I believe there was a song from the musical, Camelot, that ran somewhat
like this: "If ever I were to leave thee, it wouldn't be in springtime,
knowing you in springtime I'm bewitched by you so."
That could apply to the Bighorn River for any season, but spring is
especially so. Spring means a rebirth of the countryside, a time for life
to begin anew. Rainbows are spawning, brown trout fry are swimming up from
the gravels, migratory birds are arriving, geese are nesting, and pheasants
Spring means fields of wild flowers. Early arrivals include small,
inconspicuous flowers such as Hood's phlox, stork's bill, sagebrush
buttercups, Nutall's violets, and biscuit roots. As the season progresses,
the flowers become taller and showier, e.g., bluebells, penstemons, wild
flax, wild plum, currants, chokecherry, prairie smoke, and fringed
The insect hatches never really quit the Bighorn River, even in the middle
of the winter you will find midges hatching on the most bitter cold days.
As March rolls around and the air temperature warms, the midge hatches
begin to grow in numbers.
Though the trout feed on the emerging midges, usually only the smaller
fish feed on the solitary adult midges. It is not until later in the day
that the midges start clustering and the larger trout start feeding on the
tiny morsels. Sometimes the clusters can be the size of dimes or, even,
nickels; when that happens a springtime feeding frenzy starts.
Whenever appreciable midge clusters appear, trout of all sizes will be
looking up. The larger trout will congregate at the edge of a feed line
and pick off the clusters as they float by. It is not unusual to see
twenty to fifty trout ranging in size from 16 to 24 inches working on a
Usually a midge cluster pattern like a Griffith gnat, or a midge cluster
will work quite well. Another pattern, the dog pile, that my son, Clint,
invented really works. The pattern is simply a size 14 Griffith gnat with
four to six dun-colored CDCs tied in trude style. When there are plenty
of clusters, Clint will often fish two dog piles about six inches apart.
The two fly set up seems to draw more takes and is more visible to the
Of course, with the midge emergence there is great nymph fishing as well.
Many anglers use midge pupae patterns (size 18 or 20) doing long, dead
drifts, but allowing the nymph(s) to swing up at the end of the float.
Spring nymph fishing can yield an angler many trout in a day--from 10 to 50
or more--so try to set a catch and release limit of 15 or 20 and call it a
day. Maybe, after a good morning's nymph fishing you could relax for
awhile, enjoy the spring scenery, then head out for the late afternoon
midge cluster event.
As spring rolls on, the midge hatches keep getting better, but a larger
aquatic insect starts to make an appearance in mid-April. The Baetis
mayfly or blue-winged olive starts emerging then. While this small size 16
to 18 mayfly doesn't start appearing in appreciable numbers until late
April, the trout seem to feed on the emergers and adults as soon as they
The height of the Baetis hatch is mid to late May and is most pronounced
on cloudy days. It is on those days that anglers can have the dry fly
fishing time of their lives from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. or later.
There are many patterns that work well for the hatch such as the sparkle
dun, blue-winged olive, Baetis cripple, parachute Adams, and blue quill.
Most anglers use four or five weight rods with 10 to 12 foot leaders
tapered to 5X or 6X to fish dry flies on the Bighorn. While two or three
weight rods are acceptable, they don't have the power to cast into the wind
or subdue a trout quickly.
The nymph fishing prior to the Baetis hatch is usually very good. Small
gold-ribbed hare's ears in sizes 16 and 18 work well as do similar-sized
pheasant tail nymphs, Baetis nymphs, skinny Nelsons, and RS-2s. Make sure
to let the nymphs rise up at the bottom of the float! It seems that the
trout really like that movement to trigger a strike.
The Bighorn River is a tail water fishery. What that should mean to you
is that it takes a long time for the 70 mile long reservoir above the river
to warm up and cool down. The water temperatures will be 38 degrees until
late April or mid May. The temperature may not creep up to 45 degrees
until early June. Remember to bring good, capilene type long underwear and
neoprene waders. Boot-foot waders are much warmer than stocking foot
waders. Simms makes an excellent cold weather-cold water wader, the
Exstream which is five mil neoprene coupled with felt boot liners. It
makes cold water fishing very comfortable.
There are lots of effective nymph patterns that work in the spring time on
the Bighorn. Some of the aquatic invertebrates that are common to the
Bighorn year round are the sow bugs or cress bugs and the scud. I have
found that most any nymph that imitates the sow bug will catch fish year
around on the Bighorn.
The Bighorn does draw large numbers of anglers in late April through May,
so if you can't stand crowds come in mid-March to mid-April or try fishing
later in June.
Regardless of crowds, I think that whenever you find time to fish the
Bighorn, you will find that you certainly won't leave it in the springtime!
Good luck and happy angling.~ Bob Krumm*
*To read about Bighorn Guide Bob Krumm, check out
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