Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Jan 12, 2020

“The Trout are always feeding, regardless of the condition of the river, they have to as their survival depends upon their ability to find food forms under varying conditions. As anglers it is our task to figure out what they are feeding and how to properly present our imitations. Regardless of the conditions of the river. The Trout do not go on the South Beach Diet Plan when we find the river conditions not to our liking.” From the Fishing Journal of Tom Travis 1992

For the entire season the river had not lived up to its reputation, the water levels rose and fell without regard to the normal flows of proper water management for a world class tailwater trout fishery. The water clarity was less than desired, furthermore it had been reported that the trout population was in decline and many had cancelled their trips to this world class fishery. We had not!!

We have experienced the ups and downs of nature on this and other tailwater fisheries in the past and knew that with a little patience and observation that we were going to have a successful trip. Furthermore, with the reported decline in the trout population many failed to consider how the river still compared to other trout fisheries!

Was the fishing more difficult than in previous years, oh yes, but the trout that were taken were in great shape and overall were a bit larger than we had expected. Though many came to this fishery because in the past it produced high catch rates. This was never our reason; we came for the challenges that the river provided, the beauty and the wonder of nature found in this magical river valley. Besides, we were confident in the knowledge that the trout would be feeding on something, and we accepted the challenge of learning how, where and what the trout were consuming. As I am sure that you are aware, the trout do not go on diet plans, their survival demands that they pursue and consume food in some form.

Due to the ups and downs of the river flows and fluctuation of the water temperatures the hatches were spotty and less than reliable, however during our stay on the river the morning Trico emergence and spinner falls were found to be reliable in a couple of different locations. Therefore, we enjoyed several mornings of decent fishing and often found ourselves alone on the river during these early hours. This is what we expected to find on the Bighorn River and even though the intensity of the Trico hatch was below previous years, we still enjoyed some excellent fishing and a times found the trout to be a little fussier than on past outings.

After the early morning action, the rest of the days were spent picking up a fish here and there on nymph, or the afternoon action on Hoppers or Ants, with the taking a few pseudos’ or picking off the emerging Aquatic Moths and in the late evenings even pick up a few trout on the scattering of Black or Tan Caddis that sometimes entice an explosive rise. We found that stream awareness and observation were the real keys to success, as is often the case, and that sometimes-using patterns and methods normally not employed on this river accounted for some very nice trout. Patterns like dry or damp Muddler Minnows, or Dry Mice, often produced the largest fish of the day.

Nice Brown Trout, who couldn’t resist a size 8 skittered Dry Muddler Minnow.

Then came the last day of the Trip

The day began with the Trico emergence that began with dawn early light, or at least light enough to see what we were doing and fishing upstream along a bank where one had to be careful not to step to far to the right.

As you can see from the following photos, it was well worth being on the water early and taking the time to approach closely to the target and make a short and accurate presentation.

We spent considerable working over trout that were rising intermittently and though they we fussy and we had to constantly change our presentation angles, it was time well spent and we were justly rewarded by the trout’s acceptance of our imitations. But alas, the wind began to rise and the trout when down and we were off to search another area and see what other possibilities that the river might offer.

Later we would discover a bank where Hopper and Chernobyl imitations produced several nice trout.

Now, the wading was a bit dicey as you had to be inside the current line and the depth was pushing the limits of what we were comfortable with. Furthermore, this bank is great for a lefty, but a right-handed caster much use caution and be very aware of what is being done with the rod, or else you are catching bushes and trees instead of trout however the patience’s and attention to the details paid off and we were able to take several trout by carefully working up this bank.

Besides, we were able to become familiar with several species of trees, flowers and shrubs that grew along the riverbank.

A day spent on the water just isn’t all about the trout that can be caught, oftentimes the observant angler can enjoy the beauty of nature such as this Brown (phase) Black Bear we watched.

Still later, we notice minnows skittering across the surface and stopped to investigate and collected some of the minnow the trout were chasing.

With this sample we were able to select an imitation that the trout favored.

During this whole procedure we had an eagle sitting in a tree watching the entire process.

So, that is how you strange creatures catch trout, hmm my way is better!

A little bit later in the day we notice that the Aquatic White Moths were emerging, and that the trout were feeding on them, at first, we simply used a White Soft Hackle fished damp and later switched to a very pale Tan Para Caddis imitation which also produced several trout. Here I must apologize for in our haste to take advantage of this situation I neglected to get photos of the Aquatic Moths.

Then the wind began to rise and the fishing on the river became challenging to say the least, however our day was far from over. We pulled off the river and went up to Afterbay and due to the configuration of the Canyon and the wind direction we were able to find an area along the shore where the Hoppers were being pushed and driven by the wind and waves and spent the rest of the late afternoon and evening work over a variety of fish; trout, carp and smallmouth bass. The primary imitations were various hopper types with bead-head prince nymphs dropped off the back on a twenty-inch separation from the hopper.

If you have never caught a carp on a fly rod, you should give it a try, they are great fun and will test your tackle.

Some very nice Smallmouth were also taken along with some trout.

All in all, it was a great trip and the last day was exceptional even though the hatches and the fishing was different than we had found in previous years. We went with an open mind and a willingness to observe and take advantage of the opportunities we encountered. Even though we had been fishing the Bighorn River for many years, we always go with the expectation of having a good time and enjoying our outing and taking full advantage of what the river may offer, therefore we are never disappointed in the results of trip.

Everything in nature is in constant change, the fish seem to adapt to these changes much more quickly than does the angler!

Finally, please remember, fly fishing is supposed to be enjoyable, but we anglers can sometime ruin our own outing with unreasonable expectations.

Enjoy & Good Fishin’
Tom Travis
Montana Fly Fishing Guide
Livingston, Montana
December 2019

Personal Note to the Readers of FAOL

All thing in nature and life are constantly changing and thus a change is occurring with Fly Angler’s Online. It has been my pleasure and honor to write for this publication and to freely share the knowledge that I have acquired over a lifetime of fly fishing, fly tying and guiding fly anglers. I wish all the very best and hope that you all keep growing in all aspects of this wonderful sport.

My contact information will be made available to any have questions or seek knowledge about this sport where I might be of assistance.

Tom Travis,

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