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

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Little Calmed Down Today

Well just after posting my latest blog regarding the work being done on the river, wouldn't you know it, the people who are doing the work came into the shop. Dale & Deanna Hockett of Elk River Construction specialize in river restoration projects all over the world. Some of their projects include stream restoration in Africa, Costa Rica and numerous places in the Untied States. Dale explained the current process ongoing in the Bitterroot River, which is good since neither I nor anyone else has heard what is going on from Mr. Clancy! Instead of just placing large boulders down in a riprap fashion, which has been the norm on the Bitterroot and most other western rivers, they are creating a more natural environment. In a nutshell, they are taking large logs, burying them deep into the river bottom and laying gravel and sod mats on top. The desired effect is to have the bank stabilized without compromising habitat and creating erosion further downstream(which happens when a bank is riprapped). By burying these logs, the river will have an opportunity to create an undercut bank where trout can live. Above the undercut, they have planted willows and cottonwood cuttings that will create shade and further increase trout habitat. This is obviously a gross simplification of the process that Dale explained to me but in my mind is a much better alternative to riprap stabilization. Dale stated that he was going to bring me drawings to look at and if he does I will share them.

Does this lesson my anger to Mr. Clancy? Two words, HELL NO! It would have been nice if Mr. Clancy would have held a public meeting regarding the work being done. It would have eased a lot of public outcry if all us outfitters and/or shop owners knew the time line of the project and techniques that this project was using. In talking to Dale, he could not understand why there was no public meeting regarding this project either. After talking to Dale, I understand now why they were hired over a local contracting crew. I agree with this decision, but once again it would have been nice if Mr. Clancy held a public meeting to address this subject as well. As far as homeowner being able to stabilize eroding banks I am adamantly opposed. There is still a need for stream side setbacks along the Bitterroot River. If all bank stabilization projects were like the one currently being done it would ease some pain. But how many homeowners are going to undertake their project with a company such as Elk River Construction? I bet not many and the days of riprapping will continue.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


If you don't want to hear (or read) a really angry rant then you may want to skip this blog entry. So yesterday I was off do some fun fishing with two guide buddies and happened to pick up the local free paper, The Bitterroot Star. I was hoping that my coffee hadn't kicked in yet and I had misread the headline which stated "Homeowners Reconstruct River". WTF! The article states that a construction company out of Colorado just started the process of completely moving the river out of its current channel to the 2008 channel and away from two existing homes and was approved this winter by Chris Clancy, head fisheries biologist for Montana FWP. I am going to attempt to break down what are, in my mind, the fundamental flaws in the above statement. First of all, Chris Clancy held NO public comment period for this massive project. According to the Bitterroot Star, after the river channel is completely moved they are planing to use 4,800 cubic yards of logs, brush and sod mats to shore up the banks of the "old" channel to prevent the river from coming back into its current location. "Another 20,000 cubic yards of cobble, gravel and sand will be removed from the river channel and placed along the bank, basically digging out a new, deeper channel and filling in the channel near the cliff bank" (where the two houses are). Not only is this having a dramatic negative affect on the fishing now it will continue to do so well in the future. Basically, Mr. Clancy has taken out an entire section of river during the peak of the spring fishing season. For the long term, what affect do you think it is going to have on the aquatic insects that are in the section that is getting diverted? Basically these actions are going to result in a aquatic desert. The last time I checked, fish need those insects to survive! Furthermore, Mr. Clancy decided to attempt this project when we have record low flows on the Bitterroot River and record low snow pack. The silt deposits that will result from this and other projects currently underway on the river (2 others upriver), will not be able to be flushed from the river bottom. There just won't be a "normal" runoff this year and the possible silt build up will further damage the aquatic insect life, further impacting the trout fishery. Furthermore, who was the rocket scientist who hired an out of state contract to do this work. Since the project got railroaded through, what was the reasoning behind not hiring local contractors? The economic hardship that has fallen on the Bitterroot valley has left many of contractors out of work. I am sure one or more would have loved to do this job and probably would have been more cost effective to use! Along those same economic lines, the Bitterroot River is basically one of just a few things bringing revenue to the Bitterroot Valley. The river is literally worth millions of dollars a year. In recent years, the log home industry as well as almost every kind of contractor related services has dried up. Historically, these were the economic mainstays of the Bitterroot Valley, along with logging. In times like these why are these projects being started at the peak of the early fishing season? Wouldn't it be better to do these projects in the winter so as not to loose any tourism dollars?

As I mentioned above there are two other "projects" happening currently on the Bitterroot River. The first is a dam replacement project at Rennakers diversion dam below Wally Crawford access site. This project started in February and is almost complete. However, on Tuesday they diverted water from the west side of the project to the east side. The work has completely muddied up the water from here down to Angler's Roost. Once again, this has taken out an entire section of river in the prime early season! This is further concentrating anglers in fewer sections of river and only adding to congestion problems. The other project is happening above the Darby bridge. Fortunately, this is not having any short-term negative effect on water clarity. However, the homeowner is doing some bank stabilization, which always has long-term negative effects on the river.

