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"The road took us to the most distant fountain of the waters of the Mighty Missouri in surch of which we have spent so many toilsome days and wristless nights. Thus far I had accomplished one of those great objects on which my mind has been unalterably fixed for many years, judge then the pleasure I felt in all[a]ying my thirst with this pure and ice-cold water."
-- Meriwether Lewis on August 12, 1805, upon
crossing the Continental Divide and finding
the headwaters of the Missouri River.
Join us on a journey to the rivers fished and traveled by Lewis and Clark. Two hundred years after their epic camping trip, discover for yourself the land and water explored by Jefferson's "Corps of Discovery"
-- places you will love, places you can still fish, hike and camp, places you can help us protect.
For an angler with a love of America's wild places and a bent for history, there's no better trip than fishing the waters along the Lewis and Clark Trail.
The North American Prairie, the Northern Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest are home to fabled rivers like the Missouri, Niobrara, Yellowstone, Jefferson, Bitterroot, Lochsa, Clearwater, Grande Ronde, and Columbia. Whether angling for catfish "as big as a man," trout
as long as your arm, or 700-pound sturgeon, fishing these waters promises epic adventure and a stockpile of stories for you and your family.
When Meriwether Lewis
and William Clark began their expedition to explore the Western part of the continent, they commissioned Private Silas Goodrich to be their fisherman. It was Goodrich's job every night to wet a line in the river and see what he could bring home. His assignment was partly for food (the fish became an important part of the Corps' diet), partly for scientific research,1 but mainly because Lewis, Clark, and Goodrich all loved to fish.
The fact that their minds were on fishing is evident in the list of gear they brought with them.
One of Lewis's lists of requirements included "4 Groce fishing Hooks" and "12 Bunches Small fishing line." A later summary of purchases listed 2,800 assorted fishing hooks, and 125 large fishing hooks and fishing lines
as Indian presents.
Your own expedition probably won't require a thousand hooks, but a well-stocked angler will carry a bait-casting rod for catfish and walleye, a fly rod for the mountain states' trout, and deep-sea poles for the steelhead, salmon, and sturgeon of the Columbia River waters. Be prepared for every kind of weather, from searing heat on the eastern plains to July snowstorms in the mountains. Always carry a rain jacket, and bring lots of bug spray, for as Lewis wrote, "The mesquiters are terrible!"
Always check local fishing regulations before you start to fish. Regulations can change from season to season and can differ for each river or even for any given section. When buying your fishing licenses, ask for tips from the locals. They know the area's secrets and may be willing to share information. And as always, remember to leave your fishing hole in better shape than you found it. We strongly recommend a catch-and-release policy for all fish. (Also, it's illegal to fish for any species listed on the Endangered Species List. If you inadvertently hook a listed species, then you're legally responsible for releasing it unharmed.)
Fishin' along the Lewis and Clark Trail is part of the Sierra Club Lewis and Clark Wild America Campaign, which aims to help people learn about, explore, enjoy, and protect the fish, wildlife, and natural wonders of the lands explored by the Corps of Discovery. Sprawl, logging, pollution, and excessive damming now threaten many of the rivers they navigated. As the rivers are damaged, so are the salmon, trout, steelhead, and other fish that depend on them. Find out
in the "conservation update" sections how you can protect your favorite fishing hole by taking action or volunteering with the Sierra Club.
About the Author
Drew Winterer lives in Missoula, Montana with his wife, Shannon, two dogs and a cat. When not fishing somewhere on the Lewis and Clark Trail, he guides fly-fishermen on Montana's western waters. Fishing with Silas, an Angler's Guide to the Lewis and Clark Trail, written with Nick Gevock, is currently in the publishing process. For more information, or to book a guided trip, contact Drew at email@example.com.
For more information about the Sierra Club's Lewis and Clark campaign or to find out how you can help, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Canoeing the Missouri in Iowa, courtesy Drew Winterer.