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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Friday, December 23, 2011

Post Thanksgiving Gluttony

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 1, 2011

Heed the Warnings!

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

Saturday, June 25, 2011

High Water & Big Decisions

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 9, 2011

The War on Brown Trout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tweeting like a twit

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

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Passing of a Good Friend and a Great Man

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

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

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

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


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lost Rods!!!

A good friend of mine lost his two rods on Thursday March 17th while guiding. He was floating Wally Crawford to Angler's Roost and thinks they may have accidentally got kicked out of his boat near the Rennaker Diversion Dam. They are two Temple Fork Outfitters Signature Series 9 foot 5 weight rods with an Okuma & Ross Reels. They are in a two piece case that is tan and has a River Otter Fly Shop logo. If you happen to find them, Emmett would be very grateful if you called him at 406.370.5712 or you can call the shop at 406.363.1000. Thanks for your help on this one.

I am headed out for a couple of days of fishing this week and will report. We have been starting to see some fish willing to eat a dry skwala. It is just starting. It is about two weeks later than usual this year. It will only get better and better everyday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

HB 309

A hearing is set tomorrow in Helena for HB 309. This bill will potentially change the Montana Stream Access Law and prohibit access to hundreds of miles of water. The time is now to act. If you can't make the hearing, which is taking place at 3:00 p.m. in the Old Supreme Court Chambers (Room 303), in the Capitol Building in Helena, please write a letter any and all Montana Senators (State not Fed). Now is the time to act. Here is a link to find the email addresses http://leg.mt.gov/css/find%20a%20legislator.asp Democracy doesn't begin and end on the first Tuesday of November.

The following is the letter I have sent to many Senators and House Representatives several times:

Dear Senators,

I am writing you this letter in regards to HB 309. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the hearing regarding this bill on March 8th. However, I would like to go on record as being adamantly opposed to this bill. I am a fly shop owner and fishing outfitter in Hamilton . I believe that this bill is not only bad for my business, but for the Montana economy as a whole. Anglers contribute millions of dollars to the Montana economy each year. Most anglers enjoy fishing in Montana due to the stream access laws. If this bill were to pass, it would block access to hundreds of miles of river that was once accessible. The loss of revenue to local economies would be catastrophic. In times like these, we can't afford any more negative economic impacts.

The current Montana Stream Access law is very specific when dealing with ditches. It is very clear that ditches are not part of this law. So why the sudden move to adopt an amendment? Several years ago some wealthy, out of state land owners were ruled against blocking access to Mitchell Slough. Since then, they have made several attempts to appeal but all have failed. Now, it seems they are behind legislation to block access to the slough. However, if this bill passes, it will have huge ramifications throughout the entire state. HB 309 will surely benefit the owners along Mitchell Slough but the costs will be felt by all resident and non-resident anglers. The way this bill is written entire river systems, such as the Bitterroot, Big Hole, Beaverhead, Big Horn to name just a few, could be deemed ditches. Furthermore, many side channels and sloughs would now be off limits. A very bad precedent would be set and there would be no going back.

The Montana Stream Access law is a great piece of legislation that benefits the not only the economy but resident and non-resident anglers. HB 309 is not only reckless; it is an attack on our way of life. If HB 309 is passed, it will start an erosion process that will completely undermine the Stream Access Law. The Montana Stream Access Law already specifically states that no public access is allowed, without permission, on any type of man made "ditch". I strongly object to the following points in HB 309:

1) A live, flowing braid or channel can be defined as a ditch if there is any kind of control structure at the head of the live channel, including 'natural features incorporated into the water conveyance system'

2) Recreational access is available only with landowner's permission on water bodies created at least in part by waters diverted from a natural water body where the diverted water is the principal source of water in the water body - think about low flows in August and September and the many Montana rivers and streams with side channels and braids that have diversion structures on them where return flow could be considered the 'principle source of water' in the river or stream.

I ask you all to carefully consider the costs to this bill. I also urge you to listen to all the citizens and non-residents that have written letters in opposition to this careless piece of legislation.

