It wasn't that the Indians wanted the fishing to themselves. They cared little for it and still don't. Like the Sioux, who greeted Custer at the nearby Little Bighorn 112 years ago this month, they just didn't like having intruders on their land.
The game is fly fishing, and most who have fished the Bighorn say there is no better place in the continental United States to play it not the Yellowstone, a little west of here; not the Madison, a little farther west, not any of the other wondrous waterways of the West.
"This is incredible," says Gardner Grout, waist deep after arriving this day with a dozen members of the Pasadena Casting Club, serious fishermen all. "This is the greatest fishing I've ever seen."
For fly fishermen, a trip to the Bighorn is a pilgrimage. They come from coast to coast to wade in its waters, confirming their belief that fly fishing is the only pure fishing. After a day on the river, they wonder where it has been all their lives.
So the river was re opened, amid some hard stares during a two day standoff between unarmed Indians and federal marshals at the Two Leggin's Bridge and a few intimidating shots fired near fishermen from the bluffs along the river.
But the fishermen weren't about to give up. Supreme Court, which in 1981 ruled that the river was open to everybody.
She said, cheerfully: "When we lived in Denver, I thought I'd married a guy who went to work in a three piece suit. Next thing I knew, here we were."
Most anglers and guides use the rocker shaped, double ended McKenzie dories that must be controlled by oars in their drift downstream. In the first 13 miles, which form the heart of the river, motors and live bait are not allowed unless you're an Indian. After those 13 miles, he said, the fishing is still good but "the quality of the experience drops off."
One is the Bighorn Angler, owned by outfitter Mike Brooks and his wife Holly.
And the silty water, Gordon added, not only was "too thick to drink and too thin to plow, if you'll excuse an old line," but also was too warm for trout and fit only for carp and other species regarded by some anglers as trash fish.
FORT SMITH, Mont. The sun surrenders the Big Sky country to dusk, and the river comes alive with blips and plops of brown trout rising for their supper. Mayflies skate downstream on the surface, their wings set upright like tiny little sails.
It didn't take long for the word to reach the fly fishermen working the nearby rivers, but in 1975 a new problem arose: The Crow Indians closed the river.
Anglers Say Fly Fishing Here Is Only Wade to Go
As an uneasy peace settled, the river's reputation grew. The Bighorn trout Canada Goose Cheap Hybridge Lite Vest Nz phenomenon was just an accident, an artificial river born of technology and turmoil to became a haven for guys casting bogus bugs.
Paul Gordon, who works in the National Park Service visitor center at Fort Smith, said: "You weren't going to bother fishing the Bighorn before the dam. In the spring it would come through like a freight train, and in the summer it would go dry."
For The Record Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 13, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction Home of the Week: The Home of the Week in the Sept. 6 Business section said the master bath of the Cheviot Hills home featured "Carrera marble floors." The floors are from the Manhattan Marble line. Carrara marble spelled that way is from the city in Italy of the same name. A number of Times articles have misspelled Carrara marble as Carrera.
The river has limited access by road and is best fished by boat. Non Indians are not allowed to venture onto shore above the high water mark, but few Indians are seen along the way.
All that changed when the dam came. The water cleared up, flowed constantly at a controlled level and, drawing off the bottom of the new Bighorn Lake, remained cold well into the blistering summers producing an excellent habitat for trout.
The fact is, it didn't exist as a premier trout fishery until 1965 and only started to thrive in 1981. Before 1965, when the Yellowtail Dam above Fort Smith was completed, the Bighorn was at best an insignificant backwater, winding northeast out of Wyoming and through 45 miles of the Crow Indian reservation.
"All the state wanted was the game management," said Gordon, who sells handmade Indian trinkets for local Crow at the visitor center. "They didn't want to own it. But the Supreme Court said, 'You own the riverbed.' "
The game begins in earnest, man trying to fool fish with imitation insects. Rods bend. Here and there a whoop! is heard as an angler hooks a big one.
Fort Smith is the base of operations. For a couple of years after the Civil War, it existed to offer protection to travelers on the Bozeman Trail. Now it's a loose settlement of wood frame tackle shops and stores with covered porches for lounging.