Blog Posts In Conservation

Fishing for a cause! BHRF auction trip a success

Where did this summer go?  When I left the Big Hole for school three weeks ago, the trees were green, the water was warm, and the spruce moths were out in full force.  On Friday, I jumped at the opportunity to get out of the library and back in my boat, but I should have packed waders and boots rather than shorts and sandals!  The temps here in Missoula have been unpleasantly high, especially during the nights, and I wrongfully assumed the Big Hole Valley had been experiencing the same.  Instead, I drove down the river Friday in the spectacular orange and purple glow of a Montana Fall evening.

Friday night's temps were in the low 30's, slowly climbing to 60 on Saturday, though the stiff breeze and intermittent cloud cover made it feel much cooler.  My clients were Bozeman boys and colleagues at Rightnow Technologies.  Michael attended the Big Hole River Day activities and auction in Melrose, put on by the Big Hole River Foundation, where he bought a guided trip for two donated by the Big Hole Lodge.

Michael and I have been in contact since BH Day, scheming and planning our attack.  I knew i'd be back in law school in late August and wanted to get he and his pal on the river before the snow flies.  We decided on this weekend, hoping to catch the last of the tricos, the start of the streamer fishing as the browns gear up for spawning, and the possibility of mahogany duns, blue-winged olives, and October caddis.

The frigid nighttime temps set the river back a few hours and 9:00am proved to be too early for us to be on the water (especially for me in shorts!)  We waded for about two hours before floating and around 11:00 the sun came out and so did the tricos. Fishing was great for the next two hours until the wind picked up and blew the hatch away.

It never warmed up enough for hoppers, in fact i'm not so sure the freezes this week haven't killed the hoppers all together.  Nonetheless, we floated with hoppers, attractors and streamers, picking up a few fish on top, and turning a few larger fish on the streamer.  Joel, Michael's fishing companion, caught sight of a big brown chasing Mike's streamer and cut off his size 14 dry fly, exchanging it for a size 4 sex-panther.  We moved several fish on the streamer set ups, but no solid hookups.  I have to imagine the christmas tree ornament-looking streamers we were whipping through the pools interested a handful of big fish and terrified numerous small and medium sized fish!

Around 3:00pm the barometer dropped and the fish stopped feeding all together.  We pulled over, pulled out the beer and antelope jerky and waited things out.  After almost an hour of watching the water, the fish started feeding again.  It was too windy to tell what was in the air, but the weather was right for blue-winged olives.  I tied on attractors with a BWO trailer and sure enough the fish were looking for the little mayfly until we took out around 7:00pm.

It was a good, albeit cold, day and I look forward to getting these boys back on the Big Hole next summer for any one of the numerous hatches we have throughout the season.  It was encouraging to have anglers so passionate about the sport in the boat.  On behalf of the Big Hole River Foundation I thank Michael for his generous donation and a fun day on the river!

Big Hole River Day this weekend!

Big Hole River Days 2011

The Big Hole River Foundation

The Big Hole:
Known for its blue-ribbon trout fishery, the Big Hole flows undammed for 150 miles. The river is home to the last native, self-sustaining population of fluvial Arctic grayling in the lower forty-eight states, as well as a dwindling population of native westslope cutthroat.

The Big Hole River Foundation:
"The social and economic mainstay of the Big Hole valley has traditionally been ranching, which relies heavily on the river and tributaries for irrigation.  Resource issues in the watershed include de-watering of the river by irrigation, loss of habitat to residential development, grazing management, noxious weeds, and the decline of the fluvial Arctic grayling.   We are working to develop science-based conservation strategies that will protect this magnificent resource, and enhance critical habitat for native trout, grayling, and a multitude of other species.  We are launching new conservation strategies; helping to identify and implement restoration projects along the river; educating landowners through workshops about ways they can do their part to improve water quality and habitat conditions in key riparian zones; and pursuing conservation easement partnerships."

To conserve, enhance and protect the free-flowing character of the Big Hole River,
its unique culture, fish and wildlife.

The Big Hole River Foundation was founded in 1988 by noted Montana conservationist, angler, and fly tier George F. Grant.   The foundation is a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to defending and conserving the natural and cultural resources of the Big Hole watershed. Projects and programs are supported by diverse interests.  The foundation works closely with local, state, and federal agencies, as well as sportsmen organizations and conservationists.  The foundation funds its projects through membership dues, donations, government grants, and private foundations.

Philosophy and Values

The Big Hole River Foundation's actions reflect collaboration, forthrightness, inclusiveness, fairness, accountability and informed decision making.  The foundation recognizes the uninterrupted connection of the elements of the valley's people, creatures, plants and geology. Members of the foundation act with care and humility as they consider the beauty of this closely integrated environment.

River Ambassador Program

The River Ambassador Program was initiated to showcase the outstanding guides and outfitters who work and live in the Big Hole River basin. Guides and outfitters constantly demonstrate an exemplary attitude toward conservation and spend countless hours helping people understand the importance of conserving and protecting our precious resources. This attitude supports the mission of the Big Hole River Foundation. Guides and outfitters are in a unique position to substantially influence public perception of the Big Hole River and the philosophy of conservation and care. When clients new to the area spend a day with a guide on the river, they have a unique opportunity to educate them about angling ethics, conservation principles, and the history and culture of the Big Hole River and southwest Montana. When those clients return to fish each year, guides have the opportunity to reinforce these values and lessons, plus educate clients on changes in the watershed and regulations that govern the use of the Big Hole River. Since guide's actions and words directly impact the actions and attitudes of the public they are often emulated. We believe a core community of guides espousing the Basic Principles can influence anglers to thoughtful behavior that conserves the Big Hole River. Guides are on the river every day and can help the Foundation serve as its eyes and ears. We appreciate the guides alerting us to developing issues, observations and suggestions for the Foundation.


