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Old 08-18-2013, 02:29 PM
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Default Great article on the history of Montana fishing

Bitterroot River fishing report: Changes have improved fishing over time
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Bitterroot Valley fishing guide Eddie Olwell and Jerry Allen of Ontario don't let a little smoke in the air deter them from an enjoyable day of fishing on the Bitterroot River.

August 17, 2013 7:45 am • By Bill Bean - for the Ravalli Republic
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I have written before that I like to share articles and/or information that are related to fishing past and present. I was recently reading an article in “Distinctly Montana” regarding fishing back when. Fishing in Montana began as early as settlers were in the territory and using fish as a food source. When non-native fish were planted in Montana streams, they readily adapted to the generous food sources and gradually pushed native trout species to their limits.

When fishing in the early 1900s, there were some things that stand out and are remembered to this day. The way of living in these early years of Montana have had a real impact on fishing today and how the fish have reacted for the past 100 or so years.

In the early years, there were no restrictions of the numbers of fish that were harvested or size of fish that were kept or not kept. If you look at the stringers of fish from these eras, you see that there are some on a willow stick that are over three pounds and others that would barely make 6 ounces. There were no restrictions on the type of bait or tackle that fishermen could or would use.

Dynamite or some type of explosive could have been used if fishermen were really hungry, but most fishermen used worms or some other type of bait to catch their fish. The best way to explain fishing in these early years was that it was wide open. Fishermen did just about anything they wanted and the streams and fish suffered for it.

According to the article I read, the best fishing was already lost or gone by the 1930s. Fortunately, for fishermen today improvements have been made over the past 80 years and fishing in Montana has done quite well since the improvements began showing up.

One of the greatest improvements for fishing has been increasing in-stream flows during the summer months. Improvements still need to be made in several Montana rivers and it will be some time before we can say that we have been able to satisfy all water users in the state.

The second greatest improvement for fishing has been the attitude of catch and release. Using this technique, the fish are able to stay in the river and spawn, as well as provide some fun times for fishermen. There are still some fishermen who feel it is a right to catch fish and take them home for meals and I can’t disagree with that. Many rivers are healthier with some fish taken home and there are others that just can’t stand that kind of pressure.

The third greatest improvement for Montana has been the discontinuation of introducing hatchery fish in the rivers and streams. Wild fish do better when not exposed to hatchery fish and the increase of populations in most rivers. Fishing in Montana is a multi-million-dollar hobby that has helped make our economy a little bit stronger because of the tourism.

Fishing the Bitterroot is really getting good. Hot weather persists, but the upper river has been quite cool with the release of water from Painted Rocks. Water temperatures are in the mid 50s during the morning hours and rising about 8 degrees during the day and evening hours. Plan your trips in the morning and watch for an increase in may fly activity in the next couple of weeks.

Bill Bean writes a weekly fly-fishing column for the Saturday Ravalli Republic.
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