I dry camped at Cottonwood and liked it; I've seen mixed reviews on their cabins. There are other options in Ft. Smith; you can always contact one of the flyshops for info, too. Have fun, catch a bunch.
I have stayed in the cabins at Cottonwood Camp a number of times. They are rustic but clean and inexpensive and fine for fishermen. I admit that I might look for a nicer spot if I were taking my wife along, but she doesn't do "rustic" very well! I have used a guide on the Bighorn a couple of times. I had a great day with Wayne Egbert, who guides for Montana Trout Anglers. He ties his own flies and had some pretty original patterns that really got us into the fish. Good luck!
Look up Jeremy at Big Sky Fly Fishers. We have used him the last couple of years and he is a very good, easy going guide that will work hard for 10 hours. If you do not use a guide, use the big stuff to get into RB's and Brownies.
stayed at Cottonwood and rented a boat from Bighorn.
my best luck was with 20 and 22 beatis emergers, lightningnbugs same sizes. Size 18 and 20 midge dries. And throwing big streamers for rb's and browns against the bank in deeper sections with sink tips.
IMO those fish get pounded so good drift essential. Some big fish right below the dam if you can get The fly down to them.
You're in for a treat (fishing-wise, that is, Ft Smith is pretty spartan...)
Easiest river I know of to simply wander in, and get lots of big fish. Fish what is working, no need to over think it. All of the shops will have up to date hatch and fly charts. I've seen big fish pounded up on sculpins, and seen 6lb fish eat baetis. Last time I fished it for 3 days straight, fished Tricos all morning long, then switched to blind fishing caddis up against the banks.
Easiest wading is at 3-mile access. For an out-of-the way wade, try the water at the St. Xavier bridge (it's past the old abandoned school, as opposed to turning to go back to Ft Smith when coming from Hardin.) Only room for a few cars there, so that's a bonus.
But seriously, that river is an aquarium. Quite frankly, while fished hard, those fish are all pretty willing, and if you care to nymph you can really catch a ton of fish. But I always found it to be dry fly paradise when it's on. Underrated hopper river as well.
Thanks all... heading out tomorrow. Looks like we'll get a few clear days in there before all this weather catches up to us...geez it's been wet. Probably won't hurt the fishing too much, but puts a damper on the wife's photography. Anyway, a week+ away from the funny-farm (aka Boeing) is good medicine. Report to follow.
Well, we managed to outrun the rain; except for one afternoon on the Madison at 3$, we had dry conditions. We stayed in Columbus, MT for a couple of nights and fished the Stillwater up near Nye. Volume wasn't too bad and the water clarity was actually pretty good. I threw lots of nymph set's but the action was pretty slow. I only had one fish on at Moraine FAS using a SJW and green wire soft hackle. Wow, is that drive up the Stillwater gorgeous! There are quite a few small communities of homes and the vistas are amazing. On our second day, we drove the rest of the way to Red Lodge. I would highly recommend that route into Red Lodge.
We then made our way over to Hardin, MT and fished the Big Horn at 3 mile access. The weather was perfect, 71F with a slight breeze and broken clouds. Holy hell is that river ever a fish factory. At the recommendations from the fly shop, I made my way across the side channels to the main stem and spooked fish, lots of them, all the way there. I found a nice run with an inside and outside shelf and, using a #18 pink sow bug and #20 root beer midge, had steady action for over 3 hours working a 300 foot stretch of water. I had one violent hook up that peeled line off the reel and out into the fast current. Trying to back up into the shallow water so I could make my way downstream, I slipped trying to get up onto the bank and must have pinched down on the line...as that high voltage event stopped as quickly as it had started -- really would like to have seen that fish.
Still, the days participants of Rainbows and Browns (about evenly split) were made up of 14-18" fish, all of which were fat and as healthy as could be. We made the drive up to the Yellowtail Dam and that is a really cool place to see. Other than being a LONG HAUL from here, I would definitely recommend a trip to the BH... I will definitely be back. My wife took tons of pictures which included a Great Horned Owl and a number of new birds to check off in the Western Birds book.
We spent Memorial Day at the Big Horn Battlefield Monument. They had the place all decorated up and we attended a short ceremony with guest speaker, a Major from the Air Force Major Reserve who is a local Hardin, MT HS graduate... a bonus being an ex USAFRist myself.
We then drove back to Laurel, MT and onto Cody, WY. We had intended to stay in Cody, but the weather forecast showed rain moving into YNP the next day and I really wanted my wife to have good weather for photography (one of the primary goals of the trip -- as I really expected water conditions to be marginal at best). The little we saw of Cody was very cool however. I hear lots of good things about this town and we plan to go back for a longer visit. The drive up the Shoshone River into the park is FANTASTIC... a must see.
We made it over to West Yellowstone and stayed there for a couple nights; going back into the park for more pictures. She got some fantastic shots of Bighorn Sheep (and I mean huge) on rock outcropping. We saw one Grizzly, but it was down in brush that made pictures tough. Her trip was made by seeing the baby Bison...lots of great pictures and she wanted to take one home...I think she may have if I had not been there . We (and 100 others) got good shots of a black bear and, on our way back to West Yellowstone, were delayed over an hour by a Bison herd crossing a bridge... but it afforded more baby Bison pictures...euphoria!
We then made our way down 287 and stopped to fish the Madison at 3$ bridge. It rained heavy for about an hour, but the fishing was good and water level and clarity much better than I expected. We stayed at West Fork CG and I spent the evening fishing that area and found players everywhere.
We continued onto the KOA at Alder and had a fantastic evening campfire and burritos dinner. On Friday we fished the Ruby and, as it rarely does for me, did not disappoint. I had a nice 16 inch brown on my first pass in a section I have come to know well. A few more players over a 3 hour period, a quick lunch back at the camper and we headed off to CDA for a nights rest before making out way home yesterday.
I'll add a number of other pictures to my gallery including a few my wife took...she took over 1700 shots!....and has some culling to do.
Thanks again for the info on the Big Horn... definitely one that needs to be on your bucket list.
I should mention that the BH in spring is a tick sanctuary...probably not much of an issue by Labor Day. My wife had several on her clothes, having been walking around taking pictures, and I had one on my waders. These were sent back to their maker as unrepairable so they for sure won't bother you .