2018 Conservation & Fly Fishing Camp

Montana Trout Unlimited once again hosted 20 campers, aged 11-14, at Camp Watanopa on Georgetown Lake.  Early concerns regarding high stream flows where quickly set aside as the fishing was excellent both on surrounding streams and on the lake.

Students successfully learned the basics of fly tying and fly fishing thanks to the expertise of our volunteers.  We had the additional opportunity to meet with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service field staff to complete hands on stream restoration in critical bull trout habitat.  Campers where able to learn about the characteristics of healthy streams and rivers and their importance to wild and native trout by getting into

(a very cold) tributary to build pools and remove obstructions to improve habitat that provides both coldwater refuge and spawning habitat for bull trout. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks generously sent an education program intern to stay at camp for a few days.

It is our goal to continue a program that provides a foundation for coldwater conservation through fly fishing. Youth leave our camp understanding that excellent fishing doesn’t happen without a dedication to protecting the resource.  Email [email protected] for more information on supporting or participating in camp.

MTU’s Grassroots Warriors Help Get I-186 on the November Ballot

It takes more than 25,000 valid signatures from registered voters in Montana to qualify an initiative for the ballot.  A minimum number of those signatures have to come from at least 34 of the House Districts in Montana.  Never before has HD29, which includes Lewistown, produced enough signatures to help an initiative get on the ballot.  That changed with I-186 and our Snowy Mountain chapter.  After training to be signature gatherers about half a dozen Snowy Mountain chapter volunteers gathered about 150% of the necessary signatures in HD29.  That success is an example of the great effort many chapter members put in to bring our campaign total to more than 45,000 signatures and easily qualifying I-186 for the November 6, 2018 ballot. 

Now that MTU, participating TU chapters, members, and our many partners have cleared this major hurdle, it’s time to inform and turn out voters.  We don’t have space in a single newsletter to let you know about all the events and ways there are to get involved.  So here’s how to keep apace of what’s happening and how you can help make a difference:  Visit the campaign website (https://www.yeson186.org/) to learn more, volunteer, and donate.  Visit, share, like, and comment on the campaign Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/yeson186/).  Or, contact us directly anytime ([email protected]; i[email protected]).

Most of all, remember, MTU is supporting I-186 because it brings a much-needed, common-sense change to hard-rock mine permitting in Montana that will better protect the clean water our native and wild trout depend on.  It will also reduce the taxpayer burden of cleaning up and paying for permanent treatment of polluted water.  That money is yours and mine and could, and should, be spent elsewhere on the many programs statewide that ensure we have clean, cold, healthy streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands for generations to come.

Take action and tell Congress to #SaveLWCF

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is our country’s premier program to fund public access, fish and wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation. Since 1965, LWCF has poured more than $16 billion into local communities – including $597 million in Montana – to provide funding for everything from public land acquisitions to developing local outdoor recreation sites.

Chances are that if you have spent time outdoors at a fishing access site, state park, local open space, or public lands, you’ve directly benefitted from the LWCF. In fact, when you float fish in Montana you’re probably using an LWCF-funded access site, since half of all such sites in the state have benefitted from this funding source.  Unfortunately, LWCF is set to expire on September 30th unless Congress takes action to reauthorize the program.

Montana’s delegation supports reauthorizing LWCF, but they need to know that the program is a top priority for sportsmen and women. Contact our members of Congress and urge them do all they can to permanently reauthorize LWCF before it expires.

A phone call takes just a minute but can make a big difference, so call today. Senator Tester: (202) 224-2644; Senator Daines: (202) 224-2651; Representative Gianforte: (202) 225-3211

Blackfoot River Outfitters Memorial Float

On September 5, 2015 Matthew and Laura Churchman lost their newborn son William. At 32 weeks, they learned that, due to major abnormalities, his was not a life compatible outside the womb. His brief moment had a profound impact on their family and friends. Matthew manages Blackfoot River Outfitters Fly Shop in Missoula. Together with the owners, John Herzer and Terri Raugland, they reignited The Blackfoot River Outfitters Memorial Float, founded originally to honor the memory of John’s father, Moe Herzer and longtime fishing client and friend Steve Bryant.

This year funds raised will benefit Montana Trout Unlimited’s efforts to protect the Smith River from a proposed copper mine on its most vital tributary. Coincidentally it was after they had decided to raise funds to protect the Smith that Laura drew her first Smith River permit. In June with their daughter Ella, Matthew’s father Bill, and two other families, the Churchmans got to experience the treasure of the Smith River, which lies in its preservation not extraction.

The Memorial Float will take place on Saturday, October 13, 2018. Guiding services for full-day fly-fishing and scenic floats are donated so that all proceeds can benefit MTU’s efforts. Boats are filling up, so please reserve your spot soon.

Montana’s rivers are special places, giving us recreation, education, and clean drinking water, but they can also be a place of reflection, healing, and a respite for our worried minds and troubled hearts. To compromise the health of a river like the Smith, to harm it irreparably, would be a loss that we would grieve like any other.

