Osprey Outfitters Guide Service and Fly Shop

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

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all and may 2011 bring plenty of water, endless blanket hatches and a abundance of 20+ inch trout rising to your fly!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Milltown Dam Removal

Another milestone in the removal of the Milltown Dam was achieved this week when the Clark's Fork River was re-diverted to its original channel.  In 2006, the Clark's Fork was diverted into a man-made channel to begin the process of removing approximately 2.2 million cubic yards toxic sediment. The toxic sediment was loaded onto train cars and shipped to the ARCO-BP repository near Opportunity, MT.  The last load was hauled away in 2009.  Although 2.2 million cubic yards of toxic sediment were removed, there was an estimated total of 6.2 million cubic yards of sediment on sight.  The obvious question arises, what happened to the excess 4 million yards of sediment?

In recent years, the removal of dams have become a rallying cry for river coalitions around the country. The removal of Milltown Dam was on the front lines of this battle.  In 2008, the Milltown Dam was breached and for the first time in over a century the Clark's Fork river flowed freely.  However, when the dam was breached, it released more sediment than any other dam removal in U.S. history.  A study done by the University of Montana in 2008 found that sediments containing arsenic and copper were not only being deposited 50 kilometers further downstream but at 3 to 5 times the concentration than pre-breached levels.  It has been reported, that some of the sediment has traveled 100 miles downstream and settled behind the Thompson Falls Dam.  It became apparent during the fishing season of 2008 that the removal of the dam would have some drastically negative effects to the fishery.  Over the last few years, the mayfly hatches on the Clark's Fork have been a mere shadow of years past.  The Trico hatch, which once came off in blizzards, is now almost non-existent.  The same can be said for the Baetis.  Furthermore, where there once was clean cobblestone and pea-sized gravel, there are now sand bars of silt.  Another unintended consequence, was the fact that behind the Milltown Dam resided a very large population of Northern Pike.  There was always a population of pike below the dam, but since the removal of the dam the amount and size of pike being caught have both increased.  The fall in productivity of the Clark's Fork has also led to increased pressure on the Bitterroot River.  More and more Missoula anglers are fishing the Bitterroot while the Clark's Fork heals.

In 2009, Gov. Brian Schweitzer was one of the first and only people to float and fish the unobstructed Clark's Fork and Blackfoot intersection (the section remains closed to floating).  During that trip, it was reported that Gov. Schweitzer caught a 17" inch Westslope Cutthroat (According to the most recent article in the Missoulian newspaper, the fish story had grown and he allegedly caught a 22 incher.  I guess the governor is a true fisherman!)  The Milltown Dam project has been heralded as a environmental success story.  There is no question, that in the long-term, the removal of the dam will only benefit trout populations, not only on the Clark's Fork, but also the Blackfoot, the Little Blackfoot and all the tributaries located upstream of the old dam site.   FWP has already reported higher fish concentrations upstream of the old dam site. However, the negative effects on the Clark's Fork downstream of the old dam site will be felt for years to come.  Will the fishery ever truly recover?  Only time will tell.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How to Hold a Fish

I see it happen all the time.  A client presents the fly right, sets the hook and lands a trophy fish to perfection.  Then, when they want to memorialize the moment, they botch the hold of the fish and get a lousy photo. It may seem a trivial subject, but doesn't everyone want a great photo of the trophy they spent countless hours trying to catch?  Believe it or not, there is a right and wrong way to hold a fish to get that image.  There are other important factors, such as the fish's health and safety to consider as well.

A 22" Brown held the wrong way
The most common mistake people make holding a fish for a photo is they get their hands in the way.  When they lift the fish up, their hands are covering it and facing the camera.  To capture a good fish image, you want as little of your hands exposed as possible.  This is achieved by a few simple steps.  After the fish is in the net and the hook is removed, let it rest for awhile and get its' breath.  Then, gently turn the fish completely upside down.  This will put the fish into a semi-catatonic state and it will be less likely to go wild when you pick it up.  Now, slide your hands along its side closest to you and put your fingers under its belly and pick the fish up.  Now, the less you squeeze it, the less likely it is to go crazy and the less likely you are to harm it (more on that later).  To get a good photo, you will want to bring the fish up to your chest.  Try not to be tempted to hold the fish as far as you can from your body.  This is an old trick to make the fish look bigger than it really is.  If you are taking a photo of a trophy fish, the photo (as long as it is taken properly) will do the fish justice without any trickery.  I usually try to keep my arms bent and the fish as close to my body as possible.  Also, make sure a net is under the fish while you are taking the photo.  If the fish does flop, it will fall safely back in the net.  This, not only saves the fish from getting away in an untimely fashion, but also prevents it from landing on the ground, rocks or the bottom of the boat.

The same fish held the right way

Now that we have got the logistics of a good photo out of the way, there are some safety concerns that should be addressed before you handle of a fish.  Fish have a slime coating on their skin that protects them from parasites and diseases.  Most guides use rubber nets instead of the old mesh ones.  This is due to the fact that the rubber nets are much less likely to remove the slime coating.  Also, if you are planning on handling a fish you MUST first get your hands wet.  If you handle a fish with dry hands, you will remove some of this slime coating.  The more slime coating the fish loses, the more likely it will contract a skin borne disease or parasite.  Once you have the fish calmed down (in a catatonic state), lightly cradle the fish in your hands and avoid putting a death squeeze on the fish.  Fish live in a very low gravity environment and their body structure cannot handle a lot of outside pressure.  Gently lift the fish up, snap a photo and place it back into the net and water.  I tell my clients that the fish can be out of the water as long as you can hold your breath.  Once you can no longer hold your breath, the fish goes back in the water to catch its breath.  Larger fish are more susceptible to oxygen deprivation, so it is best not to keep them out of the water for long periods.  Once you have your photo, place the fish back in the net and let them recover before releasing.  A fish uses the dissolved oxygen in the water to release the lactic acid out of its muscles that is built up from the fight.  If the water temps are in the upper 60's, it is probably best you do not take the fish out of the water or handle it.  As the water temperature goes up the amount of dissolved oxygen goes down.  During these times, handling and removing the fish from the water could be too much for the fish to recover, especially for the larger fish.  When reviving a fish, simply face the fish upstream so the water flows through its gills.  When it is ready, it will swim off.  DO NOT rock the fish back and forth.  This will force water through the back of its gills and can potentially suffocate the fish.  Everyone, including me, wants a great photo of that one that didn't get away.  If you follow these easy steps you should have that shot and the fish will live to fight another day.   

