Wyoming and fly fishing are a perfect pair. While most anglers think of the western part of the state when it comes to fly fishing, the Bighorn Mountains in north central Wyoming should not be ignored! They’re home to hundreds of miles of high-quality trout water. The North Tongue River, a branch of the Tongue River, is perhaps the most productive of all the water in the Bighorns. It’s a picturesque fishery with all the perfect challenges you need for quality days on the water.
A Little Bit About the North Tongue River
The Tongue River begins in the Bighorn Mountains and flows Northeast for nearly 250 miles. It eventually flows into the Yellowstone River near Miles City, Montana. The “North Tongue” portion is around 10 miles long until it eventually connects with the South Tongue and they both create the Tongue River!
Easy Access off of State Highway 14
As you’re passing through the Bighorn Mountains, you only have a couple roads to travel! One of those is State Highway 14. The North Tongue flows along the highway and the Wyoming Fish and Game Department has created multiple access along it. This specific access point is a few miles west of the Bear Lake Lodge. Here, you’re going to find taller willow bushes, but several eddies and deep pools. The fishing is going to be technical, so make sure your casts are well-practiced, so you can be as accurate as possible.
Burgess Picnic Site
The Burgess Picnic Site is a perfect spot to begin your day of fishing. Located near the North Tongue Campground, you have a nice starting point with several miles of fishable water in both directions. If you head west along the river, you’ll find a nice amount of seclusion! The water is fairly calm with tight eddies and surprisingly deep water. Dry dropper patterns are your best bet through this section.
If you head east, you’ll find more boulders and pocket water. This is a fun part of the North Tongue to fish! Most anglers stick to the calmer water that the North Tongue provides, so you have a unique opportunity to fish in lightly pressured water. Walking along the banks is your best bet because wet wading can be a challenge in the faster moving water.
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.
Quiet Fishing Access off of Highway 14
As you drive along the river along Highway 14, you’ll be able to take a look at sections and determine whether or not you want to fish them. This section in the shadow of Hunt Mountain is a little lesser-known area that takes a small hike to reach from the road. Fishhook Creek enters the North Tongue here, so follow the creek down towards the river, and you’ll be okay.
There are multiple deep pools here that hold fish nearing 20 inches. They can be spooky due to the clear water, but with some effort, you’ll find that they’re willing to take your flies! Don’t be overly worried about running into anyone here. You may get another angler curious about whether or not you’re landing anything, but hiking up or downstream will give you more freedom.
Guide Pro Tip: I’ve got a listing of some tips for catching selective trout. Read all about it 👉 Fly Fishing Tactics to Catch Selective Trout
Why the North Tongue is Perfect for Fly Fishing?
The North Tongue is perfect for fly fishing because it’s all public, nestled deep in National Forest land and holds extremely large fish. It’s not uncommon to see fish over 20 inches in the deep pools and skinny water. The water is extremely cold, so the fish populations stay healthy.
Guide Pro Tip: Sometimes knowing the stocking numbers can give you a clue to where the trout populations. Most stocked trout are little 3 to 6 inchers but learning where can help. To help here’s a shortcut link the the Wyoming Fish Stocking Report
Continued stocking of brown and rainbow trout from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department ensures that the fishing is going to stay high quality for years to come.
You can camp along the river or stay at one of the lodges! It’s truly one of the most accessible rivers in the country.
What Stream Flow is Best for Fishing the North Tongue River
The water in the North Tongue River doesn’t flow very fast! Due to the smaller size of it, the runoff season can fill the river and make it unfishable, but the rest of the year is generally great! If possible, you want to fish this river at around 125 to 150 CFS. During a normal year, this is where it’s going to be for the summer and fall!
What Kind of Fish Can You Catch on the North Tongue River?
In the North Tongue, you’ll find beautiful populations for brown, rainbow and brook trout! The water temperature and conditions are able to sustain all of these fish. Rainbow and brown trout can grow over 20 inches!
Favorite Flies for the North Tongue River
Elk Hair Caddis – Size 20
The Caddis hatches on the North Tongue River are prevalent all summer long. Smaller Caddis are going to be more likely to attract fish. The hatches on the North Tongue are amazing to witness.
Blue Wing Olive – Size 20
Early in the season, you’ll find that Blue Winged Olives are what the trout want. Fishing these nymphs right before the hatch begins is your best bet. Use an indicator or fish it as the nymph on a dry-dropper rig!
Woolly Bugger – Size 6
If you want to use streamers on the North Tongue, they don’t need to be large! Small Woolly Buggers are easy to use in the deep pools on the North Tongue. Dead drift or swing them and you’ll be good to go.
Hatch Chart for the North Tongue River
|Fly Name||Size||Start Date||End Date|
|Blue Winged Olive||16-22||April 1||June 30|
|Brown Drake||10-14||July 1||August 31|
|Caddis Flies||16-22||April 1||October 31|
|Golden Stonefly||6-12||June 1||July 31|
|Green Drake||8-12||June 1||July 31|
|Little Yellow Stonefly||14-18||July 1||August 31|
|Midge||16-22||January 1||December 31|
|Pale Morning Dun||14-18||July 1||September 31|
|Trico||18-26||August 1||September 31|
|Terrestrials||8-12||July 1||September 15|
Fly Rod and Reel Setup for the North Tongue River
On the North Tongue, a 4-weight 8’6” rod is the perfect option. Make sure you pair the rod with a matching reel. You’ll want a floating fly line and only need a 3x or 4x leader! For tippet, 5x or 6x is necessary. The fish are spooky, so you need to stay out of the way!
Looking for the perfect fly rod combo for the Wyoming?
The Sage Foundation Fly Rod Combo comes with everything minus flies. The rod in made in the U.S.A. and comes with the typically lifetime warranty. The fast action allows you to cast in the windy conditions found along the Wyoming. Even better – when your buddies see you casting a Sage you’ll get the jealousy looks.
Guides and Fly Shops
- Fly Shop of the Bighorns is a fly shop in Sheridan, Wyoming. Located right at the base of the Bighorns, they’ll provide you with great information and trips to the North Tongue. It’s a full-service guide shop with equipment and guides!
- Rock Creek Anglers out of Buffalo, Wyoming is a perfect spot to visit for any information on fly fishing in the Bighorn Mountains.
Last Cast for the North Tongue River
The North Tongue River is a true hidden gem. There aren’t many of them left in the lower 48. The complete public access paired with massive fish make it a prime fly fishing destination.
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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