Please join us to honor lost loved ones and to protect the life-giving waters of our rivers and streams.  There are also many ways to give, sponsor or get involved in the Memorial Float. To find out more, please visit www.memorialfloat.com.

Why do we care about native trout?

“Spring” is the most common creek name west of the 100th Meridian.  East of that line, it’s “Mill.”  Chances are, most of us have crossed, fished, or floated by a Spring Creek.  I’ve often walked to the source of the one nearest my home in western Montana.  Under deep Ponderosa shade, it seeps to the surface through spongey mats of bright green moss.  Slaking a thin riparian ribbon along the way, it tumbles roughly five miles before joining Rattlesnake Creek not far upstream of where MTU is helping our national TU partners remove a dam.

One benefit to this dam removal will be to restore full passage to native west slope cutthroat and bull trout, both of which have spawned in this system since long before Spring or Rattlesnake Creek bore those names.  Native trout restoration is critical to MTU’s conservation mission, and the why is not always obvious.  When you start asking around and reading explanations for why we value native trout in their native habitats someone reminds you of Aldo Leopold’s oft quoted mandate that “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”  There’s a problem with that machine metaphor.

Equating a natural system to a machine overlooks the fact that one evolved, in many cases without the human hand anywhere in sight, whereas the other is wholly a product of that hand.  The metaphor also implies that each part, its relations to others, and the ultimate workings are fully understood. We understand the mechanics of how the drag on a fly reel works. 

We are less certain about why each organism in an ecosystem is important, but research clearly makes a case for keeping native trout in their evolutionary homes.  Most of that research has focused on places where non-native trout invade, if not replace native trout.  Brook and lake trout provide two good examples. 

When brook trout are introduced or move into western waters they outcompete the native trout on three fronts.  Brook trout achieve a greater density and biomass within streams than many trout native to the West, thus the non-natives simply consume more of the available food.  And, the food brook trout eat tends to be mostly benthic insects; whereas a much higher percentage of a cutthroat’s diet comes from terrestrial bugs that land on the water.

Finally, since brook trout spawn in the fall, their fry hatch earlier and are ahead on the growth curve compared to the spring-spawning cutthroat.  All of these differences mean that brook trout devour benthic insects, resulting in fewer aquatic organisms emerging from the water. More brook trout than native cutthroat in a system causes a cascade of effects up the terrestrial food chain.  Amphibians, spiders, and songbirds, for example, suffer a diminished food source when brook trout invade cutthroat streams. 

Recent efforts to suppress non-native and highly invasive lake trout from Yellowstone Lake illustrate this cascading effect that a change in native to non-native trout populations unleashes.  Lake trout are similar to brook trout in the ways they outcompete Yellowstone cutthroat.  Lake trout also spend most of their lives in deeper water than the natives.  So when the former replace the latter, piscivores from raptors to grizzlies fare poorly.  Yellowstone National Park biologists and partner researchers have seen a rebound in Yellowstone cutthroats, birds of prey and big bears around Yellowstone Lake soon after innovative suppression of lake trout eggs began reducing the non-native population.  Although we don’t know all the relationships, it’s clear that protecting and restoring natives helps maintain complexity and diversity. 

Survivability and sensitivity are two other reasons to care for native trout.   Because native trout have adapted over centuries and millennia in specific environments, they are, in many cases, more likely to survive the extremes of those places.  Having passed through the crucible of a specific system’s cycles of drought, flood, and wildfire a native trout species may be hardier than non-native fish.  Conversely, native trout are often more sensitive to physical and chemical changes in their natal waters.  Thus, they perform the role of “canary in the coal mine.”  While being able to survive and even thrive during and after wildfires, native Yellowstone cutthroat and bull trout are highly sensitive to chemical pollutants and over-sedimentation.  They are indicators of stream health.  If we pay attention, they are an early warning sign of how we are treating our streams, rivers, and lakes.  As Thomas McGuane put it in The Longest Silence: “Whether it is the trout or the angler who is more sensitized to the degeneration of habitat would be hard to say, but probably it is the trout.  At the first signs of deterioration, this otherwise vigorous fish just politely quits, as if to say, ‘If that’s how you want it…’”  Well, that’s not how we want it.  The need that native trout have for clean, cold water should be a mirror or reminder of our own needs for this vital resource.

Then there’s the other reason.  We should consider caring for native trout not because we are intelligent tinkerers, who know how it all works and what removing one piece might do to the whole, but just the opposite.  Keep them all because we don’t know.  Much of our world, especially when it comes to the world of water is yet unknown.  There’s still some mystery to places like the source of Spring Creek, high enough on the mountainside that it’s hard to find a weed or a bubblegum wrapper.  In spite of having dubbed such places with all-too common names, we have many reasons to continue fighting for their unique, native qualities.