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

To Felt or Not to Felt

There is currently a strong movement across the entire country to ban felt soled wading boots.  I would like to pose the questions at what cost and for what real results?  Invasive species, such as Eurasian watermilfoil, hyrdrilla, New Zealand mud snail, zebra mussels, didymo, whirling disease, etc., are all real threats to a lot of North American fisheries.  Recently, the move to rubber soled wading boots has been touted as the savior for the spread of invasive species.  There is one company, Redington, that boldly, and falsely, claims in their catalogue that their rubber soles are "the cure" for spreading invasive species. I believe there are some fundamental flaws in the argument to completely ban felt.

The most glaring and obvious misconception, is that people will be now lulled into a false sense of security that the new "Eco Rubber" will completely stop the spread of invasive species.  These invaders do not just get transferred on the soles of angler's boots.  They also hitchhike on their shoe laces, gravel guard cuffs, the waders themselves, nets, boats and bilge water.  Regardless if your boot soles are made of felt or rubber, the disinfection process is the same.  You must either freeze them solid, or scrub them with a 20% bleach solution and then let them COMPLETELY dry out.  This must also be done for any other item that has been in a river before going to another.  So, if you must disinfect rubber the same as you would felt, why the sudden rush to ban felt?  Most Americans want to do the right thing but are too lazy to take the steps needed to actually do it.  We are quick to pull the trigger on an emotional hot button and want to find a fast fix.  However, most of the time the quick fix ends up being more harm that good.

Furthermore, I believe that the new rubber soled boots pose a serious risk to the angler.  It is no mystery that the new rubber does not grip half as well as felt.  Some companies are touting their rubber as being as sure footed as felt.  I call bullshit!  There is no rubber technology, that I have seen, that can grip even close to felt.  It is only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt or killed because their new rubber soled boots didn't grip a crucial rock.  All the wading boot companies know of this problem and will tell you that to put studs in the sole.  Since when have steel and rock meshed well together?  Maybe if you were headed to do some ice fishing or ice climbing, studs would be ideal.  However, people who fly fish are wading across slippery, algae coated rocks.    Every client I quizzed this season about their new rubber soles (both with and without studs), ALL said the variations of the same thing; "They are horrible!" or "I have almost busted my ass several times!" or "Where can I get felt soled boots?".  Unfortunately, most all wader companies are drinking the rubber sole Kool-Aid and phasing out or drastically reducing their felt products-Simms sells zero felt soles, Patagonia currently stills sells one model, Dan Bailey's no longer offers their top of the line Yellowstone Guide boot in felt only their Adventurer model and Korkers offers a felt sole insert on their boots, wading sandals and shoes that must be purchased separately.  Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time until felt goes the way of the dinosaur.

So what is the answer to the spread of invasive species?  WASH YOUR EQUIPMENT AND LET  COMPLETELY DRY!  Like I mentioned above, you can also completely freeze your gear solid.  I actually did this for two clients who fished with me this summer.  I took their stuff to my chest freezer and the next day they had a frozen block of fishing gear free of didymo and whirling disease.  If we are going to stop or curtail the spread of invasive species, it is not going to be because we wear rubber soled boots.  It is going to take EVERY angler to be vigilant on cleaning their gear.  Unfortunately, we all know that not everyone will be vigilant.  By the way, are you going to wash every duck's ass and feet when it leaves here and heads south?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Three September Stories

Well, where to begin.............I guess the best place is the time I had the privilege to guide a good lad from the Old Country, Kevin.  Kevin was visiting from Georgia and part of a very large group of clients that fish with me at least twice a year.  These guys are all beer and alcohol distributors in Atlanta; you can just imagine the debauchery that goes on while they are here!  I had the pleasure of guiding Kevin on the second day of the trip.  I mention this only because the night before we both drank like the true Irishmen we are.  It is not often that I get to tip a few, and a few more, back with someone from the Old Country so I took full advantage of the situation.  Needless to say, when I picked up the boys up in the morning, there were a few cobwebs in all our heads.  Anyway, Kevin is brand new to fly fishing and he was having the common problem of using his wrist to cast.  When a person tries to use their wrist to cast, they end up bringing the rod way too far back on the back cast and they cannot shoot the line.  It got so bad, that I had to shackle Kevin to the fly rod by using a bandanna.  Now I hate to shackle any Irishmen, but doing it to one that is directly from the Old Country seemed like a mortal sin.  However, it was the only way to get him casting correctly and it worked great.  About 3/4 of the way through the float, I decided to take a very small side channel that I knew had some good fish.  I let Kevin out of the boat and told him to fish a line where two currents converged.  Before you know it, the silence of the wilderness was broken by "Oh shit, oh shit!"  I looked over and saw Kevin's rod completely doubled over by a solid fish.  I told Kevin that we had to cross the small channel to land the fish. There was simply no way we were going to land it in our current position.  During the battle,  Kevin's heart beating so hard, I swear I could see it coming out of his chest! We gingerly waded across and after a few tense moments we had a beautiful 18.5 inch rainbow in the net.  This is the way we cure hangovers in Montana.  After the adrenaline subsided, I believe there was a small flask of fine scotch passed around afterwards.  ERIN GO BRAH!  Here is the link of Kevin releasing his fish  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwZTLYEN92o

Speaking of that particular side channel, I had another great day in it with MJ. Now, MJ was part of a large group that came to Montana via Yellow Breeches Outfitters in Boiling Springs, PA. Yellow Breeches Outfitters had organized a trip for some of their clients. The first week, they had about 7 people and the following week about 10 people staying in a house on the river. When they first arrived, I went to the house and gave a presentation on the Bitterroot River.  I tlked about what they could expect to see in the form of hatches and fish. After my presentation, MJ decided she wanted to go fishing the next day. The day started off a little slow and we had some opportunities at a few fish. MJ, like most people who come to Montana to fish, was having trouble with setting the hook. When you are missing fish, it is primarily because you are setting to fast. In New Zealand the guides will tell you to say "God save the Queen" after you see the fish eat your dry fly. I tell people to count to two or say "I got you" before setting. The reason being is the fish must take the fly under water before you lift up, otherwise you will pull the fly out of the fishes mouth. After MJ found her groove, she started wailing on fish. That day, and in that channel, she landed a 17, 18, 19 and a 20 inch trout! Needless to say, it was a good day. At one point she looked at me and said, "Aces Sean, nothing but aces!" Here is a link of MJ releasing one of her fish http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0HLyzKgkxc

Then there was the day that I took Greg Hect fishing.  Greg had been in the Bitterroot for a few weeks but had only caught a few small fish.  I told him, like I tell everyone, I am a guide not God.  I know where the fish are but I cannot make them eat!  Greg, it just so happened, got a day where the fish were eating in a big way.  The fish were loving a properly presented Hecuba/Mahogany Dun combo.  The Hecuba is our last drake of  the year and has a green thorax and a brownish tail.  It is best imitated by a size 10 or 12 a brown or green drake.  Greg had a beautiful hook set and the one big fish that did not make it to the net, was only due to the fact that it broke him off during an explosive run.  We landed many fish that day with the best being a 17, 18, 18.5 and a 19 inch trout.  The most memorable fish was the 19 incher.  Greg was fighting the healthy cutbow for a few minutes, with his line stretched halfway across the river, when we heard a bunch of commotion on the water below us.  I looked downstream only to see a flock of about 20 mergansers taking flight and headed straight toward Greg's line.  I started yelling at the ducks, as if the could understand every word, "You damn ducks better not hit his line!"  I thought for sure at least one would collide with his line, which would cause us to lose the fish.  But being the good ducks they were, they "ducked" his line and we were able to land the fish.  Here is the link to the video of Greg fighting the fish as the mergansers took flight http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DefXcH4GvWI and the link to him releasing it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHeV5r241ps  

September is now almost over and trees are starting to get their fall colors.  Some of the best fishing of the year is coming up.  Most of the time the river is pretty vacant; the kids are back in school and a lot of people are in hunting mode.  If you haven't experienced the Bitterroot River in all its fall glory, it is time to hit it!  The fish are in the better shape than anyone has ever seen them and they know winter is coming.  We are starting to see decent numbers of October caddis and mahoganies.  Even though the Hecubas are beginning to wane, there are still enough of them out to fool some nice fish.  There are still a ton of grasshoppers hitting the water and barring any major cold snap they should be around until late October.  As we push later into October look for the baetis hatches to be incredible.  As a matter of fact, I think it is time to turn of this damn computer a go do some fishing!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wolf Wars!

I am going to deviate away from fishing on this post because I want to rant about something that is having a devastating effect on our Montana lifestyle. I think I have cooled down enough now to write about this issue. On August 6, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Malloy reinstated federal protection for the Canadian timber wolf under the Endangered Species Act. The question, however, is how can an animal that is not endemic to the area, be protected under the Endangered Species Act? The recent ruling has many people in Montana up in arms, literally and figuratively.

This large wolf was killed in Salmon, Idaho
A common misconception regarding the wolf issue is that they were "re-introduced". The fact remains that the wolves were introduced! These are Canadian timber wolves, not the native Rocky Mountain wolves. The Canadian timber wolf is 33% larger, on average, than our native wolf and has completely dominated and overrun the natives. Since these wolves are significantly larger, they are having a devastating effect on our elk and moose populations. Simple math will tell you they need 33% more prey to survive. Also, being larger than the natives, they can track down and kill prey easier and in deeper snow. There was a day, in the not to distant past, when I would drive up the Westfork and see at least 3-6 moose at any given time. I have seen a whopping 1 moose in the last 3 years! Furthermore, the elk numbers are so thin in the Westfork, that there is currently a hunting outfitter asking Montana FWP to close the area for hunting; due to the lack of game. You know it is bad when an outfitter, who makes his living on guiding hunters, is asking for FWP to close his area!

Photo of a Black Bear drug out of it's den
and ripped apart by a pack of wolves on
the Westfork drainage
The introduction of the Canadian timber wolf is also having a dramatic and negative effect on other native predators. On July 28, 2010 Soda Butte Campground, in Montana, was the location for one of the worst grizzly bear attacks in recent history. One camper was mauled to death and two others received serious injuries. This attack was totally unprovoked, in the middle of the night and the campers had done everything right as far as food storage and bear preventative measures. Today, August 18th, the AP released a statement that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service concluded that the sow grizzly and her three cubs were starving. The sow was full of parasites and obviously malnourished. In response to the attacks, the sow was killed and the three cubs are serving a life sentence in the Billings zoo. A grizzly bear's primary source for large game in the summer months is moose. In recent years our moose have disappeared due to predation by the exotic Canadian timber wolf. As game numbers continue to plummet, there will be more and more human/bear conflicts, which will increase the death toll for bears. In may be coincidence, but this summer there have been more bears searching for food in places like Missoula, Darby and other urban interfaces. If you need further proof of wolf/bear conflicts, please come see a photo I have in the fly shop. It shows a black bear ripped apart by a pack of wolves up the Westfork drainage. The wolves dug into the bear's den, in the middle of winter, and ripped it to shreds. The only tell tale signs of a bear are its paw in the snow.

Tavy Mason killed this 165 pound wolf just east of Hamilton
Another fallacy regarding wolves is that they only kill the weak, sick, old and the never sport kill. First of all, there is plenty of video evidence showing wolves chasing down and killing healthy, big bull elk. Furthermore, tell the sheep rancher in Dillon, MT that wolves don't sport kill. One morning last August, he went to check on his sheep herd and 93 (YES 93!) of his sheep were slaughtered and left to rot. These are highly intelligent dogs and dogs sport kill. If you are not convinced, I have more proof. Where my family is from, Meeteetse, WY, we HAD two large elk herds. Both herds would enter winter with at least 20-35 cow/calf replacement pairs. Now, we are lucky to have 4-5 cow/calf pair at the start of winter! The Carter Mountain herd circulates from draw to draw passing through some knife edge ridges. The wolves have now figured out how to buffalo jump these animals. Once the herd is half way across a knife edge, the pack charges the heard; pushing 20-30 elk at a time over the edge to their death. Do you think the wolves are utilizing each animal? Oh, I forgot wolves don't sport kill!

Speaking of Wyoming, some people and Judge Malloy are blaming Wyoming for the recent ruling. Judge Malloy stated (and I am paraphrasing here) that since Wyoming is treating the wolves as a predator that they should be protected in Montana and Idaho. Remember, we are talking about an invasive species here, much like the New Zealand zebra mussel, Asian carp, Snakehead fish, etc. What should happen is an all out bounty on the invasive Canadian timber wolf to save what is left of the native wolves. It is true that Wyoming, in true Wyoming fashion (God Bless Wyoming!), took matters into their own hands after the Federal government rammed the wolves down our throats. Being classified as a predator, allows anyone to shoot the wolf on site. Even with this distinction in Wyoming, the wolves are thriving. These are intelligent and highly adaptable animals. I know a lot of people in Wyoming and they have all told me that once they started shooting at them, the wolves have become almost impossible to find. At least Wyoming has the balls to treat this issue as a State's matter.

