Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fly Fishing: Montana Grayling

We hadn't fished the upper Ruby River for a couple years. So with that in mind we decided yesterday was high time to rectify things...check out how the grayling are doing and enjoy what is agruably one the more scenic trout streams anywhere. Set in the shadow of the stunning Snowcrest Mountains one side and the wildlife rich Gravellys (a favorite griz hangout to say nothing of elk, moose, mule deer and just about every other critter roams the Big Sky) the river corridor winds like a crazed snake thru several large ranches (Turner's sprawling Snowcrest Ranch is one) and eventually swallowed by the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. With many miles of public water to fish where to start is the biggest question.

We started in a familiar run and several casts into it Gale hooked a large grayling (above). Note the fly: orange Stimi. No surprise there since Gale seldom chucks anything but...Anyway several hours later we called the reunion good and called it a day. For more on what this grayling thing is all about read the excerpt below from one of the Montana Grayling Recovery Program Annual Reports.

Arctic Grayling Recovery Program

The AGRP was formed in 1989 after declines in the Big Hole grayling population caused concerns among fisheries managers and conservationists. The program’s goals are to address ecological factors limiting the fluvial Big Hole grayling population, monitor and enhance essential habitats, monitor abundance, distribution, and population demographics, restore additional fluvial grayling populations within native range, develop relationships that promote conservation actions and inform the general public of fluvial grayling conservation efforts and status. The AGRP includes representatives from FWP, BLM, USFS, USFWS, MNHP, MCAFS, Montana State University (MSU), University of Montana (UM), Montana Trout Unlimited (TU), Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL Montana), and the National Park Service (NPS).

Big Hole River


The fluvial Arctic grayling population of the Big Hole River represents the last strictly fluvial, native grayling population in the contiguous United States. The population abundance and distribution declined in the 1980’s, resulting in an increase in efforts to understand population dynamics, identify critical habitats, and implement conservation projects to address limiting factors. These efforts have been directed primarily through the Arctic Grayling Recovery Program (AGRP) and the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances Program (CCAA) for fluvial Arctic Grayling in the Upper Big Hole River.

CCAA Program

The CCAA program was developed in the Big Hole drainage as a tool to implement conservation actions for Arctic grayling on private lands. Under this agreement the USFWS issued Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks an ESA section 10(a)(1)(A) Enhancement of Survival Permit. The agreement was executed on August 1, 2006, which gave FWP the authority to enroll non-federal landowners within the CCAA Project Area (Figure 2). Enrolled non-federal landowners are provided incidental take coverage and regulatory assurances once the non-federal landowner, FWP and the USFWS counter-sign the Certificate of Inclusion and the site-specific conservation plan for the enrolled property (FWP and USFWS 2006). Since acquiring the Enhancement of Survival permit, FWP has enrolled thirty-two private landowners, including 155,301 acres of private land and 7,650 acres of state land into the CCAA program. The CCAA includes partnering agencies that assist with the implementation and monitoring of the Conservation actions and include the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS), and USFWS collectively referred to as the Agencies.
Site-specific conservation plans will be developed with each landowner by an interdisciplinary technical team made up of individuals representing FWP, USFWS, NRCS and DNRC, The conservation guidelines of the CCAA will be met by implementing conservation measures that:

 Improve streamflows

 Improve and protect the function of riparian habitats

 Identify and reduce or eliminate entrainment threats to grayling

 Remove barriers to grayling migration

The CCAA Program will help alleviate private property concerns, as well as generate support from private landowners which will improve habitat conditions for grayling throughout the Project Area (FWP and USFWS 2006). The goal for the population of grayling inhabiting the Project Area is to increase the abundance and distribution of grayling within the Project Area (FWP and USFWS 2006). The Agencies will monitor biological and habitat response to conservation efforts, project performance, and CCAA enrollee compliance throughout the life of the CCAA agreement. Biological monitoring consists of annually monitoring ten reaches to determine grayling population demographics and abundance. Monitoring reaches will include one mainstem and one tributary reach within each CCAA management segment. Surveys are also conducted in irrigation ditches on enrolled properties to assess the impacts of entrainment on the Big Hole grayling population. Habitat variables monitored include a vegetative/riparian function component outlined by the NRCS Riparian Assessment Method, channel morphology, instream water temperatures and streamflow discharge. Permanent cross section and pebble count at a mainstem and tributary site have been established within each CCAA management segment to document changes in channel morphology. Instream water temperatures and streamflow discharge are recorded at mainstem and tributary sites in each CCAA segment between April 1 and October 31. FWP will use seasonal streamflow data, channel morphology parameters and stream temperature in each management segment to correlate grayling population trends to habitat conditions. The data collected from these monitoring reaches and the resulting analyses will help the Agencies implement adaptive management plans and respond to changing conditions (FWP and USFWS 2006).

