Osprey Outfitters Guide Service and Fly Shop

Osprey Outfitters Guide Service and Fly Shop
Osprey Outfitters Guide Service and Fly Shop

The Shop

The Shop
The Shop

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I thought I was going to witness the first fatality on the Bitterroot River yesterday (June 29th) while fishing clients in the town section; Angler's Roost to Woodside. We were stopped fishing a back channel when I heard a loud scream off in the main channel. I looked over and saw a man and his wife hit a strainer and flip their "boat". When I say they were in a boat it is a GROSS overstatement. This thing was an 8 foot dingy style raft that looked like it came off the shelf at Kmart. I wouldn't have been on the thing in Lake Como in a five mile per hour wind! I watched the couple grab their paddles (not oars) from out of the snag. Yes, they had two, three foot paddles they were each trying to use to row their dingy in very large water. As my clients continued to fish, I kept one eye on my clients and the other on the soggy couple. After fumbling around for a few minutes, they got in the boat only to make it a whopping twenty feet before t-boning another strainer! This time the genius couple managed to completely taco the boat around a root ball. It was amazing to me at this point no one had been seriously hurt or killed. The ironic thing is this was happening at the exact place where Dick Galli was killed last year. As I watched Dingyman try to free his folded "boat", I told my clients I should not go help him which would force them to walk out. However, I decided against my initial feeling and walked over. When I got to the couple, I asked them if they realized they were on the most dangerous river in the State of Montana. Dingyman replied, "Oh ya, we have floated this before." I immediately responded, "You have obviously never floated before because I just witness you flip your boat twice in twenty feet. Furthermore, this is the exact place where Dick Galli was killed last year. I will help you pull this boat out but you need to walk due east of here and go to the Fetch Inn. Do you want to die today? This river will kill you if you go back in it. I do not want to be pulling bodies out of the water today!" Against my better judgment I pulled the boat off the strainer. I tried to reinforce the fact that he and his wife were in a very life threatening situation if they got back in their dingy as the river got real serious in the next 400 yards.

I pulled my anchor and headed to the Skalkaho Creek channel, where I planned to make lunch for my clients. As soon as I got back up the channel and dropped my anchor, I heard shouting coming from the main stem again. I thought, OH SHIT HERE WE GO! Immediately I took off running for the main channel. By the time I got there I saw Dingyman hanging onto another raft while trying to hold on to his dingy. The wife was nowhere to be found. I stripped off my shirt, hat and sunglasses and swam across a small channel to an island on the main channel. My intent was to help the other boat rescue this guy because it was obvious they were struggling to oar; the guy and his raft were hanging on where their starboard oar needed to go. However, they were able to get into the Skalkho channel backwater. I yelled at the man in the water, "Where is your wife?" I thought for sure we would be pulling her body out of one of the MANY strainers upstream. Luckily, she somehow managed to jump on shore when they hit the first strainer. At this point I completely lost it on Dingyman. I yelled at him, "Do you have a fucking death wish?! I told you you were gonna die today if you got back in that boat. Do you see this channel? This is Skalkaho Creek. Take that boat, put it on shore and walk your ass outta here. You have absolutely NO business being on this river. Not only have you endangered your life, you have put your wife at risk as well as my life and the lives of these two people who just saved you! It is not our responsibility to pull your ass from the river because you are ignorant." He told me he was not in the mood to be yelled at right then. Maybe so, but I was very pissed off. He finally did heed my advice and the last I saw of the couple they were walking east toward Highway 93.

I don't know if this guy realized it but if it weren't for the two guys from Washington State, me, or someone else, would have been pulling his body from the water. The Washington boys were heroes yesterday! There would have been no way that Dingyman would have made it through that maze of log jams and strainers. I think Dingyman is part cat because he used up at least three lives yesterday. I know some of you who read this probably think my comments to Dingyman were probably a little too harsh; maybe so. However, I have been posting on my blog and my reader board at the shop that the river is super dangerous. Dingyman put way too many people in harms way multiple times yesterday. It would have been real tragic if they came here on vacation and left in a casket! On this river ignorance isn't bliss, ignorance is DEATH!!!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Signficance of the Western Tanager.

