Fishing is incredible right now and we’re expecting it to stay that way well into the spring season if not the entire year. Snow levels in the mountains are low, which means the river shouldn’t experience high flows for a long period of time. Low water means cold water that trout thrive in. It will also prevent the lake from getting stirred up and flushing silt into the river, which would cloud up the water. There are lots of scuds in the river right now. More than we’ve seen in a long time and a healthy scud population grows BIG fish. So far this winter season numerous 21+ inch trout have been caught. Mostly on streamers but a fair number on nymphs.
Photo by Erick Riethmiller (Guide on the Bighorn River)
In the past few years we’ve all been excited to fish the shiner minnow “hatch” in the spring. With the expected lower water flows, the shiner minnows won't be flushed over the dam. It’s not the end of the world and I’m sure it’s not the last time we’ll be able to fish them. Anglers will have to pull out the trusty spring favorites like the Pink Soft Hackle andthe Ray Charles, or maybe the Wonder Nymph. Whatever pattern you decide to tie it’s a safe bet to imitate a Scud, Sow Bug or a Baetis Nymph. After all it is the Bighorn River and some version of those three has always been a producer in the early season. The Bighorn River may have stumped a lot of people last year, but there is no new species of bug lurking in the rocks below. Stick with the classics this spring and you’ll be sure to have success.
The topography of the river has changed a lot in the last few years with the high water. The traditional trout spots have changed. Although you might be fishing classic patterns try to fish some non-traditional spots. The Bighorn River has always been famous for fishing it “inside out." This means fishing a boat line closer to shore and casting to a deep run or bucket closer to the center of the river that you would otherwise not be able to reach when wade fishing. The high water has carved out a lot of deep pockets closer to the banks that many anglers can reach standing on the bank.Be careful not overlook something that might be directly under your nose.
Photo by Eric Riethmiller (Guide on the Bighorn River)
Beginning at the end of March and continuing on to late spring the Blue Wing Olives will be hatching in force. In the high water years, the bugs still hatch, but it’s nearly impossible to fish them, because they are being swept away quickly and the river is essentially not wade fishable. If the snowfall remains to be minimal in the Bighorn River drainage the traditional Blue Wing Olive wade spots will be back in play. With any luck the same riffles and seam lines that held trout in the past will hold surface-feeding trout again. Dig out the dry fly rods and those trusty Baetis patterns and prepare for classic Bighorn River spring dry fly fishing.
The historical Bighorn River is back this spring. Low snow pack levels in the mountains should mean less high water this spring and summer. The average size trout folks have been catching this winter is up and the trout seem to be feeding aggressively.