Love reading reports like this. We had a great water year and there was much discussion of how it would hurt revenue for fly shops in the west. I know in Utah not only did we avoid huge floods but we are also recovering from the slow start for spring and summer time fishing. The really high waters kept a lot of people and guides off the water but the water is down and fishing is unreal right now.
Heavy winter snowpack and late-season storms conspired to push Montana’s spring runoff into mid-July this year, obscuring the state’s blue-ribbon trout streams and keeping eager anglers at bay.
But in recent weeks, with summer under way and water levels at a more even keel, temperatures have warmed, water clarity has improved and the fish are restless.
So, too, are the anglers who sat idly waiting for the flows to settle, and Montana’s lucrative fly-fishing industry is back on the rise.
“I’d say everything was a month behind,” Jim Cox, co-owner of Missoula’s Kingfisher Fly Shop, said. “Even the hatches were delayed. It was just cold and nasty. But now things are definitely happening.”
In June and the first half of July, some fly shops and outfitters reported a 50 percent decline in business, while fishing trip cancellations ran as high as 80 percent in parts of the state.
Cox went so far as to cancel every guided trip he’d scheduled for the month of June, calling his clients at the end of May to inform them that it wasn’t worth the trip.
“We basically thought June was a throwaway month,” Cox said.
Other guides and outfitters looked for more productive alternatives on stocked ponds and smaller waters.
Ryan Thompson, lead guide at Glacier Anglers in West Glacier, saw some success sending novice anglers on trips to a private ranch in the Sweet Grass Hills, but it was no substitute for a trip down one of Montana’s premier trout streams, like the Middle Fork and North Fork of the Flathead River.
“This June we were experiencing river levels that we usually see in May, so the season was definitely pushed back,” Thompson said. “The water clarity was cloudy if not full-blown chocolate milk, so we turned away a lot of business.”
Outfitters like Thompson and Cox say their hope now is that the extra water will mean an extended fishing season into September that may help recoup losses. Water flows for many major rivers are still at twice their normal flows, which is a good sign this late in July.
“In the last week to 10 days the levels have dropped and I think that the fish were as anxious as we were because the fishing has just been gangbusters,” Thompson said. “It bodes well that as our whitewater season has extended further into summer, our fishing season will be extended further into fall.”
Thompson estimated that, between June and July, Glacier Anglers lost about 50 percent of its usual business on the Middle Fork and North Fork of the Flathead River before conditions started to improve and business began to rebound.
“Now word is out that the fishing is here, and we are really hoping to recover a large amount of that in late July and August,” he said.
“We are anticipating smooth sailing right into the frosty nights of September,” echoed Cox.
In Montana, outfitting is a big business, and at this time of year fly-fishing is its bread-and-butter.
According to the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, 33 percent of anglers came to Montana in 2006 specifically for an outfitted trip, while 43 percent reported it was just one reason for their visit to the treasure state.
The 2006 study on Montana’s outfitting industry, which offers the most recent data available, reported that out-of-state visitors spent $34.2 million on outfitted fishing trips alone, a figure that doesn’t include revenue generated by hoteliers, licensing agencies and gear sales.
“We are definitely trying to keep our eyes on this as much as possible to see how things rebound,” Christine Oschell, assistant director of UM’s ITRR, said.
The period of dormancy between June and July has caused Montana’s tourism to lag in other areas as well, including visitation to both Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, she said.
“Visitation is down in Glacier and Yellowstone this summer,” Oschell said. “It’s still good, but it’s not on pace with last year.”
With summer finally showing up, however, Oschell said the crowds have arrived in earnest; only time will tell whether the late summer months will prove redeeming.
“I have gotten reports of major crowding up in the Glacier Park area because of the late start to the summer season,” she said. “Right now everyone is kind of squishing into August.”
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at email@example.com.
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