Bighorn River: 2010 Season Recap

Bighorn River: 2010 Season Recap

November 1, 2010 1:42 pm Published by

With November already here the guide season for the most part has come to an end here on the Bighorn. I have compiled a brief summary of this year’s fishing below. We will continue to post fishing reports and staff articles throughout the off season. Thanks again to everyone that fished with us this year and we look forward to seeing everyone in 2011.

2010 Season Recap: The Bugs Are Back!

If match the hatch dry fly fishing is your game the Bighorn was the place for you to be in 2010. After three years of drought free water conditions, the Bighorn was primed to give it up in a big way. The bug life exploded this year and the trout responded; affording the dry fly angler some of the best dry fly conditions imaginable. Midges, Blue-Winged Olives, yellow sallies, Pale Morning Duns, Black Caddis, tan caddis, Hoppers and Tricos gave both the trout and the angler an insatiable appetite from March thru October.


A mild late winter/early spring provided great conditions to take advantage of dense midge hatches. The trout keyed in on these tiny morsels daily and during the heaviest of emergences the trout fed almost all day on single adults and clusters. By mid April water temp’s came up enough to start seeing solid blue-winged olive emergences that co-existed nicely with the lingering midge hatches. After a mild late winter, some winter-like conditions decided to show up in early May. On May 6th we had about a foot of wet snow in Fort Smith. Luckily the cold May weather didn’t slow the fishing down any and the baetis hatch stuck around until mid-May when runoff began.


The river came up at a pretty slow pace this year. The Bureau of Reclamation began raising the water the second week of May and it was slowly bumped until it topped out at about 10,000 cfs in Mid-June. Oh yeah, so how about that nymph fishing? I live by the old adage take what the river gives you and during runoff this couldn’t be more true. Fishing big bobbers, split shot and double nymph rigs this time of year provides for some fantastic trout fishing. The other benefit of fishing during runoff is that after the river rises to around 7,000 cfs the river is pretty much un-wade able which keeps river traffic low and solitude high on this often busy river.

Hey Days of Summer

Bye the second week of July the river began to drop and drop in a hurry. With both ideal water temp’s and water conditions July quickly became a month I will never forget. As soon as the water receded the bug life flourished and match the hatch dry fly fishing was abundant on the Bighorn from top to bottom. Emergence of yellow sallies; Pale Morning Duns and had the river’s trout and its guide’s whipped into a frenzy on a daily basis. The trout keyed into every stage of these hatches including the emergent and spinner stages. In addition to the unexpected Sally and PMD hatches, the reliable black caddis fishing provided consistent action throughout the evening until dark.
As we moved into August the match the hatch fishing began to fade out and the hopper fishing really picked up. While not as intense as 2009, the hopper infestation of 2010 produced some great surface fishing. By the second week of August the river’s aquatic vegetation really grew by leaps and bounds due to high water temperatures and abundant nutrients in the water. A hopper-dropper rig became the go to method to consistently bringing trout to the net.

Late Summer Into Fall

With hoppers still going strong and pseudocleons in full swing the trico emergence took center stage by early September. The adult emergence coupled with the classic spinner falls kept the fish keyed into the this hatch throughout the morning into the early afternoon. By the time the trico hatch ended summer had moved into fall, the weeds in the river began to break up and the fish were as thick and healthy as I have ever seen them on the Bighorn.

The fall is a classic time to throw streamers on the Bighorn. Both the browns and rainbows were quite eager to chase a streamer throughout October that could be presented properly in the un-relentless flow of broken up weeds. At times it felt like you had a chase on almost every cast in certain areas of the river. The younger 10-14 inch fish seemed especially voracious this fall and is a good sign of our trout population for next year.

Our fishing this year was a true testament to the strength and resiliency of our rivers here in Montana. After nearly a decade of severe drought throughout the west, it only took three high water years to bring the Bighorn back and better than ever. 2010 saw an incredible rebound in our aquatic diversity and young fish recruitment that should play an important role in the overall enjoyment and success of the rivers anglers. There is nobody that could have predicted that the hatches would have been this diverse and intense this summer and I only hope to welcome them to the party in 2011. I can only predict more of the same for next year but the only way to really find out is to be there and see for ourselves.

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This post was written by Bighornangler

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