State of the Bighorn – Spring 2015

State of the Bighorn – Spring 2015

March 27, 2015 12:24 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

A spring assortment

While the midwest and northeast endured their second straight year of winter hardship, the weather in the northern Rockies the past few months have been more reminiscent of our typical spring weather in May.

This has presented us with a window of fly fishing opportunity that can only be compared to receiving free money. Air temperatures in the 60’s, water releases from the dam having already reached 40 degrees, Blue Winged Olives frequenting the upper 13 in mid-march have us feeling tingly all over.The only thing more surprising than the fortuitious conditions that have been bestowed upon us is the lack of anglers taking advantage of the bountiful conditions. Weekends have been busy with regional folks from Wyoming and Eastern Montana, but midweek has been a ghost town, leaving the water to a handful of local folks. Anglers that have made the early season trip to the Bighorn Valley have been handsomely rewarded.


Sinbad sticks a bank feeder

As we move into April we wonder if winter will ever return. For most of us we hope not. Based on current reservoir and snowpack levels we are already set up to have plenty of water throughout the season.  As it sits right now we are being told that water flows will remain under 4,000 cfs until May 1, which is perfectly ideal for great hatches through all of April.

Where flows will go after May 1 is anybody’s guess. April is a pivotal month – If we see average or below precipitation, expect flows to remain ideal for the rest of the season. A bounty of spring moisture could change everything. Do I see 10,000 cfs at any point this season, no. Do I potentially see 7k flowing from the bottom of Yellowtail Dam, maybe. Which frankly isn’t so bad.

Flows ultimately will depend on whether or not the “guy pulling the lever” for the Bureau of Reclamation manages the water based on a single entity(Bighorn Lake) or whether he manages it at the watershed level. If the watershed is looked at for what it is – a complex system of three reservoirs there is no reason that smart decisions cannot be made to manage flows downstream of Yellowtail Dam for the world class trout fishery that it is.

The good news is the water is gin clear and all the moss, aquatic vegetation, algae and pea green water that hampered our fishing most of last year for now has become a distant memory. The work on the turbines and gates that created these foul water conditions has been completed and we don’t expect to see water conditions like that repeated this year.


Bryan with an average rainbow

The early bought of spring weather has given us a great jump-start on the season. With emergences of both Midges and Blue Winged Olives already occurring daily, we expect emergences of both Midges and Blue Winged Olives to become only stronger providing us with the excellent spring dry fly fishing that we lacked early on last year.

Expect Midges to emerge in the late morning and again in the evening. As emergences become more dense expect to fish mating clusters, imitating them with Griffith’s Gnats and Twilight Midges. When clusters are not present fish single adult imitation such as Parachute Adams, Transitional Midges and Skittering Midges. In between surface activity expect to have productive nymph fishing with Midge larva and pupa. Bighorn Dips, Root Beer Midges, Zebra Midges and Red Larva have been top patterns.  A Firebead Ray Charles, Pink Soft Hackle Sow or Orange Scud as a point fly above your midge imitation will attract the attention of opportunistically feeding trout.

The Blue Winged Olive emergence is still in it’s infancy. Currently, the best hatches are from Three Mile to Bighorn Access. As water temp’s increase expect to the hatch to move into the first three miles of the river. Both immature and mature nymphs have been producing fish subsurface. Quill Nymphs, Juju Baetis, Wondernymphs and Killer Mays have been producing regularly. The fish are not very conditioned at this point when feeding on top. This is not to say that they are easy. Most of the time a size 18 imitation on 5X will get it done. For picky fish drop down to a size 20 on 6X. Sparkle Duns, Sipper Emergers, CDC Cripple, Dill’s BWO and Cripple Thor have been top producers.

With conditions ahead of schedule quite a few fish have already moved into the upper portions of the rivers runs and the riffles to feed. Be sure to fish a good piece of water from top to bottom and cycle through a variety of patterns to connect with the most fish. We are in that time of the year where one pattern will take a few fish in the run, then you will switch patterns and that will work for a few fish and so on. So work the water methodically before moving on. Calm water along the edges of the river and in flats are the best places to find risers.


Lone angler fishing Crow Beach

Dry fly and nymph fisherman are having the best fishing on the river right now. Streamer fisherman will have some good days and some that are far less productive. It seems to me that as the trout get in tune with the rhythm of the river’s insect emergences they get less grabby on the streamer. If you are looking for a good streamer bite you may be better served venturing to the lower river to try your hand from Bighorn Access to Mallard’s Landing Access. Frankly, the fish on the upper river are not very big right now and the few good sized fish(Over 20″) have been taken on the nymph. If I was going streamer fishing I certainly wouldn’t be without Aram’s Lil Kim on the end of my line.

As things change be certain we will update you as soon as possible. One thing we don’t have is a crystal ball and can’t predict what mother nature or the guy up at the Bureau is going to do with flows. What I do know is that the Bighorn River Alliance is doing everything they can to influence managers and policy makers on our behalf to ensure that the Bighorn River is managed as a world class fishery. I certainly wouldn’t be hesitating to come to the Bighorn because of un-fishable flows in 2015 as we expect to see great conditions and exceptional trout fishing.

Better yet, if possible I would get here in the next three weeks while great conditions and feeding trout will be sure to await your arrival.




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This post was written by Bighornangler

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