We’d had the trip planned for a few months, and the date was fast approaching. When we’d booked it, we were expecting low, clear water and incredible hatches of March Browns and/or Mother’s Day caddis flies. If it was anything like 2010, the fishing would be incredible.
I picked Nick up at the Billings airport in the wake of a coming rain storm that would last for four days straight and dump more rain than this part of the state had seen for years. Not to mention that this was a cold rain – the temp topped out at about 44 degrees during the entire rain storm, and dumped a crazy amount of snow above 8,000 feet. So much for the weather. But he’d come to fish and I’d taken the time off, so there was nothing to do but fish. We picked up some extra rainwear and other gear from Cabela’s on the way out of town. That turned out to be a good decision.
Saturday started off good. It was sunny and mid 50′s, and there were bugs hatching on the river. Five different kinds of bugs. Funny thing was that the fish weren’t taking them. It was the first and only day of the year (thus far) that I would see the elusive Mother’s Day caddis. They didn’t last. I set Nick up with a nymph rig. He stood on the boat ramp at the fishing access site that nobody seems to fish, and started laying into them. I tried dries, but couldn’t get anybody to bite. Had to switch to nymphs. We each had double nymph rigs going, but the fish keyed in on just one bug, and it worked like magic. I think Nick landed about 8 fish (whitefish, brown, rainbow) within casting distance of the concrete boat ramp. Not bad for his first bit of fishing since last summer.
We were about to leave when I threw one last cast from the ramp and nailed a huge brown at the very tail end of my drift. Icing on the cake.
We headed upstream, but found that we should have just stayed where we were. Every single turnoff had a vehicle parked at it. It was Saturday, remember, and fishing weather hadn’t exactly been spectacular the past couple of weekends. We finally found a spot to fish and got out on the river just in time to get hit hard by a huge downpour. The rain that wouldn’t leave for four days had set in. I caught a couple of fish and then it started raining really hard, time to pack it up.
The next day we woke up to a steady rain. I think Nick brought all that eastern rain out here with him.
It turned out the rain from the previous night had started to muddy everything in the lower river and numerous tributaries. We spent a lot of time running around from one spot to the next, and ended up cleaning crap off of our flies more than anything else. We only caught a couple of fish and stayed out in the rain all day. Luckily we’re good natured.
The next day, we had to find a place to fish that wasn’t blown out. The steady rain kept on coming and filled the banks of most streams with muddy, unfishable water. After fishing in muddy water for a short time, we decided on a high elevation stretch of a local creek that usually stays clear this time of year. It worked out. We found some fishable pools and hammered a few nice fish in the pouring rain. It was fun. I hadn’t fished here before, so we probably spent too much time walking up the stream looking for the next great hole that never appeared, but we caught fish nonetheless, on a day where nobody else in the county was fishing.
Rainbow in the rain
Nice brown for a small stream
Tuesday we woke up to the all too familiar steady rain that made me feel like I was in another world. It just doesn’t happen like that here. A pond had formed on my front lawn that gave us a good guage on how hard the rain was coming down by monitoring how the raindrops hit the water surface. We spent some time deliberating. What to do? We’d toughed out the rain for a couple of days and had fun, but this was getting to be downright miserable.
The idea of floating the river came up. If we floated up high, the water should still be pretty clear. We could take the two man pontoon and spend the day out in the pouring rain. We talked about it for a while and were kind of on the fence for some time. We finally decided to heck with it, we might as well go. Better than sitting in the house all day.
That turned out to be one of the best fishing decisions I’ve ever made.
After getting a shuttle from my neighbor and launching the little boat, we floated to the first big hole and parked it. The water was high and just a tad off color. I probably needn’t mention it again, but the rain was coming down steady, as it had been for a couple of days now. We tied on San Juan worms, figuring the high water would have fish feeding on dislodged earthworms. Money.
What's she been eating?
We started fishing that hole and never wanted to stop. It was one fish after another, and they were all HUGE, for this river. Browns and rainbows everywhere. They were stacked up and feeding like crazy and we’d hit them at the right time with the right bug.
Same thing as this one.
There were plenty of photo-ops and high fives at that spot, and after a couple of hours there we’d finally caught most of the fish that were going to be caught. We floated to the next hole.
It was just like the previous hole, fish stacked up and feeding heavy. I’d catch a couple, think I had them pinpointed in one part of the pool, and turn around and catch one in another spot. It was some of the most fun fishing I’ve ever had. The best part was in the entire day of fishing, and probably 25-30 fish or more, we never caught a fish under about 14″. Not sure where else or when else you can experience something like that, but I won’t soon forget it.
It seemed like everything was coming together when sometime late in the afternoon the rain stopped. You heard right, it stopped raining! The clouds even started to lift and we could begin to see the bases of the mountains that would be blanketed with fresh snow.
We headed home for a nice dinner and to prepare for a float on the famous Bighorn River the following day.
After the rain
Up at 6:00 and into the truck we went, heading away from the beautiful snow-covered mountains and over to the Bighorn. I’d heard so much about this world famous river, but despite living within driving distance for several years, I’d never gone and tried it. I’ve got perfectly good fishing where I’m at, and much fewer anglers to contend with. But today the Bighorn was pretty much the only game in town, with most other streams blown out from the rain. This tailwater would stay clear for over 10 miles below the dam despite the rain. Plus, it would be a good time to say that we’d experienced the Bighorn.
Other boats in the good spots
We got into Fort Smith mid morning and arranged a shuttle. That’s when we got the wakeup call. The kid at the fly shop told us that it was a relatively quiet day, compared to a weekend, and we’d only see about 75-100 boats on the river. 75-100 boats!!! I was shocked. I’ve fished the Henry’s Fork in July before, and I thought that was disgusting!
Fishing the 'Horn, first timer!
Anyway, we battled the crowds, which was too bad, because there was a lot of good water that would have been nice to fish had there not been a driftboat or raft parked in it, with a couple dudes posted up in the holes. We did find some okay spots to fish, and caught a few nice ones, but nothing like home waters the day before. At least the weather was good.
This is why people fish here.
Nick landed a pretty brown trout that we taped at 18″. It was really a beautiful fish and a fierce fighter. He did a heck of a job getting it to the landing net, and it turned out to be the highlight of the day. I caught a couple of fish on dries, which was a nice change of pace. Overall, it was a good experience and I’m glad we fished it, but I won’t be going back soon.
The final day brought us back to home waters. The fishing wasn’t as dynamite as it had been two days before, but the weather was nice for a change, and we caught fish. It was a good way to finish the trip.
Last day rainbow
I brought Nick back to the airport with mixed feelings. The weather had sucked, but we had some really incredible fishing. We hadn’t had the amazing dry fly hatches I had hoped (and tied) for, but we found out just how much fish can key in on the right nymph. All in all, it was a good trip. I took a few days to catch up on other chores, and we got pounded with rain again. Now everything’s flooded. But I know that if I tough out the weather, there’s some dynamite fishing that can be had in a few places. Just have to make it happen.