Rock & Roll River: 15,000 cfs

The Bighorn River at 15,000 cfs (Red Cliffs)

Well, this river is rocking and rolling at 15,000 cfs but the fishing has been good. Fish continue to eat aquatic worms and sowbugs voraciously. The size of some of the sowbugs is impressive—large grey critters that would match up with a size 12 in some cases. Because of their gluttony, trout are still barfing up worms and sowbugs.

We’ve had some wild weather this spring. Last night there was a tornado warning for Bighorn County. Just west of Billings, a tornado actually touched down. Not big news for Kansas or Oklahoma, but Montana isn’t known for this sort of thing. We’ve always assumed that having to endure long, cold winters was our lot in life, and we could pass the nasty summer stuff on to our neighbors down south. I guess that’s no longer the case.

A number of people are calling and asking if the river is fishable. Yes, the river is fishable, and the fishing is quite good. That should be qualified with this statement: “If you use a guide.” The guides know how to keep the boat on the seams where the fish are holding; they know the correct amount of lead to use (a lot) and the right strike indicator; and they know what flies to use depending on what part of the river they are fishing. Using a guide can make a huge difference as to whether you view the quality of fishing as outstanding or lousy. The river is big and intimidating right now. Most of the fishing is boat fishing, although there are still some wade-fishing hotspots where the fish are congregated.

The standard setup has been a 12’ leader (to the lead) with a tippet of 2X to the first fly and 3X to the second. Two 3/0 shot will get the fly down along most seams. There are guides who are using more weight than this if they want to get down in a hurry. There are even those fishing the “Teton Rig” with a 3/8 oz. bell sinker on the bottom. Not a real pretty setup, but brutally effective. Trout often hook themselves as they take the nymphs and pull against the lead. Two-tone S.J. Worms on the top fly, with a grey Ray Charles sowbug on the bottom has been a standard rig. We sometimes vary the worm or sowbug flavor, and we tend to go slightly smaller when we’re bank fishing.

Currently, we do have some long-time clients who are not using a guide and have their own boat. They are doing very well, but they are experienced anglers and know how to read trout water. They are also experienced oarsmen, which is important for safety.

Those 8,000 fish per mile haven’t gone anywhere. They’re just a bit more challenging to get to.