Thursday, April 17, 2008 – Bighorn River, Ft. Smith, MT
Flows around 1,920 cfs, water was clear. Wade fished 3-Mile access. Weather was mild – close to 50 degrees, not much wind – mostly sunny.
Left my house around 3:30 am en route to pick up the boys. Met Nate at his house around 4am, packed his gear and headed to Chad's. Picked up Chad and Matt at around 4:30 am and we were on the road. The trip went very smoothly – only about 7 hours with stops in Wheatland and Sheridan, WY. The weather was pretty crappy in Denver, with wet snow lining the roads making the road slick. But, the road dried out around Loveland and it was clear sailing from there.
We pulled into Buster's place around 11:15, but he was nowhere to be found – we did see his pups, but no truck in the yard and no answer when we knocked on the door. We drove to Cottonwood and got our cabin, suited up, went to get a parking pass and then hit 3 Mile access to wade fish.
Chad and Matt headed down river, while Nate and I fished the island and the boat ramp areas. Nate got an opportunity to do some dry fly fishing right off as there were some good sized fish taking dries in the slack water near the ramp.
He caught a half dozen nice fish right there while I fished the spill way right there by the ramp. I caught a few little guys – it was nice to get going. I fished more up river without any luck. I circled the island and was fishing the main channel out away from the ramp and hooked a huge pig right where the rip met the slow pull out – this fish was huge – although I did not have him on very long. He porpoised quickly and then down and was long gone. I was angry, but moved on – there was a nice area where a point broke the water and I fished the soft edge. I hooked a nice large fish and he pulled me down river a bit and then popped off. I was pretty bummed losing two fish in a row. I fished a little more with little luck and then headed back to the boat ramp to meet up with Chad. I did see meet up with this little guy - who was quite curious, but not quite enough to come over and say hello.
Nate was at the ramp as well, and we were ready to head out, but Matt was nowhere to be found. Nate and I decided to go to the cabin and start dinner and then come back for Chad and Matt. Nate went back and got them about 40 minutes later and I had dinner ready.
We ate dinner, met up with Tim and his dad and then decided later on to try and hit the Afterbay Dam section for some pigs – since we had heard they were stacked up there and it was almost a full moon. We went out around 8:30 and we were back at 9:30pm – we had no luck pitching streamers – actually I lost 3 rigs and 6 flies! We were in bed at 10pm.
Friday, April 18, 2008 – Bighorn River, Ft. Smith, MT
Flows around 1,920 cfs, water was clear. Rented a boat and floated from 3 Mile to Bighorn Weather was nice in the morning (40 degrees) and beautiful in the afternoon – closer to 70 degrees. Steady wind at our backs and mostly sunny.
We hit the very first run down from 3 Mile access. The run treated us well, I hooked two medium sized browns, Nate hooked a couple nice rainbows at the end of the run, and Matt hooked a huge brown that took him across the river. The wind was so bad that Nate almost couldn't get back to Matt on the other side of the river. The fishing was ok, but nothing spectacular. We couldn't get consistently on fish, in fact, I probably went 4 hours without catching a fish. Nate was consistently picking up fish. We moved down to the Shelf Hole and I couldn't catch a damn thing – just couldn't figure it out. After having decent luck with a red rojo midge size 18, the fish just weren't taking anything we were throwing. We moved down to the Colorado Club hole where I had caught a ton of fish last year, but I couldn't catch a fish there either. I had a big pig on there too, but the fish took a long run and I couldn't turn him and he popped off.
We moved down again where we met up with Chad and Dave – who were fishing together out of Dave's boat. They were having amazing luck in this hole and let us jump in. Immediately I hooked two huge browns that were very thick and had strong shoulders. Both were legit 19 inchers and were probably the largest browns I have ever caught. All of the browns seemed bigger than last year – which was amazing because last year they seemed bigger than the year before. The first brown wasn't very colorful – but he fought hard and was huge – thick and long. He took the rojo midge. The second brown was in almost the exact same spot, and he too hit hard, but didn't fight quite as hard. He was a beautiful golden color and was just so cool looking.
I managed to catch three nice fish – including one very colorful rainbow – out of the boat the rest of the way out. The wind was consistently on us all day, so we were pushed down the river pretty quickly – we were off the river by 6:30pm. We did the dinner thing, tied a bunch of flies, shot the shit with Jason (Chad's neighbor) and Eric and then went to bed.
