More thoughts on winter

MT_SWE_17Feb16

The image above shows current snow water equivalent by river basin.  Notice the dates range, 1981-2010.  These percentages would actually be lower if the data included the 1970’s as Montana received more snow back then.  Earlier today, it was raining.  Yes, raining in mid-February at 6666 feet of elevation. Sure, it was snowing in the high country, but rain at this time of the year is a little alarming to most folks who call this place home.  In the early afternoon, the temperature started to drop and snowing began to fall once again around West Yellowstone.   in the matter of a few minutes, winter returned.  With any luck, we’ll continue to see moisture build up in the form of snow and not rain.  Most of us wold like to see the snowpack sitting around 110% right now, but we’ll take this as compared to a year ago.

Rain and warm temps make the snow pack form a crusty layer on top, thus providing a hard living for those animals needing to get down to the food below the surface. This layer will not simply go away, but will stay there as more snow falls on top over the course of winter.  While out in Hayden Valley yesterday, I watched a fox make several leaps into the air trying to break down through the snow and get the rodent it was after.  The fox succeeded, but only after busting the hard layer, digging with it’s paws through the icy snow and then pouncing once again.  It was a ton of work for the fox for such a small reward.  It got me thinking about this winter and the warm weather we’ve all been witnessing during “winter”.  The day time highs all around Montana have been very warm over the past couple of weeks and most, if not all, the snow at lower elevation is gone.  While this can happen and isn’t something to freak out about, it’s not normal what so ever.  There is plenty of time for more snow to fall, we just need the daytime temps to stay below freezing so that we don’t keep loosing the precious moisture that’s already accumulated this season. For those of you who are thinking about spring time fishing, pay attention to how warm the temps are over the next couple of months.  If things stay warm like this through February and March, fishing is gonna be very good in April and May.  If this season is anything like the past few years, spring angling opportunities  in Montana and eastern Idaho should be plentiful.

Pray for more snow!


Argentina bound in 2016; you should come next time

The fish gods must be looking out for me, as I have managed to convince another group of anglers to travel down to the Argentina for a visit with the good folks at Pesca Patagonia.  Some of you know my buddy Justin Spence from his famed fly shop here in West Yellowstone – The West Yellowstone Fly Shop and some of you know Justin from our trips together here in Montana.  He also operates a top shelf outfitting company in and around Junin de los Andes.  Justin, his wife Rachel and their lovely little girls spend the entire winter and spring in Junin.  Half of the year in Montana and half of the year in Patagonia, what an amazing life!

In early April, five of us will make the big trip from North America to South America. We’ll all meet up in BA, take a ride across the city and jump a airplane to Bariloche.  From there we’ll meet up with Justin and head towards San Martin.  We’ll fish the Malleo, possibly the Chimehuin or Alumine, the Collen Cura for a couple and then who knows where we’ll end up for last couple of days.

Some folks give me a hard time about traveling that far for trout, especially when it’s a solid time frame for chasing salt water species, but Argentina gets in one’s blood and its hard to shake.  Their rivers are like our rivers, only different.  There are moments when when I wake up from day dreaming of fight with a big brown trout that had just tossed the hooked.  Those are memories from my time down south in 2013 and some of those fish were true giants.  But it’s not just the quality angling that makes me want to return; the fishing culture is more laid back, it’s the “let it happen” attitude when you’re submersed in fishing and everything is right in the world.  Getting after it and putting in day after day on the water is like Spring Training in the MLB.  Everyday spent on the river gets you prepped for the next day, if you’ve got the time, stay as long as possible.  And then there’s the locality of where you are fishing.  Argentine Patagonia is remote and not populous at all.  Some folks like to compare it to stepping back in time, to the old days of fishing out West when hardly a soul actually could point out the Missouri and it’s tributaries on a map of the United States.

Right now, I’ve got a busy couple of months ahead.  There will be late nights at the tying bench, picking over lines for the trip and the lovely little process of laying out all your gear as you prep for a world class fishing trip.  I’m excited about heading back down to Argentina.

Pondering Mid-winter

Yellowstone’s winter season in the Interior is now a month from shutting down.  Where does all the time go?  I have been guiding five days a week again this season for Yellowstone Alpen Guides, making this my 9th year and never have I enjoyed guiding as much as this winter.  Luckily, this season, we have decent snow.  Truth be told, after last years bleak winter, I was not looking forward to guiding in YNP.  Mother Nature was providing us with almost weekly snow storms, but now that February has hit, she’s as dry as dirt.  And it’s unseasonably warm to boot.  The past few days have seen the snow melting from my roof and piling up as ice on the ground, then running into our garage as I frantically try to chip away the glacial mound in front of the door.

Is this the new norm?  Currently, its 33 degrees at 11am…it’s not even noon yet!  A week or so ago, the morning temp was -33 degrees.  I took a break for a couple hours and tended to our roof and the melting snow, now the temps are reading almost 45 degrees.  I should be fishing but adulting is getting in the way.   The roads in West Yellowstone are showing signs of spring and spring in these parts is normally a couple months away.

