Al Campbell, Field Editor

July 19th, 2004

Saving Water
Al Campbell

Anytime I'm at the Bighorn River; I look for things that stand out. For instance, if a stretch of water looks inviting, but very few are fishing it; I look for the reason. Maybe there aren't any fish there, or maybe they are just too little or the wrong species. There has to be a reason.

River Valley

That is, of course, unless that stretch of water is just below where all the boats put in the river. For some reason, there seems to be a stretch of water a couple of hundred yards to half a mile long that only gets fished from the middle of the river. On the other hand, if you row across the river, you can fish that side well, with no problems. However, the side of the river your boat went in, is somehow off limits for most people. This seems especially true if the water is low and the best fishing is close to the boat entrance.

Afterbay Dam

Anyway, that's the way it all went this year when my fishing buddy and I went for our annual flyfishing vacation on the Bighorn River. The water was as low as I have ever seen on that river. At least one fly shop was speaking a outloud about the prospects for next year after so many poor years in a row. Maybe a third or more of the annual visitors just weren't there, and it didn't look that great for the rest of the summer either. The water at the put-in was about 8 ft lower than it has been a lot of years in the past. And, a lot of people were talking about how many more years it can go on this way.

Water level in lake

The big old lake above the river is about 100 feet low. By the first of August, nobody will be putting their boats in, even though they extended the ramp last summer. Except for where the river has been diverted to water the stream bottom, and the stream bottom, everything is brown; it just didn't turn very green this year. There were very few mosquitoes, and even fewer ticks to deal with this year. In other words, this is a real bad summer for the local terrain. So, how is it that my fishing buddy and I had a great time?

My buddy Erik

That first morning when we were putting our boats in, I got ahead of Erik, so I slipped down the shore and fished while Erik got ready. In the 15 minutes it took Erik to get ready, I had landed at least 10 fish, and lost about twice that many. And, I had at least 800 yards of shoreline to myself. Not one floatation boat was willing to stop or try the waters I was fishing. When Erik did get going, he took his boat to the other side of the river and started fishing there. And, he was having as good a time as I was. Not even one of the floatation boats bothered to try the water we were fishing.

Mountain top

I quit counting somewhere around 100, but that was way before we left the water near the place we put our boats in. Erik did the same on the other side of the river. We had landed fish from 8 to 20 inches, mostly between 8 and 14. However, we had caught plenty of the larger fish to make it a good day, and way more than the floatation guys were catching. The two or three fish we caught later that day were big, but they didn't come close to the numbers we had been catching. In fact, Erik caught a 27-inch bow that day, his biggest yet, but that wasn't the real fishing and play we had been experiencing.

Alfalfa We did the same thing every day we were there. Fish the water near the put-in for the morning, and fish the rest of the river in the afternoon. In all that time, I saw only two other people seriously fishing that water, and they were having a great time; but it didn't appear they were having the time Erik and I were having. Some of it was location, and some was patterns and how we fished them. Both were important.

I'm not sure why boats ignore great places like this. I suppose they want to get their clients away from the boat in place. I'm also fairly convinced that they don't want their clients to get the idea that the best fishing can be found near the place where they put in. It also might have something to do with locality and the serious need for no roads. In any case, their clients were left paying the deed.

Prickly Pear Shoots

Dry or not, the Bighorn River near Ft. Smith, is as pretty a place as any you might find anywhere. I'm adding some photos to show you just how pretty it is, but please pay attention to how gray much of the area is. Except for the mountain tops and the irrigated river bottom, the area is as dry as it was last summer. This isn't the normal Ft. Smith area I have ever seen before. Most of the time, fishing in June involves high grass and a lot of green. I just hope it is better next year.

Now the hard part. I'm going to continue this next week. I'll tell you this though. The killer flies were small sow bugs, with red heads. And, we didn't use weights. You'll get the rest later. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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