Saturday, April 19, 2008 – Bighorn River, Ft. Smith, MT
Flows around 1,920 cfs, water was clear. The morning was nice about 38 degrees, the early afternoon was great – around 73 degrees, then around 4pm a front blew in, the wind kicked up going up river and the afternoon got very very cold. Floated with Dave from 3 Mile to Bighorn access.
Waited for Paul and Doug, but no sign of them by 8:30 so we decided to hit the water – we had to do 4 guys in Dave's boat so the lower section seemed like a good idea. We only fished two holes – the Shelf and the Colorado Club – both were AMAZING.
We hit the Shelf first and the fishing started out very slow. Dave went down river and Matt and Nate and I fished the shelf section and the spin out. I decided that I was going to fish tiny flies today – size 20 and 22 Killer midges and some JuJu's that Chad had tied the night before. I had plenty of both in my box. I fished the shelf in the foam line and hooked 7 fish landing 4 of them. One of the fish took me 200 feet out to the channel and popped me off. I would have liked to see him. I did manage to catch some nice fish – including a 19.5 inch whitefish that was just in beat up shape. I hooked him and he barely fought – I dragged him straight in and landed him – Matt got a nice picture of him for me. There was no doubt who would be taking home that whitefish trophy! This poor fish had one fin that was all beat up, huge rubber lips, some missing scales and just looked in bad shape.
We all started doing much better (except Nate) and landing fish. Matt slammed and landed probably the largest brown of the trip - he was a legitimate 20 inch brown that was colorful and thick. What a beautiful fish.
Dave did especially well too, he landed 2 huge rainbows within minutes of each other. They had to be 20 inches strong and solid thick rainbows. They were colorful and beautiful - these fish are the reason why we all fish - just for the chance of landing one of these beauties.
We were on the Shelf for at least 3.5 hours - so we decided to move on. Nate still was fishless - but not for long. While in the boat he landed 3 good sized rainbows - and the skunk was off!!! We moved down to the Colorado Club where Tim and his Dad waved us into a great hole as they were on their way out. They had done pretty well in the hole and wanted to go across river to fish where a guide had just been having some great luck and landing tons of fish. They hung out and I jumped right in and landed a fat brown on my first cast. I knew this spot was going to be good.
Dave and I fished the upper run, while Nate and Matt fished the lower run. Dave and I traded fish for about 2.5 hours. I hooked a ton of browns, most were about the same size - 17 to 18 inches - with the occassional smaller and the occassional larger fish. All the fish faught nicely - often times running straight out to the middle of the river and hunkering down before I'd have to yank them into the shallower water and land them. Dave catches tons of huge fish and he put on a show in this hole. Every time I looked at him he had his rod bent and was pulling in a fish. You can tell he wasn't a rookie like me, as I hooted and hollered when I caught a fish, but Dave was always dead quiet, going about his business. He's also one of the most knowledgable guys on that river that I know. He knows every hole, every shelf, all teh birds, all the history, all the hatches, all the flies, the different types of fish, etc. He was actually guiding us and didn't realize it - actually, he probably does realize it as he had to row the extra 200 lbs of people down the river.
At 4pm the weather turned ugly. The sun went behind the clouds and the wind started kicking up - you could see storm clouds rolling in over the mountains, and the air got very cold. The wind chill must have been about 35 degrees colder than the air, and it was blowing up river. Dave continued to row us down river - with Nate fishing from the back, Matt fishing from the front and me just hunkered down trying not to throw the boat off. It was a pretty quiet, but long float to Bighorn Access. I threw one cast in a fishy hole and landed one nice rainbow. Almost at the take out, Dave switched spots and let Nate row - soon after Dave caught his first fish out of his own boat - a nice brown that was very colorful!
We landed at Bighorn Access, mostly frozen, loaded the truck and got back to Cottonwood. Dave headed home and we waited for Chad, Jason and Eric. They were in a raft and we thought with that wind there was no way they'd be back until at least 9pm - but they pulled in around 8:20pm. It was a great day of fishing after a slow day on Friday. It was just what we needed. We just made dinner and hung out - tried to play some cards and then hit the sack.
On Sunday we thought about fishing - but the weather was very cold and the wind was up - so we thought otherwise and were on the road by about 8:30 am.
It was another great trip. I'd like to thank Dave (Blackotter) for putting up with all of us and for rowing us down the river. He didn't have to do it, but he never complained and was a great fishing companion. Thanks again Dave!