Well I can't stand it anymore and by this weekend word will be out. For those of you that think I have lost it and I am now a bird watcher, you are partly correct. Birds will tell you a lot about fishing both on rivers and the ocean. When certain birds arrive, you must ask yourself, "Self, why are they here now?" When the swallows are filling the air on a river, have you ever stopped to wonder why? I have always told my clients, "When the birds start eating, the fish will follow." However, the arrival of the Western Tanager to the East and Westfork of the Bitterroot River means only one thing; the emergence of the mighty Salmonfly. These beautiful songbirds are ONLY here during the Salmonfly hatch. Where they go the rest of the summer, I have no idea. They are native to the Rocky Mountain West and any bird book will tell you they are present all summer. But in the 10 years I have been guiding, I have NEVER seen them after the Salmonflies are gone. The Western Tanager is actually a subspecies of the Cardinal family. The red pigment in the face of the Western Tanager is rhodoxanthin, a pigment rare in birds. It is not manufactured by the bird, as are the pigments used by the other red tanagers. Instead, it must be acquired from the diet, presumably from insects (Salmonflies) that themselves acquire the pigment from plants. A truly amazing fact is that the incubation period for the Western Tanager is only 13 days. After both parents feed the hatchlings for 11 short days, they leave the nest. However, they will stay close to the parents for a few weeks. I think the fact that they are dining on Salmonflies allows the hatchlings to grow at such an incredible rate. In early fall, they migrate south for the winter as far as Panama. I want to be a Western Tanager chasing the Salmonfly hatch and winter in Panama. What a life!

So now that I have let the bird out of the bag, yes there are Salmonflies on both the East and Westfork of the Bitterroot River. The Eastfork is fishing a little more consistent on dry flies and there are Western Tanagers from top to bottom. The Westfork is a little different story right now. The flows are coming down and it is starting to come into shape. I floated the Westfork twice late this week from Painted Rocks dam down the entire length to High Bank with identical results. There are no Western Tanagers at the dam yet. We did have some good results fishing Salmonfly nymphs for the first two plus miles. However, once I saw the first Western Tanager we switched to a dry Salmonfly. About five minutes later we were landing our first fish on a dry! It is amazing what a bird will tell you without even knowing English! There were Western Tanagers everywhere until we hit Nez Perce Creek. Right now Nez Perce is easily doubling the size of the Westfork. Not only is it increasing the volume, it is also cooling down the water 3-4 degrees. Now that may seem insignificant, but Salmonflies need the water to be at least 50 degrees to emerge as adults. The water temps below Nez Perce were 47 and guess what, no bugs. We did not see any Western Tanagers the rest of the float and did not have another fish rise to a Salmonfly. We did find a few fish willing to eat a Salmonfly nymph. It was only in the 2 mile "micro-ecosystem" did we find the tanagers and fish willing to eat a dry Salmonfly.This is all about to change as the Westfork is dropping fast. The entire length should start fishing by early to mid next week. You now know the signs to look for. I start a long stretch of guiding on Sunday and will post photos and stories when I can. Now is the time to drop everything you are doing and chase the big bug like you were a Western Tanager.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mitchell Slough Dilemma

When I stirred the pot over work being done to stabilize the banks of the Bitterroot River, I was called everything from a hero to a babbling idiot. Not being afraid to call it how I see it, I would like to start a new debate regarding Mitchell Slough. You might be surprised by my stance.

Since the courts have ruled that Mitchell Slough is a natural waterway and deserves public access under the Montana Stream Access Law, it has done two things. The first, and most obvious, is the general public now has legal access to once private waters. Most people applauded this decision, including me. However, after seeing what has happened to the slough, I have changed my opinion. Immediately after the courts made their ruling, the landowners, who own the water rights for Mitchell Slough, shut off all the supplemental river water that fed the slough. This is completely within their right. I believe they were attempting to discourage people from fishing but there is no question that the landowners made Mitchell Slough the fishery that it is today. Before they improved the habitat, Mitchell Slough was a de-watered and silted over dead zone. Only after spending A LOT of time and money did Mitchell Slough blossom into a trophy fishery, as well as a very important spawning grounds for Bitterroot River trout.

There is no doubt there are very large trout that can be caught on Mitchell Slough; but at what cost? Since there has been public access, Mitchell Slough has only suffered. When the landowners lost the lawsuit, nearly all supplemental water feeding the slough was shut down. Now that the water is barely flowing year round, the slough is once again silting over. Once the silt starts filling in, critical spawning gravel will become non-existent. When Mitchell Slough was improved by the landowners, it re-emerged as a very important hatchery to Bitterroot River trout. The Bitterroot River fishery already suffers from rip rapping and other forms of “bank stabilization”. If the siltation of Mitchell Slough continues it will be yet another huge loss to critical spawning habitat.

