By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
My fly-fishing rod is always rigged to fish the Gallatin River. But for the past few days, it’s been a little lonely and cold sitting in the rod rack without seeing daylight. The holiday bumrush is nearing the finish line. Shopping lists are getting checked off, presents are nearly all wrapped and families are getting together. Whether you’re grateful this season only comes once a year, or you happily embrace the chaos and camaraderie of the holidays, ’tis the season for reflecting on the past year.
Even if you can’t get on the water because you’re too busy making sure aunts and uncles have clean sheets or grandma and grandpa get to the airport on time, you can at least read this on your smartphone while waiting in the check-out line.
The past year was an exciting one in our local fly-fishing world. Here are some of the highlights:
Hebgen Dam repairs nearly complete. The 102-year old dam is only a few inspections away from wrapping up nine years worth of repairs, a $40 million project. The dam withstood a magnitude-7.5 earthquake with an epicenter 17 miles away in 1959. The updated dam will not release colder water from the bottom of the reservoir and can withstand magnitude-7.3 quakes with an epicenter within 100 miles. Cold water is a good thing for trout. Withstanding an earthquake—especially since the dam lies in a seismically active area—is also a very good thing.
Yellowstone River healthy and full of water. Blessed with above average snowpack in its headwaters, the Yellowstone River and its tributaries enjoyed a plentiful season. Anglers enjoyed a brief pre-runoff Mother’s Day caddis hatch in late April, and then had to wait out nearly two months of runoff. By early July the river dropped and cleared, and salmon flies popped. Fortunately, the above-average snowpack meant that the late summer terrestrial fishing was the best in years. Unlike last year, the river was clean of any invasive epidemics such as PKD, however the river is still threatened with the potential for mining development in tributary drainages.
Moose Creek Restoration Project. Years of hard work and local dollars came to fruition this fall as the Moose Creek Restoration Project began. Gallatin River Task Force ran lead on this exciting project to stabilize and restore stream banks near Moose Creek Flat Campground. Work on a boat ramp was completed, allowing less degradation by users at the popular boat launch. With help from community donations, GRTF planted 3,700 willows to restore eroded banks.
Big fish on the Gallatin. Similar to the Yellowstone, the Gallatin River drainage saw an above average snowpack. Local anglers reported larger than normal fish pre-runoff. That trend continued after runoff and into fall. Several years of good snowpack and average summertime temperatures helps grow big fish. It also helps to have the river’s long-term interest at heart. With help from organizations like GRTF, Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited, and the Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, anglers can feel good about the future of the river.
Development in Big Sky and Gallatin Valley. Look around Big Sky’s Town Center, drive north or south on Highway 191, or venture outward from Bozeman in any direction and you’ll find anecdotal evidence to support the facts: Our area is being developed at rates seen in few other places throughout the country. Continued hard work must occur if we are to preserve open space, protect access to and quality of our local fisheries, and ensure affordability for our citizens. The solutions are often the result of compromises and patience in the process is important, but ensuring the next generation can experience the Montana we enjoy now rests in our capable hands.
As you check off items on your holiday to-do list—or if you’re still in the check-out line—embrace the spirit of the season for it only comes around once a year. Due to our great fortune to live where we do, our opportunities to fly fish exist year-round. But like staying off Santa’s naughty list, keeping those opportunities plentiful and productive requires a little extra effort.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky.