Montana Fly Fishing
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The Big Hole River
The Big Hole
River : Fly Fishing
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This stretch is considered the prime fishing stretch on the Big Hole River. The largest trout, particularly the brown trout, will be found on this section, due to higher fertility in the Big Hole River and better habitat. The best brown trout numbers will be found between Maiden Rock FAS and Salmon Fly FAS.
The character of the Big Hole River changes considerably from just upriver. For the first few miles below Wise River, the Bighole resembles that found further upstream. Soon, though, the Big Hole River enters a canyon stretch, which it remains in down to Divide FAS. The riverbanks change from forest and grass to rock and frequently small cliffs. An abandoned railroad bed follows the Big Hole on the north side of the river, allowing for lots of access points for wade anglers, although it can be a difficult scramble down to the river due to all the rocks and steep slopes. Montana Highway 43 also closely follows the Big Hole River on the south side, with several designated fishing access sites and a number of road sites also providing additional access.
Beginning in Divide, and running down to the Salmon Fly FAS in Melrose, the Big Hole River changes character, again. The river flows through a delightful mix of country, almost as if the river is unsure of whether it wants to leave the mountains behind. It varies between running through small valleys on its eastern edge to slicing through a number of canyons, with the mountains sometimes heavily forested and other times almost completely barren of vegetation - particularly as the river nears Melrose. Even the weather changes markedly between Wise River on this section of the Big Hole River, as it can be cold and rainy in Wise River while warm and sunny just a few short river miles downstream in Melrose. In short, the Big Hole River offers an exceptionally wide variety of geography between Wise River and Melrose.
And with such a wide variety in its geography and climate, the Big Hole River in this section has a wide variety of diverse fly fishing conditions. A couple of short whitewater stretches and riffle sections that are found between Jerry Creek FAS and Divide FAS round out the variety.
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Access to the Big Hole River between Divide and Salmon Fly is mixed. A number of designated fishing access sites are found, and the river does pass through a few short stretches of BLM lands that can provide additional access. However, as no road follows the Big Hole River in this stretch, access for the wade angler will be limited to the fishing access sites - which can create a lot of fishing pressure around these sites. As a result, the best fly fishing will be found either upstream or downstream from the designated fishing access sites.
The Big Hole River between Wise River and Divide is of moderate width, although it can be deep at times, allowing for good access for the wade angler to many of the prime fishing spots. Beginning at Divide FAS, however, the river widens up, which, combined with the limited access, creates some difficulty for the wade angler in reaching good fishing spots.
Spring fishing on this stretch of the Big Hole River is similar to that found upstream. Streamers and Wolly Buggers thrown in the deep holes, around the undercut banks and behind the rocks all produce results. Wolly Buggers and other attractor dry flies in larger sizes work well for the top water fisherman, just as they do further upstream.
As is found further upstream, excellent dry fly fishing begins during May with the caddis fly hatch that occurs around Mothers Day. Assuming the Big Hole River isn't blown out by high water, tremendous fishing for large rainbow trout and brown trout can be had on this section. Caddis fly imitations can be used with success on this section of the Big Hole, water conditions permitting, up through early July during a normal year.
June sees the Salmon Fly hatch, which is generally heavier on this section than is found further upstream. The hatch also will occur earlier here than above Wise River due to warmer temperatures.
Beginning in July and lasting through September, like found further upstream, grasshopper imitations become the popular fly of choice, in sizes 6-10. On cloudy days, excellent fly fishing can be had the entire day. However, on warm, sunny days in July and August, particularly downstream from Divide FAS, the best fishing will be found during the morning and later in the evening when the temperature is cooler.
And if you get tired of throwing hoppers around, caddis fly imitations such as the Elk Hair Caddis (sized 12-16) also work extremely well as the Big Hole River consistently has solid caddis hatches during the summer on this section. The best fly fishing using caddis fly imitations will once again be found earlier in the mornings and later in the evenings before sunset.
Additionally, if quality over quantity matters, consider tying on a large, weighted streamer on a sink tip line. Fish the streamers in the deep holes, around the many undercut banks or behind the rocks in the river. While not many fish will be caught this way, the largest fish on the Big Hole River do not often come to the surface to take standard dry flies. A popular fly for this demanding duty is the Wolly Bugger, preferably in larger sizes.
Finally, when nothing seems to come to the top, nymph fishing using popular patterns such as the Hare's Ear Nymph and the Prince Nymph (sizes 16-18) can work well for catching the rainbow trout.
Mayfly imitations, such as the Adams, work equally as well on this stretch of the Big Hole River during the fall as they do further upriver. Additionally, large streamers fished in the deep holes and along the undercut banks provide an excellent way to catch the large brown trout that are found between Maidenrock FAS and Salmon Fly FAS.
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