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Area trout rivers prime for fly fishing

FISHING — Waters are cooling and aquatic insects are hatching — mahoganies, blue-wing olives, baetis, and the occasional October caddis. You know what that means?

Hit a cloudy day and you can have big results with autumn-hungry trout, like I did Saturday on the Clark Fork with my friend, Rich Kaudy and Missoula guide Jason Brininstool.

Access reopens to most Western Montana rivers

FISHING — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has lifted flood related closures at most western Montana access sites along the Bitterroot, Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers.  Only Woodside Bridge, along the Bitterroot River near Corvallis, remains closed.

Additional access site closures and restrictions around western Montana are possible as runoff continues. FWP officials urge caution if venturing on or near rivers during high water. 

For updates, visit fwp.mt.gov and choose “restrictions and closures.”

Clark Fork River fish safer to release than to eat

FISHING — Catch and release trout fishing on Montana's Clark Fork River — widely practiced by fly fishers —  isn't just good for the fishery; it's good for your health, too.

While environmental groups are going to court charging that Washignton understates the contamination hazard in fish consumption warnings, here's a fish consumption advisory just issued by three Montana agencies:

Three state agencies today issued fish consumption advisories for northern pike and rainbow trout on a 105-mile stretch of the Clark Fork River in western Montana.

A “do not eat” advisory was issued for northern pike, and a “four meal per month” limit for rainbow trout, from the Clark Fork's confluence with the Bitterroot River, near Missoula, to the confluence with the Flathead River, near Paradise.

The advisories were issued by the Montana departments of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Environmental Quality and Public Health and Human Services in response to contaminant investigations in fish immediately downstream of the Smurfit Stone Container mill site in Frenchtown.

Research this summer by FWP turned up dioxins, furans, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs-contaminants commonly associated with the pulp and paper mill industry-in northern pike and rainbow trout taken from the river.

Other species of fish from the Clark Fork River haven't been studied at this time.

At very high levels of exposure, these contaminants have been linked to adverse human health effects in immune and nervous systems and may be associated with birth defects. Dioxin and PCBs are classified as definite and probable human carcinogens, respectively, at high and prolonged levels of exposure. Fish consumption advisories are designed to keep exposures well below these high levels. The actual health risks to anyone who has been eating fish in this area is very low, state health officials said.

Northern pike had potentially dangerous levels of the three chemicals. Rainbow trout had lower levels of the same contaminants. Levels are higher in northern pike because they live longer, grow larger, and eat other fish.

Fish consumption advisories are conservative and designed to protect the most sensitive members of the population over a lifetime.  In addition, the risks are based on the amount of toxins found in a raw fillet. Using normal cooking practices, and keeping only smaller fish, can reduce exposure risks.

When properly prepared, fish provide a diet high in protein and low in saturated fats and may be helpful in preventing heart disease. These preparation guidelines can optimize health benefits: 

  • Fillet the fish
  • Remove the skin
  • Cut away dark fatty tissue from the back and belly of the fish where harmful    chemicals tend to accumulate
  • Bake or broil the trimmed fish on a rack or grill it so the remaining fat drips away

For more information about the human health effects of eating fish, contact the DPHHS at 406-444-6988.

For information about fish advisories on the Clark Fork River and throughout Montana, contact FWP at 406-444-5686, or visit FWP's website at fwp.mt.gov. Click “Fishing,” then click “Fish Consumption.”

For information on the status of the Smurfit Stone Container site, contact DEQ at 406-841-5039 or visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website at http://www2.epa.gov/region8/smurfit-stone-mill.

Field report: Clark Fork back in action for anglers

FLY FISHING — My friend David Moershel and I drove over Lookout Pass on Thursday, dodged lightning storms and endured weather ranging from cool to hot over two days to check out Montana's Clark Fork River a week after fishing restrictions were lifted after weeks of water too warm for the health of the trout.

The verdict:  The Clark Fork is back in action, when it's not being cruel.

The three photos with this post (click continue reading) show the thick 14- to 16-inch cutthroat, rainbow and cuttbow I caught on dry flies and nymphs in a two-hour period on Friday morning.  They were among five other fish I caught including a whitefish in three hours of walkng and wading.

Not bad for a guy who casts like a zombie and was trying to train his English setter to stay on a rock and NOT retrieve the fish as they were reeled in.

But while we had periods of good fishing, we also had stretches when we couldn't buy a trout.  On Thursday evening we drove to several spots that have been good to us in the past and we couldn't find a rising fish.

The moral: When it's hot, it's hot; when it's not, it's not.

