Bighorn River Fishing Report: State of the River Address July 1, 2010

Owning a fly shop is a little bit like being a farmer or rancher. Over the years, we’ve had to deal with drought, floods, fire, locusts (not a problem as far as we’re concerned), and our own version of cattle rustlers (those who wade on the spawning beds). Pestilence hasn’t been an issue yet, but at this point nothing would surprise us. Earlier this spring, we thought it was going to be a low-water year, as snowpack was well below normal. But Mother Nature had another idea, because late-season storm systems arrived and made up for lost time. And so we’ve experienced high river flows for the past two months. High flows are not necessarily bad—fish populations rise and fall with the water volume—but the extra water forces us to be one dimensional in our fishing strategy. Nymph fishing with lots of lead has been the name of the game.

Inflows at the head of Bighorn Lake are finally starting to come down, which means river flows will soon be reduced as well. The timing is good, as Pale Morning Dun (PMD) mayflies and hopper fishing should turn on in the next two weeks. We can expect PMD nymphs to be a major factor soon, and we hope that the trout will be eating the duns as well. I’ll post some pictures of preferred PMD and hopper patterns in the future. Of course, I don’t recommend you tie any yourself; you’re much better off buying them from Bighorn Trout Shop.

The lower river downstream of Bighorn Access has been fishing well. There is an inordinate number of “silver bullets” in this stretch. Silver bullets are silvery colored rainbow trout, usually in the 14” to 16” size range, who run and jump like steelhead. They are exciting to catch, and for some reason, the lower river produces a lot of these fish. This is not to say that brown trout aren’t a major factor downstream as well; some of the largest browns in the river are found in this section. If you want to avoid the boat traffic, you might try the Bighorn Access to Mallard’s Access float. Fish numbers don’t match the upper river, but the lack of angling pressure can make for a memorable experience.

As flows come down, the streamer fishing should turn on as well. If you can get out ahead of the boat pressure and pound the banks, you can catch some big fish. If you hit a cloudy day, you could have an epic day. Bighorn Buggers (brown & yellow) and grey Zonkers are top producers. Don’t fish anything lighter than 2X tippet, as strikes can be violent. I prefer to use 8 lb. Maxima, as it is strong and doesn’t twist.

Give us a call if we can book you a room or guide. We have days that we’re booked up in late July and mid-August, but there are plenty of openings available.