But the long answers are much more interesting, and hopefully quite useful to you as an angler, so here goes nothing.
It starts out with a history lesson, of course. Once upon a time, long, long ago, the physical weight of virtually all manufactured fly lines was done according to something called the AFTMA (American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association) Standard or the AFFTA (American Fly Fishing Trade Association) Standard. Those standards were developed around 1959, to ideally bring some standardization to an industry which had, according to accounts I’ve read, run rampant for a while, creating confusion among anglers and manufacturers alike. The idea was that the physical weight of the first 30 feet of a fly line (excluding level tip) would conform to an industry standard for the given line rating. For example, this would make all 6-weight fly lines, in theory, more or less the same weight for the first 30 feet. In a perfect world, this system would also serve to bring some standardization to the labeling of fly rods, making rod/line pairings (more on this later) easier. As far as fly line taper, head length, and overall head weight, though, all bets were off. But in the early days of synthetic fly lines, double taper lines were king, and our modern complex tapers were barely a dream, so it didn’t matter much.
The AFFTA Standard for single hand fly lines (not Spey lines or shooting heads) remains the same to this day. Here is the table. If you are like me, you’ll want to print one of these out for your wallet or save the image in your smartphone. You’ll see why in a minute.
Where are we now?
The standards were developed in the late 1950s. I didn’t come around to fly fishing until the early 1980s, and didn’t really get into the nitty gritty until the 1990s. So, for some of this history I’m relying on second and third hand accounts. An engineer by training, my brain desperately hopes that the industry strictly followed the standards, at least for a while. One thing I do know for sure is that line manufacturers no longer follow that standard in most cases. It is actually rather challenging to find a modern fly line that conforms to AFFTA Standards. And, if you are like me, who typically really likes how rods cast when lined at or near the AFFTA Standard, just buying a fly line based on a product description and a numerical line rating on the box NO LONGER WORKS MOST OF THE TIME!
What the… ?
When is a 6wt line really an 8wt?
I do a lot of research on fly lines, both for myself, my friends, and for Big Sky Anglers. As a result, I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of fly line designs – tapers, 30-feet weights, total head weights, head lengths, cores, and coatings vary WIDELY from line to line and brand to brand. I love taper diagrams, tables, and spreadsheets that might give me a hint about how a line will cast when paired with a given rod for a specific fishing approach. The more research I do, the more variations from the standard I find. Even for someone who likes this stuff, it can be downright confusing. For most folks that I know who just want to get a smooth casting outfit that is fun to fish with, it’s just black magic.
Why doesn’t the industry follow the industry standard? It’s a good question. There are more than a few answers that I’ve heard. One or more of them may be the reason for the divergence. Or not. It’s basically a game of finger pointing. Some say that modern, super-fast action graphite fly rods have become so stiff that a rod rated as a 6wt, really casts and flexes more like a 7wt or 8wt, despite its super light feel in hand. And, as a result, line manufacturers have altered their numbering just so that their 6wt line feels right on that aforementioned 6wt rod (even though it’s really a mislabeled 8wt rod). Many in this camp would like to see a full revision of the AFFTA Standards that conforms more with our modern fast action graphite rods that it did to historical fiberglass and cane rods with slower actions that were the norm at the time the original standards were developed. Others blame casting ability, and the common desire for instant gratification without effort. Those pundits say that poor casting ability among the masses has forced line manufacturers to create heavier and heavier fly lines so that those without the skills needed to properly load a fly rod at typical casting distances can actually FEEL something and get a cast out past the end of the driftboat oars.
The thing is, the reason for the departure from the standards isn’t important when it comes to picking the right line for you. Fly line and fly rod manufacturers aren’t all of a sudden going to change how they label things just because there are guys like me that wish they would. And there are still plenty of folks who own and enjoy fishing with glass, cane, and fuller flexing graphite rods. So, what is most important is that you, as an angling consumer, are informed about this topic well enough to be able to make the right choices when it comes to your next big $ fly line purchase. At a baseline, you should be informed enough to be able to ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS when you are talking to an employee at a fly shop or a line manufacturer.
