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Bighorn River Annual

fishing over lost trailLate 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.

pug mahones pcsAs 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!

bighorn countryWe 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.  bighorn riverNothing 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!

bighorn countryDay 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.

bighorn countryWe 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!

bighorn riverRemember 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.

bighorn ribeyesAfter 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.  JFbighorn country

 

Bighorn River Winter Trip

bighorn river fly fishing bitterroot river guidesCottonwood Camp here we come!  It’s been a long winter in the mountains of Montana, and those of us on the West side of the state have certainly seen our fair share of it.   With the first signs of the season’s thaw, a great crew of friends gather together on the Bighorn River in South Central Montana for our annual getaway.

bitterroot river guides on the bighornWe showed up on a Wednesday eve and planned to fish til Sunday morning, weather permitting.  Our temperatures were great the first two days, allowing for purple sequined sparkle shirts and big straw hats, and also providing easy fishing conditions.  The whole crew, seven of us total, found great easy fishing throughout the 3 to B stretch, even scoring Crow beach all to ourselves for a two hour throwdown.

DSum on the HornAs our trip drew down to the last couple days, the weather made a serious turn for the worse, with cold storms blowing in from the North.  Frozen guides were inevitable, stalling your casts every few minutes or so and forcing you to clean the ice off the entire length of the rod.  The fishing remained steady, so at least we stayed enthused through the punishment; and what the hell, we didn’t drive 400 miles to paint, as my brother John put it.

bighorn river in februaryOur last day about froze us out, but we hung in there.  Midday bonfires eased the 22 degree average we were putting up with; find your run, get a serious blaze on, and rotate between fishing and thawing.  As long as the fish kept taking our bugs we’d stay, knowing that the other alternative was to keep on chugging down the river into the bitter North, unprotected in the boats.  We finally beached at the Bighorn access one last time, and partied down one last evening at Cottonwood.  An early start sent us rolling back to western Montana, 400 miles to go and one degree Fahrenheit on the windshield.  Till next year my friends.

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2014 Season Openers

bighorn 053Here we go again!  Another December behind us and another ice off on the warmer rivers, the higher altitude streams still waiting many months to release their lock up from the long Montana winter.

Of course on the Bighorn, it’s game-on year round.  Some good folks and I made a February journey to these historic waters, hoping to find our first real fishing of the season that didn’t include ice augers and egg balls.  Cottonwood camp, right out of Fort Smith and five minutes from the three mile access, would be our home for a few days.

IMG_20140215_183414Drift boats in the water, mists rolled off the river as we started tossing articulated streamers, letting them sink a bit on clear tipped weighted 7wt lines before retrieving them in short strips.  Real quick, like the first run, we figured out why the Bighorn is so bad ass: fish are everywhere. Quick strip the shorelines, rip through the riffles, backdredge the insides and points, we even stuck a couple on dries: pretty much anywhere that could hold trout, held trout.  And this kept up for all three days!  Maybe we hit it good, maybe the fish gods smiled upon us, shithouse luck possibly, but the Bighorn treated the six of us foreigners pretty nice for a February fishing trip.

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