Late in a long Montana winter we start thinking about spring and the moment we can finally put the skis up for fly rods again. Actually though, junkies such as ourselves never take the rods off the dash to begin with, except those damn speys don’t fit up there, or anywhere for that matter, as we swing for steelhead all winter. So as late February turns to March and I’m already fielding Skwala Q and A’s, trout it is once again and away with the speys as our guide season approaches.
As with the last two years, after a ceremonial stop for the world’s finest pork chop sandwich at Pug Mahon’s in Billings on the road trip there, we kicked our season opener off with bang on the Bighorn River in south central Montana, famous for its high trout numbers and solid fishing. Good friend Trent organized our crew of miscreants, setting us up in a sweet little ranch house just up from the Bighorn access this year, rather than the quadra-wide at Cottonwood Camp from last year. Evening tunes, ribeyes, a few cribbage battles, and lots of laughs and BS greeted us every night we rolled off the river: great times!
We fished three days on the Horn, covering every mile from Three Mile access down to Two Leggins, nearly thirty miles of river. Day one is the let’s not get our asses kicked and go where we know it’s good day, so Three Mile to Bighorn was the play. It’s a lovely sight to see only a few boat trailers in the 3 mile lot at 9am, and we essentially had that section to ourselves, plenty of water to go around. Right away the fish were happy, rising steadily to a midge hatch rolling off and eating the dry fly quite well. Nothing big but what the hell, dry flies in February is music to anyone’s ears. Eventually G-gnat dries gave way to sow bugs and san juans on the bobber, and we found fish in all the right places. The streamer game played well in the morning and decent throughout the day, but often after watching fly rod rookie Dan put on a nymphing clinic up front with Chris rowing him, I switched out to the orange orb as well to get in on the action. Lots and lots of fish in this river if one knows where to look and what they like eat!
Day two, different story. Bighorn down to Mallards is another beast altogether with water types a little flatter than the upper glory water and not as many definite fish holding runs. We found enough fish to occupy us in beteween our water thrashing, searching for the thousands of fish you know live in that river, but definitely got spoiled on day one finding fish everywhere. But that’s what you get for a bright and beautiful almost 60 degree bluebird day in February, your ass kicked. Dan even got to bust out the sparkle shirt. Funny how it works that way with fishing. Pray for the worst possible stuff you can handle, minus the lightning.
We definitely got the weather on Day three, dark low clouds rolling into the area and rain predicted, so our group split up on river sections. Not wanting a repeat of yesterday, one boat went back to the holy waters up top, and I don’t blame them a bit, and the rest of us went Lewis and Clarking down to Two Leggins from Mallards. Armed with streamer rods and plenty of provisions, mostly beer, we set out hopeful with the good cloud cover and dark skies. And we were rewarded for our gamble right away, hooking up in the first couple of runs on good sized fish. As the day progressed, the bite got better with fish absolutely crushing our bugs. I had one fish Jackie Chan my streamer, coming a foot out of the water in a brown trout kung fu move, then come back to eat it hard on the return cast and hooking up. Nothing like a good streamer brown trout attack!
Remember that part about pray for the worst possible stuff you can handle? I forgot to mention it gets a bit windy sometimes on the Horn. As all good things must come to an end, our perfect fishing weather finally did as well, changing from a gentle breeze down river to a howling gale coming upstream in our faces. Thankfully we had a smoking good day with lots of good fish, so we knew we deserved some penance for our glories, plus we kinda knew where we were in the float, nearing the takeout. Gotta take those lumps out there every now and again. Hoods up and sterns downstream we battled it out til we finally arrived at the ramp with light to spare.
After one last night of cocktails and camaraderie, our group packed up and said goodbye to each other and Bighorn country. New and old friendships were kindled on this trip, as many of us were strangers to one another three days ago. Half of our group headed for the hills from whence they came, while the other half decided to squeeze in a quick run on the Yellowstone on the way back. If your gonna drive over a hundred miles paralleling world famous trout water on the interstate, salivating on the steering wheel and swerving with the fish eyes going on, might as well check it out, eh? And yeah, it was good! I’ll keep that story to myself, no kiss and tell on freestones! Hope to see all of you again next time. JF