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Fly Fishing the Bighorn River in Montana

Updated on September 21, 2015
Carol Reed profile image

Carol graduated from Indian Hills C.C. with an AAS in H.I.T and an AA in Arts & Science. A Social Media Booster for Wine Diamonds Film.

Camping and fly fishing along the Bighorn.

Our trip began the day we left our little town in Iowa; pulling behind us our pop-up camper and headed for Montana, with one thing on our minds, fly fishing. Ok, for me, two thoughts bounced around in my head:

1. Learning how to fly fish: After all, this was my first exposure to this art of catching fish.

2. Bears: Yes, bears. Before our journey, we heard about a bear attack not far from where we were to set up camp along the Bighorn River in Montana.

Due to our late start in the day we drove north until the sun began to drop and then set up camp, still in Iowa but close to the South Dakota line. The campground was clean and in town. A few more lessons for me on making our bait. This is nothing more than a nifty craft project to fool our future trout.

Our early morning began with breakfast at the local restaurant not far from the campground and then fixing a flat tire on the camper in the parking lot before heading out on the highway again.

On our long venture, we broke up the trip listening to a book on tape. If my memory serves me correct, the name of the book was, The Road. Before we reached our destination we stopped in at Cabela’s hunting and fishing store to pick up two bear pepper sprays. My visions of bear, pepper spray and me, were more like the movie, Without a Paddle, when the men yelled to their friend, “…it won’t bother you if you get in the fetal position.” I lost count on how many times I prayed about things like, please don’t let me see any bears on this trip unless I’m in the jeep. Please, don’t allow me between a trout and a bear. And please don’t make me have to see if the “fetal position works.”

Bighorn River

A sign in Fort Smith, MT.
A sign in Fort Smith, MT. | Source

What a sign.

A sign that plays on words, we didn't stay at the Old Hookers Guest House but we did camp along the Bighorn River, at a place called, Cottonwood. The first night we spent creating our Hoppers for slow nymph fishing. We used Pheasant Tail to make some flies. I think the easiest seemed to be the nymphs.


A nice little place to camp.
A nice little place to camp. | Source


Nymphs are the young stage of water insects that live on the bottom of streams. When the nymphs grow up they float toward the top of the water and eventually grow wings and skim the top.

These homemade or store bought nymphs are tiny and are used to imitate the aquatic bugs, to bounce along the bottom of the river or lake to entice the fish up from the bottom or out from under deadwood in the streams. This form of fishing makes it difficult to catch your fish without snagging mud, branches, or brush if casting off the bank of the river. The more techniques one knows, the better the chances of catching the prey.

How to make a nymph for fly fishing.

Wading in the river.

Nothing like fighting with the current, slippery rocks and a fish.
Nothing like fighting with the current, slippery rocks and a fish. | Source

Balance & Grace

Balance and grace sometimes seemed impossible while wading out and over the slipper rocks at the same time the small rapid streams pushed at my ankles.

Some basic fly fishing information.

Bighorn River Etiquette
Some types of bait for Fly Fishing
Places Along the River
Wading Anglers have the "right of way" over Floaters.
Hot Fly Patterns: Olive Flash-back Pheasant Tail, Dead Grey Snobug
Last Chance / Bighorn Access
While traveling by boat, stay clear of the fishing lines along the banks.
Dry Flies: Para-Hopper & Hemingway Caddis
Carp Hole / Snake Bight
When passing another floater go downstream over 200 yards before returning and stay out of the other's drift line.
Streamers: Brown Wooley Bugger, Bighorn Bugger and Black Wolley Bugger
3- Mile Access
What do all of these things have in common? A great experience in fly fishing.

Terms in the world according to fly fishing.

Fly fishing Terms

Angler: Someone that fishes with hooks, rods, reels and line.

Fly tying kit: A kit filled with hooks, lines, fishing bait glue, sharp pair of scissors, needle nose pliers, and magnified glasses. Feathers and other material that looks like animal fur to make different types of artificial bait and much more.

Tandem Flies: This is two flies and provides better chances for a catch. Giving the fish a choice between the top which entices and the bottom which hooks the fish.

Catch and Release: Just what it says, catch the fish and return them to the waters.

Bighorn River: A fishing stream in Fort Smith, Montana.


What is your favorite sport to participate in?

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Fly fishing tips.

Fly fishing takes patients and determination. Spotting a school of fish or fish eating, isn’t impossible and with the perfect timing, positioning and accuracy catching a fish with a dry fly can be exciting. Standing downstream from the fish and with enough slack on the line to cast upstream permits the fly to drift freely over the hungry fish.

When wading in the streams and allowing the line to drift downstream, sometimes these tiny flies snag along the rocks. The speed of the water running over the rocks can be slow but during other times, fast like miniature rapids. Ruff waters create a difficultly of balancing and when wearing foot waders the pressure around the ankles can be annoying and painful the longer this squeezing occurs.

Don't spook the fish.

In the comment section at the bottom of this article tell me your technique to prevent spooking the fish; do you tend to position yourself upstream, downstream, or across from the fish? Which is your favorite location to fly fish from, floating along the river, wading in the water or casting from the banks of the stream?

Did you know, actor Henry Winkler, wrote the book, I've Never Met an Idiot on the River? I found this book to be inspirational because it explains some of his tribulations and achievements in his life. I could say he never met an idiot on the river because he never met me but I wouldn’t call myself an idiot, just a beginner that may never have a chance to fly fish again. I did enjoy it while it lasted.

Tour Guide

Showing us where all the school of fish are.
Showing us where all the school of fish are. | Source

This fish didn't steal my bait.