Much like Wyoming, Montana should treat the introduction of the Canadian timber wolf as a matter of the State. With the current economic hardships, the traditional Montana industries of logging, log homes and construction trades have all but dried up. Here locally in Missoula, the Smurfit paper mill has been closed down, further increasing job losses. The one bright spot in Montana's economy is tourism; namely fishing and hunting guide trips. Montana is rapidly getting a bad reputation from hunters as the place NOT to come. In recent years, hunter harvest numbers have been on a serious decline. Furthermore, Montana FWP is talking about drastically reducing the amount of elk, moose and sheep tags. Their official reason for the decline in game is due to “harsh winter and spring conditions”. Are you kidding me?! The hunters that come to Montana don't just put money and food on the outfitter and guide’s table. When they are here, where do you think they stay, eat, shop and drink? The trickle down effect is mind boggling and worth millions of dollars to local economies.

So, where do we go from here? There is currently a movement by ranchers and sportsman's groups to appeal the ruling. The problem with this is that we are subject to 9th Circuit District, which is very liberal in its decisions. Out "esteemed" Senator Max Baucus is saying he wants the U.S. Congress to intervene. He claims to be adopting legislation that would put the wolves under the control of State of Montana. Given Senator Baucus' track record, we will have to wait and see. Locally, there are whispers of the 3 S's and old Montana justice. However, this has the potential to make criminals out of people who are just trying to protect their way of life from an invasive species. There is no easy solution to this ever growing problem. It is time to take a stand and make our voices heard or we will lose our hunting heritage forever. In the meantime, take a picture of every moose and elk you see because our future generations may not have a chance to know what they look like.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Big Brown Trout in the Bright Sun

I got a call from a client a few weeks ago wanting to fish out of a hard boat.  That was not a problem since I do own a 16' ClackaCraft drift boat (by the way her name is The Minnow).  I was concerned however that I would be relegated to fishing on the lower portion of the Bitterroot River, in late July, with bright sunny conditions.  Now don't get me wrong, the lower river can fish great, but  usually you need some cloud cover for the nice fish to look up.  I have had my ass handed to me on the lower Bitterroot on bright, sunny days.  So, needless to say, I was not very optimistic about our chances on July 27th.

As we slid Minnow in the water at 8:00 a.m., the temperature of the air was already 70 degrees with nary a cloud in sight.  Uh oh!  Our only saving grace was a couple sneaky springs I knew of in this section that could possibly make our day.  As we drifted down the river we had a few little fish looking at our flies.  We did see one VERY large brown trout go completely airborne about 3 feet.  The only thing I could think of is he was ambushing a small fish from below; much like Air Jaws off Seal Island, South Africa.  My client Ray gave a few futile casts to this behemoth.  I figured the odds of that fish eating a dry fly were slim to none, and slim had just left town.  But you just never know.  Unfortunately, this fish didn't even bother looking at Ray's fly.  After floating a couple hours and only seeing some small fish, we pulled over to hunt one of the springs.  I told Ray that these fish are pretty wary and there was little to no current.  We would need to cast to a likely spot, wait for the fish to cruise by and hopefully Ray's fly would grab the fish's attention.  As we walked into the spring there were three VERY large fish cruising and sipping a variety of PMD's (emergers, spinners & duns).  We tried every PMD in my box, which is a lot, for about 45 minutes with no success.  Every time a fish would start cruising toward his fly, something would divert it off course.  In complete frustration, I decided to unmatch the hatch and tied on a size 12 hopper.  I told Ray to cast it in and after it landed, give it a twitch.  Ray made a great cast and as soon as he twitched the hopper, it was too much for a very large brown trout to resist.  The trout opened his mouth and the hopper disappeared in a large swirl.  I didn't see Ray react at all and I yelled, "There he is, there he is!"  Ray came up with his rod and buried the hook into the fish's mouth.  I will never forget what happened next.  Feeling the pressure Ray was putting him, the fish jumped at least two feet out of the water.  It was then that Ray said, "Holy shit!"  I started laughing and said, "Yep, that is the one were were looking for Ray.  Now remember we are on 5x, so take your time."  Ray battled the large trout like a pro and about five minutes later a beautiful 22 inch brown trout was in the net.  After stealing a bit of his sole, we released him back into the spring where he still resides (see the video below).

I would like to say that the day only got better from there, but it didn't.  We walked into another spring but with no success.  By the afternoon, it was really hot.  I happened to look to the east around 2:30 and it looked like someone had dropped a nuclear bomb in the Sapphire Mountains.  It was the start of the Dominic Point fire.  This fire looked like it was going to be with us until the snow flew.  However, we have been having some unseasonably cool and wet weather, which has aided in getting that fire 90% contained.  We spent most of the afternoon finding good swimming holes to cool off and catching a few more small trout. It really is amazing though how one fish can save and/or change the face of a bad day of fishing.  Actually, there are no bad days of fishing only bad days of catching.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Fishing on X Creek

A week, or so, ago a guide buddy (Emmett) and I decided to get out of the Bitterroot for the day. He suggested we go try a piece of water (X Creek), which is a few hours away, more or less. Yes, I am being a little cryptic here. Please don't even bother to ask me where this place is because I am sworn to secrecy by the penalty of death. I had never been to X Creek, but I have heard stories from Emmett who had fished it a couple years ago. The only clue I will give you is that it has cold water, big fish and it is a few hours from here. That's it, no more clues!

After arriving at X Creek, we rigged up our rods and headed down to the water. Not only were we greeted by a plague of hoppers, it was obvious that the mosquitoes had not seen anybody in a LONG time. From the 100, or so, yards from the truck to the creek, I think I was drained of at least a pint of blood. The only saving grace was that I was wearing waders and a long sleeve shirt. You might by scratching your head right now at the wader aspect. If you know me, you know that I cannot stand waders. However, even though it was the later part of July and the forecast was for 90+ degrees, the water in X Creek is COLD. Another factor is the rock structure on X Creek is very jagged and slippery. This is no place for my typical bush hippie bare feet!