Montana lifts fishing restrictions on Clark Fork River

FISHING — Fishing restrictions have been rescinded for the Clark Fork River as water temperatures have cooled, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials announced this afternoon.

Water temperatures are holding below 70 degrees, and weather conditions have moderated enough that further restrictions are not likely, they said.

The Clark Fork from Perkins Lane Bridge downstream to Flint Creek and from the confluence with Bitterroot downstream to the Flathead River had been closed to fishing from 2 p.m. until midnight since July 25 to reduce the impact on drought-stressed fish.

Other west-central Montana rivers that remain under these “hoot owl” restrictions include the main stem of the Bitterroot River and the bull trout tributaries in the Blackfoot Drainage.

On the Bitterroot, fishing is prohibited from 2 p.m. to midnight on the entire length of the river, excluding the East and West Forks.Region 2 FWP Fisheries Manager, Pat Saffel says that criteria for removing restrictions on the Bitterroot have not been met.

“We’re looking for water temperatures to stay below 70 degrees for three consecutive days in the lower Bitterroot near Missoula, and we’re thinking we might be there next week if cooler air temperatures hold,” Saffel says. 

In the Blackfoot drainage, fishing is closed from 2 p.m. until midnight on important bull trout streams including Morrell, Gold, Belmont, Cottonwood, Copper, and Monture Creeks; the North Fork of the Blackfoot River; and Landers Fork. 

On the main Blackfoot River, temperatures are declining and flows are holding steady just above the trigger point for fishing restrictions.  The Blackfoot Drought Response Plan calls for a “shared sacrifice” approach to improve stream flow and reduce stress on the trout fishery.  Water contributions from irrigators have kept flows high enough to avoid restrictions, but Saffel points out that the water is still low and temperatures warm.

“We encourage anglers on the Blackfoot to reduce fish stress by fishing during the coolest parts of the day, and to handle and release fish as quickly as possible,” Saffel says.

  • Anglers can check for details on fishing restrictions or closures on theFWP home page at fwp.mt.gov. Select Drought & Fire under the Hot Topics heading, or check the FWP online fishing guide.

Volunteers Building New Trail

Volunteers are helping the Idaho Panhandle National Forests build a new trail to a stunning view from a forest fire lookout overlooking the Clark Fork River and the proposed Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness northeast of Lake Pend Oreille. The Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness already has put in multiple days of routing, brushing, log cutting and carving the tread to the Star Peak Lookout over the past two years.  The peak where an historic lookout is located formerly was known as Squaw Peak. The next work party is set for Friday ( Aug. 9).   Meet at the trailhead (see map) at 9 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (10 a.m. Mountain). Following work days are Aug. 23 plus the weekend of Sept. 21-22/Rich Landers, SR Outdoors. More here.

Warm water restricts angling on Bitterroot, Clark Fork rivers

FISHING —  In an effort to protect fish from the stress of low stream flows and high water temperatures, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will prohibit fishing from 2 p.m. until midnight on parts of the Clark Fork and all of the Bitterroot River, excluding the East and West Forks, beginning Thursday, July 25.
The waters affected by the 2 p.m.-midnight closure on the Clark Fork include the stretch from Perkins Lane Bridge near Warm Springs downstream to Flint Creek and then from the Clark Fork-Bitterroot confluence just west of Missoula downstream to the Flathead River. 
On the Bitterroot, fishing is prohibited from 2 p.m.-midnight on the entire length of the river, excluding the East and West Forks.
Water temperatures on the affected streams have exceeded FWP criteria for temporary fishing restrictions, a tool used to help reduce the impact on drought-stressed fish.
Pat Saffel, FWP Region 2 Fisheries Manager, says that drought-like conditions, which often occur in Montana in late July and August, can stress wild trout and other fish. Prolonged high water temperatures and lower oxygen levels can lead to fish kills that can affect fish numbers in future years.
“We’re monitoring temperatures on other western Montana rivers and will implement further restrictions if necessary,” Saffel says.  “Anglers on all rivers can reduce fish stress by fishing only during the morning and early afternoon periods when water temperatures are at their coolest.”

Other river restrictions are in place in other parts of the state. 

Anglers can check for details on fishing restrictions or closures on the FWP home page at fwp.mt.gov. Select Drought & Fire under the Hot Topics heading, or check the FWP online fishing guide.

Montana extends Clark Fork River closure due to fire

RIVERS — Fishermen are being displaced from a popular stretch of the Clark Fork River as firefighters try to control a nearby wildfire.  The closure announced Wednesday has been extended today.  

