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Visiting Angler’s Bill of Rights

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

Being a lifelong angler and living in SW Montana, it is predictable that one will inevitably be asked to host or fish with visiting anglers. There’s no doubt that the rivers and lakes of SW Montana are a mecca of all sorts for trout fishers across the U.S. It happens two or three times every summer. Someone, a relative, a friend or a client is coming to Montana and wants to fish. I am mostly to blame for these opportunities, invites, impositions, adventures or whatever they might turn into as I freely advertise through pictures, videos and stories the exceptional angling in SW Montana (including Yellowstone National Park). Some of these visits are a direct result of my inviting friends or clients, especially those who I know to be avid anglers. Others come out of the blue. An email-“We’re making a trip to Montana and would like to fish, what do you suggest!” Regardless of how the visits are initiated, every year there are two or three that come to fruition. So, for the visiting angler here’s a Bill of Rights (of sorts from my perspective).

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Day Trip Upper Big Hole

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

The Big Hole River in SW Montana has many faces. The upper reaches around Wisdom, Montana present anglers many challenges.  First of which is that it is essentially in the middle of nowhere, a long way away from even modest Montana civilization. Wisdom, named for the Wisdom River (as the Big Hole was originally named by Lewis and Clark), boasts a whopping population of 100 +/-.  At 6000 feet MSL, mornings can be frosty, even in August. The stretch from Wisdom to the access point at Fishtrap Creek, some 15 miles as the crow flies is a wide, meandering low gradient stream with lots of weed growth.  Pools and runs with any meaningful depth are few and far between. Very much unlike the canyon and cottonwood bottom reaches farther downstream. Although the upper Big Hole has healthy flows as runoff subsides, it is subject to serious dewatering for irrigation and mid-summer and fall flows can become dangerously low.

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Get Side Tracked

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

In railroad parlance, being side-tracked means you’ve been shunted off the main line onto a siding so that the fast trains can get by. As a noun, sidetrack is commonly known as a “minor path or track”. Although on the river, we anglers know it is easy to get “sidetracked” by all manner of things. Wildlife, tangles, weather, bugs, agonizing over fly selection, cold fingers, you name it. When your fly isn’t in or on the water, you’ve been side-tracked. However, getting side-tracked by an actual sidetrack can be a good thing.

A large majority of our larger Montana rivers have natural sidetracks that can be taken advantage of in the right circumstances. In fact, in my angling experience, rivers in the Southeast and Atlantic coast (as do most large to medium sized rivers anywhere) have sidetracks. In my experience, river sidetracks take on two forms, both equally valuable to the angler. The most obvious is the small natural channel that leaves the mainstem and flows some distance before returning to the main river—the true “side channel.”. The other is the natural trench or trough that lies adjacent to the main flow, but is separated by shallow areas. In both these cases, the sidetracks can be identified by the presence of an island of sorts that separates the minor flow from the mainstem. In rivers where the flow regime varies seasonally from runoff, the flow in these sidetracks varies as well. From an angling standpoint, sidetracks should be approached just as you would a small stream, because in fact, that’s exactly what they are.

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