The fishing on X Creek can best be described as a long stretches between good holding lanes. We covered probably 3 miles of creek that day. Although we did catch some fish in the shallow banks, all our nicest fish came in deep, long runs. In the first run, it just so happened, that I was on the best side. I was fishing a #12 hopper and on my first cast and nice 15 inch rainbow sucked it down as soon as it touched the water. Emmett said, "That's nice but if you a good one one, you better be prepared to run downstream as it runs". These fish, I later found out, are so wild that they are not used to being fooled by an artificial. Once these fish get hooked, they absolutely explode and make some reel smoking runs. They receive very little, if any, pressure. As a matter fact the only footprints I saw the entire day were Emmett's. However, there were signs of four-legged critters. At one point, I looked down to see a very fresh pile of bear scat. This area is known to have some big grizzly bears and at least one had been there recently. We did not see any bruins that day, but we sure made a lot of noise as we headed up the creek. Anyway, back to fishing. After a few more casts in the same run with no success, I decided to try a local Bitterroot pattern tied by John Foust; the infamous Freddy. On the first cast into the run with Freddy, a very large brown trout absolutely crushed Freddy. Unfortunately, I didn't get the hook buried properly in its' mouth and it took just one head shake to spit the fly. The next fish ate Freddy as it was swinging at my feet. This was a beautiful 18 inch rainbow that took off straight downstream after I set the hook. I tried to land him like I would on the Bitterroot River, by swinging it to the bank. However, I forgot where I was and what I was dealing with and I should have run downstream with the fish. A few moments later the fish shook the hook. After getting my ass handed to me by two large fish, I suggested to Emmett that he take point on the next couple of runs.

As the morning turned to afternoon, the fishing just kept getting better and better. When I caught up Emmett he had just landed a 15 inch and a 17 inch brown trout. He then suggested that I fish the next deep run. After a few unsuccessful upstream casts, I walked upstream and let Freddy float downstream. I gave Freddy a little twitch and the water erupted. As my rod doubled over, I knew I had a really nice brown trout. He tried first to wrap me around a log and then he took off downstream full of piss and vinegar. I got really lucky in coaxing him around several large boulders, which I thought were sure to shear my line. I must have run downstream at least 50 yards before gingerly easing the fish to the bank. The fish measured 21 inches and weighed at least 3 1/2 pounds; a bruiser for sure. After seeing the success I was having, Emmett asked if I had anymore Freddy's. It just so happened that I did have one more. However, the funny thing was that Emmett does not fish Fred. He is not purist A-hole by any means but is not a true believer of Fred, until now. Just a small side bar, Emmett came by the other day and got a couple of Fred's from me to fish on the Bitterroot; another convert. We both landed a few more nice fish the rest of the day but my brown was definitely the fish of the day; makes me wonder how big the first one was! I did land another 19 inch brown that slammed Freddy on the tail end of a float as he was skating across the water. Go figure!

We both decided halfway through our day that we would walk all the way up this certain section of X Creek and get on the road to walk back to the truck. We knew it would be akin to the Bataan Death March. However, before we hit the highway, I shed my waders, took a long swim in X Creek and made sure my clothes and hat were soaking wet. This made the first half hour okay, but the rest off the walk was brutal. I even resorted to hitchhiking while waving a $20 bill to entice a ride. However, my efforts proved to be futile. Much to my amazement, a guy drove by with Montana trout plates and didn't even stop. That was probably good thing because I wouldn't have wanted to talk about where we just fished! I know a lot of people have their own X Creek, which is a good thing. Everyone needs a place to go where they can feel like they are one of a very few, if any, people to fish that specific water. There are still places like X Creek left, all you have to do is find yours.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Water Wars!

Well it is that time of year again in the Bitterroot; the dog days of summer. All the doom and gloom forecasts for extreme low water levels have not come into play just yet. In fact, we are hovering just above historical averages for flows. However, the new concern is over lethal water temperatures. Currently, the Bitterroot River is drastically warming to upwards of 69 degrees at Tucker Crossing. I haven't been on the lower river lately but I am sure it is above 70 below Stevi and Florence. When the water temperatures reach 71 degrees, or higher, it becomes lethal to trout and whitefish. The reason I mention whitefish (probably much to your surprise), is that whitefish are the canary in the coal mine for rivers. When the water quality diminishes, whitefish are the first to die. After the whitefish, cutthroats are the first of the trout species to succumb then the rainbows. Brown trout are the least susceptible to poor water conditions and can bulldog their way through a variety of poor water conditions. When the temps reach 71 degrees or warmer there is not enough dissolved oxygen in the water for fish to recover after battling an angler. They simply cannot release the lactic acid from their muscles and they will perish. You may see them swim away, but they will go belly up no matter how long you revive them as long as the water is above 71 degrees.

In the mid-1980's a group of sportsmen, fishing outfitters and guides discovered a way to cope with this very issue on the Bitterroot River. A long story cut very short, they along with the State of Montana and FWP purchased 50% of the water stored in Painted Rocks reservoir, which flows into the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. The contract specifically states that "the water is to be released into the Bitterroot River for the fishery". Therefore, when the water quality starts to diminish, we are supposed to get cooler water released from the bottom of Painted Rocks dam. Since this agreement was made, the Bitterroot has re-blossomed into a far greater fishery than it was during the 80's and early 90's. However, the last two years have been water surplus years and ironically there was a fish die-off last year.

This week, a few other outfitters, guides and I became very concerned about the water quality of the Bitterroot River. I personally contacted Chris Clancy, FWP head fisheries biologist for the Bitterroot River. I wanted to find out when we could expect to see some water releases from Painted Rocks. Mr. Clancy is not in charge of the release for water flows (Larry Shock of DNRC is in charge of requesting the water master to open the gates and release water for the fishery). However, I thought I would let Mr. Clancy know of the water temp issues me and other outfitters and guides were witnessing. He explained to me that they "normally don't release water from Painted Rocks until the FLOWS are 400 C.F.S. or less at Tucker Crossing". I find this very disturbing on two levels. One, I don't care it the flows are 10,000 C.F.S.; as long as the water temps are above 71 degrees fish will die! Secondly, the original contract signed for the water releases NEVER mentions minimum flows. It states that it is for the Bitterroot fishery period! Mr. Clancy informed me that the irrigators, who own the other 50% of water in the reservoir, "will surely be calling for water and that is just as good as us calling for the water". So, just like last year, are we going to see the flows out of Painted Rocks jump dramatically in late September when we don't need them? How many fish are going to have to die, like they did last year, until we get our water? It is time that we, as anglers on the Bitterroot River make our voices heard. I encourage everyone to make calls to Larry Shock at (406) 542-5885 and Chris Clancy at (406)363-7169 and demand we start getting OUR water. These people work for us as employees of the Great State of Montana and also are in charge of our resources. The Bitterroot River is an amazing fishery and will continue to be as long as we use all our wherewithal to protect her. There is an old saying in Montana that goes, "Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting!"