We are respectfully seeking support of our operations budget and projects.  Securing operating funds allows our staff to move forward with two important initiatives that help accomplish our mission and would make for a stronger partnership in the conservation and restoration of the Big Hole River valley.
Conservation and Research Initiative
Easement Program: identifies landowners willing to permanently protect the most critical aquatic and associated habitats of the Big Hole River valley.
-Restoration Program:
identifies landowners willing to restore and enhance the aquatic and associated habitats on their property in the Big Hole valley (our initial goal is three landowners).
-Stewardship Fencing Project: construct and maintain lay-down fencing along critical sections of the river to reduce intense grazing pressure along sensitive river banks promoting bank stabilization and maintain healthy channel geometry.
-Pennington Bank Stabilization Project
: This project includes survey and design, re-contouring of the degraded bank, and vegetation plantings.
Research Program
-a benthic macroinvertebrate (BMI) study is assessing if aquatic insect communities are correlated with observed seasonal grayling distributions.
-fish tagging study, implemented during fall 2009, which will help assess effects of competition and predation by trout on fluvial Arctic grayling populations.

Education and Outreach Initiative:
-Watershed Education Program will instill a clear understanding of basic environmental science fundamentals in students and teachers by using a place-based, hands-on field and classroom curriculum.  Our initial goal is to teach at least 70 students and obtain active participation from at least one teacher from each of the seven rural public schools in the Big Hole basin.
-Outreach Program includes the River Ambassador Program and the production and distribution of our Technical Guidance Series and Watershed Sourcebook.

Our current operations budget averages $4,000 per month.  As such, we need to raise nearly $50,000 per year, which will allow us to annually deliver the above described activities in the Big Hole watershed.
                                         or donate from our site at

Thank You on behalf of our Board of Directors & Staff:

Chuck Bulen - Melrose Alyse Curry - Dillon
Wade Fellin - Wise River Hans Humbert - Wise River (Vice President)
Shaun Jeszenka - Sheridan Steve Parker - Butte (President)
Ray Weaver - Wisdom Sheila Youngblood - Butte
Corky Logan
(Administrative Assistant) - Anaconda
Mike Bias
(Executive Director) - Twin Bridges

Join TU! For the river's sake

Protect. Reconnect. Restore. Sustain.    These are the foundations of Trout Unlimited.

Intact habitat = bigger bucks, bigger bulls, better fishing, more opportunity, and better life for all.

TU has been successful and continues to be successful in the following projects: removing man-made river barriers such as dams and culverts which prevent trout from naturally migrating and spawning,  adding screens to irrigation ditches to prevent fish from getting sucked out of the home river to die in the fields, and restoring riparian habitat and restoring damaged channels.   They need your help!   Let's remember, water code was developed with development in mind.  Now it is time to focus development around the environment and fix what we have broken, as well as preserve what we have.


  1. Join TU today!
  2. Educate yourself on your local needs and current projects.  Get in contact with your local chapter
  3. Support your state TU councils

Why should you join us?  Who else will ensure a future of recreation and beauty?

It’s spawning time for our cutthroat and rainbows, watch your step!

Help us save our cutthroat trout

westslope cutthroat

The cutthroat, named for the vibrant orange or red slash marks along its lower jaw, is Montana's state fish.  Historically,  the westslope cutthroat ranged west of the Continental Divide
throughout Montana but their numbers are rapidly declining due to hybridization with rainbows and degradation of habitat.  More and more fisherman are catching cut-bows and fewer and fewer anglers are catching true cutthroat.  The native Westslope cutthroat is dying out due to warmer temperatures, erosion, and increased angler presence.

In order to help preserve the next generation of trout in Montana, please avoid stepping on redds this spring!

Cutthroat and Rainbow spawn in the spring in clean gravel beds, usually in swift moving water. They bury their eggs in a nest called a redd where they will grow for the next four to seven weeks.  The fry will remain under the gravel for a week or two after they hatch and will still be very vulnerable.

Redds are oval patches of gravel about three feet wide in one to three feet of water.  They can be identified clearly by the gravel color which is lighter than the surrounding riverbed.  Inconsistent mounds and depressions in the redd site indicate nests.   Redds are typically on gravel bars near islands or in below riffles where clean water can flow over them.

photo courtesy of:

Do not walk directly upstream of a redd because the eggs need clean water.  Do not walk on a redd because you will crush the eggs or fry.  Avoid shallow gravel bars and keep your eyes open.

photo courtesy of:

Don't overpressure spawning trout either, if a fish is acting odd and seems to be protecting an area, leave it alone.  She’s exhausted and not in the mood to play!   Spawning bows and cuts will appear darker than normal, with more vibrant belly colors.  They will often appear sluggish because they have expended most of their energy on spawning.

They need all the help they can get, so once again, tread carefully!