Here's the latest from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks:

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is closing an additional stretch of the Clark Fork River due to the expansion of the West Mullan Fire.  The river is now closed from Big Eddy Fishing Access Site (FAS) to US Forest Service Slowey Campground. This eight mile stretch will remain closed for recreating as long as fire activities continue.  The river was previously closed from Big Eddy FAS downstream to Dry Creek FAS, a five mile stretch of river.  
            In addition, FWP is closing the Big Eddy FAS at the town of Superior and the Dry Creek FAS. These FAS’s are closed in the interest of public safety while fire activity persists in the area.  People accessing the river above Big Eddy FAS need to be aware that this site is not available for use. There is no established public boat take-out available below Forest Grove FAS, which is 12 miles upstream of Big Eddy FAS. 
The West Mullan Fire is changing rapidly, so river users are advised to learn of the most current conditions before visiting this section of the Clark Fork River.  We will keep you informed of the updates and additional details on fire and drought-related restrictions and closures on the FWP website home page at fwp.mt.gov

Fire closes Clark Fork River near Superior

FISHING — The Clark Fork River has been closed from Big Eddy Fishing Access Site to Dry Creek Fishing Access Site along Interstate 90 because of operations related to fighting a wildfire northwest of Superior, Mont., the state Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department has announced. 

This is one of the more popular stretches among fly fishers who float the river to catch trout.

This section of river is closed in the interest of public safety while aircraft dip water out of the river to fight the West Mullan Fire.  This stretch will remain closed as long as fire activities continue.

Click here for updates.

Clark Fork opens to floaters past Milltown Dam site

RIVERS — Montana Lieutenant Governor John Walsh will join other state officials today to celebrate the opening of a stretch of the Clark Fork River near Milltown that will be open for water traffic for the first time in more than a century.

What: Opening of 2.5 mile stretch of Clark Fork River to water traffic

When: Today (May 1) @ 10:45 a.m.

Where: Turah Fishing Access Site, eight miles east of Missoula on I-90 to Exit 113 (Turah), south then east for 2 miles.

Federal and local officials gathered in September to mark the end of a $100 million cleanup and restoration at Milltown Superfund site on the Clark Fork River upstream from Missoula.

Removal of the century-old dam and toxic mining sediments in an unprecedented scope was funded by a settlement with Atlantic Richfield Co.

Removing the dam eventually will be a boon to Clark Fork River native fisheries, state biologists say, but Missoula fly-fishing guides say aquatic insect hatches down from the dam site continue to be depressed.

The first advisory group meetings paving the way for the project were held in 1989 after arsenic was found in Milltown’s drinking water.

The Superfund work began in 2006 when crews began rerouting the river to drain the reservoir and expose the sediment contaminated by toxic waste flowing down the Clark Fork River from Butte-area mines.

In 2007, trains began hauling tons of sediment to holding ponds at Opportunity.

Milltown Dam was breached in 2008 and completely removed the following year. Since then, bulldozers scraped away the waste, dug new river channels and re-contoured the flood plain.

A state park is being developed at the site.

Missoula’s Wave needs emergency fix

PADDLING — The artificial wave that has become a fixture in downtown Missoula and attracted kayakers from across the nation needs emergency repairs.

Brennan’s Wave was completed in 2006 and has served as a site for the U.S. Kayak Team’s Olympic Trial and the Montana Whitewater Championships, according to a story in the Missoulian.

Trent Baker, the spokesman for the nonprofit organization that funded the wave’s construction and oversees an endowment for its maintenance, says the wave has a giant crack in its middle chute.

The Missoulian reports runoff flows in the Clark Fork River likely caused the erosion.

Baker’s nonprofit has $20,000 to put toward fixing the crack but the repairs are expected to cost $50,000.

The group is seeking donations.

Another $65 million geared to mitigating mining damage to Clark Fork River

RIVERS — The riches of the Butte-area mining have evaporated in Western Montana as the federal government continues to try to undo the century-old environmental havoc the leftover heavy metals contributed to the Clark Fork River.

The $100-million project to remove Milltown Dam is complete.

Here's the latest step on the course back to a natural river, and wonderful fishery.

Final plan to clean up Upper Clark Fork River in Montana approved

The Trustee Restoration Council charged with allocating the funds from Montana's settlement with Atlantic Richfield Co. over natural resource damage caused by decades of mining in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin signed off on a 20-year plan that will fund $65.5 million worth of projects crafted to improve water and land in Anaconda, Elliston, Drummond and Missoula, and another $40 million on groundwater projects in Butte and Anaconda, and now Gov. Brian Schweitzer must sign off on the plan. — Helena Independent Record

Rafter videos Clark Fork’s Alberton Gorge rapids

WHITEWATER RAFTING — Local rafter Tanner Grant has put together another in a series of videos that chronicles a rafter's view of a popular river, labeling all the rapids.

