The Big Horn - Afterbay to 13 mile
Map Size 17" x 48"
Very few streams in the world have more notoriety than the Big Horn River. With its origins in the Wind River Range, “The Horn” wanders for more than 460 miles through the mountains and prairies of Wyoming and Montana. While the river fishes quite well for the majority of its reach its true fame comes from the stretch of water (pictured hereon) from Afterbay to the 13 mile access, all located just outside of Fort Smith, Montana.
As a tailwater of Afterbay & Yellowtail Dams, this stretch of The Horn is gifted with relatively consistent flows and water temperatures which allow the river to form and maintain a diverse structure of deep pools, classic riffles and slow stretches of almost spring creek quality and clarity. The formula is simple, if you create a low sediment, 40 to 65 degree waterway, premium nutrients will thrive and large healthy trout will follow. With this perfect setting it comes as no surprise that this water holds 6000 to 8000 trout per mile with more 15” or bigger fish than many streams hold in their full reach. This sheer abundance of large trout coupled with almost year around cooperative weather make The Horn a top destination for fisherman worldwide.
Depending on the season an experienced flyfisherman here can plan on casting anything from dry flies to nymphs to streamers, on rods ranging from a 9’ 4 weight to a 10’ 8 weight. Because of limited wade access a drift boat is almost a mandatory accessory, allowing maximum coverage of the river at your own pace. For the dry fly angler the hatches on the Horn can be epic, to the point where you might call in sick to work, change travel plans and/or tempt divorce just to milk a few more days out of them. When the surface action slows, a Brassy, a Scud or a Ray Charles drifted at the right spot will rarely fail to perform. Likewise, the streamer fishing on the Horn is highly reliable with the action getting so violent at certain times that takes can happen before your fly even hits the water.
Regardless of your preferred fishing technique or level expertise, it is always a wise move to consult any one of a number of quality fly shops and outfitters in and around Fort Smith to get the most up to the minute fishing info, top-shelf flys and gear, and/or premium guiding services. Whether it is your first or 50th trip to The Horn, tapping this local knowledge & expertise can make the difference between a trip of "scenic fishing" and a trip of "epic catching".
"Arguably the finest trout stream in Montana, if not the world" is a quote that pops up in just about every reference to this piece of water ever published. This is a fun argument to explore but not one that means much when you are on the river with pheasants flying past like F-16’s and a 20 inch brown on your line tail-walking across the water. In fact the only legitimate argument at this point usually comes from the person on the oars, who is wondering (often out loud and profanely) how long you intend on being parked up front and if you might need a towel from the bilge to wipe the smile off your face?