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, February 29, 2012

The Shop is Back Open for the 2012 Season!

Starting March 1st, the shop will be open for the 2012 season.  Our hours will be  9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.  Come by and check out the new products for 2012 including many the new fly patterns .  The skwala hatch is just around the corner and the snow pack is looking great.  I will also start posting updated fishing reports on the website at www.ospreyoutfittersflyshop.com Unlike some other sites out there, I don't exaggerate the hatch and give only honest reports.  Here's to a great 2012 season and GOOD FISHN'! 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Post Thanksgiving Gluttony

My fishing buddy Donn and I were sitting on the couch adjusting our belts to allow room for a unbelievable Thanksgiving feast to settle.  Inevitably the conversation switched to upcoming fishing opportunities.  Late fall and the winter months are when I get to do most of my fishing.  From March to late October I'm so busy guiding and running the shop,  I rarely fish more than a couple times a month.  Anytime the weather is halfway decent in the winter I hit the river.  We quickly checked the forecast and saw that the Monday after Thanksgiving was promising; forecasted temperatures in the mid 50's and partly cloudy.  All that was left to do was sit back, digest and hope the weatherman got it right.

I walked outside that Monday and it felt as though the weatherman rolled the right dice.  There are firsts for everything!  The overnight lows had only dipped to 35º and the mercury was rapidly rising to the predicted mid 50's.  Perfect for some late fall fishing.  Hell, I was sure we'd even have some  dry fly opportunities.  To say the least, from mid-November to late February the dry fly action is spotty.  We're mostly relegated to watching a bobber or maybe an eat or two a day on a streamer.  At the boat ramp I didn't notice any bugs yet so we rigged a nymph rig and a streamer rod.  What was VERY noticeable, was the lack of other anglers.  If you are brave enough to face winter fishing conditions the biggest reward is having the river to yourself.  No sooner had we gone 400 yards from the boat ramp when my rod was doubled over.  The 18" hybrid had succumb to a stonefly nymph.  Even though the water temps were hovering in the upper 30's, the buck gave a great fight.  He even tried to go airborne but only was only able to clear half his body from the surface.  As we moved down the river we brought a few more up on nymphs.  On one of my favorite runs, in that particular stretch, we were treated to 5 fish on dries.  Even though that is incredible in itself for the time of year, this is not the focus of the story.

Donn's 24" monster...take not of the shoreline in the

After being satisfied by catching some fish on dries, Donn immediately turned to the streamer rod.  He refuses to nymph and will only throw streamers in the winter.  They aren't nearly as productive as a nymphs, but there's always that opportunity for a trophy.  He fishes streamers in the Kelly Galloup fashion; type 3 sinking line and light, articulated patterns. We covered several miles of water without even a chase.  However, we did have a few false hookup's on rocks and sticks.  We entered a long, deep run and suddenly Donn's rod doubled over.  For an instant I thought he had caught another rock.  Fortunately, I was proven wrong as the rod bounced and line peeled off his reel.  Immediately I knew we had a VERY special fish.  As we began to fight it everything slowed down and became very quite.  At first the fish put his head down and bulldogged Donn.  This is the moment when fishing from a boat becomes a team sport.  If I were to let the boat be pulled down river by the current too much line would come off the reel.  This would make it extremely difficult for him (or any angler) to control the fish and also a good chance of losing it.  I struggled to hold the boat stationary as the fish held its ground (or I should say water).  After a what seemed like an eternity, Donn was able to turn the fish's head and we slowly headed downstream.  As he fought to gain line he applied opposite pressure to the fish.  This is crucial in battling big fish.  If the fish heads right you need to pull left with the rod, and vice versa.  After about 200 yards, I spotted a soft inside run perfect for landing a fish.  Although we both knew it was a monster neither Donn nor I, at this point, had seen the fish.  As I eased into the softer water the fish was still about 20 feet upstream of us.  Before he could coax the fish any closer, with a thunderous report,  my oar blade hit the bottom.  The fish although tiring, in a blink of an eye, rocketed out of the shallows and shot 100 feet upstream.  With line screaming off his reel I pulled on the oars as hard as possible.  Not only did I need to get the boat out off the bank, but as far upstream as possible.  As soon as I got the boat in motion the wily beast spun 180º and charged downstream.  I looked up at Donn's rod to see nothing; no bend and only slack, piled up line.  As the fish raced past us, I got a good look at just how big it was.  I felt like Sgt. Brody in the movie Jaws when the shark swims alongside the boat.  With all the slack line I was sure it would be the last time I would see this particular fish.  Fortunately, the fish gods were smiling.  After what seemed like a lifetime  Donn regained pressure on the beast.  I quickly spun the bow of the boat downstream and began furiously oaring.  We fought the fish for another 200 yards until I spotted another soft inside run.  After some very tense moments, including when the fish swam completely under the boat while it was beached, we finally had the 24", 5 plus pound male brown trout in the net.  On the Bitterroot River, this fish was, and still is, one of the biggest trout that has graced my net.  I have seen bigger fish but they always have found a way to escape the net.  My personal best is 23".  On shore we relived the battle over a few celebratory beers .  A great story for sure, but this only two-thirds of the journey.