Good Fishn',

Sean O'Brien
Osprey Outfitters Fly Shop & Guide Service

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Skwala Hatch on the Bitterroot River

Now, before you get too excited and start making travel arrangements, the Skwala's aren't out yet.  As a matter of fact we have a fresh two inches of snow on the ground.  However, the time is nearing and I wanted to talk about what to look for and expect during the hatch.  Skwala nymphs, like most stonefly nymphs, live in the middle of the river for almost an entire year.  The nymph is classified as a "clinger", meaning they attach themselves to the rocks. They aren’t good swimmers.  Stonefly nymphs, as a whole, are very susceptible to variations in water conditions, their diet is mostly comprised of algae and diatoms and they require clean, cold and highly oxygenated water.  They can be the proverbial canary in a coal mine for a river.
Skwala nymph photo taken on February 10, 2011

In late winter/early spring Skwala nymphs start their behavioral drift, which is exhibited by most hatching aquatic insects.  Typically, there is an environmental trigger that cues an nymph to start emerging; either light cycles, or water temperatures.  In the case of the Skwala, it’s when day and night start approaching a 12/12 cycle.  When this occurs, the nymphs start their migration to shore in mass.  The behavioral drift ensures the survival of the species.  If only a few nymphs migrated at a time, they would be easy prey for fish.  However, when millions of nymphs are migrating at once throughout the river, i.e. behavioral drift, the fish can't get them all.  This is happening right now on the Bitterroot River.  I usually start seeing Skwala nymphs in the rocks around the first week of February and this year is no different.  The nymphs will congregate close to shore and stack into the rocks until the next environmental trigger.

That next trigger will be water temperature, not light.  The magic number is 42º.  Skwala adults will start to emerge when the water temperature reaches 40º, but they really get going at 42º.  If you don't carry a thermometer, you may want to seriously reconsider.  I carry one on the boat and ALWAYS have it in the water.  Water temps can tell you a lot about fish and insect behavior.  Once I start seeing water temps creeping into the 40's, I will start throwing Skwala dries, even if I don't see adults.  
Adult female Skwala taken March 2010

An important side note of the Skwala hatch is you will not see the adults in mass.  The female stonefly is the only one to develop wings, however most female Skwala don't fly.  If you look closely you’ll see that some have underdeveloped, almost mutated looking wings.  Most people I have talked to claim it’s because the Skwala has evolved to emerge when the air temps are quite cool.  Instead of flying over the river and dropping their eggs, Skwala females deposit their eggs by crawling back from the bank.  Note that even the most observant angler will have a hard time seeing adult Skwala's.  On a good day, when the hatch is in full swing, I usually see a  dozen at most.  However, if you have a thermometer, you will be way ahead of the game.
Nice rainbow taken on a Skwala dry March 2010

The Skwala hatch is no longer a secret on the Bitterroot River.  In just the short 11 years that I have been fishing here, the pressure has measurably increased.  As a matter of fact, it was the Skwala hatch that originally brought me to the Bitterroot.  And why not?  During this time of year anglers in other parts of the country have to fish with size 20-24 midges (if they aren’t forced to nymph), while we throw size 8-10 dries!  Because of this, don't think you’re going to have the river to yourself.  I’m not talking Madison, Big Hole or Bighorn  crowds but 6 or more boats in one section is common.  Be patient.  There is plenty of water out there and everyone is entitled to fish, good etiquette goes a long way.  Common courtesy give’s wade fishermen a wide berth and when close to  another boat, pull over to put some distance between you.  No one likes the feeling of being crowded.  That said, the Skwala hatch on the Bitterroot River can offer some of the best fishing of the year.  Forty fish days are not rare and some of the biggest fish of the year can be caught on dry flies.  The fish are just coming out of winter, are very hungry and are greeted by a steak sized bug floating down the river.  This year is shaping up to be another great one. Have fun and come by the shop and show me pictures of the one that didn't get away! 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Change in Montana Stream Access?

