Welcome to Eye of the Guide

Part Eighty-three

Spring '03 Report The Bighorn River, Montana

By Bob Krumm, Sheridan, Wyoming

As you probably know, the areas that form the drainage system for the Bighorn River have been subjected to a prolonged drought. Snow pack has been below average for the past three years. The consequences of low snow pack are simple, less snow means less water in the river. Last year the flow was kept at 1500 cubic feet per second (CFS). (Normal minimum flows are 2,500 CFS). During the winter the flow was dropped to 1300 CFS. At present, the snow pack is near normal: most sites report 90 to 110 percent of normal. I am told that the summer flow will be at least 1500 CFS and possibly as high as 2000 CFS.

While average snow packs are heartening, it is only fair to point out that we need 165 percent of normal snow pack to get out of this drought cycle.

Low flows have caused a significant reduction in the number of catchable-sized trout in the river. Estimates are pegged at 800 brown trout and as many as 800 rainbow trout per mile for the upper river and 406 brown trout and 588 rainbow trout for the lower river. While the number of trout per mile has decreased markedly, the average size of the trout has increased markedly. The reason for the decrease in trout numbers is that little recruitment has occurred—the fry and fingerlings have had no refuge—they have had to live in the main river channel with the large trout. Most of the small trout have been eaten by the large trout in the main channel. For once, the brown trout have an adequate small fish forage base and have grown fat and sassy.

Last year the average number of trout caught per day per angler was around ten while the average length was close to 18 inches. One mitigating factor for the low number of trout landed was due to the high number of break offs. Experienced fly fishers averaged a fifty percent landing rate; inexperienced anglers land less than a third of the fish they hooked. . Many anglers caught a trout that was 20 inches or longer in a day's fishing. During the 2003 season, I am looking for the catch rate to remain the same while the average size will probably nudge upward.

Incidentally, I had a couple of days in September where my angler only caught six trout all day, but none were below 20 inches! The big ones got away on that day, too.

One sad note I have to cover is that my good friend, Gael Larr, died last October from the ravages of colon cancer. Gael added a lot of humor to the river and was always willing to help out. He had a tremendous love for youngsters and went out of his way to help them realize their dreams.

Ron Granneman, my hero and mentor, has informed me that constant back pain has caused him to retire. Ron has been the most knowledgeable, most savvy fly fishing guide on the Bighorn for twenty years. He will be summering in Ft. Smith and wintering in New Zealand from now on.

I look for a very good early season on the Bighorn. There should be excellent midge hatches from March through late June. As per usual, the best midge fishing is late in the afternoon when the mating midges descend onto the river. The midge clusters are easy pickings for the rising rainbows and browns.

I also predict that the blue-winged olive (Baetis) hatch will be quite heavy. With low flows the water will stay cold well into June so I predict the best blue-winged olive hatches will be mid-May through June.

The yellow Sallies weren't much of a hatch at all last year. I don't expect that 2003 will see the numbers as low as in 2002; therefore I predict that the yellow Sally hatch will be decent toward the later part of July into mid-August.

The black caddis hatch is always good so look for good hatches late July into September.

The tricos weren't that plentiful last year. This year there should be decent Trico hatches from early September through mid-October.

The big trout should be feeding heavily on bait fish this year so don't forget to bring your streamer outfit along—especially if you plan on fishing the Bighorn from mid-July through November.

I have updated my website, www.bluequillflycompany.com to include web addresses for the flow on the Bighorn River, snow pack, and weather forecast. I also have a section, Ask A Pro, where you can e-mail questions to me.

One of the most serious problems confronting fishing and hunting is the lack of recruitment of young persons into the ranks. In an effort to encourage parents to take their children fishing, I am going to reduce the rate I charge by $50.00 per day for anyone bringing a youngster younger than 16 years old.

Keep you flies dry and rod ready. ~ Bob Krumm

About Bob:

Bob Krumm is a first-class guide who specializes on fishing the Big Horn River in Montana, (and if there terrific fishing somewhere else he'll know about that too.) Bob has written several other fine articles for the Eye Of The Guides series. He is also a commericial fly tier who owns the Blue Quill Fly Company which will even do your custom tying! Bob is a Sponsor here! You can reach him at: 1-307-673-1505 or by email at: rkrumm@fiberpipe.net

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