TR #2--The Bighorn
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Author:  Dave M [ August 1st, 2017, 10:56 am ]
Post subject:  TR #2--The Bighorn


After a very successful week fishing the Missouri seven of us piled up our gear into the vans, and headed out east across most of Montana, to a little outpost town called Ft. Smith.......an old outpost on the famous Bozeman Trail during frontier times.

The Bighorn before 1966 used to be a slow, warm, muddy ditch coming down out of the Wind River country. In '66 the massive Yellowtail Dam was completed.....instantly turning this warm, muddy, slow water into one of the finest tailwaters on the planet. It was stocked with trout........and left unfished for 15 years, opening to fishermen in 1981. Most of the land surrounding this area is Crow Indian lands, and you do have to be careful to either stay on marked (Montana DIFW) trails.......or below the high water mark.

Normally we fish this river at give/take 2500 fps.....this time it was ~ 10,000 fps. Wading spots were EXTREMELY limited! (To say the least).

Guides were meeting their "sports" at 4:30 in the morning to get a spot....going out in pitch darkness. When in Rome (as the saying goes)........

We stay at the Bighorn Angler right in the "town"

They always treat us right.

Wading from the Dam (Afterbay....the little dam...not Yellowtail) is very limited........so we rent driftboats every day and float down to our wading spots.

I figured Black Caddis would be on the menu.......so I had tied up 50 of them in size 20 to be prepared. Alas.......the Black Caddis had already gone by. (WTH???)

The water was about the highest I'd ever fished there........and WARM. Warm?? It comes out of Yellowtail at give/take 41*.....and then out of Afterbay at (this time of year) about 52 to 54*. Because the 70- mile long lake was completely full to overflowing from the monster snowpack this last winter most of the water was coming off the top of the lake........at almost 70*. Yikes! It was a good 15 to 18* higher than normal. We were asked to not even snap pictures of the trout as they were stressed from the warm water.

The hatch was Tricos........and damned early. We were fishing the Duns (males) by 5:45 to about 7:30........then Trike Spinners from about 8 am to 11 am. It was over for the day by 11 am. Now, if you've ever been to Ft. Smith, MT. you know there is NOTHING......and I really do mean NOTHING....to do in Ft. Smith if you arent fishing. I got a lot of books read that week after 11 am.

The water was so warm that we had to be very careful fishing to "rises". The sippers were trout.......any splashy rises were Goldeneye Shad. An OK fish........but we didn't fly 2500 miles West to fish for Goldeneye Shad. They were all over the river.

The wading was extremely tough. Try fishing #22 flies while wading up to your armpits.

We certainly caught trout (mostly Browns) every day.......but it was nothing like a typical Bighorn trip.

I used my Winston B3X 4 weight........paired with either a Hardy LRH and Rio Perception Trout line or Hardy Dutchess paired with a Rio Gold line. Absolutely superb outfits. Tippet(s) were either Rio flouro or Trouthunters flouro. Both were great. I had a 3 wt. B3X with me...but didn't fish it in the ridiculously high water.

Islands where we usually stop to fish were under water. The back channel that some of us fished was 4' out of the water and dry last year.

Certainly my worst trip to the Bighorn in the 15 to 18 years I've fished it. Montana DIFW was even talking about instituting "hoot owl" regs on the Horn. (Fishing only before noon and after 7 pm). The Guides were flabbergasted. This had NEVER happened on the Horn. Interestingly....as the water went down (It's now at 7000 fps) the water got colder.......as more water was coming out of the turbines at the 300' mark, and not off the top of the lake.

All in all....an OK trip to the Horn........but no better than OK.

We did visit the Custer Battlefield on our way back to Billings. Fascinating. Artifacts, clothes, etc found after the battle. I'd said for years that, as a US History teacher I'd like to visit the battlefield, but fishing always took precedense. WE went only about 40 miles out of our way to visit. Really interesting to see the terrain and what actually happened there.

Flights: WE always fly into Bozeman (to fish the Missouri) and fly out of Billings (the Bighorn). Billings is only about 90 miles from the Horn.

You will, however, lose almost a day to travel between the two. About 6 to 7 hours for travel.

Most of us flew out of Portland on Delta........but Roy and I flew United out of Bangor through O'Hare (one stop). Into Bozeman by 11:30 am....and fishing the Missouri the same night. Flights were perfect....on time......nobody got thrown off the plane.......and all luggage got there with us. This is, I believe, 5 years in a row of great airline service. Kudo's. One thing I did notice (for the first time) was the seats on the A-319 we flew. I'm short (5'7")....and my knees were jammed up against the seat in front of me. What in the world do 6'ers or taller people do???? I'd never noticed this before.

Next years trip is already booked. I'm like a 5 year old at Christmas looking forward 50 weeks a year to the two weeks we spend in Montana. I didn't get to fish the Livingston Spring Creeks this year......so I'm planning to head out 2 or three days early in '18 so I can do that; and meet the Guys in Bozeman when they fly back in.

Hopefully 2018 is a more normal water year. I love fishing Trico's when we can work our way around to get the best possible angle to fish them. That was totally impossible on the Horn this year.

Hopefully our fall fishing this year will be as good as last year;s was. I had the best fall Tiny BWO fishing last October and November that I'd ever had. I'm done trout fishing here until the water cools down.

Dave M

Author:  TGIF [ August 1st, 2017, 11:44 am ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn

I have fished tricos... not the hatch for me... WAY too small, and too many of them on the water... I'll leave those to you.

Bummer about the flows... no other water around worth exploring?

Author:  Dave M [ August 2nd, 2017, 11:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn

TGIF wrote:
I have fished tricos... not the hatch for me... WAY too small, and too many of them on the water... I'll leave those to you.