Well "they" are at it again!  HB 309 attempts to further define a ditch.  The bill has made its way out of committee and has passed the second reading on the Montana House of Representatives floor.  The Montana Stream Access Law is very specific in banning any use of a ditch for public access.  This bill could prohibit access to waters that are now classified as public.  There is no need for this bill and it would only send us down that proverbial slippery slope.  I encourage everyone to write your Montana State Representatives.   Even if you are not a resident, I encourage you to write to the Speaker of the House.  This bill will affect residents and non-residents alike.  The following is a link to the Montana House of Representatives http://www.leg.mt.gov/css/house/.  It is time to let your voices be heard on this issue! The following two links are an article regarding this issue http://www.krtv.com/news/bill-defining-ditches-called-assault-on-montana-s-stream-access-/ and the bill itself http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2011/billhtml/HB0309.htm.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wading Safe

I usually don't wade fish much, I prefer fishing from a boat.  However,  winter conditions usually dictate that any fishing done during these months, is for a few hours of wading.  February 4th was one such day.  We had just come out of several days with lows in the single digits, so there was some new ice formed along the banks.  My friend Donn and I decided to hit a stretch of water that has become our winter fishing grounds  It was a beautiful day; cloudy and temps in the fifties.  We had gotten a late start, so we only journeyed about 3/4 of a mile from the truck to a prime spot.  This is a classic riffle/run that stretches at least 200 yards.  It is a perfect winter run, that is loaded with fish from top to bottom.
The fish I almost paid the ultimate price for
I agreed to start fishing the top of the run, here the riffle plunges into a series of nice deep buckets.  Immediately I picked up a nice 17 inch rainbow.  A few casts later I laced into the biggest fish I have seen all winter.  Fortunately, the fish did not exert its muscle. If it had, I would have been running down the river in pursuit.  This fish was so fat that I was struggling to get it in my hand. I don't carry a net when I wade, but I wish I had one then!  After about the fourth attempt, I finally had the 20 inch, 3 1/2 pound fish in my grasp.  I took a few photos with my phone (both Donn & I forgot our cameras so catching big fish was inevitable) and then released the big hen back to the river.  After hearing my whoop and holler, Donn, who was about 100 yards downstream, asked if I had any streamers. Apparently, he had just lost two large browns due to a "dull hook".  I walked down gave him a streamer and showed him the photo of the large rainbow I just landed.  After sharing some laughs and acknowledgment of how fortunate we are to live in such a great place, I was back up fishing the upper inside of the run.

As I stated earlier, the days prior had been relatively cold and ice had formed along the bank.  On this particular run, the ice was several inches thick in the middle of the floe and stretched about 25 feet from the bank.  It was not stable enough to walk on, which I don't like to do anyway.  Ice scares the shit out of me!  The only way we could fish the run was to wade along the outside edge.
I wish I had my real camera for a better photo
 Donn had already been though the run and reassured me it was doable.  As I began skirting the ice, I knew it was gonna be iffy.  I have a rule that I NEVER wade much past my waist when I have on waders.  Once you get much beyond your waist, the margin of error becomes extremely small.  If something goes wrong and your waders fill with water, it is game over!  Donn has come up with an ingenious idea in dealing with this very issue but I am getting ahead of myself.  So there I was, skirting the ice as icy water was licking the tops of my waders.  I was at the point of no return but, in just a few more steps, I could tell the water would begin to shallow up.  It was then that I felt a slow push from behind, the kind you would feel from a surge by a large crowd of people.  I started to feel the 35 degree water entering my waders, which was like thousands of tiny cold needles piercing my skin.  I tried pushing back, but realized that the ENTIRE ice shelf had separated from the bank.  It was moving with slow, deliberate purpose toward the middle of the river; carrying everything in it's path, including me.

