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Jack C. Mauer has more than a thirty year investment in fishing, floating and wading the waters of western Montana. He is intimately acquainted with the surrounding fisheries and their corresponding ecologies. It is his passion and enthusiasm for the art of fly fishing, a respect and knowledge of trout habitat, and the ability to expertly instruct the technical aspects of fly fishing that clients appreciate as they return to western Montana and Wapiti Waters. Contact Jack at 800-254-5311.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bitterroot Snowpack and Avalanche Advisory Site

I revisited a great site today. We have had new snow, now it is warming up. I wondered what information I could find about our Bitterroot snowpack. As I have said before, for fly fishing, snowpack is a huge indicator of what to expect in our upcoming season. We also want to recreate and be safe. See below and click on the hotlinks for more information.

Happy Holidays! This is Steve Karkanen at the West Central Montana Avalanche Center with the avalanche advisory for December 29th, 2008.

Please read the above link if you plan on skiing in western Montana. Danger is HIGH.

Remember the adage, be careful what you ask for? Well, we're getting what we've been asking for. The problem is that it's coming in a way that our current basal snowpack layers cannot support....

....The good news is that the new snow has been coming in gradually with a slow warm up. The weak layer near the rain crust is gaining strength over time and is adjusting quite well to each storm that slowly adds weight to it. The bad news is the cold temperatures we've experienced the past 2 weeks has allowed the weak granular sugary snow around the crust to persist so when we receive a storm that drops a lot of weight (several inches of snow or any amount of rain) it won't be able to adjust fast enough to be safe. The really bad news is that the forecast is calling for a warm up with significant snowfall and wind perhaps even rain at some mountain locations this weekend.

To learn more, visit for classes and films showing in the Missoula area. BE SAFE!!!

Jack and I have been cross country skiing almost every day. Here is a slideshow from yesterday.

If you are going out for a back country ski, tell people where you are going and when you expect to be back. Visit this link for Weather Forecast and Avalanche Outlook in the Missoula and Bitterroot area.

Friday, December 26, 2008

FOREVER BLUEGRASS (Pinegrass) by Joe Nickell for the Missoulian

Pinegrass, a Bluegrass Band - by Joe Nickell for the Missoulian
Forever Bluegrass By JOE NICKELL - Like the seasons that govern the growth of all good things in nature, bluegrass music is forever dying away and resprouting anew. In the 1950s, the energetic sounds of Appalachia were spreading far and wide in American culture, until rock ’n’ roll appeared and diverted everyone’s the rest of his story.

The story of Pinegrass actually dates back to the late ’70s, when bluegrass bands such as Poor Monroe, the Great Northern Bluegrass Band (of which Ryan was a member), and Finley Creek frequented stages around western Montana. Over time, the members of those groups became the core of an increasingly tight-knit community of pickers and fans, who began gathering every Wednesday at a local instrument store called String Instrument Division or at the house of one of the musicians to play together in impromptu picking circles.
“Anybody could show up, and everybody got to play,” recalls Ryan fondly.

Like clockwork Pinegrass performs every Tuesday night at the Top Hat Lounge - click for map, located at 134 W. Front St. in Missoula. Through the end of this month, the band begins its performances at 10:30 p.m.; beginning on the first Tuesday of January, the band will begin its performances at 9 p.m. Admission is free.

Top Hat phone - (406) 728-9865

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My kind of Christmas Tree

Now this is a Christmas Tree!

Merry Christmas to all!

May everyone be as happy as Bela when she is rolling in new fallen snow.

Happy, Happy Bela Dog
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Trout and Ice

Click the photo for a larger view in a new window.
Ice on Sweathouse Creek just above a culvert
This is my attempt to provide a little more information about trout behavior (Part I); and ice development and anchor ice (Part II). In my research, I found only few studies, and I am pleased to reference for Part I a study that was done here in the Bitterroot.

I ran this article by Chris Clancy, our local Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist and one of the authors of the Bitterroot study. His input:
I think the take home message is that some sort of overhead cover and a variety of habitats are helpful to trout in the winter. Streams that are simplified by overgrazing or channelization lose the diversity of habitats. Deep pools are particularly important. I expect the winter movement is not really something they want to do but more likely they have to as the location they are in has changed or somehow become inadequate for their needs, so they find another. Generally in a healthy stream, the mortality during winter is much higher than summer.

