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Having fished the world famous "Upper 13" Stretch of the Bighorn River last summer, I know how Custer felt at The Little Bighorn. The surly crowds and invading fleets of driftboats were awesome to behold.

I don’t know about you, but my idea of a good fishing experience does not include having people throw rocks in pools I’m about to fish or yell obscenities at me as I drift past. Sure, there are lots of big trout in the "Upper 13," but there is more to fishing than just fish, and this part of the Bighorn just doesn’t have what I’m looking for anymore.

I fished the river on what the assembled masses in the Afterbay Boat Ramp called a "slow day." Slow… ? I’ve seen fewer people at Wrigley Field for a Cubs Cards game.

Interestingly, though, at the end of my run down the "Upper 13" gauntlet, I happened to look downstream from the takeout point at Bighorn. I didn’t see a single boat or even an angler anywhere as far as I could see. There was just empty water and rising trout.

Since that experience, I’ve done some checking and discovered that the lower stretches of the river are indeed much less crowded. I’m talking about the stretches from Bighorn to Mallard, or from Mallard to Two-Leggins. Yes, there are slightly fewer trout here, but the fish tend to be bigger and less traumatized.

Unfortunately, most outfitters in the region will try to steer you to the "Upper 13" because the put ins and take outs are more conveniently located for the outfitter, anyway. If you book a trip, however, it’s your money. I recommend you hang tough and insist on fishing the lower water.

Three outfits I recommend are: Alan Kelly’s Eagle Nest Lodge (*); Quill Gordon Fly Fishers (*); and Two Leggins Outfitters (*) (Contact: David Schaff). John Holt.

(Don Causey Note: If you share Holt’s concern about the "Upper 13," he suggests you write the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (*). Tell the folks there you believe some sort of access control is needed on this river.)

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