Fly Fishing Vacations

Bighorn River Fly Fishing Vacation

Bighorn River Montana Fly Fishing

Montana’s Bighorn River has long been revered by anglers throughout the country as a premier trout fishing destination and with good reason. This prolific tailwater fishery is rich in aquatic life and is teeming with brown and rainbow trout. With the Bighorn Mountains as its backdrop, the river curves through cottonwood and Russian olive bottomlands, dancing over riffles into lengthy runs and deeply cut pools. The Bighorn River is a classic Montana tailwater fishery high on many anglers’ bucket lists.

The river’s powerful rainbows and browns are 16” to 20” on average, with some fish approaching 24”. Nymph fishing the river’s many riffles, runs, and side channels with sowbugs, scuds, midge, and mayfly nymphs is the most consistently productive method on the Bighorn. But the river also provides excellent opportunities to strip streamers from the boat, casting to cutbanks, overhanging Russian olives, and rising bluffs. Many anglers enjoy matching the Bighorn’s bountiful hatches, casting dries to pods of rising trout or bank feeders. Anglers may fish the Bighorn River year-round due to its stable flows and water temperatures, but the best fishing is in the spring and fall.

With the area’s limited services, an all-inclusive fly fishing vacation is best on the Bighorn River, complete with guided fishing, meals, and lodging. We’ll book accommodations at cozy cabins, vacation homes, or full-service lodges. If you prefer to cook meals, we’re happy to arrange accommodations with kitchens and grills, available with our fishing and lodging only packages. The Bighorn River flows through the Crow Indian Reservation between Ft. Smith and Hardin, Montana; the reservation is “dry,” so you’ll need to BYOB. Relax on your cabin deck, nestled in the river bottom, overlooking beautiful fields and the foothills of the Bighorn and Pryor Mountains, as you watch the sunset enjoying a glass of wine, listening to pheasants cackling nearby.

Join us for a memorable Bighorn River fly fishing vacation on this resurging Montana trout fishery.
Bighorn River Guided Fly Fishing Trips
The Bighorn River begins as the Wind River, rising from Togwotee Pass near Brooks Lake west of Dubois, Wyoming. The river flows 460 miles through Wyoming and Montana, through a varied landscape ranging from tumbling mountain headwaters to desolate sagebrush badlands and the spectacular Wind River and Bighorn Canyons. From its headwaters downstream just shy of Thermopolis, Wyoming, the river is named the Wind River. Native Americans, mountain men, and early explorers called the river the Wind from the Wind River Canyon upstream, while downstream it was called the Bighorn River. The Wedding of the Waters is a demarcation below the Wind River Canyon where the river changes names from the Wind to the Bighorn. The Bighorn River, the largest tributary to the Yellowstone River, flows through Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin into Bighorn Lake. Emerging from Yellowtail Dam in Montana, the river flows through the Crow Indian Reservation before eventually spilling into the Yellowstone River. 

Montana’s Bighorn River Tailwater
Montana’s Bighorn River is one of the countries’ most famous trout fisheries. Stories of dozens of trophy trout caught daily have circulated fly fishing circles since 1981 when a court ruling opened the river to fishing on the Crow Indian Reservation. While the fishery fell on hard times in recent years due to high water and poor spawning recruitment, it is strongly recovering. A balanced trout population of rainbows and browns with diverse age classes signals a bright future. Although the trout population per mile is not as high as in the past, their average size and health are impressive.

The Bighorn River flows north from Wyoming into Yellowtail Dam, completed in 1967. The reservoir inundated Bighorn Canyon, creating a scenic lake for fishing and recreation bordered by Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and the Crow Indian Reservation. With its vertical limestone and red rock walls, this spectacular canyon cuts between the Bighorn and Pryor Mountains. The Bighorn River flows from Yellowtail Dam into Afterbay Dam near Ft. Smith, Montana, where the world-class tailwater prairie fishery begins. 

The Bighorn River flows 44 miles through the Crow Indian Reservation from Afterbay Dam to Hardin, Montana. The river drifts through a mix of lush river bottoms, arid rolling uplands of sagebrush shrubland drained by coulees, and agricultural fields of hay, alfalfa, sugar beets, and wheat. The Bighorn lazily winds past cottonwood groves, Russian olives, grassy fields, and cat-tailed sloughs. High, broken banks and coulees are choked with thick brush, and channels braid around numerous islands blanketed in thick grasses. Cackling rooster pheasants can be heard and occasionally glide across the river or flush from the streamside brush. Abundant waterfowl paddle the river’s currents and cover the water during cold winter days. Whitetail deer reside in the river corridor, and an occasional black bear visits its banks. Beautiful views of the scraggy Bighorn foothills rising to the south and the Pryor Mountains to the west evolve throughout a float trip on the Bighorn River.