This time it's the Alberton Gorge of Montana's Clark Fork River, a popular summer rafting destination between Missoula and St. Regis. 

Grant recentlly floated the river at 7,000 cfs, which is a little higher than normal mid-summer flows because of this year's prolonged runoff.  But you'll get good views of Triple Bridges, Split Rock, Tumbleweed, Fang and all the others.

We put in at St. John and took out 17 miles downstream at Forest Grove below Tarkio Canyon. This is a spectacular solid class III run through a beautiful canyon.

Check it out and see what fun is in store on the river along I-90.

Whitewater rafters go with the flow

Whitewater rafters

go with the flow

RIVER RUNNING – If you want expert advice on the reliable periods to find sufficient flows in area whitewater rivers, check out the ROW Adventures trip schedule. After all, they’ve been rafting area rivers for more than three decades.

The regional snowpack was about 119 percent of normal last week and some drainages are even highter, said ROW founder Peter Grubb.

His crews plan to run:

Spokane River Bowl and Pitcher now through July 6 (they ended July 20 last year).

Moyie River now through around June 12.

St. Joe River, starting around June 14 through July 4.

Clark Fork River, starting around July 5 and running through summer.

Grubb said he moves the same crew of guides and equipment to each river as it becomes ripe for rafting.

“We call the crew our migrant wave farmers,” he said.

Motorized boating rules enacted for Missoula-area rivers

BOATING - New restrictions on motorized boating went into effect last weekend on Missoula area rivers, including parts of the Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Blackfoot.

On the Clark Fork, motorized travel is prohibited year-round through Missoula, from the old Milltown Reservoir area to just above the confluence with the Bitterroot on the western edge of town.

The previously unrestricted stretch of river from Kelly Island Fishing Access Site (FAS) to Harper’s Bridge FAS has the following regulations:

  • Motorized travel, except personal water craft (PWC), is allowed only from May 1-June 15.
  • 20 horsepower travel is allowed Oct .1-Jan. 31.
  • Float-only fishing is allowed the rest of the year.

Harper’s Bridge to St. John’s FAS, also previously unrestricted, is now open to motorized watercraft (except PWC) from Oct. 1-June 15 and to 20 hp or less June 16-Sept. 30. The regulations remain the same as they have been below St. John’s.

On the Bitterroot, the new regulations prohibit the spring unrestricted motorized travel that once was allowed below Florence Bridge. Under the new regulations, only 20 horsepower or less travel is allowed from Oct. 1-Jan. 31 for the entire river, and the rest of the year is float only.

On the Blackfoot, the former Milltown Reservoir area is now closed to motorized watercraft.

 This is just a summary of the recent changes. Boaters should review the new regulations and associated map on the FWP website.

The new regulations were proposed to address public safety concerns, social conflicts and a few outdated regulations pertaining to the Milltown area, officials said.

‘Raft for the Cure’ on Clark Fork River

CHARITY OUTDOORSROW Adventures will be giving breast cancer research a boost by hosting a one-day benefit raft trip on the Clark Fork River July 31.
Proceeds go to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer project in Coeur d’Alene.
The event is great for families. Minimum age: 5. Pink will be “in.”
Sign up online or call (208) 770-2517. 

Montana considers extending Rock Creek float season

FISHING — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is accepting public comment through June 24 on a proposal to extend the float fishing season on Rock Creek, east of Missoula, because of the unusually high river flows that have prevented most spring floating opportunities this year.

Typically, Rock Creek closes to fishing from boats beginning July 1, but FWP Region 2 Supervisor, Mack Long, says that this year, without an extension, anglers may get little or no time to fish from a boat due to extraordinarily high early season flows.
If approved, all anglers, including members of the public and outfitters and their clients, would be allowed to fish from a boat on Rock Creek through Friday, July 22, 2011.
To comment, email Sharon Rose at shrose@mt.gov or call (406) 542-5540.

Clark Fork River a foot over flood stage

RIVERS — The Clark Fork River was a foot over flood stage in Missoula on Tuesday, the Missoulian reports.

The Montana river was predicted to rise another couple of feet by Thursday as rainfall and snowmelt increased flows.

This isn't good news for anglers with an itch to get out for traditional June hatches.

Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop fishing report:

Rock Creek is unfishable, and that's probably an understatement.  Look for it to get bigger with the rain and warm weather we are supposed to get at the end of the week.  We might just have to day dream about salmonflies this year.   

Most of Western Montana and parts of Idaho are under flood warnings.

Clark Fork fish are using new passage past Thompson Falls Dam

FISHERIES —  The new upstream fish ladder at the Thompson Falls Dam and hydropower project in Thompson Falls, Mont., has opened and apparently fish such as bull trout and rainbows have started moving freely past the structure since April.

The fish ladder was completed and dedicated last fall.

The report  comes from GEI Consultants Inc., the firm selected by PPL Montana to provide ecological and engineering services for the project. The story is published today at HydroWorld.com.  

The $7.5 million project
is designed to provide endangered bull trout and other fish varieties unhindered access to hundreds of miles of the upstream Clark Fork River and its tributaries.

Read on for more details.

Flooding closes access to Montana rivers

FISHING — Flooding on the Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers has forced Montana officials to close many fishing access sites this week.

Bitterroot River sites closed today include, from south to north: Hannon Memorial, WW White, Darby Bridge, Wally Crawford, Woodside Bridge, Tucker Crossing, Bell Crossing, Poker Joe and Florence Bridge.

Clark Fork sites closed near Missoula include Turah, Schwartz Creek, Kona and Kelly Island (Mullan Road access only).

Blackfoot River closed sites include Monture. 

Closures will continue until flood conditions subside.  Additional fishing access site closures are possible as conditions change.

The closures basically are a moot issue for anglers, since the rivers are blown out.  Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks is advising boaters to stay off the rivers until flows subside and the abundance of dangerous logs and debris filter out.

Rock Creek is not closed but FWP officials say it's flowing dangerously high and carrying a lot of debris. A log jam has been reported at river mile 27 (upstream from the microburst site). Another log jam is reported near river mile 30 near the Hog Back

Best in the West kayakers converging on Clark Fork

PADDLING — Top paddlers are zeroing in on Montana's Clark Fork River this weekend for the Best in the West kayak competition, one of the longest standing kayak events in the U.S.

Every year in the middle of May, kayakers converge in Missoula to surf Brennan’s Wave and the “Comp Hole” on the Alberton Gorge —one of the best playspots in North America (10,000-15,000 cfs, USGS Clark Fork below Missoula gage).  Paddlers say this venue provides the canvas for the best of what the true freestyle kayaking lifestyle has to offer.

Contact: Zoo Town Surfers, 1001 E Broadway #2-401, Missoula, MT 59802, (406) 546-0370 or emal waves@zootownsurfers.com

Read on for details.

Clark Fork River back in its channel

RIVERS – Milltown Dam was breached in March 2008, allowing Montana’s Clark Fork River to flow free just above Missoula for the first time in a century.  But it wasn’t allowed to run freely in its restored channel until last week.

As The Missoulian story reported, “After five years of being dammed, diverted, diked and dirtied, the big river got to flush away the final ghost of Milltown Dam on Thursday.

“This will never be quite the same after today,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Milltown project manager Diana Hammer said as the river shifted course. “Of course, how many times have we said that here, every year for the past five years? It's getting hard to explain. There are so many things that aren't here anymore.”
Now, with the removal of 3 million tons of toxic sediment, the planting of nearly that many trees and bushes and the transfer of 415 acres of floodplain, the state of Montana can slowly make plans for a future park, the river can continue healing, and the fishery can bloom.
Over the next five or six months, Envirocon and Helena Sand and Gravel workers will finish erasing traces of their work in the floodplain. They will restore the bypass channel to a more natural appearance, although it will continue to function as a high-water side channel in future floods.

Where the Wild Rivers Run

 Special to Pinch

March 2, 2010

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap 

    Waking early in the February morning, it took a minute to get my bearings in the dark Missoula hotel room before I dressed for the day’s drive. We were crossing a swath of the wide Flathead Valley in Northwest Montana and I wanted to take advantage of the wintery sunlight. The days are short in the Northwest this time of year with precious little sunlight between the dark of morning and dark of night.
    Stopping to pick up a pastry and a cup of coffee, we crossed the Clark Fork River on our way out of town. The sun was just coming up and the sky along the horizon was fading, changing from a deep indigo to violet to plum.
    The river, already awake, already on the move, snaked quietly between snowy banks following the curves it had already cut, centuries before.    It seems a shame to drive right over or alongside a river without slowing down for a closer look, to be so blind to the beauty. Because a river is a wild and wonderful thing.
    Impulsively, I pulled over. A few more minutes wouldn’t break the day’s schedule