This has been a year unlike any that I can remember; the year of the dry fly it most certainly was. While the Bighorn River remains the most consistent river in the world year in and year out, every year it seems to offer a totally new dimension in which we can immerse ourselves as anglers. In 2010 it was unimaginable hopper fishing, last year it was mind blowing yellow sally and Pale Morning Dun emergences and this year it was a tan caddis hatch for the ages.
While excellent dry fly fishing has been a mainstay on the Bighorn, over the past few years the abundance and diversity of our insect emergences have been profound. In my opinion the quality of our dry fly fishing and the hatches that are synonymous with it, stems from the recent high water years we experienced on the Bighorn. Let me explain……The three years of high water in 2008, 2009 and 2010 has essentially cleansed the river and created optimum river conditions for aquatic insects to thrive. After nearly a decade of low water at or near minimum required flows with no large push of water each spring, the river bottom had silted in, choking out the bountiful aquatic life. While the densest of hatches survived and showed up in fish-able numbers during the low water years, what we lost was our aquatic diversity. After the three years of the high water that I mentioned above, the sediment that lay thick on the river bottom covering all the fine gravel where the insects are supposed to thrive was washed clean and flushed down river. With clean gravel and an oxygen rich river, the rivers more infrequent hatches have returned and thrived to un-paralleled proportions. The end result of all this has been extremely healthy and eager trout that provided anglers with un-imaginable angling opportunities.
With that out of the way I will break down the fishing of 2012 by the seasons. However take them loosely, as the behavior of the trout and the rivers insects didn’t follow their normal rhythm in 2012. The seasons seemed to have long periods of overlap which presented new opportunities to anglers throughout the season.
Spring came early to the Bighorn Valley in 2012. Excellent fishing was had in February and March this year, with the streamer fishing being especially good. We fished the lower river often during this time of the year with heavy streamer rods loaded with full sinking lines and some of our largest streamers. Flies with heavy amounts of flash were especially productive.
With water temperatures slightly ahead of schedule the fish got going on midges and Blue Winged Olives ahead of schedule. Great dry fly fishing was had throughout March and April on both midges and BWO’s. We fished our first excellent hatches of BWO’s in late March on the lower river, where temperatures can be significantly warmer than up near the dam. The river nymph fished as well as ever at this same time from March through April with midge and BWO imitations fished under indicators. Fishing was interrupted this spring when the river bumped from a flushing flow done for a hydrologic study caused excess amounts of nitrogen in the river. This excess amount of nitrogen caused irregular algae blooms which slightly hindered the anglers experience for a 3 week period from the end of May until early June.
By early summer the river was in great shape, with low flows and cold water it was ideal conditions for the angler. After an initial warm up in early spring, the water temp’s on the Bighorn remained in the upper 40’s well into the summer due to the minimal water releases that came from the bottom of the dam. While the river was choked full of pmd and yellow sally nymphs, the water temp’s were not yet warm enough for the surface emergences to start. For about a three week period the nymph fishing was awesome as the trout readily took nymphs fished along the bottom, even though we were not seeing adults in the air. Once the water temp’s reached the lower to mid-50’s, towards the end of July the aquatic life in the river exploded. Both the Pale Morning Dun and Yellow Sally emergences that were so abundant the previous year finally had showed up and created great fishing in 2012. The PMD’s hatched in sizes 14 & 16 and the sallies that came off were sizes 12 & 14. While the fishing created by these two hatches was spectacular, the tan caddis hatch was the main event in 2012. The tan Spotted Sedge Caddis emerged in sizes 14 & 16 during late mornings and throughout the afternoon. The pupa stage of the caddis life cycle was especially important during the hatch. Pupa patterns fished under an indicator or trailed behind a caddis adult imitation was highly effective throughout the hatch. Immense tan Caddis hatches emerged daily and the fish ate them with reckless abandon both on top and below the surface for months. While PMD’s, Sallies and Tan Caddis, were the main fair, excellent fishing was also had throughout the summer with black caddis and a Blue Winged Olive hatch that continued to come off well into August. We continually heard in the shop throughout the summer that anglers were having the best fishing they have ever had on the Bighorn. We tend to agree.
The Bighorn gave us the best fall river conditions that we have seen in a long time this year. The river remained free of floating grass and the clarity remained excellent. The excellent dry fly fishing of summer also continued seamlessly into fall, with the addition of tricos thrown into the mix. The trico hatch lasted well into NOVEMBER this year. We also fished to PMD duns and Sally adults well into September, and heavy hatches of Tan Caddis into October, much longer than ever expected. The trico hatch got good around mid-August with excellent emergences of duns right before dark and again in the early morning. Spinner falls occurred regularly starting at 9 am and sometimes going until 1pm in areas where the spent spinners collected. I often found myself and my clients fishing to rising fish that were eating both PMD spinners and trico spinners at the same time, which was simply heavenly fishing. Pseudos or miniature fall baetis became readily available to the fish by mid-September and brought fish up to the surface throughout November.
This year was certainly one that won’t soon be forgotten. If the dry fly fishing is half as good next year we are in for some great fishing. See you all next year and thank you to everyone who supported the Bighorn Angler in 2012.
This post was written by Bighornangler