Ironically, the same Montana Stream Access law that gained public access to Mitchell Slough may also be its downfall. According to the law, to legally fish Mitchell Slough you cannot walk on any vegetation. This only encourages people to tromp all over the redds (trout spawning beds). How many people that fish Mitchell Slough are vigilant not to step on the redds? When I went to assess the state of the slough a month ago, there were redds everywhere. I even was fortunate enough to watch a pair of rainbows spawning. I also couldn't help but notice redds that had been walked through and completely destroyed.

These two issues: siltation and public access do not make for a sustainable or healthy spawning ground. So, what is the solution? I do not believe you can force the landowners to release water back into the slough. It is their water and they can do with it what they want. However, if they do not use the water, can they lose their water rights over time? This is a question for someone who knows more about water rights than I. Is there any water that can be purchased by citizens outfitters and or FWP that could be released in the slough (similar to what was done in Painted Rocks)? Short of these ideas I only can think of one other solution. I truly believe that Mitchell Slough should be closed to public access. Yes, I said closed! If it were closed, the landowners would once again supplement the flows, thereby flushing the silt and restoring the habitat. We cannot afford to lose anymore critical habitat on the Bitterroot River. Is it really worth catching some big fish now with the ramifications being the overall loss of productivity on the entire river over time? I would like to hear your opinion on this matter. I know it is a very sensitive issue, but I really do not like to debate the easy ones! I am sure the people who thought I was a hero in the earlier controversy think I am a blabbering idiot and vice versa.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Didymo on the Westfork

I have floated the Westfork of the Bitterroot River a couple of times in the last week, before the water started pouring over the dam, and couldn't help but notice the large amounts of Didymo on the rocks and underwater brush. Now before you freak out and think the sky is falling, let's back up a little bit. For those of you who don't know what didymo (aka "rock snot") is, I will try to explain the little I know.

Didymo is a naturally occurring diatom that is found in almost every Western river that runs clean and cold. This diatom has received a lot of press as of late in places like New Zealand, Chile/Patagonia and some rivers in the U.S.. When didymo explodes on rivers, it covers miles of river and forms very large mats (up to 6-12" deep) and that choke off aquatic life. Didymo thrives on rivers that receive a lot of sunshine, which is most good trout fisheries. Once didymo takes hold of a river, it is almost impossible to eradicate. New Zealand was the first country to take a proactive position by banning the use all felt soled boots . This is just one way didymo is transferred from river to river. It also can be transferred via boats (both clinging to the bottom and sides as well as water stored in the boat itself), any type of clothing, fishing gear and birds. (By the way the picture to the right is NOT on the Westfork. It is a stock picture of a completely choked river by didymo.) Although we cannot control the spread through birds, the other ways didymo is transferred can be controlled. If you are taking your boat from one river to another be sure to wash it out completely and thoroughly with a 10% bleach solution before getting to your next destination. If you have felt soled wading boots, make sure to thoroughly wash them with at least a 10% bleach solution and let them COMPLETELY dry out. Most wader companies are now making rubber soled boots to help fight the spread of didymo. However, they too must be washed and dried. Currently, there are many states considering banning felt soled wading boots in attempt to stop the spread of didymo, as well as other "Aquatic Nuisance Species". As of this writing, Vermont and Maryland have bills in the House of Representatives awaiting approval. Alaska was the first state to enact any legislation and will ban all felt in SE Alaska in 2011 and state-wide in 2012.

After the first time I noticed didymo on the Westfork of the Bitterroot River, I called Chris Clancy, Montana FWP Fisheries Biologist for the Bitterroot River. Mr. Clancy immediately relayed my story via email to both James Craft, Research Scientist Flathead Lake Biological Station and Bob Wiltshire, Executive Director Center for Aquatic Nuisance Species. I received an email from all of the above parties asking if I could collect samples the next time I was on the Westfork. I collected two samples (the first 2 miles above Job Corps and the second 2 miles below Job Corps) which Mr. Clancy immediately sent off to be analyzed. I have to give props and thank Mr. Clancy for his prompt actions regarding this matter. For those of you who follow my blog, you know that I have had some harsh words for Mr. Clancy. However, during this process he has been great to work with and his reposnses have been immediate. Mr. Clancy also informed me that there will be someone on the Bitterroot River this summer from the Center for Aquatic Nuisance Species that will be sampling the river for invasive species. When I find out more information on this issue I will follow up with another blog. In the meantime, I do not think we are due for a full blown invasion of didymo. However, if we experience severe low flows this year, anything could happen. The best thing anyone can do is practice the good preventative measures described above.