Part I - Trout

Trout obviously prefer to expend as little energy as possible in the winter. In the study referenced in this section, bull trout and cutthroat trout made extensive downstream overwintering movements with declining temperature in the fall, yet for the remainder of the study (until late February), most fish remained stationary. Some fish made additional downstream movements in winter during a low-temperature period marked by anchor ice formation. Winter movement was more extensive in the mid elevation stream where frequent freezing and thawing led to variable surface ice cover and frequent supercooling. Habitat use of both species varied with availability; beaver ponds and pools with large woody debris were preferred in one stream, and pools with boulders were preferred in the other. Trout overwintered in beaver ponds in large, mixed aggregations. Both species decreased use of submerged cover following the formation of surface ice.

Their results indicate that (1) continued activity by trout during winter is common in streams with dynamic ice conditions and (2) complex mixes of habitat are needed to provide suitable fall and winter habitat for these species.

My note: It is my understanding the "complex mixes of habitat" produce more static ice conditions and are most often streams with natural vegetation and "undisturbed" i.e. not altered by man (mostly construction) or overgrazing. Open streams, where there is little or no cover and vegetation, produce more dynamic ice conditions. Other studies suggest that even though trout may be in streams with dynamic ice conditions, their preference is for more static or stable conditions - where thermal cover might help keep the surface ice from freezing and thawing.

References for Part I
THE ROLE OF STREAM ICE ON FALL AND WINTER MOVEMENTS AND HABITAT USE BY BULL TROUT AND CUTTHROAT TROUT IN MONTANA HEADWATER STREAMS, Jacober, M. J., McMahon, T. E., Thurow, R. F., Clancy, C. G., Abstract, Page 1 Click here for their paper published by the American Fisheries Society 1998

Part II - Ice

Traditionally, habitat variables have been related to stream flow distribution, structure, cover, temperature, and water quality. Winter and ice formation will influence these variables.

As winter approaches and temperatures lower, the water cools. As it reaches the freezing point, border ice begins to form along the river margins and around obstacles and skim or surface ice forms in low flow velocity areas.

In low gradient areas static ice formation occurs and surface ice is established. Due to increased resistance by the ice, water depth increases and velocities are reduced. In low gradient rivers and river reaches static ice formation occurs enabling stable conditions. Surface ice decreases the amount of light and creates cover against predation and severe hydraulic conditions allowing fish in these areas to preserve energy more efficiently.

Ice production in small, steep rivers is dominated by dynamic ice formation with potential melting and freezing throughout the entire winter. In high gradient sections, such as rapids and riffles, dynamic ice formation dominates. Dynamic ice formation starts when water temperature drops below zero degrees. Here, the water temperature becomes super cooled and tiny ice crystals form, known as frazil ice, or floating ice plates (ice that forms as small plates drifting in rapidly flowing water where it is too turbulent for pack ice to form). In locations with sufficient turbulence, frazil ice is transported towards the riverbed where it adheres and forms anchor ice. Normally, anchor ice formation develops during night and pauses during day.

Anchor ice formation can be extensive and may cover large areas. It may be distinguished between two types according to its formation process: Type I: less dense and forming on top of the substrata and Type II: Dense and forming between the substrata, filling all the small openings and spaces. During the events of anchor ice formation, flow conditions may be substantially altered. Type II anchor ice will potentially exclude important fish habitat. Fish may experience entrapment or be forced to relocate into other suitable areas, preferably surface ice covered stream margins.

In small, steep rivers, extensive growth of anchor ice may occur and lead to the formation of anchor ice dams. These anchor ice dams are normally developed in transition zones between riffle and pool sections and in locations with emergent, large boulders, and can slow further surface ice growth. High mortality of trout has been observed during the formation and breakup of anchor ice dams due to stranding, ice collapse, and physical abrasion from suspended ice particles.

References for Part II
ANCHOR ICE FORMATION AND HABITAT CHOICE OF ATLANTIC SALMON (SALMO SALAR L.)PARR IN STEEP STREAMS, Stickler, M. (M.Sc.), submitted to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology - Click here for the online paper
ICE IN THE ENVIRONMENT, Stickler, M., click here for the online paper

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Little Snow a Few Days Ago - and Snowing Today

Hackett's Barn
Not only do we love a good snow pack in the mountains for next year's fishing, we enjoy recreating in it. These photos are from a hike on December 20. We are offSpruce Cones for our first cross country ski this afternoon. It has been snowing for 24 hours and now that our office work is done for the day, we are heading out for that much anticipated ski!

