The Wyoming section of the Bighorn River is an absolutely beautiful and productive fishery that fly anglers too often overlook. While there are a few more hoops that anglers have to jump through to get to the truly productive part of the river, it’s well worth the effort.
You’ll have access to pristine waters with outstanding fish counts. Don’t just live near the Fort Smith, MT section of the river! Take a trip south and you’ll find yourself in a fly fishing heaven.
Wind River Canyon
The Wind River Canyon is a fly fishing haven. This portion of the canyon is at a location known as the “Wedding of the Waters”. This is where the Wind River turns into the Bighorn River.
This section is above a large section of riffles. This is a bit deeper section of water with less pocket action. With the deeper sections of the river, stick to the edges. Here, you’ll find what you’re looking for. The edges have small seams and large boulders that hold fish. No, you’re not out in the middle making majestic casts, but you’re picking your way up and down the shore giving yourself a chance to land fish.
Keep in mind, however, that much of the Wind River Canyon is on Crow Indian Reservation property. As a result, you’re going to have to get a special Crow Reservation license. It’s not overly complicated, and it’s going to give you access to some wonderful fly fishing.
Right in the heart of Thermopolis, you’re going to find some quality fishing. After the river leaves the canyon and flows north into Montana, you’re going to find a wide, free-flowing river with loads of fish. The waters in town can get fairly busy in the summer with tourists, but you’ll find that early spring is a great time to get on the water when the hatches truly get going.
Visit this section of the river in the mornings and the evenings! The water temperatures won’t be too warm at this point, but the further away you get away from the canyon, the warmer the temperatures are going to get. You have about 20 miles of water outside of the canyon that’s going to stay cool enough year-round for trout! After this, you’re dealing with more of a warm water fishery until you get to Bighorn Lake. After Bighorn Lake, you are going to be fishing the Montana portion of the river.
Stick to the town of Thermopolis and try your hand at dry fly fishing! You’ll be pleased with the action you receive. Both the brown and rainbow trout populations are equally impressive.
Why the Bighorn River is Perfect for Fly Fishing
The Bighorn River is perfect for fly fishing for a variety of reasons. First, you have a good amount of access to the Bighorn River. Yes, the canyon portion is owned by the Crow tribe, but you can purchase a fishing permit! A one-day permit is $40 and a 7-day permit is going to cost you $90. Also, remember, in Wyoming, private landowners own everything except the water! Pay close attention to the access before your visit!
Secondly, you have plenty of camping you can do along the river! Quite a bit of it is dispersed camping, but you’ll also find that there are plenty of designated campsites with all of the accommodations you might need. Also, the fish count in the Bighorn River is high.
Another reason the Bighorn River is great is the ability you have to float the river. Whether you’re floating down the Wind River Canyon or through the town of Thermopolis, you’re going to find that there are a few rapids and the majority of the water is free-flowing! You can do half-day or full-day trips!
One great option is from the Wedding of the Waters downstream 7 miles to the Eighth Street Bridge boat ramp in the town of Thermopolis. It’s a decent full-day float with all sorts of great fishing.
What Stream Flow is Best for Fishing the Bighorn River?
If possible, you’re going to want to fish the Bighorn River around 1500 fps near the town of Thermopolis. If you’re fishing the northern portion of Wyoming below the Bighorn Lake, you’ll find that 2000 to 4000 fps are going to work well.
What Kind of Fish Can You Catch on the Bighorn River?
On the Bighorn River, you’ll find brown trout and rainbow trout as well as a decent population of cutthroat trout. The fish in the Bighorn are all wild and are naturally reproducing. However, with the goal of having over 1,000 12-inch fish or larger per mile, stocking programs have recently had to occur.
16,000 rainbow trout and 8,000 cutthroat trout are stocked in the river near Thermopolis annually. This guarantees that more fish survive throughout the winter!
Favorite Flies for the Bighorn River
Parachute Adams- Size 20
The Parachute Adams is the ideal fly for the early dry fly season on the Bighorn River. Blue Winged Olives are a favorite for these fish, so a Parachute Adams can be your best friend. Anywhere you see a rise on the water, you make your cast to it. Fish won’t take long to hit the Parachute Adams!
Pheasant Tail Nymph- Size 18
The Pheasant Tail Nymph is another prime fly for the Bighorn River. You can fish this in a nymph rig or in a dry-dropper rig depending on the conditions and where the fish are feeding.
Woolly Bugger- Size 8
You can’t go wrong with a Woolly Bugger. Whether you’re fishing pocket water or through a pool, fish are going to hit these flies with reckless abandon!
Hatch Chart for the Bighorn River
|Fly Name||Size||Start Date||End Date|
|Midge||18||January 1||December 31|
|Spring Baetis||14||April 1||May 31|
|Yellow Sally||16||June 1||July 31|
|PMD||18||July 1||August 31|
|Caddis||18||August 1||October 31|
|Trico||18||August 15||October 1|
|Sow Bug||14||January 1||December 31|
|Scuds||14||January 1||December 31|
|Terrestrial||10||July 15||September 31|
|Leeches||6||January 1||December 31|
Fly Rod and Reel Setup for the Bighorn River
A 9-foot 5-weight with a floating line should be plenty for the Bighorn River. Make sure you purchase a matching reel to fit the size of your rod! For leaders and tippet, stick with a 0x or 1x leader for streamers and a 3x leader for nymphs and dries. For tippet, 4x or 5x should do well to not spook the fish.
The Perfect Fly Rod Combo for Wyoming
Orvis originated in the fly fishing business. The Orvis Clearwater Combo is perfectly balanced and comes with everything except flies. It’s so easy to cobble together an outfit that just doesn’t cast right. No worries with that using the Clearwater Fly Rod Combo.
Guides and Fly Shops
- Bighorn Guide Service– The Bighorn Guide Service is a full guide service in Thermopolis. Visit their website for more information!
- Wyoming Adventures– Wyoming Adventures is another guide service in the town of Thermopolis! They’re a great option for all of your fly fishing adventures.
Last Cast for the Bighorn River
The Bighorn River is beloved by fly anglers all over the west! Most hold a soft spot in their heart for this river. If you ever get a chance to visit these waters, you’ll not only appreciate the fish you catch but also the views you receive in the meantime!
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Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels