Bighorn River Fishing Report: May 11, 2012

There isn’t a lot of snowpack in our drainage, so expect low flows throughout the summer. That’s what the Bureau of Reclamation is forecasting. Of course, I’ve seen huge storms in May and June turn things around in a hurry, so we’ll see what happens. Currently, I’d sum things up by saying, “If you’re good, the river is good.” In other words, we have a big spring creek on our hands right now. Water is low and clear; fish are rising throughout the day, especially in the afternoon, and it’s just a lot of fun. However, you have to have casting and presentation skills to take full advantage of the conditions. There are fish everywhere, but the water is clear, and these fish see a lot of anglers.

When fishing nymphs, be careful not to wade too far out. Oftentimes, the fish are in tight, right along the current edge, and there’s not a lot of current right now. So take a good look before you wade into the river at all. You can spot fish in close and they’re catchable if you adapt to the situation. You might need to get rid of the Thingamabobber and put on a pinch-on strike indicator or a small piece of yarn. Move the indicator closer to your flies. Twice the depth of the water is not a bad rule of thumb in shallow water. Or, if the fish are in really thin stuff, or are rising occasionally, put on a buoyant dry fly (#16 Parachute Adams) and trail it with a nymph. I like about a 30” dropper with just a smidgeon of tungsten sticky weight to get the nymph down. Watch that dry fly closely, and strike quickly if it seems to hesitate or stall. Trout can spit these flies out in a hurry.

Stomach samples reveal about an even number of midge pupa and Baetis nymphs. There are a few sowbugs as well. This can vary according to time of day and where you are on the river, but this is what I’ve seen. It’s still tough to beat a Flashback Quill Nymph, as this pattern is a passable Baetis or midge imitation. I’m also a fan of the Wonder Nymph and the Root Beer Midge. But don’t get overly concerned about exact patterns—as long as you have the approximate size and color, you’re in the game. And it’s much more about where you’re fishing and your ability to get a good drift.

I fished the Bighorn to Mallards stretch about a week ago and had good fishing. That being said, it’s not for everyone. You’d better have a bombproof moss slap, because there is a lot of it. The water clarity is marginal, and not good at all the last two miles of the float. Irrigation return is the primary culprit. Don’t count on a lot of dry fly fishing. So the main reason you would go down there is to find a little solitude and some nice sized fish. Spend most of your time on the upper 5 miles. I’d stay away from Mallards to Two Leggins.

The Baetis hatch is chugging along. The bugs seem to be coming off late, around 3:00 PM. In the bright sun, I’d fish a #18 CDC Sparkle Dun as your up fly, and a #20 Student on the end. Keep both flies powdered up and floating high. The Student imitates a stillborn, tipped-over dun, and this will often fool the selective fish. It works best if it’s right in the film, so don’t let it sink. Some of them will eat the bigger Sparkle Dun, but it makes a good “indicator fly” regardless.

Haven’t talked to many streamer fishing. The drifting moss is enough of a problem that you’ll probably want to concentrate on other techniques.

Remember, if you’re good, the fishing is good.

Josh Gerbert hooks a fish off this shallow-water shelf