Skiing was great! Temp was about 12 degrees C. and no wind. See the slideshow below.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How to Shit in the Woods by Kathleen Meyer

How to Shit in the Woods graphic

How to Shit in the Woods:
An Environmentally Sound
Approach to a Lost Art

“This is the most important environ-
mental book of the decade [1989].”
—W. David Laird, Books of the Southwest

“Kathleen Meyer has contributed to environmental awareness while lending a grand old English word the respectability that it hasn't had since Chaucer's day.”
—Frank Graham, Jr., Audubon magazine

“Hey, this is the real shit.”
—Galen Rowell, outdoor photographer and writer

“It's something we all feel qualified to do, yet never talk about . . . For once, we get good tips on how to keep campsites clean while maintaining modesty and comfort.”
—Outside magazine

Visit for more about the author and her books.

Kathleen Meyer and Patrick McCarron live in Victor, Montana. Kathleen is an author and has an editing business. Visit her site to find out more. If you need an editor, you will want to consider Kathleen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Calf-A at Dell, Montana

Dec 2008 Ted Lowe at the Dell Calf-A
On I-15 between Salt Lake City, Utah and Butte, Montana there is a small town. Take the Lima exit and go to Dell, Montana. You will see a unique cafe, the Calf-A, in an old, brick schoolhouse with the menu on the blackboard. I hear from the locals that the population of Dell "depends on the time of day."

Michael McCoy talks about the Calf-A in his travel guide, Montana - Off the Beaten Path - A Guide to Unique Places. He says,"The old building it is housed in was a school from 1903 until 1963, with an average enrollment of twenty kids, and then opened as a restaurant in 1978. Its walls, shelves, and bare pine floor are blanketed with memorabilia, fur-bearing trout, piles of old Life magazines, vintage rifles, an old piano with yellowed sheet music, rocks and fossils, a bedpan banjo, well-worn school desks, pull-down maps, spurs, kerosene lanterns, a ceramic water cooler, and a whole lot more."
The photo is of Ted Lowe in front of the Calf-A. Jack and Ted were in the area for five days in mid-December hunting elk during the extended season. The wind was howling and the temperature hovered at 27 degrees below zero. They hunted, but had no success. The conditions were brutal for humans. The saw lots of elk, but just couldn't get to them without freezing, sometimes they couldn't even get the old Dodge started! When they did, they came home.
The Calf-A is also called Yesterday's Cafe or Yesterday's Calf-A. Click here
for the Travel Montana website and more information.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deep Freeze in the Bitterroot

Sweathouse Creek in December

Bear Creek is on the west side of the Bitteroot Valley near Victor. This week temperatures were about zero during the day and minus 16 during the night. We have plenty of water from the previous rains and now it is turning to ice. It is beautiful, but where are all the fish to go?
another view of Sweathouse Creek in December

Click here to read a paper titled Role of Stream Ice on Fall and Winter Movements and Habitat Use by Bull Trout and Cutthroat Trout in Montana Headwater Streams.

An excerpt from the Conclusion: Complex mixes of habitat are needed to maintain suitable fall and winter habitat for stream resident bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout populations. Beaver ponds, deep pools, and submerged cover of large woody debris (LWD), boulders, and undercut banks are important components of this mix. Bull trout appear particularly susceptible to loss of habitat complexity. In the Bitterroot River drainage, bull trout are rare in watersheds with a high degree of disturbance (Clancy 1993) and without LWD or pools (Rich 1996). Shallow, wide streams not only lack suitable winter cover, but also promote subsurface ice formation (Chisholm et al. 1987; Brown et al. 1994). In degraded areas, activities that moderate fluctuations in winter stream temperature (i.e., riparian vegetation restoration) and that create deep water habitats (i.e., beaver reintroduction) may help alleviate poor winter habitat conditions.
It is a scientific paper, a dry read, but if you are interested in trout habitat, you will find it very informative, yet there is still much to learn about ice and trout survival.

debris taken from Sweathouse Creek

After I created this post, I remembered a photo I had taken on Sweathouse Creek in November. This is from the property that butts against Forest Service near the trailhead for Sweathouse Creek.

There is a county bridge (actually culverts topped with road gravel) across Sweathouse right here. These people just bought the chunk of land that is on both sides of the creek. They can access all of their land by the county bridge, but they wanted their own bridge. They got permission to build it. In the process, they are reaming out an area of the creek where they will are building a winding road and footings and a bridge.

You are seeing some of the woody debris and plant material that they have removed. I find it horrific that they did this. After reading the paper above, I am more disturbed about it. Just my opinion.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jeffrey's monsters

Jeff Rogers
Jeff Rogers lives in Victor, Montana and fishes with us regularly.