Overall, there has been plenty of wildlife along way to Old Faithful and of course the scenery never gets old.  The Canyon runs have been little void of life from time to time, but recently there have been bison on the move in the Gibbon Canyon, which means that coyotes and foxes are making an appearance as well.  Wolves have not had much of a presence this season along the Madison, Gibbon and Firehole. There’s been a few sightings, but overall they have been non existent.  I would say that has something do with the 94% snow pack and the fact that there are more elk around Big Sky, Gardiner and in the Madison Valley around Cameron, MT.  Wolves chase elk and the elk population is down to just a couple dozen, if that, animals on the west side of the park along the Madison drainage.  There are two small bull elk and one giant bull living along the Madison River around 7 Mile bridge.  So far, they look very healthy. While winter is not over just yet, this break from the cold is nice for every single living thing in these parts.

I’m off to town for a while, with any luck it will be nice enough to drink a beer outside this evening.   Pray for snow.

Hebgen Dam – Far from fixed

I finished up guiding a little over two weeks ago, but there’s still plenty of paperwork piled high that needs some attention prior to the arrival of the new year.  As of late,  my time has been spent walking the rolling hills of eastern Montana behind the German engineered Draht better known as Stella.  We hunt alone, or with one other hunter/dog combo which allows my brain and body to decompress from a long season behind the oars.  I don’t want to worry about someone else, I want to be selfish for this short span of time and watch my dog work the CRP.  This time alone also allows me to get my thoughts together and recently, I’ve had too much stress in my life due to things beyond my control. There was a death in our fly fishing family here in West Yellowstone that rocked us, I’ve got a side project that is chaotic to say the least, I really just want go bird hunting again and there’s the debacle at Hebgen Dam that just won’t stop.

Hebgen Dam and the on going construction project has proven to be a large pain in the a$$.  Back in early October, October 7th, to be exact, Northwestern Energy (NWE) sent out a press release which stated, that once again the completion date will be pushed back to Dec. 31, 2015.  Mind you, a year ago they promised that it would be finished up in July 2015.  Then it got pushed to August, then October and now we sit at Dec 31, 2015.  Surprise, surprise surprise…the fat lady is not singing what so ever, she’s not even warming up her voice.  In fact, I doubt they will “finish”  on Dec 31 as their tract record is so poor. Why would anyone trust what NWE is saying now?  Most of what they say as far as completion is concerned has NEVER come true.  Then, to top it all off, NWE surprised everyone, and by everyone, I mean every single person including NWE’s own biologist, by stating this lovely gem:

 

“The last construction project at Hebgen will be the relining of the existing wood pipeline from the new intake tower through the dam that discharges to the Madison River. This work is planned for the spring of 2017. Flows will temporarily be changed to the new spillway structure while this work is performed. This construction will begin in May, 2017, dependent on runoff flows, and will have a duration of approximately four months.”

 

This was never and I mean not one time, disclosed at any of their meaningless public meetings and I’ve been to darn near every single one of them.  For NWE to slip these statements into a press release, at the bottom of the page, is sneaky to say the least.  This is a huge issue that deserves it’s own press release.  Let’s break down the above statement.  First off, if NWE is finished up on December 31 (why they give an exact date is beyond me at this point), then the Madison River will once again have cold water from roughly 40 feet beneath the surface of the lake for 2016.  Great news! However, this will only be for a single season as this “relining of the wood pipeline” apparently hasn’t been done according to the engineers approval the first time around.  My question is this – why wasn’t this accomplished over the past seven years while the entire structure was dried in with a coffer dam?  I guarantee you that every single engineer at NWE has walked that wooden pipeline more than a few times and this never came up until now?  Really?  So, we get one season of cold water and then bam!, we get an 8th season of water that comes off the top of Hebgen Lake?  This is planned to start in May so that when the prime fishing season gets here we are set up with hot water for late June, July and August?  They say “approximately four months” and we are supposed to believe NWE?

 

I’m done daydreaming that this project will ever finish up without folks like you and me stepping up and making some noise.  And by noise I mean, actually making several phone calls to the deciders at NWE and those at Montana FWP who can help our cause.  Recently, I spent over an hour talking with John Hines a VP at NWE and spoke my mind.  I never hold much back with regards to this issue and I hope you will do the same.  Mister Hines, phone number below, needs to hear from each and every angler, outfitter and guide on why this new project absolutely can not happen in the summer months. This is, hands down, more important than the fishing regulations that may or may not be coming our way.  Folks spoke loudly about that and this needs the same attention.  NWE is throwing biology out the window and their primary objective, according to their FERC license is to take care of the river first and foremost.406 449 833

 

According to Brent Mabbot, NWE’s biologist and friend of mine, this project could begin in September of 2017, giving NWE September, October, November and December to complete.  If they run into problems, then they could even stretch it out to March, April and be finished up by May 2018.  Apparently, there is no way around this relining of the wood pipeline.  It must be done.  Ok, fine, but someone needs to be accountable for why it wasn’t done already and most importantly, this project needs to be done in the months where it will hurt the river the least.

 

There are many issues that lots of local anglers have with NWE.  The biggest one is this:  NWE is doing whatever they want, whenever they want, with total disregard for the resource and secondly, the communities who rely on the Madison River for economic and recreational opportunities are being told to deal with it.  Well, I’m tired of dealing with it and I want the Madison, the river that made me move to Montana in the first place almost twenty years ago, to get back to it’s old self once again.

 

Speak up, would ya?!

 

John Hines NWE VP 406 449 8333
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Travis Horton MT FWP 406 994 3155406 994 3155

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