Copyright 2018 James Marsh
Fly Fishing On The Big Hole River In
The Big Hole starts from the outlet of Lake Skinner in the
Beaverhead Mountains but that isn't the extent of its
water. It also receives water from the Pioneer and
Anaconad Mountains. The section of the Big Hole in the
mountains, as well as the sections in the Big Hole Valley,
are equal in beauty to the surroundings of any of the
great streams in Montana. Fly fishing the Big Hole River is
a truly unique experience.
The Big Hole River Valley isn't your normal western trout
stream setting. It lies at a relatively high elevation. It is
very flat and huge compared to most of the Montana
valleys. It is rather isolated and few people call it home.
The valley is generally lies over 6000 feet in elevation
and has weather patterns that range from severely cold to
extremely hot. A summer night may be rather cold but
change to bathing suit weather before the day ends. The
Big Hole Valley is a top agricultural section of the Big Sky
Country that produces as much hay as any area of the
There's lots of water of varying types to fish. The big river
flows for a total of 155 miles before converging with the
Jefferson River at Twin Bridges, Montana. It's a small
mountain stream until it gets near the Wisdom area in the
Big Hole Valley. There the North Fork helps increase the
flow of the river. Farther downstream it gains more water
from several small creeks and the Wise River. The Big
Hole River makes several turns along its way until it joins
the Beaverhead River to help form the Jefferson River
near Twin Bridges.
Keep in mind the Big Hole is a freestone stream. Its water
levels and flows strictly depends on Mother Nature and
the amount used for agricultural irrigation. Over the
years,it has gone through some tough periods of drought.
The Big Hole Valley isn't your normal tourist destination.
It's largest town is Wisdom and other than mosquitoes,
there's few of anything in Wisdom. When you visit
Wisdom, everyone in town will know you are there. Dillion
Montana is about sixty miles from the Valley, is about the
largest town nearby.
The Big Hole River is first a small, mountain stream with
pocket water and plenty of smaller size trout. Once it
leaves the mountains and enters the Big Hole Valley, it
picks up water from many small tributary streams flowing
out of the mountains. You can access the river at many
locations above Wisdom but there aren't any designated
access sites. Country roads cross over the river many
times and you can access the stream at any of them.
Once the Big Hole River enters the valley, it slows down
some and changes character altogether. There is little
decline in elevation for the next sixty miles of the river as it
slowly flows through the giant Big Hole Valley. When it
leaves the valley, it changes again and flows through a
Big Hole River Montana
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Notice the bug net over Angie's head. You will need it during the summer.
Recommended Tackle & Gear
4, 5 or 6 weight
Dry fly: 9 &12 ft., 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 71/2
ft., 3 or 4X
Dry fly: 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 3 or 4X,
Best Fly Rods:
Perfect Fly Supreme Four, Superb Five
or Ultimate Six
For 4/5/6 fly line
Fly Floatants and Misc Items:
Floatants, KISS Strike Indicators
Tools & Accessories:
Nippers, forceps, retractors, etc.
There's some pocket water and riffles, even
some rapids in the thirty mile long canyon
section. The surrounding area changes from
wide open country and hay fields, to trees. The
forest background doesn't last long. As soon as
the River gets through the canyon section and
levels out some, the trees disappear. Wise
River is the one and only town in the canyon
section of the Big Hole River. Don't blink your
eyes or you will miss it. It empties its water into
the valley at the little town of Divide, near I-15.
From Divide, the Big Hole is again a different
type of river. Cottonwood trees will begin to line
its banks and it flows through a lot of private
property. There's still plenty of access. There's
several designated access sites along this
section of the Big Hole River which is about
twenty-five miles in length. This area is still
The next little town along the Big Hole River is
Glen near the end of this section of the river.
The river makes a turn near Glen and heads to
the better know town of Twin Bridges - better
known only because of little Winston Fly Rod
factory. There's still a fairly good amount of
public access points. There four designated
access sites and several that are not
designated where you can enter the river.
The river is greatly affected by the seasons.
Low water and warm water temperatures can
be big concerns.
