Podcast: Are Montana’s Trout in Trouble? with Pat Byorth

[Interview starts at 52:56]

This week, we continue our exploration of Trout in Trouble, specifically in Montana. Pat Byorth–a fisheries biologist, Director of Montana Water for TU, and Montana Fish Commissioner–and I discuss the current decline of brown trout in southwestern Montana, what you should do if you fish there during this hot, low-water year, and what the future may hold. He’ll give some good advice on being a responsible angler during this tough period.

In the Fly Box this week, we have some great questions, comments,  and tips, including:

  • What can I do to find trout in pools in big rivers?
  • Why would a trout refuse my size 14 mayfly and then take a stonefly nymph?
  • Why is my back cast dropping?
  • A tip for making copper tungsten beads into matte gray beads with a lighter.
  • How do I teach kids how to cast a nymph rig?
  • Why do my Elk Hair Caddis flies only float briefly?
  • What is the best way to renew a dry fly tied with snowshoe-rabbit fur?
  • Some tips for a listener who has trouble mending line
  • How often should I fish with a guide and how often should I fish alone if I want to learn more?
  • Where is there no zonked gray squirrel available?
  • How do I repair streamers where the coneheads, beads, or dumbbell eyes twist after a few uses?
  • Why did I use five bluefish in a row?
  • Can you fish tandem streamers?
  • A listener corrects my physics knowledge
  • How can I fish nymphs on a day so windy it blows my indicator downstream?
  • A tip from a listener on using Euro nymphing techniques with an indicator.
  • Is there a standard for hook wire gauge so I can determine when a clinch knot won’t work?

4 thoughts on “Podcast: Are Montana’s Trout in Trouble? with Pat Byorth”

  1. Very interesting.

    What is the percentage drop?

    The discussion centered around the big rivers. Perhaps it was implied that all streams in SW MT are suffering, but I do wonder how some of the tribs are faring.

    If pressure is an issue then the less fished waters should be stable.

    1. From the Billings Gazette:

      In the Big Hole’s most popular section, from Melrose to Brownes Bridge, brown trout numbers are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years of surveys. . . . In the last six years, the Ruby River has dropped from 1,500 brown trout per mile to historic lows of 600-700 in the upper tail waters. The Beaverhead River has dropped from 2,000 to 1,000. . . . In the upper Clark Fork’s most historically fishy section near the confluence with Warm Springs Creek, the population of trout over 10 inches has steadily declined since 2013, from 1,800 fish to an all-time low of 82 in 2019. . . . In the Jefferson River’s lower survey section, brown trout numbers aren’t low overall, but the number of younger, 2-year-old fish is the lowest it’s been in 15 years, at less than 50 fish per mile.

      1. Thanks Phil.

        I also see that in other parts of the state browns are expanding into native cutthroat and bull trout areas. The Bitterroot system was given as an example.

  2. A peeve about the Fly Box portion: In this episode, not for the first time, Tom qualified his book recommendations with remarks about some works not being for sale at manageable prices.

    Listeners might think about what their libraries have to offer.

    Here are some tips for reading the bibliographical water.

    Local public libraries in the US are largely funded by their local taxes: your library may already have paid for books (or videos) you want. Chances are, the library catalog is not only online, but it offers menu options to focus your searches by author, title, or subject. (“Fly fishing” — two words, best typed in quotation marks — is an official, Library of Congress subject heading that would be attached to books about fly fishing, no matter whether the authors spelled it “flyfishing” or “pêche à la mouche.” Other important subject headings are “fly tying” and “fly casting.”)

    Even if you don’t locate the exact book, the catalog record will link you to related books with nearby call numbers (the physical address of the book on the shelf) and with subject headings headings, among others.

    Individual libraries may be part of larger systems or consortia that share a common catalog and lending policies.

    The ultimate shared catalog is at WorldCat.org, with billions of book records from tens of thousands of libraries worldwide. Worldcat.org is freely available to anyone. When you run a search, you can even sort your results by distance from a ZIP code, to locate libraries with that book near you (or your destination).

    Budgets permitting, librarians want their collections to reflect the interests of their borrowers. So if you think your library should buy a particular book or video, suggest it. If the library can’t buy it, an interlibrary loan service may be available to borrow the book for you from another library.

    The more that people borrow a library’s flyfishing books, the stronger the incentive for the library to buy more flyfishing books. Of course, if few people borrow flyfishing books, or the check-out rate drops steadily, it signals to the library to spend its funds on some other topic.

    In their choices at the margin, libraries will be more attentive to books about topics relevant to their service areas than they will to books from further afield.

    Your local community may not have much interest in fly fishing books, but a library in a fly fishing hot spot might. Look into the library at your angling destination early in a visit or when the weather is bad. (Eg, the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, serving two million locals in a town with other interests, lists 58 books and videos under the “fly fishing” subject heading. On the other hand, the Four County Library system in the Southern Tier of New York serves a tenth of the population of Vegas but lists 197 titles — because the residents live in Upper Delaware basin and the headwaters of the Susquehanna.)

    Many public libraries strive to keep their collections fresh and discard books and videos that haven’t circulated recently. Sso keep you eyes open when the library has a book sale as a fundraiser.

    Academic libraries operate much the same way. Private universities have more leeway about whom they let use the collection, but public universities (at least in the US) have some obligation to provide access to the public who walk in the door. This access might just be onsite reading, or it might include check-out privileges.

    Academic libraries have strong motivations and resources to preserve the historical depth of their collections, so _if_ they start acquiring fly fishing or tying books, they may be a better source for classic fly fishing books. Rare or fragile books might not circulate

    Fly fishing might even become an area of collection interest or emphasis. One example of a very intentional fly fishing collection, Cornell, lists ~13,500 books under the subject heading, “fly fishing,” (though this total include thousands of digitized books in “Hathi Trust,” which incorporates books scanned in many research libraries by Google and Internet Archive.)

    If you live or fish near a university, think about the university’s mission to get an idea if its library might have vly fishing books and videos. Teaching and research in a land-grant university will cause its library to acquire agricultural and ecological works. If the university has a program in fisheries and wildlife conservation, there’s even more reason to acquire and keep the hard-core technical literature. Programs in outdoor education, as in 4H and other extension services, means the library will collect popular works in angling.

    Fisheries professors and fisheries students may well be recreational anglers. Their avocational interests — and book donations — can be reflected in the collections of academic or local public libraries.

    Strength in a collection attracts donations to strengthen the collection further, even if there are no geograpical or biographical connections. This applies both to the circulating book collection but also to the noncirculating books and other papers in the university archives (sometimes lumped under “special collections”).

    Montana State University is a pre-eminent example for fly fishing archives. Records of fly fishing companies (I won’t name any here) and nonprofits, from fly clubs up to nationals like FFF, are conspicuously missing from archives, whether they collect in the history of angling like MSU or the history of business like the Hagley Library in Delaware. If you have influence in organizations, please encourage them to think hard about the professional curation of the records at least as seriously as they do planning for succession of leadership and continuity of business.

    I’ll spare you tales of the impact on collections of librarians who are also fly anglers.

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