Montana Fly Fishing
The Big Hole River

Big Hole River

The Big Hole River : Fly Fishing

Big Hole River : Squaw Creek to FAS to Wise River

Big Hole River
Photo Use Guidelines

This section of the Big Hole River in Montana runs for twenty-five miles and provides wonderful dry fly fishing for rainbow trout. Initially beginning in the north end of the Big Hole River Valley, the river takes a sharp turn east thirteen miles downstream from Squaw Creek and begins cutting slicing its way through the mountains. The mountains in this section are heavily forested. The riverbanks are primarily a combination of forests, agricultural fields and open meadows.

Access to the Big Hole River on this section is excellent. In addition to several designated fishing access sites, Montana Highway 43 closely parallels the river, providing for numerous unofficial access sights right off the road. The river also flows through a short stretch of BLM land on this section (the Upper Big Hole River SRMA), allowing for easy access. Camping is also not a problem. Numerous designated and unofficial sites exist both right along the river and up in the nearby mountains.

The Big Hole River has flatter water on this section than is found further downstream (which has lots of riffles, pocket water and some small rapids), making it an ideal place for dry fly fishing. The lack of whitewater, combined with a slower current, narrower width and shallower depth, also make this section of the Big Hole River a perfect place for wade fishing. For the angler who lacks a fly fishing boat, this stretch of the Big Hole River is the perfect place to fish.

Productive fishing on this section of the Big Hole River begins in March and April using large streamers thrown along the undercut banks, river obstructions and into the deeper holes. Wolly Buggers in large sizes also work very well in catching the larger rainbow trout, particularly when fished in the slower pockets of water found behind obstructions in the river, such as rocks and downed timber. Larger size flies (4-6) are recommended to avoid catching whitefish all day long (which are plentiful in the Bighole River) instead of rainbow trout.

Beginning in May, water conditions permitting due to the variable nature of spring run-off, this section of the Big Hole River becomes excellent for fly fishing using caddis fly imitations such as the X-Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis and the Tan Caddis, in smaller sizes of 14-18. Depending on weather and water conditions, a large caddis fly hatch occurs on the Bighole River around Mothers Day, providing excellent and almost non-stop fishing when the hatch occurs. However, caddis fly imitations work equally well for a number of weeks both before and after the hatch, providing a wonderful opportunity for fly-fishing with dry flies. Best of all, as this hatch comes off in May, the vast majority of tourists haven't arrived yet. As a result, fishing pressure during this hatch is low. Caddis fly hatches occur on the Big Hole River all the way through the middle of the summer, providing excellent fly fishing for dry fly anglers.

Big Hole River at Dickie Bridge
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Like all rivers in Montana, the Big Hole River can frequently be brown and swollen due to spring run-off in May. Should you arrive on the Big Hole River in May hoping to fly fish the caddis hatch, only to find it brown and swollen from spring run-off, consider taking the short drive down to the Beaverhead River, which runs clear all year long as its flows are controlled by Clark Canyon Dam. The Ruby River below Ruby Reservoir also provides another option as well.

June sees the primary event of the year on the Big Hole River - the Salmon Fly hatch. Usually by June, the Big Hole River has cleared up so that an angler shouldn't have to worry about arriving only to find a muddy, swollen river. Unfortunately, the crowds also arrive; so don't expect to find solitude on the Big Hole during the month of June.

Popular nymphs for the Salmon Fly hatch include Bitch Creek Nymphs, the Kaufmann's Stone and the Brooks Stone, in sizes 2-6. When nymph fishing during the Salmon Fly hatch, a popular method is to use a sink tip line, bouncing the nymphs along the bottom, particularly in the deeper holes and near obstructions. For the angler who hates fishing with nymph patterns, dry fly patterns for the Salmon Fly hatch such as the Sofa Pillow in sizes 12-16 also work well, although fishing the Salmon Fly hatch with dry flies will not catch as many larger trout as consistently when compared to using nymphs.

The month of July sees angler pressure fall somewhat as the Salmon Fly hatch generally comes to an end, although small hatches can still occasionally be found. During July, and lasting for the rest of the summer until the first frost, the Big Hole River in this section (as well as for the remainder of its length), becomes, not surprisingly, a prime river for using grasshopper imitations. With the numerous fields of grass and agricultural crops lining the riverbank, the Big Hole River picks up lots of hoppers and other terrestrials on a warm summer day, particularly if its windy. Any good grasshopper imitation works well, with the best sizes being between 4-8. Fish the hopper imitations right along the shore, occasionally tossing the hoppers out into the middle of the river where there is good habitat such as behind rocks and over any deep holes.

Finally, beginning in September, dry fly anglers will have the opportunity for more top water fishing using standard dry flies such as the Parachute Adams, as solid mayfly hatches occur on the Big Hole during the fall.

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