Giving Thanks - Looking Back On The 2017 Fishing Season December 29 2017

Reflecting On A Year Of Fly Fishing

Max Anderson has plenty of big browns to look back at in 2017 Photo: Shane Stalling

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 if you embrace the chaos and camaraderie of the holidays, you should certainly take time to reflect on the past year.

As 2017 comes to end and we usher in 2018, 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 year 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 and $40 million worth of repairs. The damn withstood a 1959 earthquake with an epicenter 17 miles away and a 7.5 magnitude. The updated damn releases colder water from the bottom of the reservoir and can withstand 7.3 magnitude quake with an epicenter within 100 miles. Cold water is a good thing for trout. Withstanding an earthquake, as the damn 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, then had to wait out nearly two-months of runoff, but by early July the river dropped, cleared, and salmon flies popped. Fortunately, with above average flows through the summer, the  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 (GRTF) ran lead on this exciting project to stabilize and restore streambanks near Moose Creek Campground. Work on a boat ramp was completed, allowing less degradation by users at the popular boat-launch. With help of donations from members of the local community, the GRTF planted 3,700 willows to restore eroded banks.

Big fish on the Gallatin. Similar to the Yellowstone, the Gallatin River drainage saw 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 summer-time temperatures helps grow big fish. It also helps to have the river’s long-term interest at heart, and with the help of 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.  A look around Big Sky’s meadow area, a drive on US Highway 191 north of Big Sky and south of Bozeman, and venture in most directions outward from Bozeman, anecdotal evidence supports the facts—our area is being developed at rates only seen in a few other areas throughout the country. In order to preserve open space, access to and quality of our local fisheries, and its affordability of them for our citizens continued hard work must occur. The solutions are often the results 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. Our opportunities to fly fish, because of our great fortune to live where we live, are year-round. But like staying off Santa’s naughty list, keeping those opportunities plentiful and productive requires a little extra effort.

Pat Straub has been guiding for nearly twenty years. He 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.

Patrick “Pat” Straub

Fly Fishing Outfitter, Writer, Dry Fly Snob