have time to fish....plan your next trip for mid to late september, and you can leave the boat at home this time, I just bought a 19' skeeter.

Eli's picture

Look like a multi-species mecca.

18lb brunjo on a worm! I know a few guys who would be lime green with envy.




Mud's picture