The Big Hole River, located in Southwestern Montana, is well known for its trophy size brown and rainbow trout. There is also a good population of cutthroat trout, brook trout, and grayling as well.
The diversity of this river provides excellent angling for people of all skill levels bringing them to the Big Hole from across the country year after year to fish this spectacular piece of water. There a few Special Regulations sections throughout the river.
A Little Bit About the Big Hole River
Starting upstream of the town of Wisdom, the Big Hole flows for over a hundred miles before meeting with the Beaverhead River near the town of Twin Bridges. The Wise River enters at the town of Wise River. Here the Big Hole is small and holds a good population of brook trout and grayling.
The river flows northeast over a gravel bottom through grass pastures with scattered riffles and slow pools. This stretch is best for wade fishermen with a three to five weight rod which is ideal for this portion of the river.
Guide Tip: It’s important to get the right flies and advise when tackling a river like the Big Hole. The folks at Sunrise Fly Shop call the Big Hole their “Home Water”. Places to go, equipment, flies and a lot more – Shortcut link to Sunrise Fly Shop
Farther down river the river transitions from wading to mostly drift boats and rafts. But with the bigger water comes bigger fish. Large brown trout and rainbows increase in populations and true trophies are a possibility.
1. Wise River Access – Start of Wadable Water
Below the town of Wise River, the Big Hole changes from a quiet meandering stream to a swift tumbling river with the influence of the Wise River. From the town of Wise River to the town of Divide, the Big Hole flows southeast and offers excellent fishing for rainbows and some brown trout.
The river cascades through canyon walls past large boulders creating beautiful pockets and seams for trout to hold. Access to the river from Wisdom to Divide can be gained via Route 43.
Parking along the road and taking a short hike down the bank will give access to anglers throughout this stretch. At the town of Divide the Big Hole turns south for approximately twenty miles to the town of Glen.
2. Divide Area Access – Bigger Water & Bigger Fish
The tiny town of Melrose falls between Divide and Glen, and is one of the more popular towns along the river. From Divide to Glen, most people choose to float the river although there are several access points where anglers can park and wade.
The river below Divide is big and moves swiftly past boulders and fallen trees. Big browns on the lower river are found in good numbers. Fishing large nymphs and streamers can be extremely effective on these trout that feed heavily during the season to fatten up for the following winter.
3. Glen Campground Access for Fly Fishing
Downstream from Glen the river turns northeast and flows for approximately another ten miles before meeting up with the Beaverhead River. Fishing the lower section below Glen is also very productive although access is a little harder to find. The Burma Road follows much of this section from Glen to Route 41.
Water flows on the Big Hole can vary greatly and making future arrangements is best done by researching what times of year the flows are usually optimal.
Why Fly Fish on the Big Hole?
The Big Hole provides the perfect balance between great fishing and still avoiding the crowds associated with some of the other rivers in Montana. Approximately 2 ½ hours from Bozeman Airport makes flying in and still fishing the same day possible.
The area is supported by a great fly shop – Sunrise Fly Shop with guides, flies and insider river intel. Lodging can be found in Melrose at Great Waters Inn and with the folks at Sunrise.
Guide Tip: Let’s not forget the fish! A grand slam is possible when fishing the Big Hole; Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout and Cutthroat are all possible. You’ve got to have the right flies in your fly box – Check out this article – Best Flies for Brown Trout
Favorite Flies for the Big Hole River
The salmon fly hatch usually occurs between late May and late June. This large stonefly hatch brings people from all over to fish for the large browns and rainbows that feed on these big morsels. Caddis is the mainstay for the rest of the dry fly season. Nymphs and streamers are the norm on the Big Hole during other periods of the year.
Big Hole River Hatch Chart
Have the right flies in your box can mean success or failure on the Big Hole. Some days a torn-up salmonfly with the dubbing stripped off will catch trout with a 4-foot leader.
Most day though it’s best to add stealth and a longer 5X leader. The Big Hole is known for prolific dry fly hatches so make sure your box is full.
|Fly Pattern and Size||Hatch Start||Hatch End|
|Stonefly size 8||June 5||July 4|
|Blue Wing Olive (BWO) size 16||March 15||May 15|
|Mother’s Day Caddis size 14||May 15||July 15|
|Salmon Flies size 4||June 15||July 15|
|Pale Morning Duns (PMD) size 16||July 1||August 1|
|Yellow Sally size 16||July 15||August 15|
|Grasshopper size 8||July 15||September 15|
|Moths size 14||August 1||September 1|
|Tricos size 18 and smaller||August 1||September 15|
Gear for The Big Hole
A standard dry fly setup is the formula. A 9 foot – 5 weight fly rod is prefect. I love using my 6-weight glass rod. It seems to loft the fly line well with my slower paced casting stroke. A matching weight forward floating fly line will fit the bill.
A quality reel with a reliable drag like the Lamson Liquid is perfect. I highly recommend this reel, great fit and finish and an awesome drag system. Here’s a short cut link to Amazon to check current prices. -> Lamson Liquid Fly Reel
A range of tapered leaders from 4X to 6X is needed. If it’s a little windy a 4X is good. I’ve been increasing my leader lengths from tapered 9 ft. up to 12 ft. tapered.
If you’re going to buy equipment for the Big Hole, I’ve fallen in love with the Sage Foundation Outfit. This combo comes with a quality Rod, Reel and Balanced Weight Forward Floating Fly Line. I can’t say enough good things about this combo. Don’t experiment for years figuring out a fly rod setup. Current prices and reviews on Amazon with this shortcut link – SAGE FOUNDATION FLY ROD OUTFIT
Guide Tip: Have plenty of dry fly floatant, dry fly fishing is the game on this river. With the high gradient flies will get water logged quickly. Read about how to help your flies float in this article. What is Fly Dressing / Floatant and How to Use it
Other Fly Fishing Resources for the Big Hole
- Find more fly fishing access locations with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks with this link – https://fwp.mt.gov/fish
- Get river data to figure out the best time to toss a fly on the Big Hole. The USGS website – https://waterdata.usgs.gov/monitoring-location/06026210/#parameterCode=00065&period=P7D
Getting to the Big Hole River
If you’re planning a trip to the Big Hole the nearest commercial airports are in Bozeman or Butte. Divide is approximately 30 miles from Butte and 90 miles from Bozeman. The Beaverhead, Jefferson, and several other rivers are nearby the Big Hole which give more fishing opportunities to the angler.
Fly Shops, Lodges and Guides
The Big Hole drains the Beaverhead National Forest with the river ultimately joining the Jefferson. What best is once in the valley you could fish an entire season and still feel like you would have more to explore.
Getting a fly shop and a guide is going to help make this memorable water even better.
- Sunrise Fly Shop and Lodge is a hub for the area. From Melrose you can drive along the river all the way to Wisdom. Turn outs and access points are scattered along the hole way.
Sunrise has the guides, lodging and equipment to make your trip perfect.
- Great Waters Inn is another option. Located on the river in a beautifully braided part of the river. Trees, structure and secluded pocket water just outside your door step. They offer lodging and guided trip packages
One More Cast to the Big Hole
A Montana trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Big Hole, it’s a little less crowded with less pressure mostly because it’s just far enough away from the “Big” cities. Additionally with over 90 miles of river its easy to get lost in relaxation.
BUT don’t limit your fly fishing to just the Big Hole, a bunch of water is in the state waiting to have a fly drifted on it. Find your Montana river in this article – Best Places to Fly Fish in Montana
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills – These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout – Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish – Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon – Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.