Notice anything familiar in the background shoreline?  I'm
standing in the EXACT same spot Donn was the week
Fast forward six days.  We saw another weather window open and decided to float the same section.  The fishing was good, but not as productive as the week before.  We nymphed up a few but none on dries.  About a mile upstream from where Donn had caught his beast, I switched over to the streamer rod.  It just so happened to have the same streamer attached as six days prior.  As we entered the run where we caught the brown, I was just about to say,  "There is no way I'm gonna catch a fish, let alone your brownie".  But before I could say anything, the rod was nearly yanked from my hand!  I looked at him in utter disbelief.  I said, "There's NO WAY this is your fish."  Just then the fish turned downstream as my reel screamed to life.  In an instant, 75 feet of line had been peeled off.  It was deja vu all over again.  Like I did the week before, Donn eased the boat into the first patch of soft water.  However, instead of holding it's ground, this fish decided to continue running downstream.  Donn was quick to get us back in the current and we were off to the races.  He soon caught up and we began looking at the next, very familiar, soft inside to land the fish.  At this point we both saw the fish and knew it wasn't the same brown trout.  Although, it was a very nice fish.  After beaching the boat in the EXACT same spot we were six days prior, a beautiful 20" hybrid male came to the net.  In all my years of guiding and fishing the Bitterroot River, I have NEVER seen two fish over 20" come out of the same run, with the same exact fly, and landed in the same EXACT spot.  We marveled over what had just happened over several beers, each tasting better than the one before.  Before leaving we named the run "Twenty or Better".  Neither of us fished the rest of the way to the take out.  However, we did laugh and marvel at our luck the whole way home.   

Friday, July 1, 2011

Heed the Warnings!

Fourth of July weekend is now upon us and the rivers continue to rage.  The Westfork and the main stem of the Bitterroot River are both flowing over 3 times higher than normal.  There have been 2 fatalities in as many weeks; one yesterday on the Locsha River (here is the newspaper article link) http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/article_1b2815da-a324-11e0-acd8-001cc4c002e0.html and one on the Big Hole.  They still haven't found the body of the guy on the Big Hole.  The forecast is for temps in the mid 80's to low 90's.  There will be a huge temptation to venture out on the river.  BE SMART AND NOT A STATISTIC!!!!!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

High Water & Big Decisions

Life is measured by making right or wrong decisions in crucial times. One right decision can lead to a positive turning point in life and vice versa. For me, June has been a month of making some very hard calls. The Bitterroot River has been flowing at unprecedented levels all month. It was past flood stage two weeks ago and has now resurged to flood stage this week. Those of us who spend hundreds of days on this river each year have been predicting a big runoff, but no one thought it would be this prolonged. Even years with higher than normal snow pack, we are usually fishing by now.  It is not just Montana that is shattering records for river flows.  It seems every river in the country is swollen beyond its banks with no end in sight.
Woodside Bridge Parking lot @ flood stage June 2011

