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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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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.


  1. I originally posted this photo as Sweathouse Creek. I had a brain cramp, it is the north fork of Bear Creek.

  2. Tim Baer at 5:26pm December 19 (from
    Do you think those poeple had a clue to the disruption of the eco-system they were causing? Or they just didn't care.
    When they sought permission to biuld the bridge from the county were they advised of all the problems they could cause for the habitat?
    I'm not advocating for the land owner, I'm just asking.
    If it were me, I would not have spent the $ on the new road or bridge. I would have found a way to make due with what I had.

  3. Our response to Tim:
    Tim, I don't know what they know or what they are thinking. Merle and I hike (using the county culvert as access) by their property at least a few times a week. One day, when they finally move in - the building process is taking over a year, I hope we can visit. I am interested in their views about their land, etc. They are probably very nice people who look at land ownership a bit differently than Merle and I do.


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