What are some things you need to know in order to get this right?
First, the good news is that modern graphite rods are typically designed with a progressive flex pattern, and are able to accommodate a variety of line weights both above and below their labeled rating, assuming the caster has a reasonable level of skill. So perfection is not required to achieve functionality. The bad news is that your rod might not FEEL as sweet as you want it to without the right line on it.
In the past, there was always a lot of talk about up-lining stiff rods to get more flex and feel out of them. In many cases with modern lines, the manufacturers have essentially done that for you by creating a line labeled as a 6wt that meets the AFFTA standards for a 7 or even an 8wt rod. Be aware of this trend, because if you were used to up-lining in the past based on the AFFTA standard, and do that with a modern line that is already up-lined at the factory, you may end up with something way heavier than you wanted.
When you decide to buy a new fly line, at baseline you should go to your local fly shop and talk with the in-house fly line nerd armed with an understanding of:
What fly rod you own, and what the rod’s action is (fast/stiff, medium-fast, medium, slow). If you aren’t sure, bring it to the shop. If you are sure, also bring it to the shop!
What type of fishing you do, and at what distances. If you are a small water angler, nympher, long distance dry fly guy, lake specialist, streamer junkie, etc it will influence the line you choose.
Your casting ability level, currently, including power application, tracking, typical amount of line you like to carry in the air when casting, etc. Be honest with yourself.
Your goals for improving your casting ability. Everyone can get better.
How you like to achieve distance. Do you like to shoot line for distance or carry more line in the air and shoot less for distance?
You should also go into the fly shop ready to ask some questions about the fly line that they might suggest for you. Fly line manufacturer websites can also be a good source of this information. At baseline, for weight forward fly lines, be prepared to ask:
What is the head length of the fly line?
How much does the first 30 feet of the head weigh (aka, the 30-feet weight)? And, how does that relate to the AFFTA Standard for that line weight.
How much does the total head weigh, assuming it is longer than 30 feet?
How does the fly line taper relate to my preferred fishing style and skill level? This is another can-of-worms topic that may need its own blog post. Just remember, even if the manufacturer names a line something like “salmon and steelhead” or “indicator”, it doesn’t mean those lines are necessarily bad for the fishing you do which doesn’t involve those things. Go at it with an open mind.
Do you have any demo lines that we could cast on my rod out in the parking lot? This is the consumer’s ace in the hole. If you can cast a line before you buy, DO IT. Understand, however, that it is impossible for a shop to have demos of every line they carry on the shelves.
Without going down the rabbit hole of fly line taper design, if you can answer basic questions about your rod and your casting (the first list), and can get the answers to the questions about fly line choices (the second list) from your local fly shop, the line manufacturers website, or from the CIA, then you are ready to make an informed decision. I would recommend following these general guidelines to start, and remember, if you can cast the line on your rod before you buy it, DO IT, and do it with a fly on leader rig that you intend to fish.
This is your brain on AFFTA Standards
When to Consider a Line “Way Heavier” than the AFFTA Standard
By “Way Heavier” I mean something like a 30-feet weight equivalent to 1.5 or 2 line sizes above the AFFTA Standard. Consider a line of this type when you are:
a beginner level caster, and own a fast/stiff action rod
a caster who needs or likes to feel a lot of rod loading in order to cast your best, and own a fast/stiff action rod
an intermediate or advanced level caster, own a fast/stiff action or medium fast action rod, and fish almost exclusively at very close range
any level caster, and like to load the rod very quickly with minimal line out of the rod tip, and shoot to achieve distance (As a side note, using a short, 30-feet long head flyline the equivalent to 2 lines sizes heavier than the AFFTA standard is essentially the definition of a “shooting head”). You will sacrifice the ability to carry longer amounts of line in the air as a result of this choice.
