Drift Boating The Big Horn

Five of us went to the Big Horn, just north of Wyoming in Montana, and fished the river for thirteen miles down stream of Fort Smith.  The first day I waded the river while the others fished with guides.  The second two days we all fished from two drift boats without guides.  This was my first trip to the Big Horn.

Big Horn Rainbow

The river ran at 2400 cfs, which is low.  Fishing started at 7 or 8am, but catching started at 9am and slowed down at 2pm.  Gray and white sow bugs (Ray Charles), Pheasant Tails, and Rainbow Warriors where the fishes fly of choice.  They had to be fished on the bottom, in the current, and preferably at the very head of a hole.  Fish were in the fast moving slick water above holes and along the banks, but bottom grass made these spots hard to fish.

In contrast to the Gray Reef in Wyoming, the Big Horn is a float and stop river.  We fished from the boat until a good spot was sited, then we landed and fished from shore.  Almost all of my fish were caught while wading, and most of Mikes were caught from the boat — what’s with that?  Montana is a fishing friendly state where the river is public within the normal high water lines.  In Wyoming and Colorado a fisherman can’t touch private land or river bottom.  That’s why the Reef is a float through river.

Big Horn BrownBig Horn Rainbows and Browns are mostly 14 to 18 inches, or 10 inches.  It’s good that there is a smaller class, or the river would have no future.  These fish are heavy for their length and strong fighters.  The Rainbows may go up or down stream, or in the air.  I even had a Brown jump and tail-walk, very unusual.  By the way, I landed about fifteen fish a day with roughly one third being 10 inchers.  I found it necessary change both weight and indicator position to stay on the bottom in differing water.  Find the fish, stay on the bottom, and fly selection were the orders of the day.

Nymphs were the money fly, but Darrel and Bruce came upon a very local PMD hatch.  For a short time they were catching fish on drys.  Bruce also had good luck with streamers in the afternoon.  I’m looking forward to a streamer fishing lesson.

This trip was also my first experience rowing a drift boat.  I did fine, even through the Big Horn Rapid.  It’s all about positioning and control.  The rower must place the fisherman in position to fish the best run, and then control the boat so that he achieves a good presentation (drift) through the run.  Running the rapids required picking a good path and keeping the boat from turning sideways. It’s good to miss rocks too.

Now the hilarious event, I wish I could have seen it from the shore.  I rowed Mike to fast slick water along a tree covered bank and said, “The fish are there, make the cast.”  He did and hooked a good fish.  I soon realized that if I couldn’t anchor the boat, he would have to play the fish through the upcoming rapid.  I rowed to the least current and dropped the anchor.  It didn’t hold.  We went through the rapid, not white water, dragging the anchor and Mike’s fish.  My plan was to row out of the current, but the anchor was dragging and the fish was under the left oar.   I had only one oar in the water.  Somehow Mike landed the fish, I was able to raise the anchor, and get us ashore.  Don’t do that unless you want to look like a novice.

I’ll go back to the Big Horn, it’s a great fishery and fun to fish.

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