Fly fishing from the boat.
Fly fishing from the boat. | Source

A Fighting Fish

My personal preference for fly fishing is with a guide and on the guide’s boat verse the bank, wading or drifting on a raft, [in my case] that demanded the attention of air while floating down river. This is my top choice so far because this is the only way I caught fish while fly fishing. Maybe this is due to the fact the guides know what insect the fish had been eating and have the knowledge ahead of time, where the fish are feeding during a particular time of day and year. However, the man that provided this trip and wonderful experience for me had better luck wading and fishing off the banks.

Trout Stream in Montana

This sure isn't a fashion show but I wouldn't trade in the waders. They kept me warm and dry.
This sure isn't a fashion show but I wouldn't trade in the waders. They kept me warm and dry. | Source

Casting lines on a beautiful calm August day.

Outfitter Michael & Mike August 2010
Outfitter Michael & Mike August 2010 | Source

Fly Fish the Bighorn and tell me what you think.

Float the Bighorn with experienced outfitters for a successful journey.

Fly fishing supplies and food for the trip.
Fly fishing supplies and food for the trip. | Source

A List of Fishing Media

Fly Fishing Movies

* “A River Runs Through It,” 1992

* “Legends of the Fall”, 1994

* “The River Why,”2010


  • “Gray Ghost Murders”
  • “The Royal Wulff Murders”
  • “Why I Fly Fish”
  • “The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing”
  • “Fifty Places To Fly Fish Before You Die”
  • “Orvis Fly- Fishing Guide”
  • “The Fly-Tying Bible”
  • “Handbook Of Hatches”
  • “The River Runs Through It”
  • “Legends Of The Fall” (Trilogy of short stories)

Songs about Fishing

* “Honor Thy Fly”

* “I’m Goin’ Fishin’”

* “The Fishin’ Song”

* “Fishing in Heaven”

* “Fisherman”

* “Fisherman’s Song,” by Dolly Parton

* “The Trout Song”

* “Gone Fishin”

* " I’d Rather Be with you (than to be out Fishing)"

* “Cletus Take the Reel” by Tim Hawkins comical"

* “Catfish Rap”

Please, share your experiences of fly fishing.

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    • Carol Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Clarke Reed 

      4 years ago from Remote


      I tried my feet, butt, back, neck and face at skiing downhill, one time, over 25 years ago. I haven’t had the guts to try this sport again. As you can imagine, my first time I was doing fine on flat land and then found out the Bunny Hill was closed and the next hill was big enough that we had to take the ski-lift back up the hill so I thought I better take a fast class in how to turn, stop and anything else the instructor thought I should know. After the course, it was time to go down the Bunny Hill. I slid down a few feet and then wiped – out. I got back up and a little boy around the age of five zoomed past me. This didn't set well with my ego. I thought if he could do it so could I. Wrong. A tree seemed to be my target, although I didn't want it to be, I panicked and was on my face before I knew what happened but at least it wasn't the tree just the snow on the hill that met my face. Back up and ready to move down, wishing there was a better way to go back to the top than all the way down the hill and then the ski – lift. Needless to say, my body hit the ground a few more times before reaching my ride back to the top.

      “Make sure you jump off and away from the seat so it doesn't hit you from behind,” My husband had informed me a few seconds before we jumped off our transportation. The seat bumped me and I slid forward catching myself before falling.

      I left the ski resort without any broken bones but did manage to limp away with two black eyes, sore butt and backache along with whiplash. Kudos to your skiing sport. As for me, I didn't like my skis having more control in where I ended up.

    • Carol Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Clarke Reed 

      4 years ago from Remote

      What type of writing do you like to do?

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Loved your mention of the need for grace. I don't have that. At all.

      My favorite sport. I didn't used to have one. At all on that, too. But now I would say downhill skiing, which our family doesn't really do anymore, or hiking, which it took me years to love. My preferred activities, reading and writing, are rather unfortunately.

      Thanks for sharing your hubs with me.

    • Carol Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Clarke Reed 

      4 years ago from Remote

      Thank you very much for your comments. I have been fly fishing in Iowa and had a wonderful time but my amateur ways didn't have the same luck.

    • Tod Zechiel profile image

      Tod Zechiel 

      4 years ago from Florida, United States

      Yours is the first article that explains how physically demanding the sport is while wading rivers. More often than not you end up wet, cold, and tired. I'm with you, take the drift boat! Good job!

      Hey, don't limit yourself to trout fly fishing. The pesky bluegills and bass in Iowa will take fly just aggressively as a trout.

    • pctechgo profile image


      4 years ago from US

      Wow. Nice pictures, nice tips. Your so lucky to be in that area of the country. So spacious, vast, and natural looking...

    • Carol Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Clarke Reed 

      4 years ago from Remote

      I appreciate your comment and like most sports, this one is expensive but well worth pursuing. The satisfaction of making your own bait and then the gratification one receives from the outcome of catching a monstrous trout can be magnificent. I must say, on a personal note, when snagging and then losing my work was just not the same but I got over the frustrations and chalked them up as part of the game and learning experiences.

    • idevices profile image

      Abhishek Gupta 

      4 years ago from Kolkata

      It's a great article. I actually was looking for more information about fly fishing and then i found this here... I should tell you that its a great activity to try yourself out...

    • Carol Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Clarke Reed 

      4 years ago from Remote

      Thank you, Kincaid 72 for sharing your familiarity and love for fly fishing along with commenting that my article is excellent. I had as much enjoyment in sharing my story as I did living the experience along the beautiful and peaceful countryside of Montana, so I say again, thank- you.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Excellent article! Makes me want to get out on the stream! Feel the hit of a really big fish, the weight of it's fight. Not to mention the wonderful taste of fresh-caught rainbow trout!


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