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.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nymphing 'Em Up During a Blizzard Caddis Hatch!

For those of you that know me, prepare to be shocked! This weekend we saw some explosive fishing during the Mother's Day caddis hatch on the Bitterroot River. However, almost every nice fish ate a stonefly nymph fished about five feet down. I am not the biggest fan of nymphing but you cannot argue with results. The caddis hatch on the Bitterroot River is a weird time. People will tell you they have epic days on the Bitterroot during this hatch, but I beg to differ. If you want to catch a bunch of small fish, then by all means throw a caddis dry. I was on the river all day Saturday and Sunday and saw maybe four real fish eat a caddis. I have found that for some reason the larger fish on the Bitterroot River tend to ignore caddis adults. People have asked me why on almost all other Western rivers the caddis is a very important food source for trout but not so much on the Bitterroot River. I believe there are a few reasons for this unique feeding activity. First of all, the Bitterroot River contains 64 different type of stoneflies! During the Mother's Day caddis hatch and even summertime hatches there is always a stonefly (either adult or nymph) for our fish to choose from. These are much easier and meatier targets for large trout. Therefore, they do not have to spend as much energy sipping a much larger stonefly that is prone on the water versus a caddis that is bouncing all over the place as it lays it's eggs. Furthermore, in the spring (and summer and fall for that matter) when the caddis are out there are also multiple types of mayflies on the water as well. Just like the massive variety of stoneflies, the Bitterroot River has almost every type of Western mayfly. Once again, a floating mayfly dun or spinner is a much easier target for a hungry trout than a bouncing caddis.

With all this being said, this weekend we decided to throw a stonefly nymph almost all day on both days. Yes, I said we threw a nymph all day and yes I am feeling well! Saturday, a buddy of mine was back in town for the weekend so we decided to hit the rio. The day before he had wade fished and "absolutely crushed 'em" on dry flies. However, on Saturday he must have either angered the fish Gods, spent all his good luck the day before or maybe it was just karma for calling me every ten minutes the previous day telling me his triumphs as I sat in the shop, he could not land a fish to save his life on Sunday. He must have locked into at least 20 fish and only landed a few. I won't mention his name but when you hear me say, "You Robbed 'em", maybe you will figure it out. The best fish of the day was a nice tail out Brown, that when it jumped the first time, I thought would be in the 20" class but turned out to be 18 1/2". This wily adversary fell victim to a Freddy in the deadest of dead water. Freddy, you da man!

Sunday, being Mother's Day, I took my beautiful wife out. After the day previous, I was hoping she could get good juju back on Bella (my boat's name)! Only minutes into the float, she landed a nice 14" Weslope cutthroat; yes on a nymph. She proceeded to absolutely crush fish after fish, most of which came to the boat. Jenna brought over 20 fish to the boat on Sunday and definitely got some good juju back on Bella. The biggest fish she landed was an 18 1/2" Cutbow that absolutely exploded when she set the hook. The fish jumped two times and gave two smoking hot runs that made her reel sing! Unfortunately, she Robbed a nice big brown and a VERY large trout at the end of the float. You can’t win them all! It was a great day for Jenna to get out and enjoy all the Bitterroot River has to offer. That night she had a smile ear to ear as she massaged her battle worn arm.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Shark Attack on the Bitterroot River!

Ok, I know it has been a little while since my last post but in the last week or so there hasn't been much to report. However, after the latest push of water subsided, a guide buddy of mine Emmett & I decided it was time to go do a little R & D on Monday. When he showed up at the shop, I was stoked to hear he wanted to float one of my favorite streamer sections on the Bitterroot River. Emmett started off with a dry fly hopeful that the 38 degree water temp would not matter. After about a half hour of watching his bug float unmolested, I suggested he go with a little bigger strategy, "Let's go for the fish that are eating the fish that are eating the dry flies!" It didn't take long for the fish to cooperate. After landing our first fish we were ready to recycle the run again. However, just before pulling out we noticed a boat coming down and recognized both anglers; an old time outfitter on the oars and a guide in front. We exchanged pleasantries, after which they proceeded to pull into the opposite bank and pound the run with a streamer with no success. We let them jump out in front and were happy to exercise the five fish that they left behind in this one particular run! Emmett and I were switching after every two fish landed and, needless to say, we switched a few times that day. If you have fished streamers with me before, you know the pattern I was using. If not, well let's just say it is not a black wooly bugger!

I don't know if it was a combination of the recent high water, which had flushed last years minnows in the river, or that the water was still receding and the fish were hyper territorial, but the fish were absolutely sharking the streamer. I mostly fish a dead drifted streamer and let the current do it's magic. However, on Monday they were liking an aggressive strip with lots of movement. We had fish chase down our streamer from ten feet away! Both Emmett and I agreed not to take photos of fish that were less than 20 inches. Unfortunately, we did not boat any in the 20 inch class but we did boat 20+ fish all in the 16-19 1/2" range. We measured a beautiful male Cuttbow that Emmett caught at 19 1/4" and a Brown I caught that was 19 1/2". 19 1/2" is still not 20" unless you step on it and stretch it! We did break the picture guideline on the Brown due to the shear beauty of him.

Speaking of sharking, early on in the float Emmett's eyes grew wide as dinner plates when a newly introduced species of fish chased his streamer. Somewhere in the background I could hear the theme to "Jaws" play. We watched as the 15 foot Great White Shark turned away from the streamer, only to take a bite out of my oar blade! Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water. Let this be a warning to all that float the Bitterroot River; you may want to think twice before floating or going swimming. I was just glad he decided to take a bite of my oar blade and not my boat! As Chief Brody said, "I think we need a bigger boat."

Monday, April 19, 2010

From Great to Grim!

Well, the recent warm weather has made for a rising river. In the last three days we have seen the river go from record low flows (300 C.F.S.) to reaching almost 73 year average flows (1,000 C.F.S.) at Darby. The Bitterroot River is currently flowing at 730 C.F.S. and rising. While I do not think this is the start of "more water" (this is what a friend of mine is calling high water this year), this push is enough to put the fishing off for a little while. I looked into my crystal ball this morning and it told me that we should start to see the main stem of the Bitterroot River fish by the weekend. Maybe if I shipped my crystal ball to the weathermen they could be more accurate. "They" are calling for some really warm temps (75-80) in the next two days but by mid to late week it is supposed to cool down again. Do not fret, there are some fishing opportunities to be had. I will R&D them and will post more on this later. For those of you who live here, you know of which I speak and I will see you there.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A New Pod Cast Fishing Report is Up

Here is the latest pod cast fishing report. As always, you can also clink on the link just above "The Follwers" & "The Garrlic Blog".