When to Consider a Line “A Bit Heavier” than the AFFTA Standard
Here, by “A Bit Heavier” I mean something like a 30-feet weight equivalent to 0.5 to 1 size above the AFFTA Standard. Consider a line of this type when you:
a beginner level caster, and own a medium or medium-fast action rod
a caster who needs or likes to feel a lot of rod loading in order to cast your best, and own a medium or medium-fast action rod
an intermediate level caster, and own a fast/stiff action rod
a caster who needs or likes to feel some clear rod loading on shorter casts in order to cast your best, and own a fast/stiff action rod
an angler who primarily fishes at close to medium ranges (say 45 feet or less)
an angler who is happy with carrying a medium amount of line in the air and shooting for extra distance when it is called for.
When to Consider a Line Weighing Similar to the AFFTA Standard
Here, by “Similar to” I mean something like a 30-feet weight within the AFFTA Acceptable Weight Range in the table above. Consider a line of this type when you:
a beginner level caster, and own a slow action rod
a caster who needs or likes to feel a lot of rod loading in order to cast your best, and own a slow action rod
an intermediate level caster, and own a medium action rod
a caster who needs or likes to feel some clear rod loading on shorter casts in order to cast your best, and own a medium action rod
an advanced level caster, and own a fast/stiff action rod
a caster who is ok with feeling minimal rod loading on short range casts and can still cast your best, and own a fast or medium-fast action rod
an angler who regularly fishes at medium to longer ranges (say 45 feet or more) and is capable of adjusting power application for shorter casts to still achieve good results
an angler who likes to carry a longer amount of line in the air and shoot less for extra distance, or an angler looking to both carry a long amount of line in the air and shoot significant line for extra distance. (Note that for the latter case the overall head length and fly line taper design you choose will be of utmost importance)
And with that, I believe I have said enough. I have probably dug myself into a hole that I may never emerge from, and/or guaranteed that I will receive a series of corrective emails and texts from my casting nerd friends. At the very least, I hope that this saves some of you who are thinking about getting a new fly line some trouble, and that you are able to find the joy that is a properly paired rod/line combination that meets your casting and fishing style.
This event is the brainchild of Big Sky Anglers co-owner Justin Spence, and Sage/Rio/Redington rep Kurt Kruger. This year we’re keeping things small and low key, and we’d love it if you can make it. Our hope is that the event will offer folks a place and time to meet up, hang out, share knowledge and information, and maybe find a new fishing buddy or two.
Are you already into Spey casting and fishing for trout? Maybe you have heard of it, but have never picked up a Spey rod, and are interested in getting involved in this super fun way to fish for trout? This event is open to everyone, regardless of skill/experience level, age, fly shop or industry affiliation, etc. We plan on having a selection of demo gear on hand for folks to check out, including Spey rods and lines from Sage, Rio, Redington, Echo, Airflo, Winston, Scott, and OPST.
Take a look below for our event calendar as well as a list of presenters and instructors that will be on hand. We are super excited to have none other than Spey guru Simon Gawesworth headlining our list of instructors/demonstrators. If you don’t know Simon, he is a world renowned Spey caster, instructor, author of three books on Spey casting, and a super nice dude. We will have copies of his two books (Spey Casting and the must have Single-Handed Spey Casting) on hand at the shop to purchase and have signed. If you already have his books, bring ’em by for sure.
Friday, September 29th, 4pm-7pm – At the Shop
Big Sky Anglers Fly Shop, 39 Madison Avenue in West Yellowstone
Meet a host of experienced Spey casters,Trout Spey anglers, and instructors, and get dialed in to enjoy a whole new approach to trout fishing. Everyone is welcome! Whether you are just beginning your journey with 2-handed rods and Spey casting, or you are a veteran with the long rod, please stop in and say hi, hang out, and talk rods, lines, casting technique, presentation, and flies used in Trout Spey and beyond.
Kurt Kruger, rep for Sage/RIO/Redington, will be set up with a bunch of rods and reels to check out, and will be talking about and answering questions about them.
