By Montana Grant

Posted: June 27, 2019


The Bighorn River in Montana is famous for its trout fishing. Browns and rainbows can reach huge sizes and are great sport. Thanks to a cold-water release from the Yellowtail Dam, trout are a positive outcome. Many of the trout are nice sized and strong fighters.

The MT FWP recently completed a survey of the trout population in the 13-mile Special area. They found the Lowest numbers on record! 370 browns and 870 rainbows per mile. This is the lowest number since the first survey in 1992!

The last two springs have had high flows as a result of heavy snows and long winters. The biologists claim that the gravels and eggs from spawning fish have been disturbed and the reproduction is poor as a result.

Many fish counted were longer than 15 inches. The larger fish also displayed abundant hook scarring from poor Catch and Release techniques. The Bighorn experiences huge crowds of fishing pressure. The river can be fished without the need for trained guides that teach ethical Catch and Release. Sloppy release, excessive selfies, and selfish practices certainly have impacted this great fishery. These fish have become a commodity and not a resource that is respected.

Good guides teach good techniques, skills, and proper Catch and Release. Many of the fly fishermen that exploit the Bighorn are the cheapest, rudest, and most selfish fly fishermen I have ever met.

Many of the fish that are found in the river come through the dam at the after bay. The state stocks fish in the after bay for recreational fishing. The past few years have been impacted by Gov. Bullocks lack of funding for the state hatcheries. The money earmarked for fisheries was diverted to the general fund. Stocking was down significantly. The good news is that this year should be near normal funding.

I have rarely caught a small fish in the 13 miles manage section of river. Spawning is not what replenished this fishery. Small fish are food for big fish. Sadly, the fishing pressure has pounded this river. A good fisherman can still enjoy this fishery, but it is far from what it once was. As a guide that has fished this river during its Glory Days, I miss what was once an incredible fishery. 25-inch fish were common. My biggest was 32 ½ inch 12.5 lbs.!

The Madison River, like the Bighorn are being fished to death. Management is vital in order to maintain the quality of these resources. This is becoming a common problem with all our great western fisheries. Hopefully, a solution will preserve and protect these wonderful fisheries.

Respect the fish!

Montana Grant

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