The river’s powerful rainbows and browns run from 16” to 20” on average, with some fish approaching 24”. Nymph fishing the river’s many riffles, runs, and side channels with sowbugs, scuds, worms, midge, and mayfly nymphs is the most consistently productive method on the Bighorn. But the river also provides excellent opportunities to strip streamers from the boat, casting to cutbanks, overhanging Russian olives, and rising bluffs. Prolific hatches of Baetis emerge in the spring and fall, PMDs, tricos, and caddis during the summer and early fall, and midges much of the year. Many anglers enjoy matching the Bighorn’s bountiful hatches, casting dries to bank feeders, pods of rising trout in calm currents, and trout gulping in shallow riffles. Hopper fishing can be superb some years from late July into September. Anglers may fish the Bighorn River year-round due to its stable flows and water temperatures, but the best fishing is in the spring and fall. 

During a Bighorn River fishing trip, you will fish from drift boats and get out to wade fish famous runs and holes such as the Meat Hole, The Aquarium, Bay of Pigs, Duck Blind Channel, Drive-In, and Glory Hole. The densest trout population is in the upper three miles, but there’s excellent fishing to Bighorn Access 12 miles below the dam. The trout population decreases further downstream, but so does the fishing pressure. From Bighorn Access downstream 10 miles to Mallard’s Landing and another 10 miles down to Two Leggins, anglers can expect to catch fewer trout, but the average size increases with shots at trophy browns and rainbows. Below Two Leggins, the trout numbers dwindle, but behemoth browns can be caught by anglers stripping streamers. Below the town of Hardin, the river shifts into a warmwater fishery populated with smallmouth bass, carp, goldeye, and catfish.   

Bighorn River fishing is some of the best in the country. Contact us to schedule a guided Bighorn River fishing trip.

Required Licenses & Fees

Unlike many fly fishing vacation destinations, the Bighorn River near Ft. Smith has limited non-angling activities in the immediate area. Non-anglers often enjoy riding along in the back of the boat as you fish, taking in the action, scenery, photographing, reading a book, and relaxing.

Drive up to overlooks near Bighorn Lake for scenic views of the surrounding landscape and check out the Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center. You can rent pontoon boats from Ok-A-Beh Marina or take a free guided kayak tour on Bighorn Lake through the National Park Service. Camp at private and public campgrounds and hike trails in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

Anglers can also take a break from fishing the river to fish Bighorn Lake for trout, carp, smallmouth bass, and other warmwater species. Hunting for upland birds and waterfowl is available in the area in the fall. We may arrange guided hunting trips with local hunting outfitters.

The Crow Fair occurs annually during the third week of August in Crow Agency, Montana, and Little Bighorn Days are held in Hardin, Montana annually. Browse cultural arts, crafts, goods, sample Indian tacos, and other ethnic foods. Festivities include a pow-wow, parade, rodeos, Custer’s Last Stand Reenactment, and native American dance celebrations complete with tribal members dressed in traditional wear with eagle feathers, warbonnets, and extravagant beadwork. Over 1,500 tepees are erected in a campground during Crow Fair, the largest northern Native American gathering in the country.

A visit to the Little Bighorn National Monument is excellent if you have any spare time at the beginning or end of your trip. Guests often plan several extra days exploring other nearby areas in combination with their fishing trip. You may drive over Beartooth Pass or visit Yellowstone National Park.
Reserving Your Fly Fishing Vacation 
We recommend booking your Bighorn River Fly Fishing Vacation well in advance to ensure the best guides and accommodations. Guides and accommodations may be hard to reserve on short notice. A 50% deposit is required to finalize your Montana fly fishing vacation reservations. Please read the Terms and Conditions for complete details. 
Arrival & Ground Transportation
Upon your arrival, your guide will pick you up at the airport drive you to your accommodations. You may also choose to rent a vehicle. Having independent transportation allows more flexibility and freedom during your trip. 
Trip Expectations
We recommend arriving the day before your fishing begins. Upon arrival, you may purchase any last-minute provisions and settle into your accommodations. Relax, explore the area, enjoy your favorite beverages, appetizers. and dinner at your place of accommodations.
Each day, after coffee and a delicious breakfast, you will make final preparations and drive to the river, where you will enjoy an exciting day of fishing and adventure. Fishing locations are within a few minutes of your lodging, though some can be a bit further. Expect to spend six to eight hours on the water fishing, taking in the scenery, watching wildlife and songbirds, photographing, trading jokes, and having a great time. Savory lunches with non-alcoholic beverages are served on the water daily; feel free to bring any alcoholic beverages of your choice.
After a full day of fishing and adventure, return to your comfortable accommodations where you can clean up with a refreshing shower, relax and enjoy apres fishing. 

