Hook the Big One on Big Horn River
There are a lot of places to fish near Billings. And while there are many different species of fish for which you can angle, trout are the most popular. Nearly all the mountain lakes nearby are packed with them, the streams and rivers have them, as well as other species, too. There is one river nearby that is famous around the world for its trout. The Big Horn River attracts thousands of fishermen every summer. So many sportsmen flock to it that the place becomes packed and almost un-fishable. But the river stays open all year long; as the weather turns colder, the crowds disappear and the fish get hungrier.
A few months ago I wrote about Big Horn Lake. The river flows north from Wyoming, through the mountains and collects in Big Horn Lake. The flow to the lower part of the river is regulated at the dam, and because the reservoir is so deep, the water remains at a fairly constant temperature all year round. This means it stays cool in the summer (trout hate warm water), and it stays warmer (relative to the air and surrounding waters) during the winter. While the spring and summer are great for fishing the Big Horn, the real fishing starts after the air temperature drops to near freezing or lower.
If you do plan a trip to The Horn in the winter, make sure you have a good pair of waders. It is important for your safety that you stay dry. If not, hypothermia can come on quickly. While the water will not freeze until it gets quite a ways downstream and cools down considerably, it is still very cold. After it leaves the river, such as the little bit that splashes up on your coat and gets on your rod and line, it will freeze. So be careful and don’t get wet. While the cold temperatures mean added risks to the angler, they mean added risks to the fish as well. The bugs have laid their eggs and died off, and the plant life has diminished considerably. This means fish are hungry. They need food, and when a fisherman throws something that looks like a tasty bug their way, they are sure to bite.
Fishing the Big Horn comes with certain rules that do not apply to many other fishing spots. For instance, if you are downstream of the Afterbay Dam, you cannot use live bait. Flies and lures only, no worms or minnows allowed. When you get to The Horn, make sure you buy a permit. There is a permit kiosk , near Fort Smith and only costs a few dollars. The regular rules for fishing apply, you can keep a few trout, both brown trout and rainbow trout, but most people prefer to fish this locale with a catch and release method.
If you want to try luck on the Big Horn; go to Hardin and then head south on Highway 313. When you get to Fort Smith (here’s a map of Fort Smith) you will see signs pointing you to the permit kiosk . There is a small convenience store in town, so if you need any directions you can always ask. While there are no specific hours the river is open, it is smartest to only be fishing during the daylight hours. Make sure you pack enough warm clothes, and it is best to bring an emergency kit in case you fall in. Weather in Montana can be fickle, be prepared for the worst. As always, get out there and have fun.