Montana Wildfires: Updates from the Field

Large wildfires have sprung up throughout Montana, creating difficult air-quality conditions in some areas.
Photo by John McColgan, Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Fire Service

As many of you have probably seen on the news or in your Facebook feeds, it has been a terrible fire season in Montana, and it’s not over yet. I reached out to some of our friends in Big Sky Country to get a sense of how the rivers and fishing are doing under tough conditions. As you’ll see, the northwestern corner of the state has been hit hardest, but the effects are wide-ranging. To the East, things on the Bighorn are fire-free for the moment, but they need rain badly.

We hope the fires abate, some precipitation cures the dryness, and everybody stays safe. We will check in with folks in other fire-ravaged states tomorrow. Here are the reports from the field.

John Herzer, Blackfoot River Outfitters (Missoula):

Super smoky in the Missoula Valley, and we are getting hit with a few cancellations, but the bottom line is that the fishing is pretty good. To a trout, smoke is similar to cloud cover. Not only are fish more active with the reduced light hitting the water, but the overall water temps are lowered from the same, as well. It probably wouldn’t be great for someone with respiratory issues to kick around, but we are continuing to lead trips every day: Tricos and psuedos in the mornings, hopper-droppers in the afternoon.

Tim Linehan, Linehan Outfitting Co. (Troy):

We’ve been super lucky here in Kootenai country and have been an island of smokeless conditions…until three days ago. There are two relatively big fires now that literally blew up in the last 72 hours.  One is here in the Yaak (Caribou/Gibralter Ridge) and specifically closer to Eureka, Montana. The other (Quartz Creek) is literally in sight of downtown Libby. Presently it’s very smoky, but we don’t need headlights to drive during the day, so we’re not as bad as other areas. We’re clicking along, and it’s business as usual for LOC at the moment. The smoke and haze have been providing faux cloud cover for a while now so we’re having consistently good fishing.  Water conditions here on the Kootenai are great.  Air conditions not so good.

So far, the Forest Service has not closed the forest, so I’m planning on business as usual regarding our grouse hunting program beginning mid month.  Until further notice, the only restrictions are no campfires, etc., but aside from the areas immediately near the fires, the Kootenai National Forest is still open for hunting, fishing, hiking etc.

This view from Tim Linehan’s porch shows a rainbow forming below smoky skies in the Yaak Valley.
Photo by Tim Linehan, Linehan Outfitting Co.

Eben Schaefer, Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge (Paradise Valley):

We had a small fire in the basin yesterday that closed access to the lodge for the afternoon, but they were able to put it out before it got out of hand. It only burned a few acres about a mile from us.

We have had smoke in the valley, but not too bad. Overall, we have not had any real problems right here. We are vey lucky.

Wade Fellin, Big Hole Lodge (Wise River):

So far, the Big Hole is safe and only occasionally very smokey.  Most of the fires are to the west/south and causing heavy smoke. We wish the best to those currently affected.

John Way, The Tackle Shop (Ennis):

No fire here in the Madison Valley, thank God. The smoke is bad in most days but not nearly as bad as in the Missoula area.

Rebecca Shirley, Eagle Nest Lodge (Hardin):

All good on the Bighorn right now. No rain in site, though, so pray for rain. It is scary dry.

Sheree Baxter, Firehole Ranch (Hebgen Lake/West Yellowstone):

Thanks for checking on us out here in Montana. We have been lucky so far in West Yellowstone, with no fires nearby.  We do have some haze/smoke that travels in from what we are assuming is the Boulder area, and Missoula.  Most days we see it change with the wind, and it hasn’t been unusual to be smoky in the morning and clear in the afternoon.

Darwon Stoneman, Glacier Anglers (West Glacier):
Here around Glacier Park we have been very lucky with very little smoke lots of park visitors so very busy with both raft and great fishing. That all changed about 5 days ago. The winds switched to out of the east so blowing the smoke from the fire in Glacier Park right at us. Plus most of the west side of the park is shut down so West Glacier is a ghost town. Meeting in the park last night. It did not sound favorable for improvement and was a dog and pony show trying to cover up their incompetency. So much time is wasted on not attacking these fires when they are small. The fire in the park had very little attention for the first five day when it could have easily been put out. Now that it has ruined all the September business for every one they want to convince everyone how hard they are working when in reality the way fires are fought is really a lot of wasted dollars.

9 thoughts on “Montana Wildfires: Updates from the Field”

  1. The picture above is over 15 years old it’s not a recent picture.

    Some consider this image, taken by an observant wildland firefighter, to be one of the most beautiful photographs of both a wildfire and wildlife taking refuge. The photo was taken on August 6, 2000 by John McColgan who was a fire behavior expert working under a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and attached to an Alaskan Type I Incident Management Team on a Montana wildfire.

    McColgan says he was at the perfect spot with his Kodak DC280 digital camera (see high-resolution version of the photo) when fire conditions and wildlife activity combined to create his image. The pic was saved as just another image file in the new type of digital camera.

  2. Well it sucks here in the Flathead. Less than a mile of visibility and you can smell the smoke in your clothes and I work inside!

  3. August fishing in Montana’s Madison River Valley was the worst I’ve seen in 28 years of paying close attention.There is more to the decline than wild fire smoke.

  4. A report on Rock Creek would have been nice. I think the Hogback and Morgan/Case cabins may have been threatened by fire at one point this summer.

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