During early spring the water is relatively low
but during April and May it will increase from
snow melt and top out in June. It doesn't
really blow out like many rivers do.
Early summer will find the water dropping
steady due to irrigation use and less water
from the melting snow.
Fly Fishing Guide to Big Hole River:
As mentioned above, fly fishing the Big Hole
River is largely dependant on where you fish
the river, water levels and seasons.
A word of caution: If you fish this area, or
anywhere in the Big Hole Valley, during the
months of June and July, you should be aware
that there will be huge numbers of mosquitoes.
The valley is usually flooded to irrigate the
farmer's crops. The first frost that usually
occurs as early as the middle of August, will
reduce the numbers, but otherwise you will
need plenty of protection and insect repellent.
You will also find reduced numbers of
mosquitoes in the lower sections of the river.
The Big Hole River above Jackson is a small
mountain stream. It's mostly small brook trout
fishing. When the stream comes out of the
mountains at Jackson, it changes to a slower
moving stream with less decline. The trout are
still mostly brook trout but grayling begin to
show up. This section is tightly enclosed with
willow trees in many areas. Most of the stream
is on private property. The area near Wisdom
has the most grayling. These fish are easy to
catch and as a general rule, will take just about
any attractor fly.
Below Wisdom you will begin to find some
rainbows and cutthroat trout mixed in with the
grayling and brook trout. The stream around
the Wisdom area is a meadow stream that
meanders back and front through open areas.
This section has a lot of cattle grazing along
the river and flows mostly through private
ranch and farm property. From Pintler Creek
downstream to the Dickey Bridge the river
flows along highway #43 and there is plenty of
access. The stream flows are usually very slow
in this area. You will begin to see some brown
trout and more mountain whitefish in this
section. In the early year when there is enough
water, the stretch near Sportsman's Park can
be floated. However, low summer and early fall
flows can make it difficult.
Although there are several areas along its
route with public access for waders, for the
most part, the river flows through private
property. The best way to fish the river is to
float it. You can cover far more water than
you can otherwise.
Along the way the river goes through many
changes. It's mostly a small pocket water
type stream in its headwaters. When it
reaches the Big Hole Valley it slows down
and flows through many meadows. Then
there's the area where it flows through a
canyon. Then there's the larger river
downstream that slows down and flows
open farmland. How you fish the river
depends greatly on where you fish it.
There's few rivers in Montana that flow
through such a wide variety of different
types of water and terrain. The Big Hole
River is truly a blue-ribbon trout stream. It
has a good population of large, wild brown
and rainbow trout. It has excellent brook
trout fishing in its headwaters and many
small tributary streams. There's even a
possibility of catching a Grayling in the
valley near Wisdom.
From Dicky Bridge downstream to Divide
you will find a diverse range of water
including a section of the Big Hole that
runs through a canyon. The water
increase in speed an becomes pocket
water with lots of runs, riffles and deep
pools. There are some large boulders
that makes getting around difficult in
places. This area has to be accessed by
trails. Rainbows become the most plentiful
species. This section has special
regulations so make sure you are aware
of the current rules. There are several
boat launch locations in this section.
The most popular section of the Big Hole
is the area from Divide downstream to
Glen. There is little bank access. Most all
the fishing is done from drift boats. On the
upper end rainbow trout is still the most
predominate species. The lower part near
Glen has more brown trout than rainbows.
There's special regulation area in this
section of the river between Divide and
Melrose. It is currently not open
year-round, rather only during the
general Montana fishing season.
The last section of the river, from Glen
down to High Road, there's some more
water that can be floated. This area can
get low during the summer. It contains
mostly brown trout including some very
Big Hole Hatches and Trout Flies:
Our information on aquatic insects is based on
our stream samples of larvae and nymphs, not
guess work. We base fly suggestions on
imitating the most plentiful and most available
insects and other foods at the particular time
you are fishing. Unlike the generic fly shop
trout flies, we have specific imitations of all the
insects in the Big Hole River and in all stages
of life that are applicable to fishing. If you want
to fish better, more realistic trout flies, have a
much higher degree of success, give us a
call. We not only will help you with selections,
you will learn why, after trying Perfect Flies,
92% of the thousands of our customers will
use nothing else.
