Fly Fishing the Bighorn River

When the Yellowtail Dam was constructed in 1965, it consequently made one of the best tailwater fisheries that you can find anywhere. The river is fed from penstocks which reside 150 feet below the surface of the Bighorn Lake. Flows usually fall between 2,000 and 5,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). This provides the consistency in temperature and volume of the water that you need for an optimal river ecosystem. The Bighorn River is known for its incredibly healthy plant and insect population which generates huge quantities of fish. Brown trout average about 15 inches, while rainbow trout average around 16 inches. Estimates of about 6,000 – 8,000 trout per mile make the Bighorn River an angler’s paradise.

The Bighorn River flows through a Crow Indian reservation and was closed to the general public in 1975. A Supreme Court decision reopened it in 1981. However, public access is limited to three points on the upper 13 miles of the river: Afterbay, 3 mile (Lind Ranch) and 13 mile (Bighorn Access). Fish can be caught from the boat at any area on the river but the boats are primarily used for transportation. Most anglers float to the best fishing spots on the river, then come ashore and wade fish. The Bighorn flows through an open and isolated landscape. Few trees are found in this region of Montana but the area surrounding the river has abundant foliage. There is a sparse cottonwood forest spanning the entire 13 mile stretch mixed in with small cliffs. The Pryor and Bighorn Mountains make a beautiful backdrop in the distance to the south and west. The Bighorn River experience is truly an anglers dream and it never disappoints!