Bighorn River: Summertime and happy faces

Flows are down, fish are up, and mid-summer fishing is in full swing.  First week of August is in the books and it’s brought lots of smiles to our guides and dry fly crowds.  The river isn’t packed side to side, top to bottom with rising fish all day, but they are where they should be and really good at times.  The trico hatch is strengthening in the mornings and and those that are rising will eat appropriately cast bugs.  In the afternoon it’s caddis, sometimes tan, mostly black, sometimes it’s the trico spinner, sometimes hoppers.  The fish haven’t seemed to key into certain bugs yet so have your arsenal, look at what’s on the water, try some different stuff, and have a blast.

The Bighorn is a tail water and the dry fly fishing can be technical.  You don’t necessarily need your A game right now as the fish up are kind of dumb at the moment eating larger bugs, but you can’t have your B- game either.  They won’t eat a fly dragging.  You’ll run into your spooky fish, but it’s not too bad yet.   As the season goes on so must the grade of your casting game.  The fish are bigger this year and bigger fish are generally smarter.  Single dries with a good reach cast will get it done.  Double dry fly rigs to rising fish will generally cause drag, even if you’re an accomplished fisherman or fisherwoman.  Avoid that approach to enhance your success.

Let’s break the fishing down by bug…


A few days ago I drove into Billings for a quick trip to town.  Pulled into the Costco parking lot and noticed many hoppers getting out of the way as I walked to the door.  Strange, never saw that before.  I continued to Hardin, pulled into the IGA and noticed considerably more hoppers with a couple inside the store.  Can’t recall the exact year we last saw hoppers in these numbers but it was somewhere around 2009.  Could it be our once per decade hopper year?  My truck grill says yes and the fish are keying in on them on certain days.  Don’t go out expecting 50 eats in mid-afternoon, but they are eating them really good somedays in the mid afternoon, ho-hum on other days.   Don’t forget to fish the shelves and riffle water.  They seem to be eating the peach just a little better than the pink.  Put your favorite ant pattern on the back, we recommend a smaller black glitter ant to double with the black caddis.  But you know, good chance you just end up cutting off that ant….


More or Less Hopper – Peach

Morrish – Pink

Parachute Hopper – Tan


It’s all about the black caddis right now.  Mostly black, sometimes tan caddis as tans are making their first mentionable appearance on our water in several years and the fish are eating them along with their fake, manmade counterparts.  Switch to caddis around 2pm for those single or small pods of risers and fish them to dark, evenings are real good.  If they are super picky try a trico spinner or something that resembles a pseudo emerger/spinner (small beatis patterns work just fine…..usually) Experiment with that beatis or rusty spinner in the evenings, WINK.

Head Guide John Sindland and Jimmy Rivello on Caddis


FLIES: Dills caddis, X-caddis 16-18, Bubbleback CDC, Elk hair CDC 16-18, CDC emergers

Poodle sniffers and olive pheasant tails for the afternoon nymph game




The Trico hatch is in it’s earliest stages right now and will be right on time this year peaking in late August/early September.  Yesterday for the first time they were out in force and so were the fish chasing them.  Get ready.  The last couple of years saw high water and warmed the river early, speeding up hatches so tricos were full swing by now.  Our cult trico following were rightfully confused, some showing up last week only to learn the hatch wasn’t going yet.  They were rewarded with solid hopper and black/tan caddis surface action.

FLIES: CDC dun, Hi Vis Parachute, Paraspinners/Hi Vis CDC spinners


Let’s face it, no one likes to fish a size 24 bug we can’t see.  The great thing about the pseudo is that it’s just another reason for a fish to start rising in warm summer months.  The fish are eating them right now up top, but we don’t recommend you try to match this hatch……at least yet.   Fish a smaller black caddis or ant pattern to them and a drag free drift usually gets it done.  If they get super picky and you can tell they are eating duns or spinners only, a size 20 lighter colored pattern should close the deal.

Nymphing is still very good in the right spots, turning on in the afternoon with the black caddis emergence.  Wire worms, big carpet bugs, big orange scuds 8-12, Ray Charles 16-18, the usual Bighorn fare complimented with the poodle sniffer and olive PT in the afternoons.  The nymphing moss slap is regular 8 miles down, but the last stretch still fishing well.

Get out there, relax, smoke a cigar….or don’t.  Drink a beer….or don’t.  But damn it, enjoy.  It’s fishing….