Bighorn River Fishing Report Fall 2011

Bighorn River Fishing Report Fall 2011

Bighorn River
Fort Smith, MT
Flow: 4,000cfs
Weather: Overcast and breezy, 50 degrees

Chunky Bighorn Rainbow

I had a chance to fish the Bighorn this past weekend with two of our customers and my good friends Gary Cordray and Bret Weller.  All I can really say is that the Bighorn is absolutely loaded with fish.  While I don’t know the exact statistic, I’ve heard things as ridiculous as 8000 trout per mile, and after this weekend I believe it.

Pre-spawn Brown Trout

Friday 10/21
On Friday, we rented a driftboat and floated from the Afterbay to Bighorn Access, about 10 miles.  It didn’t take long to catch our first fish, about 1o minutes after launching the boat.  Right away I was in awe of the river, the color of the trees and shrubs around the river is astonishing right now.  Worms seemed to be on the menu for the fish in the upper 3 miles, and as we got lower in the river, we fished a variety of flies like midges and sow bugs.  I’m not sure fly selection mattered as much as weight and depth, as it seemed like we caught fish on every fly we threw.  Deep rigs with heavy weight seemed to be the name of the game for the river this weekend.  One problem currently is the moss in the river, which is more like grass.  It seemed like on the first day we snagged grass on every cast, but we managed to fish around it. The water was atypical for the Bighorn.  Green and murky, we didn’t have to fish many light tippets or small flies because the water was far from gin clear. That makes landing these fish much easier.

Pre-spawn..great spots!

We moved and landed a ton of fish in the upper 5 miles of river, so I figured I would take a portion of the day to throw streamers out of the boat.  I am a streamer junkie and whenever I can throw streamers out of a boat it’s truly a treat.  I threw big heavy flies on a 10 ft sink tip with my 7 weight.  The fish seemed to be pushed on the bank and were very aggressive.  Circus Peanuts, Gongas, and Rubber Buggers all caught me some fish, but the Circus Peanut drew the most aggressive eat! I love that fly, it’s a blast to fish.

Rainbow on a Streamer!

We managed a few more fish in the lower river, and pulled the boat out around 6pm that night.  We all agreed that the first day was a success, but more fish were in order the next day.

Saturday 10/22
On Saturday we decided to forgo the upper 3 miles of the river as they didn’t fish as well as the other 7 on Friday.  The upper 3 miles hold some big fish, but we wanted to spend more time in the lower river.  We put the boat in at the 3Mile boat ramp around 8am and by 8:10 we had all 3 caught fish.

Bret with a healthy Brown Trout

What we found in our two days of fishing was this: Bighorn fish are predictable.  It seemed like anytime you could find a shelf, drop, seam, or any underwater structure that had a change in it (ie a drop or pit in the bottom of the river), you would find fish.  There were times that we could call out when a fish would eat by watching our flies drop off a shelf.  This is nothing unique to Bighorn fish, always remember to read your underwater structure closely to find fish! Gary and Bret had no trouble finding all the structure, every time I would look over my shoulder, one of them would be hooked up.  We had more double hookups than we could even count.

Gary’s nice Rainbow

We stopped around 11am at a run in front of a house on the river, and we found a run that was literally a riffle the size of an airplane runway.  I got out of the boat, caught 3 fish in 3 casts, and then fish in 5 of my next 6 casts.  We spent a good amount of time walking up and down this run as it was loaded with fish.  We took video, pictures, and had a great time.  It also seemed like this run in particular held bigger fish than we were used to catching in our other productive runs.  Eggs seemed to be the fly for me, but Gary and Bret did well with sow bugs.

Cookie Cutter Bighorn Rainbow Trout

We spent a good portion of time at that run, and then moved on again.  Once again, I started fishing streamers and moved a few fish.  Bret had a chance to fish the big nasty streamers out of the boat and I think he is hooked! He managed a pair of nice browns on big flies.


All in all, it was a great weekend. The Bighorn is loaded with 15-17″ browns and 16-18″ rainbows and a truly fertile trout river.  If you ever get a chance to make a trip to the Bighorn, don’t hesitate! And remember, the speed limit in Wyoming is NOT 84.




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About the Author

Justin Nolan

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