Rinse and repeat daily as you see fit.  
Ft. Smith has few services with one store offering a limited selection of basic groceries. Outside of Hardin, 43 miles north of Ft. Smith, there are only a couple of dining options. For this reason, we recommend one of our all-inclusive fly fishing vacations. You may also choose to stay in accommodations with cooking facilities and prepare meals, or we may arrange a personal cook. On fly fishing vacations, your guide(s) will accompany you for the duration of the trip. If you prefer to prepare meals, Fishing & Lodging only packages are available; meals and alcoholic beverages are not included. If you plan to prepare meals, be sure to shop in Billings or elsewhere before heading to the Bighorn River. 

Lunch, Snacks & Beverages
Shore lunches, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages are provided each day. 
The reservation is “dry”, so you’ll need to purchase alcoholic beverages in advance. Alcoholic beverages are included with meals in all-inclusive packages. Expensive wines and alcoholic purchases exceeding $100 per day will be billed to the client. All alcoholic beverages apart from meals are the responsibility of clients.

Since we do not have the proper licenses, we cannot provide alcoholic beverages for you on the water or at other times during the trip, except when purchased from licensed establishments such as restaurants and bars. You may purchase alcohol to bring with you. 
Cell Service & Internet
Many towns and locations in Montana and Wyoming have good cell phone reception. Other locations have spotty reception or no reception at all. Cell service is often spotty while driving due to the mountainous terrain, rolling hills, draws, and river bottoms.

Wireless internet connectivity is available in most locations and accommodations. Some accommodations do not have cell service or internet connectivity. Be sure to notify people of your potential unavailability and take care of all personal and business tasks beforehand. 
Sleeping Arrangements
Please let us know your lodging preferences for your customized Bighorn River Fly Fishing Vacation. Depending on availability, we may book following accommodations for you.  

  • All-Inclusive Lodges or other accommodations with onsite meals
  • Private Vacation Rentals
  • Cabins and Cottages
  • Bed & Breakfasts
*Rates may increase for upgraded premium lodging facilities and services. 
On fly fishing vacations, your guide(s) travel with you for the duration of the trip. You will have private accommodations to yourself, while guides stay in separate accommodations. In some cases, upon your approval, your guide(s) may stay in shared accommodations with separate private rooms and bathrooms. In these instances, reduced rates are possible. 
Recommended Airports
Once you have confirmed your trip with us, you’ll want to make flight reservations as soon as possible. We recommend flying into Billings, Montana (BIL). 

Served by Alaska, Allegiant, American, Cape Air, Delta, and United Airlines.
Ground Transportation
Depending on your itinerary and preferences, your guide(s) will pick you up at the Billings airport. You may also choose to rent a vehicle for greater flexibility and freedom during your trip. Major car rental companies are available at your arrival airport. We will work with you to finalize transportation details at the time of booking. 

Drive Times To & From Ft. Smith, Montana
Billings-Logan International Airport – 
1 Hour, 40 Minutes 
Departure Details
Please book departing airline reservations for the day after your trip ends. We may book accommodations with shuttle services to your departing airport, your last night. Your guide(s) may also drop you off at the airport, depending on your itinerary. Ground transfers are also available to the airport if you do not have a rental vehicle.
All-Inclusive Fly Fishing Vacation Rates
4 Nights/3 Days5 Nights/4 Days6 Nights/5 Days7 Nights/6 Days
Fishing & Lodging Only Fly Fishing Vacation Rates
4 Nights/3 Days5 Nights/4 Days6 Nights/5 Days7 Nights/6 Days
Fishing & Lodging Only Fly Fishing Vacation Rates
4 Nights/3 Days5 Nights/4 Days6 Nights/5 Days7 Nights/6 Days
  • Rates based on 2 anglers/guide, double occupancy
  • Contact us for Single Angler Supplement Rates'
  • Rates may increase for upgraded premium lodging facilities and services 
  • Additional fees may be charged for private chefs and caterers
  • Fishing & Lodging Only Rates Do Not Include Transportation, Meals or Alcoholic Beverages
Payment Options
A 50% deposit is required to finalize your reservation and is due within 10 days of booking your trip. We will invoice you by email, and upon receiving your invoice, you can choose to pay using the online ACH payment option. This option is a quick and convenient way to pay your trip deposit and finalize your reservation. 