Jesse Robbins from Sage will be covering fly presentation and general discussion of line choice, MOW and Sink Tips ( with a table of samples set up )
Simon Gawesworth will be holding court at the coffee bar in the back of the shop and talking all things Trout Spey, and maybe signing a few of his books.
Justin Spence and Matt Klara from Big Sky Anglers will be around talking Trout Spey, and sharing a few stories and tips learned over the years. These two actually started in Trout Spey together on the Madison back around 2000.
Big Sky Anglers shop staff will be on hand to help out with recommendations on where to fish locally, and set you up with any flies, gear, etc you may need.
Saturday, September 30th, 11am-3pm – On the Water
Madison River Bridge at Hwy 191
On Water Instruction and Demonstrations
Bring your own gear or try out some of ours!
List of Presentation Topics:
11:00am – 11:15am Introductions and Welcome!
11:30am – 12:00pm Keith Balfourd – Trout Spey and General Spey – The Basics
12:15pm – 1:15pm Simon Gawesworth – Trout Spey Presentation
1:30pm – 2:15pm Matt Klara – Trout Spey with your single-hand rod – Dries, Nymphs, Soft Hackles, and Streamers
2:30pm – 3:00pm Rick Wollum – “ Soft Hackles, Intruders and Tube Flies “ techniques and fly choice
3:00pm – 4:00pm Casting sessions with all presenters.
4:00pm Head back to the flyshop for the BBQ!
Click the Map for Directions
The on water portion of this event is being hosted on the public lands of Custer Gallatin National Forest. Thanks to them, of course, for supporting this event!
Saturday, September 30th, 4:30pm-7pm – At the Shop
BBQ catered by Beartooth BBQ at Big Sky Anglers Fly Shop, 39 Madison Avenue in West Yellowstone
Book signing with Simon Gawesworth.
Instructors / Presenters
Simon Gawesworth – World Authority on Spey Casting, T.H.C.I, and RIO flyline guru.
Simon’s father taught him to fish at the age of 8 and he’s been teaching fly casting professionally since the age of 16. With over 35 years of teaching experience, Simon is a highly sought-after instructor. He has written 3 books on Spey casting. He has both cast and fished for England in British, European and World Championships and was elected Captain of the England team for the 2003 World Fly Fishing Championship. Simon is A.P.G.A.I. and S.T.A.N.I.C. certified in the U.K. and C.I., Master and T.H.C.I. certified in the U.S. Acknowledged as one of the world’s leading authorities on spey casting, he has taught and demonstrated spey casting around the world. Simon currently lives in South West Washington with his family and a water-loving dog!
Matt Klara – Neighborhood Authority on Spey Fishing and other random topics, Big Sky Anglers, West Yellowstone, MT
Matt’s journey into Spey casting and fishing actually began with trout back in 2000, on the Madison River just outside of West Yellowstone. At that point, he was hitting the river with a borrowed 14 ft 8/9wt rod and an old Rio Windcutter line. And by hitting, we mean actually hitting, thrashing, cussing, and occasionally putting one out there well enough to fool a fish (his words, not ours) . Matt’s technique and understanding of two-handed casting and fishing have come along greatly since then, to say the least, and so has the equipment available for trout Spey. He left Montana at one point for a 7 year stint in Oregon where 90% of his fishing was done with two-handed rods, but moved back “home” in 2015. Currently residing in Helena with his wife and young son, Matt’s now the guy that folks here at Big Sky Anglers look to for help with their casting, gear selection, and more. Whether its trout, steelhead, or salmon, on the two-hander, he is happy to teach and share what he’s learned on his own journey.
