We tour to the Big Hole early season in search of big brown trout, sometimes we find them and other times they’re damn near nonexistent. This year has been pretty solid finding good fish and overall good fishing, whether it’s trophy browns or sturdy rainbows in those tea stained waters. Deep nymphs and streamers are the primary weapons as we are still a couple weeks out for the dry fly. You never know what has ripped that bobber under the surface, and only a good set of the rod will solve the mystery.
We are one of very few outfits in our area with Restricted Use Permits to guide the Big Hole, setting Bitterroot River Guides apart from the rest to offer the opportunity to see this fabulous river system. The Big Hole valley has an old time feel, much different than our home waters in the Bitterroot. Huge ranches and open meadows border the river for mile upon mile, setting a context that feels as if not much has changed in the last hundred years. Yes, there’s a few more fishermen around nowadays, but those Big Hole browns are ready and willing to take a good drift, and the chance at a trophy exists at every grassy bank or churning boulder pocket.
Well, while I was out on a guided float chasing Skwalas and mayflies, my guides were up to no good, as you can clearly see, chasing big Bitterroot brown trout, and definitely not using dry flies. Trout eat a little of everything, mostly aquatic insects, as they forage throughout the day in rhythm with the daily bug cycles. When the hatch at hand gets going, large numbers of fish feed throughout the river to take advantage of the increase in bug activity.
Then there’s these guys. Hatch be damned. Browns like this rarely fall for your ordinary insect imitations, their feeding patterns are impulsive, and their foraging is more like hunting and killing. These are the predators of our peaceful little rainbow/cutthroat stream: no little trout is ever really safe. That’s why we protect our beloved little dinks by targeting these bruisers with the only thing they consistently hammer: Streamers. Heavy, colorful, flashy minnow imitations with big ass googly eyes fished on a clear, sink tipped seven weight. Oh Yeah.
Streamer chucking is not for the faint of heart, and many can’t handle it. Heavy stiff rods and weighted lines wear a person out, especially if one’s cast is inefficient, so we guides use caution when introducing our anglers into this realm: short periods keep our guests from getting frustrated and beat down. Now when it’s a crew like these two river monkeys in the photo, there’s no holds barred. Ten miles of swollen off color river, a half rack of Coors, and hundreds of heavy casts went into that one brown trout. Every cast has the promise of another leviathan: it may be the first deep log jam at daybreak, it may be somewhere on mile seven, or it may not happen at all. Keep hucking.