The hatches on the Big Hole River varies with
the sections of the river. Not all the insects are
found throughout the entire length of the river.
Some are only found in certain types of water,
so keep that in mind. You want find Trico
mayflies in the fast water of the canyon
section, for example.
As with many other trout streams, the
Blue-winged Olives are among the most
important hatches. They hatch over a long
period of time and allow some dry fly fishing
opportunities that otherwise would not exist.
The BWOs start hatching about the first of
March. It can last until the first of June. A
second hatch takes place starting about the
first of September. It can last until the first of
December, depending greatly on the weather.
Next to the BWOs, the most important mayfly is
the Pale Morning Dun. They too hatch over a
long period of time, starting about the first of
June and lasting until as late as the first of
The only other substantial hatch of mayflies
are the Tricos. These hatch on the slower,
smoother sections of water during August and
Caddisflies are often the most important
insects. Spotted Sedges are the most plentiful
species. They start hatching around the first of
June and can last on into August. Their Little
Sister Caddisflies start about two weeks after
the Spotted Sedges and hatch about the same
length of time.
In the headwaters you will find some Great
Gray Spotted Sedges during the month of
July. There are several other species of
caddisflies in the Big Hole River but they
usually don't exist in plentiful quantities.
About the middle of June you will find
three important species of stoneflies. The
Salmonflies usually start first. It can last
for almost a month but it only occurs in the
fast water sections of the river. It is a huge
hatch that is very popular with local
guides. About the first of July the Golden
Stoneflies start hatching. They are found
in the same type of water as the
The Yellow Sally, or Little Yellow
Stoneflies, start hatching about the first of
June and can last until the first of
September. They are found in more areas
than the other larger stoneflies but not in
the slow water sections of the Big Hole.
Don't forget to have a good selection of
streamer flies. The river has plenty of
minnows, baitfish species and sculpin.
Streamers work great early and late in the
day, and when the water is stained from
Terrestrials become very important during
the months of July, August and
September. Imitations of ants, beetles,
and grasshoppers work great at times,
especially in the meadow areas.
Use our "Perfect Fly" hatch chart and
select your flies for the time you will be
fishing. Please give our flies a chance to
work for you if you haven't done so
already. We feel confident that you will be
more than satisfied with them.
Fall is one of the best times to fish the
river. Cooler weather drops the water
temperature and fishing picks up until late
The river starts icing over in late fall.
Fishing during the winter is normally
limited to Whitefish.
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|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (email@example.com)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
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The water temperature was rising
fast and getting in the mid forties
but the weather is back to the
normal cold weather and it is
surely to fall back into the high
thirties. Midges, creams and light
greens, and stoneflies, Winter and
Skwalas, are hatching. Keep track
of the latest by clicking the above
link to our weekly updated Big Hole
River fishing report.
Map of Big Hole River
Big Hole River, Montana - Fishing Report - March 23, 2018
7 Day Weather Forecast: There is a chance of snow everyday through next
Wednesday. Highs will range from 31 to 38 degrees and lows from 9 to 22 degrees.
Recommended Trout Flies:
Midges: Blood (Red), sizes 20, larva, pupa and adults
Midges: Cream, size 20, larva, pupa and adults
Midges: Light Green, size 20/22, larva, pupa and adults
Brown Sculpin and White Belly Sculpin, size 6
Black Matuka and Olive Matuka Sculpin, size 4/6
Blue-winged Olives, size 16/18, nymphs, emergers, duns and spinners size
Skwala stoneflies, size 10, nymphs and adults
Strategies, Techniques and Tips:
Midges are hatching good.
Fish the Black Matuka and Olive Matuka Sculpin or the Brown or White Belly Sculpin streamer
anytime during low light conditions, or early and late in the day. They are good flies for the larger
Blue-winged olives are hatching.
Skwala stoneflies are hatching.