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The Bighorn River, located in South-central Montana, is arguably one of the finest western trout rivers. Miles of cold water below the Afterbay Dam provide a productive trout fishery throughout the season harboring huge numbers (approximately 5000-7000 fish per mile!) of large trout. Browns to twenty plus inches are not uncommon and there is also a very healthy supply of large rainbow trout. There are two Special Regulations area's along its path.

The most productive section of river starts at the Afterbay Dam in Fort Smith and runs approximately 46 miles to the town of Hardin. The water is cold throughout the season with the help of the tailwater dam in Fort Smith. The river is large averaging 150-200 feet wide with flows averaging 4000 cubic feet per second. Open hilly plains with scattered patches of trees make up the surroundings of this fabulous river. Gravel and grass islands are found throughout the river as well as sandstone cliffs which rise from its banks. These islands create excellent seams and diverse water for trout to hold.

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Access to the Bighorn is available for both wade and float fishermen via Route 313 and secondary roads. From the dam in Fort Smith anglers can float fish down to numerous access points along the river. A few of the access points include Three Mile, Bighorn, Mallards Landing, and Two Leggins. These access points all support a boat put in and take out area. Other points along the river provide access where anglers can either float or wade fish from.
Hatch Chart
The most popular stretch of the Bighorn is from Fort Smith to the Bighorn access. This stretch is the upper end of the river which runs the coldest during hot summer months. Bighorn access to Hardin is also a very productive stretch of river that should not be over looked. There are miles of river in this area all of which are very productive throughout much of the season (season is open all year).

The trout in the Bighorn are healthy and strong very capable of bolting down river taking you into your backing. Finding holding water is best done by looking for soft seams along the banks, below islands, tails of pools, or in areas of broken currents. Nymph fishing, like on many western streams, is productive throughout the day. Dry fly fishing on the Bighorn is excellent also, especially on overcast days, mornings, or late afternoons and evenings. Streamers and Woolly Buggers take a good number and some of the biggest fish of every season. Hatches on the Bighorn include Midges, Blue-winged Olives, Tricos, and Pale Morning Duns. There are also good numbers of caddis in tan, black, and ginger as well as stoneflies. The hatches are not very diverse but the ones that come off do so in prolific numbers. In fact, the Tricos can be so blinding that fishing larger "cluster" patterns can work well. There are so many flies on the water during this hatch that a larger pattern, which is tied like an "oversize" Griffith Gnat, can look l ike a group of Tricos stuck together. This can be a very productive pattern during the late summer months when fooling a fish into taking your tiny fly seems impossible with the amount of food on the water.

Fort Smith is a tiny quiet town with a nice surrounding. Quality restaurants, accommodations, shops, and service is readily available along the Bighorn river. It is a favorite destination for many anglers throughout the country and especially for the locals who fortunately have this tremendous fishery at their dispose everyday. If you're planning a trip to fish the Bighorn, the nearest commercial airport to Fort Smith is in Billings which is approximately 55 miles west of Hardin.