The current projects along the Bitterroot River only emphasize the need to have stream side setbacks. As the current law stands, any landowner is allowed to build a house 25 feet away from the high water line. Unfortunately where the high water line is currently does not necessarily dictate where it will be in five, ten or twenty years in the future. The Bitterroot River like all alluvial rivers is constantly moving and changing its course year to year. This is what rivers are designed to do. However, when homes are constructed alongside the banks, bank stabilization is sure to follow. Not only does this create erosion downstream (due to the fact that the river is not allowed to naturally spread out and slow down it will speed up and erode banks further downstream) bank stabilization cuts off spawning habitat by blocking historical channels and springs. Why doesn't Mr. Clancy, the Bitterroot River's head fisheries biologist, understand this growing problem? That is the question we guides and outfitters have been asking for many years. What do they teach fisheries biologist in college these days? If you are still reading this rant there are only a few solutions to this problem that I can see. I am currently drafting letters to Mr. Clancy's office, the main office of Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks in Helena and one to the Governor's office. I don't know how effective they will be but I will at least voice my opinion.

A New Pod Cast Fishing Report is Up

Here is the newest pod cast fishing report on the Bitterroot. Look for a new blog concerning the work being done on the Bitterroot to be posted real soon. Until then here is the link for the fishing report and you can clink on the link above the followers......


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

New Rods, Getting My Ass Kicked and Guiding

When you own a fly shop there are days, especially in the early part of the season, that are like Christmas. Instead of being delivered by Santa and a sleigh pulled by reindeer, these gifts come via the UPS and FedEx trucks that pull into the parking lot. Unfortunately, these gifts cannot be bought with milk and cookies! Such was the case the other day when my R.L Winston order came to the shop. This will be the first year I will carry R.L. Winston rods. Not only are these great fly rods but they are made here in Montana. Just like a kid who gets exactly what they want for Christmas, I had to go out and play with my new toys. After all I have to know how the rods will fish if I am going to sell them, at least that was my justification for closing the shop at 4:00 and hitting the river.

Right off the bat I could tell I was going to love the new rods. I started off fishing the 9 foot 5 weight Boron IIX. This is their faster model but still has the characteristic flex that has made R.L. Winston famous. My good fishing buddy Donn was gracious enough to let me fish most of the time we were out so I could have some quality bonding with my new toy. If you haven't fished one of these rods, when you do, be prepared to buy one. Not only do they cast amazing but they mend like no other rod I have ever fished. I started out of the gate by landing a decent cuttbow, which was a good way to christen the rod. After that, I completely farmed my next six fish. Don't ever let a guide tell you they don't miss fish. If they do they are full of themselves and shit! Anyway, we pulled into a inside bend where I knew a very large brown trout resided last fall. Granted, I haven't seen this particular fish since October so I was not sure he would be back in the inside line yet. On my second cast as my Skwala slid behind a big boulder there was a sound akin to a toilet being flushed. After my miserable performance on the six prior fish, I was not going to prematurely set this one. Like I tell all my clients, after counting to two I lifted the rod only to have a hell break loose! True to big brownie form, this fish instalty took off and headed for deeper water littered with structure. I battled the fish for about five minutes during which he took me into backing and a across the entire river twice. As he started to tire he made a hot run right at me and I was picking my line up as fast as possible to keep a tight line. However, this wily brown had one last trick up his sleeve and as he got to the slower seam just ten feet in front of me he instantly turned back and ran toward the faster water. Just like that was gone only to return and haunt me in my dreams! I looked over to Donn with dismay and he laughed and said "That fish just kicked your ass!" Yes, he was worthy adversary and had the upper hand on me that day. All I could do was laugh and while drowning my sorrows in a nice cold Budweiser. We ended up having a stellar afternoon with a lot of fish coming to the boat in the 15-19 inch range. Donn landed a nice 19 inch pure Westslope cutthroat. All in all in was a great day to play with the new toys.