Payment reminders will be sent by email for open invoices with remaining balances due, which can be paid using the ACH option. 

Deposits and final payments can be paid with bank wire transfers, credit cards, or mailing checks payable to Greater Yellowstone Flyfishing Outfitters. A 3.5 % convenience fee is assessed for all credit card transactions. Please contact us if you prefer cash or other payment forms. 

Greater Yellowstone Flyfishing Outfitters Payment Options
·      ACH Online Payments – U.S. financial institutions and bank accounts only
·      Personal & Business Checks* - U.S. financial institutions and bank accounts only
·      Electronic Wire Payments - wiring fees are the responsibility of the client
·      Credit Cards – 3.5% Convenience Fee applied
·      Cash
·      International Payments can be made via wire or with a credit card.
*Client will be billed all associated costs for returned checks. The client will have 7 days to reimburse Greater Yellowstone Flyfishing Outfitters for returned check costs and provide an alternative form of payment; otherwise, trip reservations will be cancelled, and all deposits and payments will be forfeited.  
  • Accommodations
  • Transportation & Airport Pick Up and Drop Off* 
  • All Meals, Snacks, Appetizers & Associated Gratuities**
  • Alcoholic Beverages with Meals**
  • Lunch, Snacks & Non-Alcoholic Beverages on the River**
  • Fishing Guides – 2 Anglers/Guide
  • Flies & Terminal Tackle
  • Rods & Reels – If Needed
  • River Shuttles

Not Included
  • Airline Flights
  • Rental Car (Optional)*
  • Additional lodging and meals beyond your scheduled trip
  • Upgraded Premium Lodging
  • Private Chefs 
  • Catering
  • Fishing Licenses
  • Gratuities for Fishing Guides, Private Ground Transfers
  • Rental Waders & Boots - If Needed
  • Personal Expenses & Incidentals
  • Personal Items – See Gear List PDFs Below
  • Park Entrance Fees

*We may arrange private ground transfers between the airport and your accommodations. You may also choose to rent a vehicle for greater flexibility and freedom during your trip. Transportation not included in Fishing & Lodging Only rates. We will work with you to finalize transportation details at the time of booking. 

**All meals, snacks, appetizers, alcoholic beverages with meals, and associated gratuities are included in all-inclusive packages. Meals, appetizers, and alcoholic beverages are not included in Fishing & Lodging Only packages. Alcoholic beverages are not included on the river, but you may bring your own.
Our guides very hard to ensure an enjoyable trip, and we encourage you to tip accordingly. We suggest an appropriate gratuity from $100-$200/day/guide, although an excellent day of fishing, a memorable event, or extra effort on the guide's behalf may deserve more. Please consider that our guides work harder when fishing is slow or during adverse weather. Cash gratuities should be given directly to your guide daily or upon finishing multi-day trips.

Many variables beyond our control, such as weather, wind, barometric pressure, water temperatures, and fish behavior, influence the day's fishing. While fishing is a highlight of your trip, there are numerous ways to enjoy your fly fishing vacation. Please align your expectations with the conditions and your abilities. No expectations, no disappointments!

If you have any comments or concerns about your trip, please let us know.
Trip Insurance
We realize these trips are expensive, and much is at stake financially. For this reason, we highly recommend that you purchase trip insurance in advance. Unforeseen circumstances arise, and travel insurance is very reasonable should you have to cancel your trip for any reason. We recommend Travel Guard Travel Insurance and Global Rescue Insurance to protect your financial investment, which may cover trip cancellations for any reason. For more information or to purchase Trip Insurance, please visit Travel Guard or Global Rescue.
To receive complete coverage options and benefits, be sure to purchase travel insurance within 15 days of paying your deposit.

Medical Evacuation Insurance
We recommend Global Rescue’s worldwide medical evacuation and extraction services if you become ill or injured during your trip or due to natural disaster, COVID-19, and other reasons. Due to the remote nature of many of our trips, potential challenges receiving immediate professional medical help, and limited cell coverage, we highly recommend purchasing medical evacuation insurance along with your trip insurance. 
For more information or to purchase Medical Evacuation Insurance, please visit Global Rescue.
The Sphinx, Madison Range


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