High Water on the Bighorn…..What to Expect this Spring

High Water on the Bighorn…..What to Expect this Spring

April 10, 2014 6:16 pm Published by 4 Comments
Anglers Fishing the slow water on the Slow Inside of the Aquarium run

Anglers Fishing the slow water on the Slow Inside of the Aquarium run

It is official.  We are going to experience yet another high water year on the Bighorn river. While this may change the way we fish the river this year compared to a “normal year,” these sustained high water flows are beneficial to the overall health of the fishery, while still providing tremendous angling opportunity.

The most important benefit to sustained high water is that the river gets the opportunity to be “flushed” clean from the cumulative effect of the previous years’ sedimentation, making more clean gravel available for spawning by the trout and aquatic insects. This leads to higher spawning success rates and more prolific insect hatches in the future.

While these high flows may scare some anglers away – from a fishing standpoint, the Bighorn River still fishes very well at these higher flows. The anglers that are here are having excellent fishing.  The wade fishing is not as abundant at these flows and a boat becomes more advantageous.  Typically, with these higher flows we are using the boat to get to these productive wade fishing spots.  Below are a few tips for success in these high water conditions this spring:

Focus on slower water spots.  Trout cannot feed efficiently in fast moving currents. Look for slower water areas around islands, on the inside bends of the major runs and where runs begin to transition into slower pools. The fish are very concentrated in these areas. As the water warms trout will move into faster water. Currently, the water temp’s are in the upper 30’s. As the water reaches temperatures in the mid 40’s look for the fish to start to spread out more.  Trout will move into this faster water to take advantage of the increased abundance of emerging insects such as Baetis nymphs, midge pupa and larva.  To find this water, look for about walking speed or a bit slower pace of current and about 2 – 5 feet in depth.

Fish more weight/deeper rigs:  One of the advantages of this higher water is the lack of aquatic grass and moss in the river, no getting gunk on your flies after every drift. Getting your flies down the fish is the most important thing you need to keep in mind right now. Having a significant amount of weight is not a problem with the lack of aquatic vegetation. We typically will run on the light end of the spectrum – 1 BB shot, and on the heavier end – 2BB’s or two doulbe O size shot or 0 shot and a 2 size shot. Experiment with your weight setup more than your bugs, as this will typically make the biggest difference in the number of hookups you get.  Typical depth (from indicator to split shot) is 8 feet on the short end and 10 feet on the long.  Short leash tactics (4 feet) can work in the shallower flats and inside riffles.

Right now is a good time to experiment with fly pattern selection.  In the higher water, you can typically get away with fishing larger sized fly imitations, since the fish tend to feed a bit more opportunistically.  Also remember that more worms will appear in the nymph drift as flows increase.  Our typical spring midge and Baetis patterns are still very important, so do not over look those as you generally will get the majority of your fish on them. A few of our best high water spring patterns include the: orange scud, killerbug, san juan worm, ray charles, red midge larva, black zebra midge and the quill nymph.

It may take a bit of time to get used to the river at these flows, but remember there is still 7,000 trout per mile and the fish are feeding comfortably somewhere.  Once you find fish, stick with that spot and look for other spots like it. Change flies, add weight, adjust your leader length and fish this water thoroughly. Stick by the old adage, “don’t leave fish, to find fish.”

Estimation of Flows for the Bighorn River in 2014

Estimation of Flows for the Bighorn River in 2014

Anglers Parked on the Inside bend of Dag's Run

Anglers Parked on the Inside bend of Dag’s Run



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This post was written by Bighornangler


  • Sharptail says:

    Thanks for the great write up! I’ve been wondering what to expect this spring. Really good insight!

  • Scott Ferris says:

    On of the best articles on nymph fishing Springs deep fast flows.
    The exact same technique for the Beav. and the Mo.

  • Jim Allison says:

    My 1st time fishing the Bighorn river was last Saturday the 12th of April. I will admit I was a little nervous about the high water an not knowing what to expect.
    After the 1st 10 minutes in the water I had my 1st brown in the net. That continued all day. I caught 36 fish on my 1st time fishing the horn.
    Ok I am hooked and returning in May. I can say one thing that the Bighorn Angler hands down are the BEST… The go to guys and the accomadations were Awesome.
    Thank you again for making Wonderful Memories !
    Jim Allison
    Sturgis, SD

  • Mark says:

    Oh yeah … looking forward to our beginning of may trip with you guys!! Everyone is excited.

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