When an opportunity arose to fly fish an iconic Western water with a legendary guide I could not pass. The Bighorn River and Jack Dennis represent the ultimate fly-fishing experience. Both demand your A-game fly fishing skills with tight loops, pinpoint accuracy, and landing 20+ inch trout.
To set the stage I want to start with Jack Dennis. Jack moved to Jackson, WY at a young age. Over the ensuing decades Jack’s reputation grew with his eponymous fly shop, designer of flies, author, TV personality, and guide to politicians and celebrities. Now in his seventies, Jack is finally slowing down to enjoy grandchildren and limiting himself to summer guiding the New Fork River in Pinedale, WY and the Bighorn River in Thermopolis, WY.
This trip centered where the Wind River exits the canyon of the Wind River Indian Reservation and becomes the Bighorn. This meeting place is called the Wedding of the Waters. One of only a few examples where a river changes names in midstream.
This portion of the Bighorn is home to large Brown, Rainbow, and Cutthroat trout. During the summer months these fish see a good number of anglers and can be very spooky and selective. I fished with Jack in late September and there were only a few anglers. I saw a few fishermen wading in a large riffle near the top of the Bighorn, but by far a drift boat was chosen.
During my 2 1/2 days of fishing, targeting specific rising fish was our approach. Accuracy and a drag-free drift were paramount. If one or the other was lacking there was no chance to catch that fish. Typically, I had only one cast at each fish if the fish was holding in place. If the cast was long the fish “blew-up” and was gone. To improve chances of hooking a fish, casts were either cross-stream or upstream. Both methods minimized drag but the fly needed to be within a few feet of the fish. No chance with a downstream presentation. My casts ranged from twenty to sixty feet using 5x tippet on a 4 or 5 weight rod. Trico spinners and a small Parawulff (a Jack Dennis design) dry fly were the most effective patterns.
The fish takes were explosive. These large fish basically self-set the hook. The biggest challenge I had was avoiding an immediate snapped tippet if I did not raise the rod tip fast and high enough. The fish immediately dive into the weed beds below. I must admit I had my share of break-offs.
Fly fishing the Bighorn River is worth a trip to challenge your fly-fishing skills. Combine fishing with a visit Jackson, WY and Yellowstone, a scenic 4-hour drive away.
FFI MCI Fly Casting Instructor