Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Oct 05, 2015

"Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think."
Albert Einstein

Big Horn River in the spring

The Big Horn River in Montana deserves it world-wide reputation for excellence and each year angler's flock to this stream to enjoy the outstanding fishing offered. Some are simply overwhelmed by the number of trout that can be caught using nymphing rigs; some are looking for the complete challenge offered by the hatches regardless of the reason for the visit most anglers come away from the Big Horn having wonderful time and storing many memories and often making plans for a return visit.

In my opinion the Big Horn River is one of the finest fly fishing classrooms in the world where anglers can learn and expand their abilities through the ability to see the trout in the clear water and understand what works and what you shouldn't do and for those who are willing to spend a couple of days with a teaching guide the benefits are well worth the cost.

I will not discuss where to fish on the Big Horn as there are fish everywhere and the "favorite places" are well known to many who fish the river on a yearly basis. Furthermore, I have never been disappointed by any place that I have stopped to fish on the river.

Each month of the year brings its own hatches or opportunities with one food form or another to provide excellent opportunities for visiting angler.

For me a day of fishing the nymph rigs is fun and generally you sure can catch a whole lot of dandy brown trout and healthy rainbow trout but then I turn to stalking the flats looking trout that I can challenge and learn from.

For those who might be seeking some additional information on the Bighorn River, Yellowtail Dam was completed in December of 1967 and is named after Robert Yellowtail who was chairman of the Crow Tribe during the 1940's. It is interesting to note the Robert Yellowtail actually opposed the construction of the Dam.

From 1976 until September 1981 the Bighorn River was closed to uses by the general public due to legal issues between the Federal Government, the State of Montana and the Crow Nation. Since the opening of the river in September 1981 the reputation for excellent fishing opportunities has made the river world renown and the reputation is justly deserved.

Now that doesn't mean that the trout are always easy or that the angler always catches lots of fish. Like trout streams everywhere the Bighorn River also has its tough days where the anglers have to work extra hard and hope for a little luck to be successful.

I have been guiding on the Bighorn River since the fall of 1981 and it is one of my favorite rivers to both guide on and fish. Every year the Editor of Fly Angler's Online and I travel to the Bighorn during the month of May to fish the Baetis and Midge hatches and we have both shared some of our adventures from those outings with you.

Midge emergence on the Big Horn River

However September has always been my favorite time on the river with the Trico Spinner falls, the Tan and the Black Caddis hatches along with the Midges and the Psudo's and of course the excellent nymphing there always something for every type of fly fisher to enjoy.

Also I might mention that I always bring my ant imitations when fishing the Bighorn River during the summer or fall along with my hoppers as I have had some excellent fishing with both types of imitations during the month of September.

In one of the articles I read recently the author talked about guides who run their boats in circles and how annoying that behavior could be, well that method is not one that I employ while either fishing or guiding and yes it is strange but I will not allow strange behavior of a few to drive me off one of the finest trout streams in America.

I have seen rude behavior on the Big Horn River, but I have witnessed similar behavior on many different waters. I am always somewhat amused by how fly anglers want the perfect conditions where all of the anglers never crowd or indulge in rude or crass behavior. Those conditions may be found on the trout streams in heaven but here in the real world we unfortunately will encounter those unsavory individuals who act in ways that are not acceptable to polite anglers.

Big Horn River Brown Trout

Now, back to fishing on the Big Horn during September. The sheer number of insects available to the trout throughout the course of the day allows the angler to experiment with many different feeding styles and the configuration of the Big Horn River allows the angler to practice the craft of fly fishing on many different water types.

The Big Horn River offers the angler a unique chance to learn and to get a fish fix at the same time. Due to the richness of the river and high fish count in the river the angler can get a fish fix throughout the day and then spend time fishing various water types to visible feeding trout where you can see the trout and see what does and doesn't work.

Big Horn River Rainbow Trout

You may find Trico hatches and spinner falls, Pseudo hatches, Black Caddis Hatches, Tan Caddis Hatches, flights of flying Ants and Midge emergences to deal with at various times of the day. Also with the scuds, sowbugs and aquatic earthworms which the trout may be feeding upon along with the occasion hopper along with chance of enticing trout with mice or various streamers.

So as you can see there are many strategies which the angler may practice if the desire is there, too many the Big Horn River is just a river to go and chance of catching lots of fish without any thought of challenging themselves. The choice is yours however my clients choose to learn and at the same time they still catch lots of fish.

Therefore you could practice various nymphing methods; besides fishing a pair of nymphs and a strike indicator you might find a flat and practice your sight nymphing skill with very small indicators or no indicator at all.

You also could fish emerging caddis pupa and possibly practice your Leisenring lift during the mornings you might match your skills against the trout feeding on the Trico's spinner fall. Or in the late afternoon you might encounter encounter a flight of flying ants.

There are more methods than I can list that you might practice and master on the Big Horn River. So go fish learn from and enjoy one of America's finest trout streams. As Albert Einstein said, "Teach your mind to think," as you do you will be a more successful angler as you will learn from each encounter with the trout.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

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