I started taking reservations for fishing trips in January. Like most years, they were primarily for the famed salmonfly hatch. I am always very leery of booking reservations anytime before the second week of June. Typically, even on big snow pack years, the third week of June is prime time. Not this year. I, and every other responsible outfitter, have cancelled all the days in June and may have to cancel trips into the first week in July because of high and dangerous river conditions. Many outfitters, including myself, have taken a huge economic hit in the last few weeks, but the cost could be much higher. When the Bitterroot River and the Westfork are flowing this high, not only is there no soft water to fish, but they become a playground for the grim reaper. Any guide/outfitter's NUMBER ONE responsibility is the safety of the client. When I am on the oars on a river I have two other lives in my hands. Getting my clients on fish comes second.  I know an outfitter, who is reckless enough to be taking clients out in the last several weeks. He has placed the value of a few hundred dollars over his client’s life. When the Bitterroot River flows first peaked at flood stage a few weeks ago he had four boats "guiding" (more like surviving) on the water. After being told he had to guide for the day, one of the outfitter's main guides refused to do the trip due to safety concerns.  He was immediately fired.  At least the guide had the balls to make the right judgment call. Once again this week when the flows peaked at flood stage he had clients on the Westfork. That isn't just reckless, it's plain stupid! Call me old fashioned, but I value lives over a few hundred bucks.
Veteran's Bridge (the bridge formally known as Silver Bridge)
@ flood stage June 2011

A few days ago one of my top guides, a good friend who fishes with me a lot, and I test floated the Westfork. At that time the flows were 1,600 C.F.S (Cubic Feet per Second) @ Painted Rocks Dam and approximately 4,000 C.F.S after Nez Perce Creek. All of us are VERY experienced oarsman and spend at least 200-250 days a year on the river. However, we had never been on the Westfork when the flows were that high. To say upper end of the Westfork (above Nez Perce Creek) was challenging is like saying surfing triple overhead waves is a challenge. This part of the Westfork is littered with snags, sweepers and strainers. Any false move here and you are dead for sure. Once we got below Nez Perce Creek the flows jumped to 4,000 C.F.S. or more-then the water gets squeezed into the canyon. Where there were once rocks exposed a few feet, on normal high flows, there were now standing 6 foot waves! We were quickly in survival mode. Ever corner the person on the oars had to set up for at least 300 yards in advance. If your hands slipped off the oar, the oar hit a rock and popped out of the oarlock or the boat hit something underwater that was unseen.......game over!   After the day was over, all three of us agreed that we were scared in the canyon. Not deer in the headlights, panic mode scared, but the feeling you get in your stomach knowing that one tiny mistake would be our last. If someone accidentally fell into the water there would be nothing that could be done. I don't care if you have a life jacket on and could swim like Michael Phelps; death would be inevitable. There would no rescue only body recovery.
The view looking north from Victor Crossing Bridge @ flood
stage June 2011

So here we sit with the water continuing to rage with no end in sight for the near future. I don't like sounding like a Debbie Downer but the threat of a fatality on the Bitterroot River in the upcoming weeks is a grim reality. There has already been a fatality on the Yellowstone River, the Lochsa River in Idaho and just two days ago one on the Big Hole River. July 4th weekend is right around the corner and I'm hoping for snow. At least it will keep everyone off the river. When alcohol, high water and people being on the river that shouldn't be are mixed, it becomes a death cocktail. Please use good judgment out there. The river and fish will still be there in a couple of weeks when it is safe.  DON'T BECOME ANOTHER STATISTIC!!!!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The War on Brown Trout

I know, I know, it has been a long time since I have posted a blog.  I apologize but it has been a crazy and very busy spring.  I guided more days this skwala season than any other.  To everyone who came out, I thank you for making it my best early season yet.  There were some really good days of fishing this spring, despite the crazy weather.  There were some big fish landed, and as always, some very big fish that got away; that's fishn'.   Before I go into battle stories of guiding and fishing, I would like to rant about an issue that has recently surfaced.

20" Beaverhead River brown; Approx age 18 years
Apparently, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) thinks there are too many big fish in the Montana's streams and rivers.  They are proposing increasing the kill limits on brown trout for the 2012 season.  Of course, I can't find out exactly how many brown trout will be allowed to be killed each day.  Before I go into my rant I want to give you some facts on how FWP has mismanaged some of our local fisheries.  I'm not trying to demonize FWP, they do some great work.  However, they have dropped the ball on several occasions and like any governmental agency they need citizen oversight and input.