Backside Double Spey Video
Rick Wollum – Anglers West, Emigrant, MT
Rick started in the industry back in the mid 80’s and has since guided and fished his way across many of the West’s great trout waters. He later hosted Flyfishing America on ESPN and traveled across the country fishing some great locations from Alaska to Washington. Spey casting are for both steelhead and trout are passions within flyfishing that have captivated him for awhile. In his words, “Swinging flies for steelhead or their freshwater cousins is an exciting game, it’s the grab that is so addictive!” Rick has been fortunate to have fished with many of the legends of Spey casting and fishing over his career, including Scott O’Donnell and Trey Combs. He looks forward to sharing what he has learned from them and others with you at Spey Days.
Jesse Robbins – Far Bank
Jesse has worked for the Far Bank brands – Sage, RIO, and Redington – since 2011, helping bring to market a host of Spey and Trout Spey products including the ONE and HYDROGEN Trout Spey Rods and Skagit Trout Max lines, among others. He has fished two-handed rods from New England to the Great Lakes, across the Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest up to British Columbia. He is a certified casting instructor and frequent contributor to several fly fishing magazines.
Keith is a transplant to Montana from the Seattle area. Having “searched” the steelhead waters of the Pacific Northwest since 1976, he noticed only two things missing in Montana other than steelhead – nobody was using a two-hander and swinging flies for trout, and there was a dearth of knowledge available locally on Spey equipment and casting. That’s why he started Montana Spey in 2010 – to teach and share what he has learned from 25 years of long-rodding.
A while back I wrote a post about Callibaetis and Chironomids where the punch line was that my buddy and I wanted the fish to be eating Callibaetis but they were really on chironomids. Well that was then, and this is now…
Callibaetis and damselflies have been dominating the trout’s menu on my local stillwaters recently, so of course they are also the insects that my mind has been feasting on. In particular, the morning Callibaetis emergences have provided my friends and me with some really fun fishing opportunities. The great thing about being into a great hatch over the span of a couple of weeks is that you really get to dial things in and experiment with what works and what doesn’t work as well. So with that in mind, here are a few thoughts that I’ve been having as it refers to the nymphal stage of Callibaetis in particular.
It’s fairly easy to tell where the best Callibaetis action is going to happen on a lake. These insects LOVE the weedbeds. What’s really cool is that trout will often move into very shallow water to feed on the nymphs before the main hatch starts. But when they go shallow, those big trout get really spooky compared to when they are out on deeper weed flats or off the drop-offs. If you can find the travel lanes that fish use through the weedy halls of their world, you have probably hit the jackpot.
There are A LOT of commercially available Callibaetis nymph imitations out there. I’m not really interested in going into which specific ones to use here. What I can say is that there are a couple of important elements to fly selection that I have found to be rather important.
First, and most important, is size. Match the size of the most prevalent size of nymphs you can see in the water. That’s usually a 14 or 16 around here. Sometimes a 12 will do in the early season, but that may be because the fish aren’t quite as dialed in at that point, rather than because the bugs are actually bigger.
Second in my order of importance (and I think the most overlooked element) is fly profile. Mayflies in general and Callibaetis in particular are thin insects. In fact, there aren’t many fat insect in the water aside from maybe dragonfly nymphs and giant water beetles. So, those obese, poorly proportioned PT nymphs that you scored for $0.89 each in the sale bin of your local hardware store probably aren’t the best choice of patterns. Slim and sparse is what you need. In fact, some of the most effective Callibaetis nymph patterns that I’ve seen look not only anemic, but also downright absurd in their simplicity and material choice.
Third in my order of importance is color. The usual grayish-tan standard usually does just fine. On a couple of occasions, it seemed like color was more important than usual, so if you spend a bunch of time fishing or travelling to fish stillwaters that have Callibaetis hatches, you may want to carry other tones, including grayish-olive, brownish-tanish-gray, and rusty-tanish-grayish-olive. Got it?