This was no small piece of ice that I could simply dodge.  The floe easily measured 150 feet long, 25 feet wide and was about four inches thick in the middle.  I have no idea how much it weighed, but I would guess several tons, at a minimum!  The outside edge, where I was, was very brittle.  As I was being pushed toward deeper water, not only was water was entering my waders but I couldn't gain any purchase on the ice.  Every time I tried to get on top of it, I would just break though.  Things were becoming VERY critical VERY fast.  Donn, seeing my dire straights, started coming out toward me.  I kept trying to push back against the massive floe because if it ran me over, Donn would be pouring whiskey over my grave in true Irish fashion.  Fortunately, when Donn got further out onto the floe, it caused it to crack.  The floe started separating between us and creating an escape route. I was initially hesitant to enter the gap.  I had visions of being between both floes, only to be squeezed out and forced under.  However, water was now pouring in my waders and they were getting extremely heavy.  If I took on much more water it wouldn't have mattered if I was pushed under the floe, I was headed to the bottom anyway!  I shot into the gap and Donn was able to help me scramble onto the thicker section of ice.  Donn grabbed my rod, which I threw on the floe when things started going awry, and we got the hell outta there.

Many things could have gone the other way that day but didn't.   However, I should not have been in the situation in the first place.  I broke my one main rule of wade fishing with waders; I went well above my waistline.  I don't care how strong you are or how good of shape you are in, once you get much beyond your waistline, you are setting yourself up for disaster.  I got lucky the other day, but will credit myself for a few things.  First of all, I didn't panic.  If you panic in heavy situations, it will be your last!  Secondly, when things started going bad, I didn't hesitate to ditch my rod.  I was using a R.L. Winston with a Ross Vexsis Reel; a thousand dollar setup.  So many accounts of people drowning in the river include, "The last time we saw him, he was headed down river with his rod in his hand."  Is your favorite rod and reel really worth your life?!  Things can ALWAYS be replaced, life can't!  Lastly, and most important, if Donn were not there I would not be writing this.  It is always good common sense (it should be called "uncommon sense" because common sense is not so common) to practice the buddy system.  When things go bad, it is good to have someone come to your aid.

I mentioned earlier that Donn has come up with an ingenious idea to help in situations such as these.  It is no secret that waders are extremely dangerous.  Every year, anglers are pulled to their death due to their waders filling with water.  Wading belts only offer a false sense of security as it will not stop the waders from filling.  However, after Donn had his own life threatening situation, (see his story http://wadesafe.blogspot.com), he began to develop WADESAFE Wader Technology.  He has created a patent pending design to completely evacuate the water from the waders.  I have helped with the field tests of these waders and can attest to their effectiveness.  The day will soon come when every pair of waders will incorporate Donn's technology.  The following is the link for WADESAFE's website http://wadesafe.com. When I got back on the bank after my ordeal, I told Donn that I sure wished I had a pair of WADESAFE waders! In the mean time, be careful out there and wade safely.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Follow Up on Bank Stabilization Work Downstream of Tucker Crossing