  • In 1984 FWP introduced mysis shrimp into Flathead Lake to "increase food supply" for the Kokanee salmon.  However, the salmon eat plankton.  Mysis shrimp also eat plankton and have out-completed the salmon.  The salmon fishery has all but vanished!
  • In 1985 FWP decided there were too many large RAINBOWS in the Big Horn River and increased the harvest limits.  The very next year the damage was evident and the Big Horn turned into a brown trout fishery.  Since then, rainbow populations have recovered but more large brown trout prevail due to FWP's war on rainbows.  Ironic, isn't it?
  • In the late 1980's Rock Creek made an unprecedented comeback and boasted over 4,000 fish per mile.  FWP immediately increased the kill limits on Rock Creek and in just a few short years the fish population crashes to less than 2,000 per mile.
  • In late summer of 2008 the Bitterroot River water temperature levels were spiking well over 70° just below Hannon Memorial.  Several outfitters/guides noticed a die-off of whitefish and large cutthroat trout (the native fish FWP is trying to protect) and contacted the local FWP fisheries biologist.  His comment was that the water couldn't be that warm because the USGS online sites were reporting cooler temperatures.  It turned out that the USGS gauge was broken and after several weeks water was finally released out of Painted Rocks dam, thereby cooling off the river.

Les Vance with  a 22" brown trout; Approx. age 20 years old

FWP insists that brown trout are now out-competing the Westslope cutthroat and bull trout.  Because of this they want to increase the kill numbers on brown trout WITHOUT any size restrictions.  Currently, you are only allowed to kill 3 fish per day and only 1 can exceed 14 inches.  This is because once fish start reaching 14 inches they become sexually mature and you will start killing the breeding stock.  No fish with a slash under its jaw, aka a cutthroat, may be killed.  One of my main objections to the new proposal is a zero slot limit.  Large brown trout (over 20 inches) are very old fish.  Unlike cutthroat and rainbows, who only live 7-8 years at a maximum, brown trout can live up to 25-27 years.  A 24 inch brown trout can be between 20-23 years old, depending on year round food sources and fishing pressure.  Given the long life-cycle of the brown trout, how long do you think it will take before the brown trout numbers crash?

Matt Hayes with a 19.5" brown; Approx. age 18 years

As of 2009 tourism revenue totaled $3 BILLION and for the first time in history exceeded all other industries in Montana, including minerals.  It has been estimated that the outfitting industry in Montana was worth $140 million in 2009.  This number is a little misleading and does not take in account all the other businesses that benefit, i.e. gas stations, restaurants, retail shops, lodging, grocery stores, bars/casinos, etc.  I would guess that the true number would be close to a billion dollars.  When I guide anglers, they seem to get most excited when they catch a big brown trout.  It is no secret that people come to Montana for the chance to catch a large, wild brown trout.  Yes, they want to catch other fish but a large brown is the creme de la creme.   I can't tell you how many times someone has said, "All I want today is a brown trout over 20 inches."  Almost all of the more memorable fish in the last 11 years of guiding came from clients catching large brown trout.  If FWP has their way, these days will soon be over.  

20" Blackfoot Loch Levin brown trout (very rare); Approx age 18-20 years

Now let's focus on some scientific facts.  It is proven that brown trout are the most disease resistant of all the trout.  They can block whirling disease on a cellular level.  They reinforce their cellular walls, which doesn't allow the whirling disease parasite through.  Furthermore, brown trout are the least susceptible to water quality issues.  They can live in highly polluted water.  There is a reason the Upper Clark Fork and below the Warm Springs tailing ponds (outside of Butte) are predominate brown trout fisheries.  Brown trout can also live in waters that have extreme temperature fluctuations.  They are the ONLY trout that can live where the water temperatures exceed 70º for extended periods of time.  In the days when we are worried about the effects of whirling disease and climate change, remind me why we want to kill the one fish that could save our fisheries?! 

Freddy Bensch w/a 23" brown; Aprrox age over 20 yrs
So why the sudden push to start a war on brown trout?  Unfortunately this is not a new war; just a new phase.  In 1997, FWP proposed a change to the fishing regulations for the 1998-1999 season (which passed but has since been modified).  The regulations that were adopted stated that on the Westfork you could kill "up to 3 rainbow or brown trout with NO SIZE LIMIT".  Now, over a decade later, they are staging a new front to an old war.  The Montana chapter of Trout Unlimited has been in FWP's pocket (literally and figuratively) for decades.  One of their collective goals is to restore native fish to Montana's fisheries.  This, on the surface, sounds like a noble cause.  However, all Montana fisheries are currently managed for wild fish stocks; including the non-native browns and rainbows.  I am sure the lobbyists for Montana Trout Unlimited are making a big push to change the current kill limits on brown trout.  The simple reason people spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to fish Montana's world famous trout streams is for the opportunity to catch WILD rainbows, browns and cutthroats.  When you think of the more famous trout rivers in Montana places like the Madison, Big Hole, Big Horn, Beaverhead, Missouri and Yellowstone come to mind.  What is the major draw for these rivers?  It's for the opportunity to catch world-class rainbow and brown trout.  There have been a countless number of songs, stories and poems written about these rivers and the large trout that inhabit them.  On rivers like the Big Hole, which is mostly a brown trout fishery, the negative impact will be devastating.