Friday, April 9, 2010

Time to Stir the Pot!

If you have been keeping tabs on the controversy swirling around my blog, you will see that I had a chance to talk with Mr. Clancy. During this conversation I picked up on a few points I would like to discuss further. First of all, Mr. Clancy informed me that he is not the person who issues the 310 permit. He stated that he is only an “advisor” during the process. The Army Corps of Engineers and Bitterroot Conservation District issue the permits. However, without Mr. Clancy's approval the 310 permit cannot be issued. The 310 permits for the projects below Tucker were issued last fall for the Double Fork Ranch and the two residents just below Tucker crossing. Mind you that the total job stretched almost 3-4 continuous miles of river. Instead of undertaking the work all at once, is it possible to prioritize these jobs and construct each over time? Granted, the homeowners would receive a priority due to the fact that their homes were in immediate danger. After the work was complete, the river should be allowed to heal. After one or two seasons, only then the Double Fork should have been allowed to do the work. The Double Fork would receive the lowest priority due to the fact that no structures were being threatened. The only reason the bank stabilization was done on the Double Fork was to protect property values. Ironically, the river makes the Double Fork property extremely valuable but yet they want to stop it from doing its natural thing. If this model was implemented, it would have lessened the immediate impact on this section of water. It is my opinion, that the extensive amount of work that was done in this section will have direct and negative affect on the aquatic life and therefore the fish productivity. We will find out as the season continues.

Another comment from Mr. Clancy jumped out at me while discussing this issue. I don't want to directly quote him, but it was my understanding that he thought the entire project was completed last fall. Now, anyone who floated that section was surprised by the work that was being done both last fall and this spring. It was obvious that there was NO work being done at the homeowners’ location last fall. Why Mr. Clancy did not go down to inspect these projects is beyond me. It is not like he is in Helena. His office is right next door to my shop. Since he had obviously not been down to the river, I guess he was just as surprised as everyone else when the work commenced this spring. Is it not Mr. Clancy’s job, as head fisheries biologist, to know exactly when these projects start and finish? Shouldn’t he be at least mildly concerned about the quality of work being done? Pretty amazing when you think about it! Like I said, I don't want to directly quote him but if you would like to discuss this with him and get direct quotes feel free to call his office at (406)363-7169.

As far as the whole 310 permit process goes, I believe that the Bitterroot "Conservation" District, the Army Corps of Engineers and Mr. Clancy only care about the wealthy landowners’ interests, i.e. the Double Fork Ranch. Why would pasture land take precedence over, not only a homeowner, but the health of the river itself? Moreover, if you buy land on the river it is worth exponentially more than land just off the river. That is all well and good. However, why should they be allowed to stop the river from meandering, as rivers do, just to protect their property values? Eventually, the channelization of the Bitterroot River will choke it to death. The Double Fork does little for the economic welfare of the Bitterroot Valley. Conversely, the Bitterroot River is worth millions of dollars annually, not only to us guides and fly shop owners, but also to hotel/lodge owners, other retail shops, supermarkets, restaurants, bars and so on. There is currently very little else driving the Bitterroot Valleys economy besides the tourism. I am sure this post will continue to stoke the fires of the current debate. However, I have never been one to back down from a fight nor have I ever been afraid to voice my opinion.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Angling Exposition: 3 Days of Laughs & Fish

Well it wasn't quite the hedonism of Woodstock but I had a great three days of guiding Alan Farris and Les Vance on the Bitterroot River. Alan had called me two weeks ago to inquire about fishing and the possibility of being guided for three days. He was quite concerned about weather conditions for the time period he would be here. At that time, the weathermen were calling for fairly nasty conditions. I told him that I don't believe what the weathermen call for in 24 hours, let alone a week out. How is it that we have some of the most sophisticated radar/weather models in the world but when you go on three different weather websites you get three different predictions for today's weather? I wish I had a job where I could be right 15% of the time. I have found that if I take all three predictions, put them in a hat and maybe the one I draw will be today's weather. I figure those are 33% odds, far better than 15%! Anyway, I told him that I am not God but I think the fishing should be good. So wouldn't you know it on Saturday morning I woke up to a half inch of snow on my boat and it had the look of not stopping. Fortunately, by the time Alan & Les arrived the snow stopped falling had melted off my boat. For the first day, I picked a stretch on the upper river that had been fishing really well. By the time we got to the boat ramp and geared up the sun was out and the air was warming. Alan gave a hopeful look as he viewed the early spring sun. I told him do not get fooled but hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. After all, it is spring time in Montana and we could see all four seasons of weather on days like these, which ended up being the case. The fishing started off pretty slow due to the fact that the cold overnights had dropped the water temps to 38 degrees. I kept a watchful eye on the thermometer and told the boys that as soon as the water temps creep up in the 40's we should start seeing some activity. When the water temp finally did creep up, as if on cue, the fish started looking up. Thank God I am not a weatherman! Alan started off the day hot and ended the day with the hot hand on the boat. Although the fishing wasn't truly on fire, due to the fact that we had to deal some nasty winds for most of the afternoon, we still had some good fishing.

The following day, Easter Sunday, we were greeted by some lingering cold overnight temperatures, it was 24 degrees when I started my truck at 7:30 a.m. Needless to say, the fishing was less than stellar in the morning hours, the fish would even eat a double nymph rig fished deep. I suggested we stop on a riffle, where four days prior I got into some REALLY good mayfly shooting, to eat an early lunch. My intent was two-fold; 1) I wanted to get lunch out of the way earlier than normal so we were not eating when it started to fish & 2) I didn't want to go by this particular riffle complex before the mayflies started to pop. Being that Alan is from Texas and he left 85 degree weather to fish in some beautiful Montana spring weather, I figured I would start a fire before I cooked lunch. As I was building my little tee pee of kindling I was informed that I was in the presence of not one but two Eagle Scouts. Holy crap! Not only was I expected to find fish for these boys, but I sure as hell better not screw up building a fire. Once again, thank God I am not a weatherman! I told them I had a old Indian trick to lighting fires on the river bank-Uncle Joe's Firestarter (this is flammable gel akin to napalm). Within minutes the boys were sitting around a nice campfire thawing with a warm cup off coffee in hand. Meanwhile, I fired up my bar-b-que and placed a large side of Steelhead on the grill. As we dined on probably one of the best Steelhead fillets I have ever eaten, we were joined by subtle noses poking up for mayfly emergers below the riffle. By the time we had all the lunch gear packed back in the boat, the fish below the riffle were feeding with reckless abandon on a variety of Ameletus, Baetis and Skwalas. We camped out on the riffle for over an hour a caught several trout on a variety of mayfly adult and cripple patterns as well as a few on Skwalas. As our short mayfly window (only about an hour) began to close, we shoved off and headed downstream. We had a very good afternoon and evening of fishing with the last couple of hours dominated by a local pattern called Freddy. John Foust is the inventor of Freddy and this fly ALWAYS produces in the fading evening light. Alan learned this when, about a 1/2 mile from the takeout, a large brown absolutely crushed Freddy. As the large brown jumped the second time, he winked his steely eye at Alan as he spat Freddy out of his mouth. I looked up at Alan laughed and said, "That brownie just kicked your ass!" (Sound familiar?) Alan laughing said, "I like that Freddy guy." Yep, Freddy is the man!

