Montana Fly Fishing
The Big Hole River

Big Hole River

The Big Hole River : Fly Fishing

The Bighole River near Dickie Bridge
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The Big Hole River is a study in contrasts. Few rivers in Montana flow through such a wide variety of geographical features. This beautiful river begins high in the mountains of the Bitterroot Range. It soon tumbles down from the mountains and flows through the beautiful and massive Big Hole River Valley. This scenic valley is flanked by mountains on all sides and to many people defines what Montana is all about - big valleys, tall mountains and wide-open spaces.

The Big Hole River winds it way lazily through this valley before taking a sharp turn to the east and cutting through the mountains. Thick forests, rock cliffs and open agricultural fields provide a wonderful mix along the rivers shoreline and make for great fishing variety. Once the Big Hole River leaves the mountains, it spills out into a massive, sparsely populated arid valley where it continues on towards the confluence with the Beaverhead River near Twin Bridges.

The Big Hole River is nationally known as one of the premiere blue-ribbon trout waters in Montana - for good reason. The river is home to high numbers of large wild and brown trout. Excellent brook trout fishing is also found on its upper reaches. Strict fishing regulations on the river help maintain both the fly fishing quality as well as limit the use of the river to some extent, keeping fishing pressure at tolerable levels most of the year.

Access to the Big Hole River for most of its length is excellent. A combination of numerous designated fishing access sites and informal road access sites provide an angler with many choices on where to access the river. The Big Hole River also flows through an area rich in wildlife. It is not at all uncommon to see mule deer, moose and elk all along the river. Throw all of this together with the beautiful countryside the Big Hole River flows through and you have all the makings of a wonderful fly fishing trip.

Big Hole River : Origin to Squaw Creek Fishing Access

upper big hole river near wisdom
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This section of the Big Hole River is the most scenic stretch of the river, at least to me. Starting high in the mountains, the river, which is very narrow at this point, lazily twists and turns its way down into the stunning Big Hole River Valley. Once the river enters the valley, it continues to twist and turn with numerous braids and channels splitting the river up into a confusing network of small streams. The Big Hole River at this point is less of a river and more of a spring creek, as the river is very narrow and frequently closed in.

As the river winds its way north towards Wisdom, the Big Hole gradually picks up flows from feeder creeks and becomes both wider and deeper. Just north of Wisdom, the North Fork Big Hole river joins up, adding significant flows and width to the Big Hole.

The fly fishing on this stretch of the Big Hole River is primarily for brook trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and the native grayling (all grayling must be released). The brook trout can become very large in this section, often exceeding sixteen inches. Most of the rainbow trout and cutthroat trout in this section run on the small side, averaging less than twelve inches. When fly fishing on this portion of the Big Hole River, standard dry flies and attractor dry flies work very well, although casting at times can be a challenge due to the rivers narrow width and "closed in" environment. Later in the summer, smaller grasshopper imitations also catch fish consistently. The best fishing for brook trout will be found on the upper half of this river section while the best rainbow trout fishing will be found downstream from Wisdom.

Access to the Big Hole River in this section is good. Downstream from Skinner Lake the Big Hole River runs through National Forest lands for about seven miles. A forest road closely follows the river, allowing easy car access. Once the Big Hole River reaches the valley floor, access becomes a little spottier. While quite a few county road bridges cross the Big Hole River in the valley between Jackson and Wisdom, fences that rise right up to the bridge make getting into the river difficult. An angler will frequently be forced to climb these fences to get access, never a lot of fun when wearing waders and wading shoes! Between Wisdom and Squaw Creek, access is much more difficult, as the river passes through private property without any road bridge crossings.

Beware Mosquitoes

A word of warning is needed to any angler who will be visiting the upper Big Hole River for the first time. Mosquitoes are usually not a problem in most valley areas of Montana. However, the Big Hole River Valley is home to lots of these biting creatures. All of the standing water, coupled with being one of the wetter areas in Montana, combines to produce some vicious mosquitoes during a normal summer - especially in June and July. Usually by August either an early season frost (the Big Hole River Valley is probably the coldest spot in Montana outside of West Yellowstone) or the dryness of late summer will have scaled back the mosquito populations to tolerable levels. In other words, don't forget to bring the mosquito repellent if you will be visiting this portion of the Big Hole River in June or July.

If mosquitoes do chase you out of the valley, consider fleeing down to the Melrose/Glen area. There, due to the dryness of the area, mosquitoes are virtually non-existent - although you do have to watch out for rattlesnakes!

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