This is a pretty big deal when fish are locked in on the Callibaetis nymphs. At least as important as fly size and profile. Maybe more important. Callibaetis nymphs are good swimmers, but they are also still tiny bugs, so that retrieve you use when fishing Clousers for striped bass needs to be left at the dock. It seems to me like they wiggle forward in short bursts that can be imitated by a series of 3-4 inch pulls, or some quick hand twists. But then, the nymphs almost always seem to stop for a bit to take a break before heading back on their way. So, a nice pause after a series of strips can be the ticket. I’ll do that most of the time, matching my flyline to the water depth – floating line and long leader in the super shallows, slow intermediate when I need a hair more depth. Fast intermediate lines seem too sinky for most of my work as I find myself hitting the weeds too soon on every cast. If you are finding fish down deeper than say 8-10 ft you may want one to cut down on your countdown time.
I’ve also heard that Callibaetis nymphs will swim up to the surface and back down to the weeds a few times before finally committing to hatching from the surface. So, a rising retrieve followed by a sink seems logical as well. I need to fool around with this more. Maybe an indicator and floating line or a short sink tip will do the trick.
Lastly, I’ve had a lot of fish eat a nymph suspended below a Callibaetis dry fly. Heave it and leave it. It works well.
Alright! I’ve got myself fired up to fish now. So, hopefully when you are reading this, I’ll be out on the lake. If you’ve got any thoughts to add, I’d love to hear them. You can reach me at email@example.com
Take Care and Fish On,
PS – Like my last post, this one is running double duty both here and at Sexyloops.com
The Griffith’s Gnat has been the most productive midge cluster ever invented. I use it in sizes #12-20 on rivers throughout the West. George Griffith tied this simple pattern, it’s durable and productive which are characteristics of all quality fly patterns. Peacock and grizzly hackle….simple shit….thanks George for inventing this fly.
So, last Spring, before a trip to the Big Horn with several buddies, I sat down at the bench to tie these up. After cranking out a half dozen, I looked at the fly and a thought occurred to me – why not add a wing, for visibility? Lots of folks have done this in the past using CDC or tying this fly with a post and hackle, but I never really thought it looked quite right. Since I had just finished up tying a couple dozen BWO Comparaduns, the idea of using a comparadun wing (for you died in the woollies – a haystack wing) sounded cool. So, I tried it and also added a sparkle tail as well…why not….right? I also clipped the fly, top and bottom, to give it a cleaner look – much like the buzzball. On over cast days, I use a black comparadun wing as this shows up nicely in silver water.
We fished this pattern on the Big Horn with a ton of success, but since the trout were taking damn near everything we floated to them, the test was not really a test. The entire season went by and finally a chance to test out this pattern arrived while guiding on the Missouri River in late October. Tim (pictured above) had never thrown a dry fly. He wanted to up his game and was tired of chasing the bobber from ramp to ramp. We launched at Wolf Creek bridge and floated down a short ways. I dropped the hook and started in on the instruction – measuring distance, reach cast, slack line, feeding line and of course the concept of first drift/best drift as the best course of action for him to take. Tim, being the scientist that he is, caught on fast. Rising trout on the Missouri can be some of the most picky sonsabitches anywhere, especially by late Fall. We set up fishing to our first pod of the day, above the Railroad Trussles, and had seven or eight nice fish taking midges and spent BWOs. With just one fly and some 5x, Tim went to work and managed to catch his first trout on dry fly in about two minutes. His first fish moved a foot and half off it’s line to eat the fly. He hooked and jumped a few more, then we moved on. Well done Tim. We spent the rest of day fishing streamers in between pods of trout. The only fly we used for the pods, was my new twist on George Griffith’s Gnat. Just after Christmas, I sent this pattern, and several others to Montana Fly Company for submission. With any luck, they will add this my collection of patterns at MFC.
My twist on the Griffith’s Gnat – the Gnat King Cripple…..this was named after several beers while floating the Big Horn.
Some of you were able to fish Freestone flyrods this past season while on guided trips with Big Sky Anglers. A few folks pulled the trigger, others are still on the fence. Currently, I have the 905 and 906 graphite models and there is a slight chance of getting a 907 prior to my trip to Argentina in March – yes, I am headed down south for the first time ever. More on this later.
If you can get your hands on one of these rods, you must cast it.