Note from Billy:

Hey Merle!
I told my great buddy Jeff Rogers I would send these to you. They are shots of him at a secret spot in Canada this past Sept. fishing for steelhead with his dad. Looks like I have probably been "bested" by him, for life, in the flyrod category. Please tell Jack "hi" and Merry Christmas to you and yours! ………Billy Burk

Jeff Rogers at his secret fishing place

Billy, thanks for sending these photos in.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Early December 2008 in Montana

To see all my "Elk Blogs" click on the "elk" hotlink in the "Labels" area at the footer of this blog entry or on the Label section on the right sidebar.
Trout from the Bitterroot river this fall It is December in Montana. Deer and elk hunting season is closed except for a few districts that have been extended, the closest for us being south near Dillon, MT. Click here for a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks link.

The strange thing is how warm it has been. We have had moisture, but in the form of rain except for some snow at high elevations.

Instead of cross country skiing, Jack and I are still hiking for fitness and recreation. I am uploading a few photos/slideshows of game we are seeing on our hikes.

We see elk mostly on the way to our hike. They have lost security in the mountains (new roads, new construction, much hunting pressure) and oddly seek security in the open, private pastures and ranches. Good for viewing, not so good for hunting. I imagine they eat a lot of grass and hay the ranchers probably need... There are about 9 spike bulls in this group. This means they have no brow tines and are young, not mature bulls.

Mature bulls stay away from cows and calves most of the year. During calving season, the cows are scattered widely in small groups. I see them on my hikes in the mountain drainages above these ranches. That is when thermal cover and security from the forest (not the open fields) is important to these elk. Once the spotted calves are able to walk, the females will then assemble into larger groups. It is common to see 30, even close to 100 elk in herds near here from July until calving season. Elk are shy and very suspicious of human beings unless accustomed to them since birth as in the case of this herd. They are still suspicous and wiley, but know they are relatively safe near ranches.

Click here for a great Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation article.

For larger views, click on "View Album."
Click here for information about Downey Woodpeckers.

Celebrate Christmas by supporting Trout Unlimited and Montana

Here is a great idea for Christmas!
Bitterroot River at Lost Horse Bend by Monte Dolack
World renown artist, Monte Dolack, painted this as a limited edition for the Bitter Root Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Hamilton, Montana.
  • Prints #2-5 $500

  • Prints #43-225 $175

  • 100% of the proceeds for Prints 1-225 and the Publisher Proofs go directlyto BRTU Education and Habitat Projects.

    View Print and learn about the artist at Monte Dolack's website

    You can purchase a print at Monte's site or by contacting BRTU President, Geoff Fitzgerald at More BRTU contact information is available on the BRTU blog.

More questions? Contact us at or 800-254-5311.
This is a great cause and a great connection to the Bitterroot and Montana. BRTU does amazing work with youngsters and landowners in education and rehab of our rivers and streams.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Billy Burk from Pueblo West, CO

Billy Burk with his Cutbow Billy Burk comes up to fish with his friend and our neighbor, Jeff Rogers. We hope he comes back soon. He is a ton of fun, always a happy face. Here is a note from Billy about this photo.

Hey Merle and jack! Just a note to wish you well. Hope you are happy and content this holiday season. Sorry I didn't make it up there this year, next year I will make a concerted effort to show up and fish circles around Jeff!
Attached is a photo of a nice Cutbow I landed Saturday on the Arkansas River, close to my home. Tight lines!..

Billy just sent me another one! I love it that it includes his son, Ryan!
Billy, son Ryan, Visla dogs Shy and Yoshi
note from Billy: Hey Merle, I will include one more photo with this e-mail, then I had better leave room for someone else! This is a pic. of my son Ryan, and I, at the end of a successful pheasant and quail hunt in Kansas. Our Vizsla's, Shy and Yoshi, love it as much as we do! Those deep sea fishing photos were from my trip with the Rogers' to Mexico in August. Thanks for a great website and blogger!!!! .Billy

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cresent Moon, Jupiter and Venus align tonight - a Montana view

graphic of Moon, Jupiter and Venus

Monday Night: Planets Align in a Frown
By Clara Moskowitz

The graphic is from the above web article. It is an excellent article, short and easy to read. Click on the title/link and it will open in a new window.

I am also adding a slide show of my photos in a few different exposures. Yes, we saw it in the southwest sky about 6:00 pm and it was not visible by 7:30 pm - the planets set down behind our Bitterroot Range.

To best view the slide show, click "view album", then "slideshow." You might need to pause the picture to be sure it loads all the way.

Dr. J. Paul Ferguson in New Zealand

Well, Dr. Paul. Finally, here is a post about you! You were nice enough to send us an amazing photo from your trip to New Zealand a few years ago. Now, I am compelled to share that photo. Click on the photo for a larger view. Paul Ferguson in New Zealand Why don't we have photos of you in Montana? Well, we will have to talk about that.