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

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