For those of you who follow my blog, you know that I wrote a series of somewhat contentious posts last spring concerning bank stabilization work that was done downstream from Tucker Crossing.  This series of blogs elicited everything from praises to threats against me and my business.  My biggest concern regarding this project was not just the timing, but also the siltation it created, the loss of aquatic life and the lasting effect of the work itself.  
I believe that the biggest threat to the Bitterroot watershed is rip-rapping the stream side banks for stabilization.  Not only does this channelize the river, it creates erosion downstream (See previous posts).   However, when Wildland Hydrology took on the project below Tucker Crossing, they had a completely different approach to bank stabilization.  Instead of placing large rocks along the bank, they proposed a more natural bank by driving logs (toe wood) deep into the bank, folding large areas of sand and soil over the top of the logs and planting willow and alder in the sod mats.  This is a very simplified explanation of their  complex project.  To my knowledge, this project was the first of it's kind on the Bitterroot River and everyone in the fishing community was eager to see the results.
Recently, I have attended some Bitterroot Conservation District (BCD) meetings.  The BCD is the agency responsible for issuing 310 permits. The BCD is comprised of local citizens, most of whom have been born and raised in the Bitterroot and from varied backgrounds.  Chris Clancy, Fisheries Biologist for Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, is not on the board but acts as an advisor to the board.  Also, Jack Mauer, a longtime fly fishing outfitter in the Bitterroot, attends almost every meeting and provides input to the board concerning anglers and outfitters.  In order to do ANY type of work in the floodplain a 310 permit must be issued first.  When I say floodplain, I mean all the area on the streambed that is below the high water line.  Typically, that mark is defined as where terrestrial vegetation begins.  310 permits are not required for any work above the high water line.  This requires a county floodplain permit, which is issued by Ravalli County.  The first meeting I attended was akin to walking into the lions den.  In previous posts, I have had some choice words regarding Mr. Clancy and the BCD.  However, I have been treated with respect by not only Mr. Clancy, but all the members of the BCD.  I plan to attend as many meetings as possible because they are very informative with regards to any projects occurring or set to occur on the Bitterroot River.
It was at the latest meeting (January 25, 2011) that the Annual Maintenance Report was released on the bank stabilization work done downstream of Tucker Crossing.  Wildland Hydrology is contracted to maintain their work for five years after the date of completion.  If any of their work is damaged by the natural process of the river, they are required to fix the damage.  The spring of 2010 was a large runoff event and was a great first test for their work.  According to Wildland Hydrology's report, the total loss of "toe wood" for the entire project was 3%.  The entire project is comprised of three separate sites; Site #1 The Bucholz Project consisted of 1500 lineal feet of work; Site #2 The Hanson Project consisted of 1,700 lineal feet; Site #3 The Double Fork consisted of 250 lineal feet.  The Hanson project lost 80 feet of toe wood after runoff (the largest amount of the three) and the Double Fork lost just 30 feet.  There was no loss of toe wood on the Bucholz project.  Wildland Hydrology credited the zero loss on the Bucholz project to the fact that the homeowner used sprinklers in the summer months; thereby increasing the growth rate of the willow and alder.  Furthermore, the photo evidence seems to suggest that the toe wood structure, on all the projects, created lower velocity of flows of the river near the banks.  Instead of the river slamming into the bank, a seam was created a few feet off the bank.  According to the report, this aided in the deposition of sand and sediment behind the toe wood structures.  The photos further indicated that after the flood water receded, there were cottonwood seedlings sprouting behind the structures.  In all the projects, there was no further terrace bank erosion; also credited to the toe wood structures.
Wildland Hydrology has painted a rather positive picture of their own project and it seems to have been successful, after the first year.  However, my concern is how well it will stand the test of time.  The true test will come in the next 3-6 years and if we continue to have large runoff events.  This years snow pack is currently well over 100% and we are slated for a large runoff.  It will be interesting to see how this project performs.   I hope that  it will be successful.   If so, it should only encourage other landowners to do this type of bank stabilization instead of traditional and harmful rip-rap. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Proposed Felt Ban in Montana

I have been informed that there is legislation afoot (no pun intended!) to ban felt soled wading boots by our "esteemed" Senator Ron Erickson, a Democrat from Missoula  (see the link below).  Rubber soled boots are not the cure-all to invasive species.  I believe rubber soles will only aid in spreading invasives because anglers will be lulled into a false sense of security.  Furthermore, rubber soled wading boots pose a serious safety concern.  You can view my opinion on rubber soled wading boots in a previous blog entitled "To Felt of Not to Felt".

I encourage everyone to write a opposition letter to the Montana Senate.  If you are a Montana resident please send/email a letter to your senator.  If not, please send/email a letter to the following below. I have sent an email to my senator, Sen. Bob Lake, R-Hamilton, as well as all the senators listed below. It is my job to inform you.  Now do your job to be proactive!

President of the Senate: Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo) jimpetersonranch@gmail.com

President Pro Tempore: Bruce Tutvedt (R-Kalispell) tutvedt@montanasky.us

Majority Leader: Jeff Essman (R-Billings) jessmann@mt.gov

Majority Whips: Taylor Brown (R-Huntley) taylor@northernbroadcasting.com 
                           Chas Vincent (R-Libby) cvvincent@hotmail.com

Minority Leader: Carol Williams (D-Missoula) cwilliams@montanadsl.net

Minority Whip: Kim Gillian (D-Billings) glonky@aol.com

Link to the proposed bill:  http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2011/lchtml/LC1760.htm