We just got back from Fort Smith. Fishing the Bighorn River. First float trip of the season. Flowing just over 3000cfs, the river looked different after the record flows of last summer. A few of the islands and gravel bars had significantly shifted, and water moved through some side channels where it hadn't for years. Three and a half days of floating the Horn in February, and we hear the streamer bite may be on??? Turn me on!
- Randy Hicks
The fish that I remember from previous trips to the Horn are fat bows and powerful browns averaging 16-18". This trip the fish seemed to be a bit smaller. Granted you could nymph up 50 in a day and 10 in a run sometimes, but they seemed to average closer to 12-14". Many of the browns were more snaky, having just come off the spawn. In the time that we were there, we only saw two fish that were at the 20" mark, both strong fat bows. They say that the fish in the Horn can grow as much as an inch a month. Come hopper season these guys will be more of what I am looking for.
Lot's of small fish. Maybe the river is in a cycle where the fish are a few inches smaller. Maybe the bigger fish were deep in winter runs. The bigger fish we did nymph up came off deep gravel bars with a stronger current. Still fun, but when the clouds started to push in, the streamer rods came out. The fish were active and willing to chase for sure. A slower jigging style of strip seemed to be best, but at times it didn't matter. Shallow banks with current, structure, or both seemed to be best for getting whacked. Some banks were better than others, and by day three we had it dialed. If you didn't keep moving and fish streamers for at least a few miles, you had to blow off some of the bottom just to get off before dark.
Top flies were no different than they had been any time in the past. Orange scuds, annelids, midge larvae in red to brown, and soft hackle sow bugs all worked well, and a grey ray took fish all day long. Every color of streamer worked, but when you can see what's going on, it is a lot more fun. So white was the color. It helps to time your strip so you get more hook ups, and you know exactly where to look to see every follow, sometimes two fish at once. One 3 mile section produced damn near forty fish, along with a double hook and land on a double streamer rig. Almost 35 inches of pure gold. The fish eating streamers were a little chunkier as well making everyone stripping happy.
The Bighorn isn't a terrible place to be in February. The weather can be brutal with wind, cold, snow, or any combination of the three, but the fish are on the feed so we go. Our weather went from beautiful to shitty over 4 days. The crowds this time of year aren't bad and one day we only saw one other boat on the river. Fish were eating good, and everybody had at least one feel-good day. The only thing that could have rounded it out would have been to take some fish on one of the dozens of CDC midge dries that we tied, but never tied on. The first trip of the year was great. Overall grade of A. Everything. The fishing, the food, the friends, and the Brown Palace. My only question now. Where next?
Big shout outs to table 14. They kept the boys in the kitchen howling all night. Lush Cup winner Mr. Jean-Jean. He ran away with it on day one putting up so many bonus points that he was uncatchable the rest of the trip. Marvelous Marv and his feathers that had us rolling all night. And finally the pipe smoking gentleman that had us smelling cherry vanilla for miles. Myself for eating the worm.