Arctic grayling conservation objectives initiated through the AGRP and the CCAA program within the Big Hole Drainage from January 1 through December 31, 2008 included in this report were to:

1. Promote and initiate habitat-improvement projects that include: enhancing riparian and channel function, enabling fish passage, improving stream flow dynamics and minimizing entrainment into irrigation systems in the Big Hole River basin on private land through CCAA enrollment area.

2. Develop and promote landowner relationships and continually educate public and interest groups of grayling conservation needs and status.

3. Monitor water temperatures, instream flows and habitat parameters in the Big Hole River and its’ tributaries.

4. Monitor abundance and distribution of grayling and sympatric native and sport fish species in the upper Big Hole basin.

Grayling conservation efforts have been reported in the AGRP Annual Report since 1991

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fly Fishing: Big Hole River...

Tuesday was indeed "a really bad day at the office." The wind started early and at times blew such it was hard to control the boat...later we learned gusts exceeded 60 mph with sustained wind around 35 mph. Needless to say Bob and Rob found casting flies difficult at best, out the question at worst. Somehow I managed to negotiate the rock garden below Wise River with nary a bump...well sort a nary anyway...and we did even manage to boat a trout or three...

Vowing to get even Wednesday morning started off a bit slow but then Craig started beaning trout and the hot bite continued all the way to the take out...one of the best days in recent memory neither of us have any idea how many but trust me a bunch felt the sting of his hook. We didn't land any real monsters but there were plenty of nice ones in the mix...and of course a few ubiquitous white fish joined the party. Dry/dropper, just in case you wondered and yes that is all the information I'm willing to part...

I've been playing around with shooting video on my Canon A640 and until now at least the colors have been more or less correct...Along with this short clip I shot three others that day all with same pink cast...Anyone know what's up I'd forever be beholdin'...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sorry haven't posted for a while...only excuse end of the day brain shuts down and...well you old guys know...you young guys git 'er done now cause...okay enough bawlin'. Day off yesterday and we took advantage to revisit a pet creek see if perhaps had dropped and warmed enough to cause the brookies to start foraging topside. Gale was up first and time she finished first run our questions were answered in the affirmative...sort of anyway. Crick is still running full bore and from all the shivering Annie did all day pretty damn cold still. But we found enough hungry trouts to more make the long hot drive worth it...onward and upward, tally ho.

For you big river cats and rats good news is both Beav and Big Hole are fishing pretty good most days anyway. Lots of flies, PMDs, Yellow Sallies, Caddis, Drakes, Golden Stones, you name it are popping on the Big Hole...especially cloudy days which have been scarce of late but there are those afternoon periods. Beav is crawling with PMDs, Caddis and Yellow Sallies and go figure but competion is slim to none some days...Two days ago we did Pipe to Barretts and shared it with a few tubers and NOT ONE BOAT...Strange as hell, yes but hard to wail for sure....

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fly Fishing: Salmon Fly Strategies...

Big Hole/Pintlar Range (click to enlarge)
Every fisherman I know has his own idea how best to attack the Salmon Fly Blitz...ahead, behind, in the midst of and so forth...In my experience each has its merits and all work wonders provided of course your game plan happens to mesh that of the fickle (elusive?) bugs. Right time, right spot bingo, fish on! No surprise there, eh? Hard to argue chasing the big bugs and the big trout often gobble with gusto bears looking into. But hard to argue also crowd control can be and too often is overwhelming...and perish the thought you should guess wrong and find the fishing sucks...or close enough the scant few fish in the net hardly makes a dent in the hassle factor.

Truth is solitude becomes non-existebnt at the mere hint (rumor) the big bugs are about to hit town. As word spreads Fish Trap to Notch Bottom take on more a circus atmosphere than anything like your basic fishin trip, another kick-back lovin every minute boat ride. Fish? Hell, who needs a slimy ol' trout ya know this is after all the "last best river in last best place." Anyway...

Yesterday George, Arch (above) and me decided to blow off the circus and instead see if we might find a little peace and quiet on the upper river, maybe even catch a couple in the bargain...Turns our not much in the way of big bugs or maddening crowds (we saw one other boat all day and that for about five minutes it took to pass by). George and Arch got to fish several hours nearly non-stop rising fish (caddis, pmd's). Missed some, hooked some, more to the point, shared whatever spot I happened to drop anchor to their ownselves, watched a couple bald eagles at work, enjoyed an up close and personal with one biggest beavers on the planet, and last but not least floated one the best, prettiest spots on the last best in the last best left...Consensus? Can't beat it...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fly Fishing: Big Hole, Big Bugs, Big Trout...

