Streamers on the Big Hole…and Beer Bongs

Streamers, Mother’s Day Caddis … and Beer Bongs

If you’ve read much of my work, including Fly Bible: Montana you probably know that the Big Hole River is my favorite Montana stream for a variety of reasons, some having to do with spending lots of time on it with friends and family and the great memories associated with those days. Another reason is the Big Hole hosts more big trout than any other southwest Montana stream including some freaks of nature, sterile female rainbow and brown trout that grow to 20 pounds or more. If that doesn’t place possibility in each cast it’s not going to happen for you.

Probably my favorite time to fish the Big Hole, which flows south of Anaconda and Butte and north and northwest of Dillon, is spring. That’s when I’ve caught my largest Big Hole fish and it’s a time when the river doesn’t have too many people on it.

That’s why I couldn’t resist an invitation to fish it last Saturday with a friend from Missoula and guide Frank Kneeshaw who operates out of Four Rivers Fishing Company in Twin Bridges. Kneeshaw and I spent time on the water earlier this year and hit it off immediately. I told a friend from Missoula, Dan Summerfield, that he was going to like this guy and Kneeshaw and Summerfield only knew each other for an hour or so when Summrfield said, “Thomas, where did you find this guy,” and I replied, “He found me and saved my life last year.”

So much for sentimental wanderings. About the fishing. I wouldn’t call last Saturday the most generous day on the water, but we worked through a stretch of the lower Big Hole and a case of Rainier, switching off on the oars because this wasn’t a strict guide day and Summerfield and I wanted Kneeshaw to get his licks in, too. I would call last Saturday slow for the Big Hole, which it can be some times. But we steadily hooked fish on streamers, nothing gigantic, but some nice fish for sure, including a couple 17 or 18-inch browns. We raised some fish we couldn’t hook and at one point, near the end of the day, a small brown cruised out from a cut bank to nip at a yellow Zoo Cougar, four straight casts and on the fifth cast I said, watch this and I cast to the bank, never let the fly sink and dragged it across the surface. That’s when a bigger brown, maybe a 16 or 17-incher, raced past the smaller fish and creamed the streamer. It was brown trout visuals at their best and we all enjoyed one hearty laugh before calling it a day on the water.

As it can be at fishing access sites, you never know quite what you’re going to get. When we completed our shuttle, we encountered a troupe of people, a mix of 20-somethings and their parents, partying down at Notch Bottom. Not being shy, Summerfield and I invited ourselves into the mix and shortly I noticed some lively talk around the fire. Next thing I know D-Sum has some tube raised to his lips and PBR disappears in, say, 1.5 seconds. Will we ever grow up. Don’t answer that.

Ok, if you want to fish the most beautiful stream in the state, head  to the Big Hole in the next few days before it blows out. Or, if the lower river blows, go to the upper river near the Sportsman’s access and fish the flatwater stretches. Throw streams, especially yellow, white and olive patterns, and search for those five-pound and larger browns and ‘bows. If water conditions are good you might see a major caddis blitz, too, especially on the lower river. So take a ready supply of caddis emergers and dries and five-weight stick. If you want an expert, take along Kneeshaw, too. You can book him through Four Rivers at 1-888-4RIVERS. To check out his profile and other guide options visit


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