The Bighorn River in south eastern Montana is waking up from a cold winter. Now I know that you can fish the river all year, but the classic dry fly, streamer, hopper, and caddis fun begins now. Water flows, temps, and hatches make the Bighorn great.
Currently the flows are slowly increasing and are near 8000 CFS. Water temps are still a bit cold at 43 degrees. Warmer water in the 50-degree range make for more active insect and fish activity. Soap Creek is the annual tributary responsible for cloudy water, but it has cleaned up and the visibility is 6-8 feet. This changes with the snowmelt and rain, but the cold water controlled release keeps the upper 3 miles in fairly good shape.
Fish are beginning to spread out and more rainbows are being caught. Even with the higher water, plenty of wading areas are available. The After-bay dam is flushing emerald shiners through the gates and these stunned fish are being munched by the posse of big fish that hang out there. Try stripping Zonker’s, Madonna’s, and Buggers.
Basic nymphing is still the ticket. Try using a double rig of #16-18 midge larva and a red or orange worm pattern. With warmer temperatures, the Baetis and midges should take off. A few warm days this spring have been amazing and displayed some of the best hatches in years. Hatches can last several hours so be prepared to tie a lot of knots, powder your bugs, and release fish carefully.
For more Montana Grant, visit his blog at www.montanagrantfishing.com.