Yesterday, was the first day I had a commercial trip for the season. Although I have guiding for the better part of ten years, on the first trip there are always butterflies and checks and rechecks to make sure I have everything. Yesterday I took Clay and his son Mark. Clay owns the City Center Motel here in Hamilton. If you are looking for a very affordable motel that is located right downtown, this is the place. Clay fishes with me a few times a month during the season and it is always a pleasure to have him on the boat. I met Mark last summer but never got to fish with him. The fishing started off a little slow for the simple fact that the water was temping out at 38 degrees in the morning. However, after lunch the water started hitting the magic number of forty-two. If you don't have a thermometer with you while fishing the Bitterroot River this spring, don't worry the fish will let you know when you start hearing and seeing the fish aggressively eating the naturals on the water. We had a great afternnon of fishing with about 35 fish that ate our flies. Of those, about twelve came to the boat. The best fish came at the very end of the float. We were coming through a long, fast riffle the used to house a pair of beautful rainbows. However, I haven't seen them for the last two years. Mark made a great cast about two feet from the bank and as soon as the fly touched the water a very large mouth sucked the Skwala down. He paused long enough to let the fish get his body back under water and then lifted his rod. Immediately, his 8 foot 5 wieght rod doubled over and I knew we were going to have a battle on our hands. I instantly started pulling us upriver and toward the opposite bank, as the fish was not wanting to leave its home which was now about 25 yards upstream. Mark got the fish turned back downstream (the first time) and started coaxing him toward the boat. But of course as soon as it saw the boat it instantly peeled line off his singing reel and headed upstream and to the opposite bank. I dug my oars into the current and tried to head upstream with him but now were were at the bottom of the riffle and the best I could do was to try and stay stationary as he tried to turn the fish back downstream. After a few tense moments he got him turned around and I slid the boat downstream and into a back eddy. The fish took a couple of hard runs but eventually came into the net litteraly 50 yards from the takeout. Mark is a Marine pilot and flies an Osprey, so we have a Osprey bond going. I would like to thank Mark again for serving this great country as he readies for a redeployment to Afghanistan. Godspeed and come home safe so we can do some more fishing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Check out the new pod cast fishing report

For some reason it cuts out in the last 1/4 of the report but we are working on it. Hopefully the full report will be up soon. Good ole computers. There is a saying that I truly subscribe to that goes, "Sometimes the best thing you can do with a computer is to turn it off and go fishing!" Until then, here is the link. There is a link just below the followers list as well.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Snow Day!

For those of you that know me, you probably would never have thought you would hear the words "It is good to see the snow!" come out of my mouth. However, this morning I woke up to see about an inch of new snow blanketing the valley. I have never been so happy to see the white stuff this late in the winter/early spring. If you have been following our snow pack, or for better words lack-thereof, you know we need every little bit we can get at this point. The Bitterroot Range is currently sitting at 51% of average for this time of the year and the Bitterroot River is at record low flows.

The one thing I am staying positive about this year is the fact that it is a heavy El Nino year. Typically during an El Nino year we get a lot of storms late spring (April and May) and our summers are usually cooler and wetter than normal. So we have that going for us, which is nice. Another factor to stay positive about is the fact that our fish are in the best shape anyone has ever seen for this time of the year. Typically, our fish are a little skinny this time of year due to the fact that they have dined almost exclusively on midges. This year the fish in the Bitterroot River look like they have been eating Salmonflies all winter. Even the brown trout, which are usually the skinniest this time of the year, are all fat and healthy. So instead of focusing on the doom and gloom of having very little water in the mountains, I am staying positive with a watchful eye on the weather satellite images. We really only need a few good storms to get our snow pack up to acceptable levels.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Let the Skwala Madness Begin!

Needless to say it has been a very mild winter, which is being followed by a warm and early spring. The good news is that the Skwala hatch on the Bitterroot River is coming earlier than anyone has ever seen before. The bad news is that we may be left with very little water later in the season (more on that later). We started seeing the first adult Skwala on the water on February 25th. .
Each day we were getting 5-10 eats on Skwala dries. My buddy Rob got the first nice fish with a dry fly on February 27th, a beautiful 18 inch 2 1/2 pound Cutthroat. Since then, the dry fly fishing has been improving exponentially every day

Yesterday, March 4th, was a good friends' birthday so of course we had to get out on the water. The day started off a little slow but as the sun warmed the air and water, that all changed. The magic water temperature for Skwalas to emerge as adults is 40-42 degrees. We have been seeing water temps start to reach 40-42 degrees and yesterday the Bitterroot River temped out at 43 degrees. Accordingly, yesterday we saw alot of adults (25-30) on the water. During Skwala hatch you tend not to see the amount of bugs on the water that you will on other stonefly hatches. For instance, during the Salmonfly or Golden stonefly hatch the water can be blanketed with bugs. However, once the Skwala adults start hitting the water the fish on the Bitterroot turn on eager eye toward this bug. You will know when the fish are eating them by the amount water that gets displaced when the fish viciously attacks. After eating size 20-24 midges all winter, I think the fish just can't hide their excitement of seeing a size 8 stonefly floating down the river. Fishing the Skwala hatch can produce not only some of the biggest fish you will see all year but some of the most memorable takes. After all was said and done yesterday, we had 32 fish eat a Skwala dry fly. That is some epic fishing for the fourth day of March!

If you haven't noticed, the snow pack in the Bitterroot and Sapphire Ranges are extremely low. Right now we are sitting at 52% of average in the entire Bitterroot River drainage. This could mean for some interesting conditions come late July and all of August. The only thing I am trying to stay positive about is the fact that it is a heavy El Nino year. This usually means that we have a cooler and wetter than normal summer. Only time will tell. My advise is if you are thinking about fishing the Bitterroot River this year, you need to come early and often!