If you can fish with it, even better.
Once the angler feels the rod load and also plays a fish – he/she will be overcome with pleasure and the money will fall out of your hands. You may actually beg Bernard to take your hard earned dollars, somewhat like a heroin fiend, just so you can feel that sensation again and again.
Watch out, these rods are addictive…..
This explanation of Electrofishing is straight from Montana FWP. For years, myself and many others, have been against electrofishing and after sitting through detailed lectures given by biologists I still feel the same way. Do we really need it? Does the public really care how many trout are in Montana’s rivers? Would you still come out if you didn’t know there were 2800 rainbows and 569 browns per mile in the Craig stretch of the Missouri River? I bet you would. Could the money and the energy be spent for studying habitat and stream improvements to better the fisheries….I think so. Through the grape vine I hear that FWP is compiling all the electrofishing studies on the Madison to see if there are any obivious trends that stick out and need attention. I hope they do complete this and have it available to everyone to read. Not much has been done since FWP quit stocking the Madison in the early 70’s. Which was a really big deal and shoud not be forgotten. Sure, there have been some changes with catch and release practices, but the Madison just kind of takes care of itself…..if it allowed to that is. Stream flows play a very important roll in how the Madison works, every trout stream is dependent on stable flows for that matter. Especially in the spring time. I think that FWP should take another look at the Madison get to know her a little better. There are some new folks in Region 3 who haven’t really spent all that much time on the Madison. They have been on the Big Horn or the Smith, but the Madison is a different beast.
After the Hebgen Dam incident in August of 2008, the river just hasn’t seemed like herself. Was there too much disturbance in the river bottom for the fish to get comfy by the time spawning season rolled around? Will the warm water coming in from Hebgen Lake effect things this summer with warmer river temps? What about all that rock which came tumbling down in 1959? Will the river try to find it’s original pathway some day? Why hasn’t the main channel below Quake Lake moved around like it used to do prior to 1993? Never fished that stretch prior to 1993? Ask those who did and make sure you pay attention to their words.
Electrofishing in our rivers is done to obtain fisheries information that is used to determine trends in fish populations. This information is used in setting fishing regulations that affect fish populations such as creel limits, harvest restrictions (such as catch and release or a slot limits), and angling seasons to enhance or maintain the quality of our fisheries. It is also integral to assessing and implementing habitat improvement, restoration, and conservation measures such as improving flows during critical periods or overall watershed health. In rivers, electrofishing is the most effective means of catching fish and obtaining these data. Many factors like river temperature, flow, turbidity and weather, which vary each time we are on the river, affect how well we catch fish. Because of our relatively low catch rates and our variable efficiency, we use a mark-recapture study design to obtain population estimates in many trend sections. To get population estimates with this method, fish must be marked then released back into the population to mix with fish that were not captured and marked. At a later date, another electrofishing run is taken through the section and the total population size is statistically computed based on comparing the proportion of marked fish to those that were not marked. Therefore, this methodology requires two electrofishing runs through a section to obtain a population estimate. Another method used to obtain fisheries population trends is a single pass through a section. However, because the factors mentioned above can often have a big influence on how many fish and what sizes we catch, this approach is not appropriate in some sections such as Fish and Game on the Beaverhead River. In other sections, such as the Maloney on the Ruby River and Hildreth on the Beaverhead River, where we are rigorously assessing the response of fish populations to controlled dam releases this approach provides inadequate data. However, in other sections such as Anderson Lane on the Beaverhead River and Silver Springs on the Ruby River a single pass sample is adequate to inform our present management direction. On the Beaverhead River we presently sample three trend sections. The Hildreth section is located between the High Bridge and Henneberry and is 1.2 miles in length, the Fish and Game Section is located between Tash Bridge and Poindexter Slough and is 1.7 miles in length, and the Anderson Lane section is between Anderson Lane and the Malesich Ranch and is 3.1 miles long. Two sections are sampled on the Ruby River; the Maloney section is between the Vigilante FAS and the Anderson Ranch and is 0.9 miles long and the Silver Springs section is located on the Barnosky Ranch just upstream of Silver Springs Bridge and is 1.9 miles long. We sample two trend section on the Red Rock River; the Martinell section is on the Martinell Ranch near Dell and is 0.8 miles long and the Roe Section runs about 3 miles from Roe Lane to the headwaters of Clark Canyon Reservoir. We sample one trend section on the Poindexter Slough FAS.
