The serenity of the Bighorn River awaits you. Yet even in this quiet, peaceful setting, at any moment the thrill of a catch could be a moment away. So, enjoy the calm. Enjoy the quiet. But have your wits about you—the fish are lying in wait.
Montana’s Bighorn River is considered by many to be the best blue ribbon trout fishery in the United States. With the completion of Yellowtail Dam in 1967, the Bighorn River has become a clear, cool tail-water fishery hosting 3000+ rainbow and brown trout per mile. The average trout caught on the Bighorn ranges from fourteen to twenty inches. With controlled water flows and over twenty-six miles of fishable river, guests are often surprised by the abundance and size of trout caught each day. Fly fishing the Bighorn River is a truly unforgettable experience.
The Bighorn River is a body of water that is legendary in the fly fishing world. Thirteen miles of unparalleled fishing opportunity awaits, stretching from the Yellowtail Dam in Fort Smith, bubbling along to the private boat launch at the Bighorn River Lodge. Prepare yourself for spectacular views of lands entrenched in American history. For a change of pace, fish the river below the Bighorn River Lodge and enjoy more secluded fishing opportunities. In the evenings, cast off the private launch area for the evening hatch, or try your luck on the BRL private bass ponds.
History of the Bighorn River
The headwaters of the Bighorn River are formed in the Wind River Range in Wyoming, Flowing southeast the Wind River exits the Wind River Basin then turns northeast near the town of Thermopolis at a point called “wedding to the waters” where it’s name officially changes to the Bighorn River. From there the river flows northeast feeding both the Boysen and Buffalo Bill reservoirs before emptying into the Bighorn Lake at the Montana and Wyoming border.
In 1965, the Yellowtail Dam was constructed at the mouth of the canyon, creating the Bighorn Reservoir. The purpose of the reservoir was to provide electric power, flood control and irrigation for the valley below.
Fort Smith, located directly below the dam, was built near the original site of Fort C.F. Smith, a military post that played a significant role in the history of the Bozeman Trail and frontier expansion.
Prior to the construction of the dam, the Bighorn River was primarily a warm water fishery as it exited the canyon. After the dam was completed, the fishery was radically altered, creating what has now become the only Blue Ribbon trout stream in southeastern Montana.
The Bighorn River is a fantastic tailwater fishery flowing through a valley filled with inspired scenery that is home to the Crow Indian Reservation. Several elements can be attributed to the development of this almost “magical” river, prolific with trout. At the heart of it all is the controlled temperature of the water.
Water flows from the Bighorn Reservoir into the river from a depth of around 500 feet. The water temperature remains a consistent 40-55’, ideal for trout. During the hot days of summer, the depth at which the water exits the dam helps keep the water cool. The water temperatures may rise into the lower 60’s at which time the trout move up into shallow riffles where the fastmoving water provides more oxygen and more food. During winter, the water may get cooler but because of the dam the river never freezes. In winter, fish find their way into slow, deep pools where they can conserve energy. The fish tend to stay in the deep pools waiting until water temperatures rise again in the spring. The uniqueness of the reservoir allows angler to fish the Bighorn year- round.
Nutrients are another essential ingredient for a successful trout population. The giant limestone and sandstone walls of the Bighorn Canyon add vital nutrients to the water as it flows through the immense 74 milelong reservoir. These nutrients promote prolific aquatic plant growth. The grass and algae, which occasionally proves frustrating to anglers, create habitat for aquatic invertebrates and insects which are essential food sources for trout and include midges, baetis, scuds and sowbugs. These are supplemented by grasshoppers and other terrestrials during the warmer months. Brown and Rainbow Trout are not the only fish to benefit from the ideal conditions of the river. Other game fish found in the Bighorn River include Mountain Whitefish and Goldeneye. Further downstream, the moderating effect of the dam diminishes, but not until it has created one of the most prolific tailwater fisheries in the world.
Nymph, Dry Fly and Streamer Fishing
The Bighorn River is well known for both its great nymph fishing and its incredible seasonal hatches. Whether you are a dry-fly purist that enjoys the thrill of hooking a big fish out of an active pod of feeding heads or a greenhorn that is learning the art of “setting the hook” for the first time, opportunities abound. For those who enjoy the art of casting a fly rod, streamer fishing can be a highly interactive experience. As seasons and water flows vary, fish adapt to their changing food supply; it is our guides’ passion to adapt their techniques to these shifting patterns and your expectations.
River Access and Fishing Opportunities
With limited access points and yet the freedom to walk the river bottom, the anglers at Bighorn River Lodge have the best of both worlds. We use drift boats to navigate and fish the river while allowing for the opportunity to stop and wade fish areas that have proven to hold a large number of feeding trout. The Bighorn River Lodge’s ideal location allows for angles to have maximum time on the river with your day concluding right at the Lodge itself.
Our small fly shop offers fly fishing necessities and outdoor clothing. We are proud to offer high quality rods and reels available for purchase in the shop. Rental rods and waders are also available for a nominal fee.
Contact Cheryl to book your trip.
Cheryl will answer your questions and customize your trip for the ultimate Montana fly fishing experience.
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