When anglers talk about the Bighorn, it’s usually a conversation directed at the trout-rich stretch that flows through the Crow Reservation in Fort Smith, Montana. This Bighorn—the Wyoming section of the same river—is not that Bighorn.
Beginning at high elevation in the Wind River Range near Dubois, Wyoming, the Bighorn headwaters are formed by the Wind River. The freestone reach zigzags southeast toward Riverton, eventually pooling in Boysen Reservoir, near the one-stoplight town of Shoshoni. Below Boysen, a popular recreation destination for summertime boaters, the river slices steep and deep through the Owl Creek Mountains and the geological grandeur of the Wind River Canyon.
Twelve miles later, at Wedding of the Waters, the Wind drops its blustery name, mellows its roll, and officially becomes the Bighorn—at Thermopolis. Drive time from The Reef Fly Shop to Thermopolis is about two and a half hours.
Once a guide’s day-off haunt, Wyoming’s Bighorn for better or worse is a secret no more. In short, this scenic fishery has fewer trout per mile than the Montana beats below Yellowtail Dam. But the average sizes of its rainbows, browns and Snake River cutthroat are impressive.
During summer, the river sees steady drift-boat traffic from both in-state and interloping guides from Montana and elsewhere. On weekends, believe us, the inner-tube hatch can also be epic. But finding fish pushing 18+ inches can be a daily experience for the experienced angler. That’s because this fertile western tailwater is flavored with many of the same hatches you’ll find on Grey Reef. For the nyphing set, leeches, scuds, crayfish, annelids, midges, mayflies, and caddis produce consistent subsurface results. We fish similar rigs to those in use on the Reef: shorter and lighter when the fish are on emergers. Deeper and heavier when they’re not. Good spring and fall baetis hatches bring fish to the surface and you’ll find stationary feeders in singles, pairs, and larger pods, typically lining bankside feeding lanes through town. The trico hatch is a late summer to early fall mainstay that also brings pods of good fish to the surface to binge-eat these tiny bugs. Fall hopper fishing is a seasonal highlight. And wintertime streamer fishing for trophy ’bows and browns is a great way to spend the day, followed by a soak in the hot springs-fed State Bath House or Star Plunge pool.
Shoulder-season on the Bighorn can be productive for guests who appreciate a challenge as well as a change of scenery. Thermopolis is authentic Wyoming—full of grit, and minus the frills and clichés. Ranching is the predominant way of life here, although tourism has also gained a toehold in recent times. The town boasts the world’s largest natural hot springs at the aptly named Hot Springs State Park, a mini-canyon stretch with striking geothermal formations. Its Dinosaur Center is one of the best in the country, located next door to actual archeological dig sites. Hotels range from cheap to still pretty cheap—by Jackson and Cody standards. And eatery options run from fast food to fine-ish dining.
Stretching from the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park to the fertile foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, the Bighorn Basin envelopes an immensity of unparalleled hunting opportunity. And in addition to good fishing, Thermopolis is a prime central hub for your next wingshooting adventure. Waterfowl are attracted to the area due to its geothermal activity and warm water. Therefore winter waterfowling can be a hot barrel experience, and high-volume upland hunts for chukar, Hungarian partridge, pheasant, and sage and blue grouse are some of the best in the state.
From Cody, Wyoming (home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West) to Thermopolis (where you can witness our state herd of actual buffalo at Hot Springs State Park) this is cast-and-blast country. Exploring the area with one of our seasoned guides is a great way to get to know its fishing and shooting attractions.
Book a Thermopolis fishing guide or a wingshooting trip with The Reef Fly Shop today.