More thoughts on winter

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

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

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
406 449 8333

 

Travis Horton MT FWP 406 994 3155406 994 3155

406 449 806

Madison River Regulation Changes in the air

Statewide, there are fishing regulation changes that are coming down the pipe and frankly, I don’t really care for all of them.  I will not go into any other regulation changes other than those here on the Madison River.  First off, I am not a fisheries biologist, however, the amount of time I have spent on river over the past 23 years of my life as an angler, guide and outfitter gives me some insight on the topic.

Throughout the Rocky Mountain West, fishery managers are on a path to “simplify” regulations.  Folks, if you can read, then you can follow the regulations as they stand right now.  Ever try to draw an hunting tag in the West?  Wading through those regulations takes time, energy and a complete understanding of entire mountain ranges that are broken apart into zones – it gets confusing to say the least.  These “proposed”  fishing regulation changes are a huge swing in the other direction from what we’ve had for a VERY long time.

Why is this?  There are many rivers in the State of Montana that are open year round (the Missouri and the Big Horn to name two notable ones) and fishing these rivers in the spring has not lead to a downfall in fish populations.  However, these rivers are busy places and getting busier all the time – especially the Missouri.  The Madison is the busiest river in the State, period. Opening it up year round will put more pressure on the fish at a time period when they are vulnerable.  I can tell you that as soon as the river is open, more anglers will come here to fish.  Will it hurt the fishery?  That remains to be seen and fisheries biologists will tell you that no, it does not hurt the fishery to fish over spawning fish.  This is where ethics comes in to play a part.  Personally, I don’t fish directly over redds (spawning nests) as I have an overwhelming feeling to leave them alone.  However, I do fish and guide rivers in the springtime and it can be difficult to avoid the redds – in some rivers redds are almost everywhere.  Avoiding the shallow gravel bars and the shallow channels is a solid choice in the months of April, May and early June.  The Madison is a shallow river and a majority of the trout spawn in the river itself.  Do we need more anglers walking on redds and hooking spawning trout?  Will that have a negative impact for the years to come?  I want to say yes, but I can’t say that it will either.  In my opinion, the Madison River needs a break during the springtime.

Below, in black ink, is what’s in store for the Madison River.  I would suggest that most of these changes will happen.  In my experience, once FWP gets this far, it’s imminent.  Your comments matter though, so speak up.  What’s alarming, is that hardly anyone knows about it and not many of us have heard a word about this from FWP.  Just this morning, the outfitters on the river received a note about the proposed changes and now that the public meetings have come and gone, all we can do it write in our comments or make a phone call.  There was not a public meeting in West Yellowstone or Ennis.

MADISON RIVER

Yellowstone National Park boundary to Hebgen Reservoir
• Catch-and-Release for rainbow trout, except anglers 14 years of age and younger may take 1 rainbow trout daily and in possession, any size.
• Combined Trout: 5 brown trout daily and in possession, only 1 over 18 inches. 

Hebgen Dam to Ennis Reservoir
• Artificial lures only.
• Combined Trout: 1 Daily and in possession, any size. .

Quake Lake outlet to Lyons Bridge
• Closed to fishing from boats/vessels

Ennis Bridge to Ennis Lake
• Closed to fishing from boats/vessels

Ennis Dam to the mouth

• Northern Pike: No limit.
RATIONALE: These regulation changes greatly simplify the Madison River fishing regulations.

What’s changed you ask?  Well, quite a bit.

For as along as I can remember the Madison from Quake’s out flow to Mac has been open from the 3rd Saturday in May till the end of February.   That was to protect spawning trout.  If these reg changes happen, then the entire river from Hebgen Dam to Ennis Lake will be open year round.

As it stands right now, anglers can fish bait from Hebgen Dam through Quake Lake. This is a change I can get behind.  I have no problems with anglers who like to fish bait, by all means, go right ahead.  But this is a gem of a river and fishing bait normally means you’re gonna keep the fish.  This leads to the next proposed change.  Anglers inbetween the lakes will no longer be able to keep 5 trout per day, per person.  I hardly ever notice anglers keeping fish except for the spring time inbetween the lakes.  This stretch of river is plum full of spawning trout in the spring time and I have seen, on more than one occasion, stringers full of big rainbows which are full of eggs.  Hopefully they do get eaten and not freezer burned.  In the past ten years, I have hardly wet a line in between the lakes during the spawn….for me, it’s a choice to leave the rainbows alone.

The final proposed change is anglers will now be able to keep 1 fish per day per person on the entire river. For what seems like an eternity, the Madison River has largely been a catch and release fishery.  My personal beliefs are that a trout is worth catching more than just one time.  Catch and release angling does in fact kill fish.  Like it or not, those of us who put em’ back actually kill a percentage of the fish.  A barbless hook regulation would help with this as barbed hook extraction take much longer than a barbless hook.   If a fish is out of the water for a couple minutes while an angler extracts a barbed hook, the fish may swim off, but will probably die a short time later.  Fish barbless folks!

So….make those comments to:  fwpfish@mt.gov    The comment period is open till September 12th, 2015.
Click here for an article on the reg changes and to read a little more about it.  I called and talked with Joel Tohtz this morning for over an hour to express my thoughts.  You can too:  406 444 1230.  Joel is the Fisheries Management Bureau Chief for Montana.


Something else for you to ponder…..

Since 2008 Hebgen Dam has not been functioning.  Hot water has been running right off the top of the lake and into the river all summer long.  Water temps have been way too high during the summer months which was not the case prior to the debacle at Hebgen Dam.  There have been quite a few years where we have seen fish die in the river due to warm water temperatures.  Are rainbows more susceptible to warm water than brown trout?  Yep, they are.  Most of us thought we would see a Hoot Owl closure on the upper Madison River this summer (and past summers) – that did not happen. Most of us altered our fishing hours accordingly to not stress out fish even more.  If you read this site very often, I have been outspoken about Hebgen Dam.  I believe the river needs a couple years, if not more, to see how things (insects and trout) react to a properly functioning, bottom draw dam before we get a sweeping regulation change like the proposal facing us right now.  The Madison will not change overnight with respect to insect hatches and trout behavior.  At this point, the water is coming from around 17 feet below the surface…better late than never.  By November, hopefully, the river be drawing from 37 feet (or around there) below the surface.  Will the hatches go back to the way they were?  Will the consistent fishing on the Madison return?  I say yes…but all in due time.  Why not wait for a couple years to see what happens with the river before we change the regulations?