Last Wednesday my friends, Paul Dubas and Tina Krueger, floated the Bighorn River with me. It was a nice day with the air temperature eventually nudging up close to 70 degrees, but a strong southwest wind created a giant swamp cooler effect and had me keeping my jacket on until midafternoon when the wind abated.
Dubas is one of the most innovative people I know, and he is constantly tinkering with his fly-fishing tactics. For this trip down the river, he decided that he was going to fish a Teton Rig or drop-shot method. This type of nymph fishing is different from the standard rig that I am used to using in that the weight (split shot) is on the end of the leader below the nymphs. The nymphs are further up the leader tied off from the tag ends of surgeon's knots or off from tippet rings. (Dubas ties perfection loops in short lengths of tippet and loops them around the leader — the sections of tippet slide down the leader and stop at the surgeon or blood knot). Regardless of how this rig is set up, it is ideal for high water and, at the moment, the Bighorn River is flowing at 8,000 cubic feet per second.
So this rig consists of a 9-foot, 3X leader with an 18-inch length of 3X tippet attached with a surgeon's knot and then another 18-inch segment of 4X attached to the 3X. If you are going to tie on the nymphs to the tag end of the surgeon's knot leave about a 4-inch tag. At the bottom of the 4X make a clinch knot and attach your split shot above the knot. The trick is to have plenty of weight so that the shot gets down quickly and bounces along the bottom.
A large strike indicator is needed to make the system work effectively. Two good strike indicator brands are Air-Lock and Thing-A-Ma-Bobber. Both come in large enough sizes to support a heavy amount of split shot.
Cast the rig with a big open loop and allow the rig to bottom bump. The strike indicator will wiggle and lurch as the shot ticks or grabs bottom. A strike is very evident as the indicator will go under a couple of inches at least. If you are used to the standard method of nymph fishing where the shot is above the flies, and set the hook on anything suspicious, you will have a tough time letting the indicator wiggle downstream.
Dubas put his strike indicator about 1 foot below the fly line; well into the butt of the leader. He rigged Krueger's rod the same way and placed a couple of nymphs on the droppers. One nymph was a size 10 bright orange Scud pattern that I thought would be deadly for bonefish, but I had reservations on how good it would be for trout. The second fly was a gray Ray Charles.
Dubas tied on another big orange Scud on his line and also tied on a Pink Crusader that Gordon Rose invented and was the “in” fly on the Bighorn in 2016.
I rowed all day because of the strong downstream wind, which necessitated a lot of back rowing to keep the boat from going faster than the current. Dubas blew out his shoulder a few years ago, and I didn't want him to have a relapse.
It wasn't 100 yards or so below Afterbay when Krueger's indicator dived under and she set the hook. In a minute or so she brought a 17-inch brown to the boat. It had taken that garish orange Scud!
As we floated the river Dubas and Krueger doubled up several times and landed brown trout that ranged from 14 to 17 inches. They seemed to have a fish on every 10 minutes or so for the first three miles.
We stopped to wade fish a bit, but I made a mistake of taking out on the windward side of the river. Casting those big strike indicators with a wide open loop was a near impossibility, so my first stop resulted in zero fish for me, though Dubas and Krueger landed three or four.
As the day wore on the orange Scud stopped producing fish while the Ray Charles and Pink Crusader continued to produce. Krueger switched to a Gummy San Juan Worm, as did Dubas.
We pulled into a nice spot midafternoon that was fairly calm. Our friends Ray McCarn, Brett Smith and Andrew Burgos were moored there and invited us to fish the spot.
The guys had done well all day on a variety of nymphs, streamers and a secret fly that I won't divulge for fear that Burgos would hunt me down and do me bodily harm — suffice it to say his tactic is so different than the standard Bighorn fly-fishing techniques that he does have a leg up on the competition.
McCarn showed Krueger where to fish and soon she was catching trout with regularity. Her combo of Gummy Worm and gray Ray Charles was deadly — she must have caught a dozen or more fish in that sweet spot.
Dubas wasn't far behind. His Pink Crusader and Gummy Worm brought eight to 10 fish to the net pretty quickly.
All the fish that Dubas and Krueger caught came on that drop-shot nymph method. The spot they were fishing had quite a lot of debris on the bottom, but the shot on the end of the leader helped limit the hangups to a minimum. In short, they caught a lot of fish and didn't lose but a couple flies.
It was a great day to go fishing. The weather turned out to be very nice. The goldeneye ducks were numerous and noisy. The Canada geese were busy staking out nesting sites and calves were kicking up their heels in the pastures — it was a good day to be out and about. To top it off, I learned a few new tricks to try the next time I venture to the river.