Bummer about the flows... no other water around worth exploring?

Hi Tim

Trico's really are a blast. It really improves your skills. The fly has to be placed exactly where it needs to be.....because you're competing with tens of thousands of real flies. You have to time your imitation at the exact moment the trout decides to rise......and the trout stay up high in the water column.....so their sight window is very small.

Ft. smith is unlike, say, West Yellowstone. There you might have a dozen different places to fish in a two hour drive window......the Bighorn is WAY away from anything else. It's the Horn or nothing there.

Dave M

Author:  Montana Man [ August 11th, 2017, 8:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn

Hey Dave. Always enjoy reading your recaps. I've never fished the BigHorn as thoroughly as you and rarely get over that way. One of these days perhaps we'll wet a line somewhere.

Thought you'd find this story interesting. Imagine looking down into the water and seeing one of these beasts swim by while you're fishing your #20 PT?

During the past week anglers and fishing guides on the Bighorn River have reported seeing paddlefish — the monstrous, prehistoric native fish normally relegated to the Missouri and lower Yellowstone rivers.


Author:  Dave M [ August 11th, 2017, 9:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn


We didn't see any 5 foot long Paddlefish when we were on the Horn, but we saw plenty of 8 to 30 pound Carp rolling and splashing around us

Dave M

Author:  Hutch [ August 12th, 2017, 8:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn


That is a good point- we saw 2 carp- in the same 2 spots day after day...have you ever fished to them? I mean, these fish were 20 feet away and clearly seen- I would have tried, but I (still) didn't know what to throw them.


Author:  TGIF [ August 12th, 2017, 11:21 am ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn

I caught a 6-7lb fish on a 5 wt in one of my French Rivers... I was disappointed that it wasn't a brown, but ohh well. It pulled hard, and was worthy of a photo, it just ate a "Gartside Sparrow", which I have become fond of for a large hex type nymph imitation.

I wouldn't target them on a 5 weight any more... i was concerned that my 4 piece was going to become a 5 piece. It didn't offer a screaming run, but it felt like there was nothing i was going to do to stop it, until it decided it was done.

Author:  Jeff Reardon [ August 12th, 2017, 4:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn

This is interesting. The warmer water on the Bighorn is more natural, and in a year with a warm water release the paddlefish (a native species) seem to benefit over introduced browns and rainbows. But non-native carp do too.

If nothing else, Dave's Bighorn TR's are a reminder of how different many of the most popular western fisheries are from what we have here. We just don't have anything like those huge cold water release dams dumping cold, nutrient rich water into a relatively low gradient river that was historically rich with warmwater fish. I suppose the West Branch Delaware is the closest thing in the east.

Author:  KilgoreTrout [ August 13th, 2017, 4:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn

Just my 0.02 on the Bighorn.

I did another solo Montana trip this year from 7/25-8/4. I fished the Bighorn on the 25th and 26th after I landed in Billings - it was 8,000cfs and warm as heck. Poor fishing to say the least compared to last year, and the only action was on tricos super early in the morning. I caught a few fish between 9am and 11am nymphing but after 11am you might have well been fishing in a swimming pool.
I actually left Cottonwood a day earlier than I had booked because it was just impossible to wade and I wasn't going to rent a drift boat for a 4 hour fishing window.

It was a real bummer. I had been daydreaming about the Bighorn for 11 months and to say it was a letdown is an understatement. Last year I thought the Bighorn was nirvana.

At the end of my trip, I booked another night at Cottonwood so I could fish the night before and the morning that I flew back out from Billings. The flow had come down to 4,000cfs (this was the night of the 3rd I think) and the water was much, much cooler. I did well on midges in the evening (18-22 black and gray Smokejumpers) and it was fun to fish to sipping trout making teensy little rises with such tiny flies only to have them turn out to be 18-20" fish. In the morning, there were no tricos to be found, so I nymphed again and did ok in the fast water. After a few small browns and a rainbow, I hooked into the fish of the trip - I fought that monster for what felt like forever...while more and more weeds accumulated on my leader. Eventually he busted off and I'm convinced it was the 40lbs of salad I collected on my leader as we tussled.

So, the 'Horn redeemed itself somewhat in my eyes, but hopefully next year will be better. Otherwise, I had a great two weeks, and solidly hit the spruce moth "hatch" on the Gallatin and Big Hole. Now that was something!

And Slough Creek...oh man...

Author:  Dave M [ August 13th, 2017, 5:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn


Yeah. I caught a small (like 6 or 7 pounds small) Carp
Last summer on the Horn. It took a John Betts pattern called a Jesus I'm having. Brain fart and can't remember the name. WTH?? I must be way too relaxed in Jamaica, Mon.

I cut back my leader to about 2X and had a ball. They were rooting on the bottom like Bonefish. Just great fun. When I recall the name I'll post it

Dave M

Author:  Dave M [ August 14th, 2017, 6:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn

A Meat Whistle was the fly I was using. Great Carp fly

Dave M

Author:  TGIF [ August 15th, 2017, 12:49 am ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn

Is noodling for carp allowed? At least the water was warm... now we know how you confirmed it. :oops:

Author:  Baetis [ August 23rd, 2017, 4:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn

My spring trip to the Horn in May it was 13,000 cfs!!! Try wading in THAT! :lol: We caught a sh*t ton of fish though

Was back there on Aug 3. Flow 5500cfs. My wife did well. I rowed. 8)

Did much better on a little stream in WY. :)


Author:  Jeff Reardon [ August 23rd, 2017, 5:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: TR #2--The Bighorn

Clearly a set of Trumpian small hands on those small-stream Wyoming cutts. :wink:

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