One of the most frequent questions we receive about our electrofishing surveys is what are the effects on the fish with respect to injury and mortality. Many studies have been done to refine electrofishing techniques to reduce injury and mortality. When we electrofish, we only use smooth DC current, which significantly reduces injury to fish. Contrary to what most folks think, electrofishing does not generally “stun” fish. Rather, as the electrical current is placed into the water, it causes the fish in close proximity (within 5-15 ft) of the small metal ring anode to swim uncontrollably. The fish are drawn toward the anode, which is on the end of 30 ft cord, and when it is brought close to the boat the fish are scooped up and put into a tank of water in the boat. Most fish are not stunned at all and are immediately swimming around inside the tank. Those that do get stunned because they were in very close contact to the anode are generally swimming around the tank within a few minutes. Interestingly, whitefish for reasons we do not fully understand, are much more susceptible to electricity than the trout and they commonly are stunned and seem to take longer before regaining their equilibrium. After capturing the fish, they are weighed and measured. To reduce stress to captured fish, anesthetic is placed in their water before they are handled. Once fish are weighed and measured they are placed in a net cage in the river to revive from the anesthetic. Once they are revived, they are released. Any mortality is recorded. Immediate mortality of trout is rare when we are electrofishing, generally less than 1%. Studies involving holding fish overnight or implanting radio transmitters and following fish movements for up to several years indicate that long term mortality related to electrofishing is similarly low. Mortality rates are greatest with smaller fish (i.e,< 10 inches). As temperature increases, mortality increases, which is why we sample early in the spring and later in the fall. We also record electrofishing injury to fish, which usually is usually evidenced by a deformity in the spine caused by compressed vertebrae (it is actually caused by the fish’s mussels contracting so hard they cause injury). These injuries are most common in rainbow trout, and much less common in brown trout for unknown reasons. Recorded rainbow injury rates that appear to be related to electrofishing run between 1 and 5% and less than 1% for brown trout. When handling fish, we also keep track of hooking injury from anglers and they range between 5 and 10% for rainbow, and 1 and 5% for browns.
There have been some questions that our sampling is affecting invertebrate populations and salmonflies in particular. Many studies have been done on electrofishing effects on macroinvertebrates. The major conclusion of these studies is that electrofishing increases drifting rates (i.e., invertebrates are affected by the electricity and momentarily let go of the rocks and drift in the current), but as soon as the electrical current is removed, they recover and swim back to the bottom. I am not aware of any studies that have shown long-term impacts to any invertebrate species or populations, including salmonflies, as a result of electrofishing. Further, given that we only sample less than 20% of the river, it is unlikely that our sampling would have population level effects on invertebrates.
Electrofishing is an integral part of the fisheries management of our rivers. The information we gather helps us better manage the fish and their habitat. We recognize that our sampling sometimes is an inconvenience for angling and outfitting, but the data collected is essential to the management of our wild trout fisheries. Wild fish management rather than hatchery based management has its roots in electrofishing monitoring data. The information also helps anglers because the counts are shared with the public which helps them plan their trips. We also are questioned frequently by angling publications about fish counts and fish trends on or local rivers. The effects of various flow regimes on fish populations and the benefits of securing minimum instream flows during critical periods are also gleaned through these surveys. This information would not be available if these surveys were not conducted. It would be difficult to argue for winter flows on the Beaverhead River or for more water in the lower Big Hole, if we could not show how these improvements benefit the fishery.
Thanks and please let me know if you have questions.