So what can you do?  GET INVOLVED!!! The "official" comment period for FWP's proposal ended on April 22nd.  However, I highly encourage anyone and everyone to either send a letter to FWP Fisheries Bureau PO Box 200701 Helena, MT 59620-0701 or email them a letter http://www.fwp.mt.gov/ and click on the Fishing Page.  I would expect FWP to hold some public hearings before any changes are adopted, but you never know.  The more pressure on FWP the better.  I would also highly encourage you to write letters to the Montana chapter of Trout Unlimited.  I also have a petition going in the shop for those who wish to sign their opposition to the War on Brown Trout.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tweeting like a twit

Well I finally joined the modern age and set up a twitter account.  If you wish to follow it is under ospreyoutfitter http://twitter.com/#!/search/ospreyoutfitter  I am guiding the rest of the week.  I am also in the process of composing a new post on the current proposal by Montana FWP to increase the kill limit on brown trout.  This is outrageous!  If, like me, you see this as a war on brown trout please write them a letter voicing your opinion.  Look for more to follow.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Passing of a Good Friend and a Great Man

Tommy at home by the campfire
It is with an extremely heavy and sad heart with which I write this blog. I just found out that my good friend Tommy Sagen died early this morning. Tommy was a great man and a true Red Belly, a name for a native Montanan and our state fish. You always knew where you stood with Tommy. If he told you he was going to do something, it always got done. He was cut from the cloth of a dying generation, where a hand shake still meant something. Even though I only knew Tommy for the last four years, I had an immediate connection with him.

I will miss these times and only wish I had more of them
I first met Tommy the summer of 2007. He walked in my house with his usual summer attire of cutoff jean shorts and a denim long sleeve shirt, which always had a small empty plastic milk container for his snoose spit. After tipping back a few Captain Morgan and Coke's (Tommy's favorite drink), Tommy asked if I minded if he brought his guitar in to play a few songs. To which I replied, "Hell no! I will pour us a couple more cocktails while you get it." This began my love affair with Tommy Sagan's music. Tommy mostly played all his own music. The lyrics came from his experiences through life. From hunting big game in the Flathead Valley, upland birds on the Highline, fishing for trout and salmon, running trains and the women that broke his heart, Tommy's lyrics were funny, poignant and deep with wisdom. I, and many other people, spent many of nights around a campfire listening to Tommy play his guitar. After a while we all knew his lyrics and he loved it when people would sing with him. Every once in a while we would hear a new song on the radio that we knew Tommy could play. Sure as shit, it would only take him a couple of times for him to listen to it before he could play it. Tommy was an incredibly talented musician. I always threatened to rent a studio so we could get some of his music recorded. I regret not ever doing it now more than ever. Every time I mentioned it to Tommy he was always a little leery. He would say, "I will do it Buddy-boy but I just don't think it would have the same feeling that it does sitting around the campfire." It may not have had the same feeling but his music would have lived on. Now his songs are lost forever.  Fortunately, I did film a couple of songs a few years ago.  Here are three songs on the following links on Youtube:  Tommy singing "More Desire" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9dn0gEk1xg Tommy siging "Red Belly" with help from the crowd http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LUa2CFIh9w and Tommy singing "Turnin' My Wheels" also with help from the crowd http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAtx7QRdoWw

 A great man and musician.  RIP Tommy Sagan
Tommy wasn't just a good musician he was a kind and generous man. He would literally give you the shirt off his back. That expression gets thrown around a lot. I think it is due to the fact that it never happens much anymore. Tommy and I had many discussions about the demise of morality by the younger generations. Tommy was a man who worked hard and played even harder. Just a few years ago he had retired from the railroad. He was at the point in his life where he was able to enjoy the things he loved most; fishing, hunting and being with friends. Unfortunately that time was cut way too short.

I am sure the music in heaven has gotten much sweeter and more colorful. I picture him sitting around a campfire entertaining the angels. I bet he has even got them singing along with him by now. I will dearly miss his company and songs around my firepit! My you rest in peace Dickhead (Tommy's term of endearment). Save a spot for me around your firepit up there. I love you and goodbye.