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How to Fish the Big Hole on Your Next Fly Fishing Vacation

As the Big Hole flows from its headwaters near Jackson, MT to its confluence with the Jefferson River near Twin Bridges, this majestic river meanders through several different microhabitats and more than 150 miles of Southwest Montana’s countryside. The ever-changing topography and flora of this river valley make the Big Hole River one of the most unique and diverse fly fishing rivers in Montana.

Nearly all of the fly fishing that takes place on the Big Hole River happens on the stretch of the river between the towns of Wisdom and Twin Bridges. This 110-mile stretch of water has nearly 20 different public fishing accesses providing an angler with limitless options for accessing this Blue-Ribbon trout river.

Below is a list of the fishing accesses from just downriver from Wisdom all the way to Twin Bridges.

The uppermost fishing access is Squaw Creek/Mud Creek. This maintained yet primitive boat ramp is nothing more than a grassy bank that you can back a boat trailer down, but having this fishing access is invaluable during the high water in the spring. When the Big Hole is swollen during runoff, the flat topography of the upper Big Hole Valley floor is an ideal place to find slower and safer water. The Big Hole in this section is wide, slowly meandering, and absent of any white water or dangerous obstacles.

A short four and a half miles down river is Saw Log. This unmarked access point is one that you can easily miss if you do not know exactly where it is. It is little more than a 4-wheel trail behind a barbwire fence, but again it gives you access to the slower moving water of the Upper Big Hole River. In the Section between Saw Log and Fishtrap, there are several islands offering an angler many places to stop the boat and wade.

The next designated fishing access is Fishtrap. Fishtrap is both a boat ramp and a campground. During holidays and hot summer weekends, it is not uncommon to find several different groups camping and fishing at this picturesque location. Just above this fishing access, the gradient of the land begins to slightly steepen and the Big Hole River begins to pick up speed and narrow slightly.

Lower Sportsman’s is nothing more than a grassy parking area and a gap in the willows bordering the river, but this unmarked access site is one of the more popular put-ins during late spring and early summer. The river below Sportsman’s is loaded with willow-covered islands and gorgeous undercut banks.

East Bank is the uppermost concrete boat launch on the Big Hole River. This popular fishing access can become extremely crowded during major hatches such as Salmonfly and the Golden Stones, and the parking can get a little tight, but the fishing in the section below East Bank makes it more than worth the hassle.

Dickey Bridge is less than a mile downriver from East Bank, but if the crowds are bad at East Bank, Dickey Bridge is another option. This fishing access can be difficult because it is a wooden ramp that unless the Big Hole is running extremely high, doesn’t make it all the way to the river.

Eleven and a half miles downstream from the East Bank fishing access is Jerry Creek. This Concrete ramp is located just above the Canyon Section of the Big Hole River. Below this fishing access the river again narrows and picks up speed.

At higher water, the George Grant/Dewey fishing access can be a difficult take out. Even though this concrete ramp is well built, it is located on a straightaway of the river without any protection from the current. At lower flows the George Grant fishing access is much easier and makes for a great wade fishing access as well.

Greenwood Flats is just about a half mile down river from the George Grant boat ramp. This unmarked and unimproved fishing access is one of the worst on the Big Hole River, but the extra half-mile that it adds to a float when launching at Jerry Creek makes it a popular take-out in the summertime. 4-wheel drive is highly recommended for this fishing access. This is also the last take-out before the Dewey Canyon. The Dewey Canyon has several class II and class III rapids at higher water, and is not recommended for novice oarsmen.

At the end of the Dewey Canyon sits the Silver Bridge/Pump House fishing access. Renovated in 2010, this access now has a concrete ramp. This fishing access is the last take out on the Big Hole before the Pump Station Diversion Dam. The diversion dam aids in the collection of water for Butte’s drinking water, but also creates a large standing wave with intense hydraulics. Only expert rowers should attempt floating over the diversion dam.

Less than a mile below the diversion dam is the Divide fishing access. This concrete ramp is the put-in for one of the most popular floats on the Big Hole River. When people refer to “The Canyon Section” of the Big Hole, the float from Divide to Melrose is what they are generally referring to. With steep forested mountains lining both sides of the river for the majority of the 14-mile float, this section is frequently considered the most scenic section of the Big Hole. Also, just down river from the boat ramp is the Divide Campground, which has several very nice campsites.

Slightly less than halfway between Divide and Melrose is the Maiden Rock fishing access. This dirt boat ramp is a great option of anglers that want to fish the “Canyon Section” of the Big Hole without having to commit to the full 10-mile float.

Fish and Game/The Dead Zone is only three and a half miles up river from Melrose, but the dirt road that takes you to this access is a long and bumpy one. Even though is take a little effort to get to The Dead Zone, this fishing access gives both wade and float anglers an optional fishing access relatively close to Melrose. It should be noted that the official name of this fishing access is Maiden Rock, but because the BLM Maiden Rock fishing access is the more easily reached and more frequently used boat ramp, this access is called either Fish and Game or The Dead Zone.

Melrose/Salmonfly is the fishing access right in the town of Melrose. With a large concrete boat ramp and several spots for camping, the Salmonfly Fishing Access is a very popular boat ramp and campground during the summertime. The Salmonfly access is start of the “Lower Section” of the Big Hole River, which is characterized by a lower gradient, fewer coniferous trees and a more open rangeland landscape.

Six miles below Melrose is Brownes Bridge. This dirt boat ramp also has a few campsites under the cover of several tall trees. During high water this fishing access is not a viable takeout because when the river is swollen the clearance between the river and Brownes Bridge becomes impassable with a boat.

Glen Bar is a primitive boat ramp behind the bar in the town of Glen. This fishing access is only a short distance up river from the official Glen fishing access, but this boat ramp is a nice option for shortening the float from Brownes Bridge or for lengthening the float from Glen down to Notch Bottom.

The Glen fishing access is just downriver from the town of Glen off of the Berma Road. The Berma Road is a dirt road that follows the Big Hole River from Glen almost all the way to Twin Bridges. Like Divide, Salmonfly and Brownes Bridge, Glen also has a campground adjacent to the boat ramp.

Notch Bottom is a dirt boat ramp nestled in amongst a tall stand of cottonwoods. A majority of the float from Glen to Notch Bottom is far away from any roads or houses, making it a very nice float to escape from civilization.

Pennington is the last official fishing access on the Big Hole River. In 2008 the High Road fishing access, which was below Pennington, was washed out during high water making Pennington the last access site before the Big Hole River’s confluence with the Jefferson. The Pennington boat ramp is not much of a ramp at all, it is more of a rock and mud slope off the Burma Road into the river. The boat ramp can be a little tricky, but it is definitely be worth the efforts to fish this lower river.

The Big Hole River has all the access you need to spend a day to a week fishing the river on your next fly fishing vacation to southwest Montana.  Be sure to call us for the latest river conditions and come by for a visit to pick up the flies that will hook you that big brown you have been dreaming of.  See you on the river!