Salmon Fly Time on the Big Hole has arrived; shucks are everywhere and nymphs both golden (above) and the real deal litter the shallows. And while not many mama stones (we saw maybe six salmon adults and just a couple adult goldens) are yet buzzing about, yesterday we found the trout looking up litterally right from the get go. The topwater bite continued pretty much unabated all day though the last hour or so it did slow down quite a bit. For a time in early afternoon dropping a rubber-legs off a big stone dry worked even better. While we did miss a lot as the two photos below show we did haul a couple worthy photo candidates.

Ray got this big male second cast...or was it third? No matter a dandy start to a dandy day....

Gale got this pretty rainbow not long after...though in the interest of honest journalism she did manage to miss a few before finally getting up to speed...sorry dear, you know how hubby hates to lie...

She also doesn't pose big fish, or little ones for that matter, must be Gale thing? Anyway I just had to let you folks see one pretty brown did not get away...Way to go, Gale...Next week or so should be gangbusters so drop whatever the hell and drag your butts, the 3Bs align but onct a year ya know and the TIME IS NOW...don't miss it, ya hear...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fly Fishing: Red Rock Lakes NWR

Been awhile since my last post because we spent a few days encamped on the Red Rock Lakes NWR deep in the vast and empty (as in hardly any year round residents) Centennial Valley. Mostly we went there to fish but as is typical of early June in the Montana high country (valley elevation is over 6000 feet, peaks of the Centennials 10,000 plus) the weather as often as not dictates the program. In true fashion just as we arrived dark foreboding clouds moved in over the mountains, a big wind blew up and, for all practical purposes, blew non-stop for next three days. All that first night it raged and as you can see dumped a bit of snow, a little hail and some much needed rain...hooray. (Click on any of the photos to see a larger version)

Naturally we took full advantage of the wonderful photo ops and while we did still fish, I think Gale would agree fishing sort of took a back seat at least early and late in the day when the light is best.

Wigeon Pond with the Centennials as a backdrop, storm still raging in the hills though not much besides wind and spitting hail, rain and snow down in the valley.

A hot time for shooting pix, not so hot the fishing; truth is Annie's way more into fishing than either of us.

Hell yes there's a crick in here and full a grayling too, though it pains me to admit how GD tough twas to get a hook in 'em. Yes I am talking grayling, your basic innocent, easy as hell, dumb as a stump but...Not this trip...maybe we missed something; maybe we are really too far gone to git 'er done, maybe Red Rock grayling are just smarter than most...whatever...though we spied a lot, missed quite a few, hooked and lost enough, alas not many came to hand...who knows?

Oh well, the wildlife shooting more than made up for our lack of fishing talent. Gale shot this doe, one of the few we found without babies in tow...

...And I bagged this bull...moose are always a highlight for us and much to our surprise we found several each day...Like who needs a slimy ol' grayling anyways when moose and antelopes and sandhills and...well I'll post a few more soon...you know for youins viewing pleasure...Enjoy!!!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Fly Fishing: Mixed Bag...

Saturday we fished a high country crick where because of an unusually low snow pack runoff never did happen. Low and clear we started up high and fished our way down tossing nothing but a pair softhackles...#10 Orange Fish Hawk and #16 Red Ass. Both produced equally well and Gale caught one the prettiest cuttbows we've ever had the pleasure to gaze upon. Naturally the camera had somehow been left behind, sorry either ya buy it or ya don't...What can I say? Really brushy when the wind came up we decided to check out a couple more open runs lower down. And wonder of wonders, time we got there a thin caddis hatch had the trouts looking up and...And for the rest of the afternoon we had ourselves the finest dry fly blitz of the young season. Cutts such as the one above, cuttbows and a couple appeared all rainbow made for fun time. Most ranged 10-12 inches but we each got 'bows of 15-16-inches, best part of which were the spectacular aerial shows...I swear the biggun Gale hooked cleared 3-4 feet not just once but several times afore she was able to subdue the showy critter...

Yesterday we headed to the other end the county to check out a favorite brookie haunt...Found it even higher than last weekend (must got one a those ghost downpours we keep hearing about but somehow eludes dumping on Dillon?) Anyway with the crick really ripping we rigged a small black and yellow streamer and a #12 Wickam's Fancy wet on a short leader and sink-tip line...Not even close to Saturday's gangbuster event still we managed to dredge up a few...All brookies, all fat, all pretty as hell, some a might longer in the tooth so to speak, all in all another fun day in the mountains...can't beat it.

Big Hole spiked back up over 3000 past few days; leveled off again yesterday but nasty thunderboomers forecast who knows what the next several might bring? From what we've seen and heard not much fishing happening in either the Big Hole or the Beav...Like the forecast nasties who knows what that is all about? I hope to finish up the boat restoration today. Depending how the weather turns we plan to haul the camper and stay out several days...stay tuned.