Montana Fly Fishing
The Big Hole River

Big Hole River

The Big Hole River : Overview

Big Hole River near Notch Botton
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The Big Hole River is one of the prettiest rivers in Montana. Beginning at Skinner Lake, which is tucked away in the Beaverhead Mountains near the Idaho border, the Big Hole River flows for 155 miles in Montana before emptying into the Jefferson River at Twin Bridges.

The countryside the river flows through is absolutely awesome. At its origin, towering mountains surround the river. It soon leaves the mountains and enters the beautiful Big Hole River Valley, where it slowly makes its way towards Wisdom.

For those who have never been to the Big Hole River Valley, a trip to this out of the way place is highly rewarding. This high elevation valley is very flat and quite large, even by Montana standards. Bordered by the Pioneer Mountains to the east and the Beaverhead Mountains to the west, the valley offers a picture postcard view of Montana.

The valley is quite isolated and sits at more than 6000 feet above sea level. Due to its elevation, the valley gets a fair amount of moisture by Montana standards and can get quite cold, even during the summer. The valley is primarily agricultural in nature, and produces more hay than anywhere else in Montana.

Big Hole River at Melrose
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For those travelers seeking services, don't expect to find many in the Big Hole River Valley. The largest town is Wisdom, which provides few services not directly related to fishing and ranching. Dillon, which is located sixty five miles to the southeast, and Anaconda, which is fifty miles north, provide the best source for supplies and services. Butte also is quite close - relatively speaking - if you are fishing on the lower part of the river, too.

After leaving the mountains, the river flows due north through the massive Big Hole Valley, picking up velocity and volume from the numerous feeder creeks that come spilling in from the high mountains. There are no official access sites to the river between Skinner Lake and Wisdom. However, numerous county roads cross the river, providing easy access for the wade angler and adequate access for floaters with small boats and inflatable rafts.

The river flows through the valley for more than sixty miles before it turns eastward where it enters a canyon. The Big Hole River picks up further velocity through this stretch and riffles become more frequent. A few small rapids also exist. The canyon is initially heavily forested on both sides of the river, but the forest lessens as the river travels further eastward and loses additional elevation. Access to the river in the canyon stretch is excellent. The Big Hole River is frequently bordered by federal land, and numerous official and unofficial access sites exist.

The canyon stretch of the Big Hole River continues for thirty miles, passing through the very small town of Wise River. The Big Hole then emerges from the canyon near the town of Divide, which is located along Interstate 15. From here, the river turns south and flows through primarily arid country, with cottonwood trees frequently lining its banks, to the town of Glen. The best access to the Big Hole River in this stretch is from the designated access sites, as the river frequently flows through private land.

After twenty-five miles, the river makes one final turn and begins to flow to the northeast, through very arid terrain, towards the confluence with the Jefferson River at Twin Bridges. There are only four designated access sites between Glen and Twin Bridges. However, a number of unofficial access sites exist just off the road that follows the Big Hole River.

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