100 Best: Big Hole River
Location: Southwest Montana
Type of stream: Freestone
Angling methods: Fly, Spin
Species: Browns, Rainbows, Cutthroat, Brookies, Grayling
Season: Varies. Generally, all year if you catch and release
Supporting Services: Wisdom, Dillon
Short take: Smartest River in Montana
Handicapped Access: None
Closest TU Chapter: Lewis & Clark
Think of it. An unfettered trout stream flowing for 153 miles with such ample public access that no one need feel hemmed in even during the height of summer season after snow melt has blown through in . Rising in the Beaverhead National Forest south of Jackson, Montana, the Big Hole flows for more than 40 miles through a broad flat valley before reaching the town Wisdom.
Below Wisdom, the broad valley narrows and the pace of the river quickens. The further downstream one goes, the bigger the rainbows grow. Access is more than ample. Wading is easy. Unlike many other western rivers run-off on the Big Hole is relatively light and the river seldom discolors. Fish it early in the season when streamers lure healthy ‘bows from pockets behind boulders and tree trunks washed into the river. After the spring surge passes trout key on caddis. June brings salmon flies, and the word is that big nymphs in sizes 2 to 6 take more big fish than dries. Your choice.
The Big Hole is joined by the Wise River, at the town of the same name and the valley tightens into a modest canyon. Many consider this the premier section of the river. Large browns dominate. The river breaks out of the canyon above Divide but pushes on through terrain of mixed boulder runs, gravel riffles, and long flats. Access varies as well. Much of the better water requires a hike of a mile or more up or down stream from designated access points. The salmon fly hatch in this section is prodigious as are, alas, the number of anglers.
Drought and high temperatures have forced the closing of the Big Hole to fishing in late summer and fall in past years. At that time, if you’re headed in this direction check with Montana Fish and Game to determine the river’s status.