The Bighorn River is a tailwater river that starts in Wyoming and heads into the Bighorn Lake and then in the Yellowtail Afterbay. The Bighorn ends up going into the Yellowstone River below Billings. Once in this afterbay the water is than released into the river via the bottom of the lake to ensure that the water going into the river is cold and highly oxygenated. This creates a very healthy environment for trout as well as bug life on the river. Although delayed, because of the cooler water temps, hatches on the Bighorn are prolific and highly sought after by anglers. It isn’t uncommon to see water temperatures in the high 40s in the heat of July in the high 90’s or 100’s.
As the Bighorn River is a tailwater it fishes different then what you may be used to on a freestone. Long leaders and small flies are essential on this kind of fishery. Fish aren’t on their normal lies either, fishing 20 feet off the drop off or, for the most part, in the middle of the river is usually a good bet.
The Hopper fishing is epic on the Bighorn River at times of the year if you can hit it right!
The part we like most about the Bighorn River is the size and numbers of fish. It isn’t uncommon to land many fish in the 20″+ range on this river. The part I like the least on this river is the amount of boats and the amount of access. Afterbay, 3 Mile, and Bighorn (A,3,B) are the main access points on the river and we rarely stray from that. Also, the amount of boats. It isn’t uncommon to see upwards of 40-60 boats on a given day. Yes, it is very popular, but every boat is catching fish of this size and quantity. This is NOT a remote part of Montana but it is a fantastic fishery that can accomodate this kind of pressure.
For us at the Montana Fly Fishing Lodge it is good to get away for a day and fish here. I would definitely recommend at least one of your days here if you are fishing with us. That being said, if you are looking to get away from people and find a remote part of Montana I would not recommend the Bighorn River.
Check out the Yellowstone River here.
See what our lodge has to say about the Bighorn here.