I pulled out of my driveway on day three with big expectations; simply because it was a Monday (no crowd issue although we hadn't seen much in the way of boat traffic all weekend), the overnight temps were warmer than they had been in weeks and the forecast called for clouds, light and variable winds and warm temps (but you know those weathermen!). I decided on the lower river thinking that if the weathermen we right for once, we would have some incredible mayfly activity. Also the fish on the lower river are a bit larger but only like to play when there is cloud cover. We drifted through the first few banks with no response. However, not much further down Alan was floating through the heart of darkness when all of a sudden the water erupted. After a valiant battle, an 18 inch absolutely beautiful, heavy spotted rainbow came to the net. We cycled through the bank a few more times and both Alan & Les missed a fish apiece. No worries, it was game on! As we came into the next bank both Alan & Les commented that it was probably the prettiest looking piece of water they had seen so far. Keep in mind, at this point we had covered approximately 23 miles of river in the last three days. This should give you an idea of just how sexy this bank looks. We must have recycled this bank six times with either one or both the boys getting eats. As we oared back up on the last time through, both Les & I saw a nice trout eat tight to the bank and under an overhanging dogwood. On or way back down Les put a shot perfectly just above where we saw the fish eat. As we both watched the bug slide past, I think we were both holding our breath in expectation of the take. But for some odd reason the fish didn't come out to play. I immediately told Les to reload a little higher and tighter to the bank. The fly hadn't made it five feet before disappearing in a vacuum swirl. A few minutes later and after a few hard runs a bright 17 inch brown trout was in the net. Sweet, the first brownie of the day! From there the day just got better and better. To top it off, the mayfly activity that I was hoping for materialized in a big way. We came into the first pod of fish that were absolutely chowing. At first glace, I thought they were dining exclusively on the hundreds of both Baetis and Ameletus floating down the river. So I immediately anchored and switched over to a mayfly imitation. After I had the boys re-rigged, I really started watching the bigger fish in the pod and couldn't help but notice that it would eat a small Baetis, then a bigger Ameletus and then follow it up with a Skwala eat. After exercising a few fish on mayflies we went back to the Skwala. Why fish a #18 when you can fish a #10 with the same results. I had Alan cast a Skwala to a very large mouth that was feeding with reckless abandon. This fish was a little tough to get to because it was on an inside bend of a recirculating current. However, Alan's first cast was money. I told him to give the Skwala a little twitch and instantly a mouth the size of Texas was open and before it could close, the fly came shooting back at us. Alan and Les had a big laugh as I pulled my hat over my eyes and shed a small tear. We gave the fish a few more tries but those big boys don't get big for a reason and almost never give you a second chance. Along the next bank I had the boys play a classic Bitterroot River cobble run. At the tail end, it was as if I had paid two large fish to simultaneously eat both Skwalas. In the end, Les played and landed yet another beautiful 18 inch brown trout. After stealing his soul we released him back to the river.

We recycled yet another bank for more than an hour, which had the most Skwalas I have ever seen on the water at one time in my 11 years of fishing this river. I asked the boys if they were ready for lunch. After all, it had to be at least 2:30 or 3:00. Alan informed me that it was 5:15. No freaking way! Both Alan and Les said, "The fishing is so good, we don't need a full lunch. Let's just have some crackers, cheese and bread and get back to fishing." I said, “Great because I have a real treat for you guys just a little down river.” If we were going to hit this sneaky little channel I had in mind, we were going to have to get going. Hell, we were only two-thirds of the way through the float. I parked the boat further down grabbed my camera, some flies and my net. We had to hike about 800 yards to get to this channel that you cannot get to by boat and usually is loaded with big fish. On the first run a football shaped 16 inch rainbow exploded on Les' fly. On the next run down Alan caught one about the same size. Don't get me wrong these are nice fish but not exactly what I was expecting. This channel is really small and about as technical as the Bitterroot gets. As we were walking around I told the boys to be very careful where they step because this place was loaded with redds. If you are walking side channels this time of the year please be mindful of these spawning beds. Those are our future trout and you cannot mistake the clean, circular gravel beds where a trout has spawned. Please give these redds a wide berth. As we were headed back up the channel, Les noticed a large swirl at the bottom end of some really still water. I said give it a shot. Les commented that the fish was probably cruising but what the hell. Les peeled off some line and his Skwala landed about ten feet from the bottom of the run. As he mended his line, the bug twitched. As soon as the bug moved, a wake formed and came charging toward his fly. It took nerves of steel not to pull the fly away as a VERY large mouth could be seen breaking the surface. As the fish turned down, Les pulled up and with that we both let out a war cry. The fish exploded as the fly sunk into its mouth. It did its damnedest to shake free but Les played him perfectly. As the fish came to the net we both saw that it was a very large male brown trout; the fish measured a good 21-21.5 inches and healthy. As we walked back to the boat full of adrenaline, Les said, "If I would have missed that fish, I would not have been able to sleep tonight." I told him, "Shit, if you would have missed that fish you would be sleeping here tonight!" After we left the channel we had probably 10 more ops (eats). The fishing had slowed a little and ended as the light faded from the sky. Unfortunately, I had to row out for the last half hour in almost complete darkness. This was probably the best day of fishing I have seen on the Bitterroot River so far during the Skwala hatch. There were more bugs on the water than I have EVER seen and there were lots of big noses coming up. I was glad I could spend it with two great guys. Thank you again Alan & Les I really enjoyed fishing with you and I look forward to our next adventure.