Triano and Platt are studying 17 sites along the Big Hole River and its tributaries. I wish it were because anglers were appreciating just for what they are but sadly it is because they are in serious decline. We got into one pod and got three before I pulled out. Nothing, and on seeing the depth I decided to crimp on some split shot too which seemed a good idea although my 3wt didn’t necessarily agree. The Arctic Grayling is a species native to northern North America. From the rise forms they seemed to be all grayling. Big Hole River 1630 cfs—Maidenrock. Since becoming extinct in Michigan in the 1930s, the Arctic grayling can only be found in the Big Hole River in the lower 48 states. I think we did some good there,” he added. And the Hitching Post was a great little hole, the Mules and food brought us back several nights in a row. It’s a share-the-pain type of program.”. From Salmon flies, golden stones, skwallas, Drakes, pmd's, sallies, and an incredible mother's day caddis hatch, you can see multiple hatches coming off at once. I wrote this a while back now but thought it was time for it to see the light of day. “The geneticists are certain – if (the ranchers) had not done this, we would have not seen that increase,” he added. I saw the colour of the fish as it tried its best to throw the fly and assumed it was another whitefish. Having done some research it looked like the Upper Big Hole was going to be the best place to find them and having flown in to Missoula we made the 3 hour drive to Wisdom to try our luck. I can’t stand to leave rising fish so scrambled down the bank to try and get a cast at them. The remaining confirmed, viable population resides in the Big Hole River, upstream from Divide, Montana. The Big Hole is one of the few un-dammed rivers in the country and one of the few with wild trout.When you fish the Big Hole River, you never known what you might catch. A vestigial population of wild and native fluvial Arctic Grayling hangs on in the upper Big Hole and Red Rock River (an even more remote place). in 1988, no water at all was left in the riverbed. So instead of trying to cut back and leave water in the stream, everybody was taking a lot of it,” Erb said. Fearing the extinction of the fish, the Center and others sued for protection in 2003. The fluvial (river-dwelling) Arctic grayling population which was widespread in the Missouri River basin above Great Falls, Montana has declined significantly in range and abundance. Big Hole River 354 cfs–Maidenrock. We hope to see around 20 opportunities per rod/per day. HAIL TO THE CHIEF No one was more central to Big Hole River conservation and fly-fishing than George Grant. “I think the CCAA is a great story of collaboration. Biologists and hydrologists monitor the river, and when streamflows drop too low, landowners are asked to divert water back into the river. “There’s been a few years it’s been costly, like this year, but the rest of the time it hasn’t worked out so bad,” he said. Biologists estimate that the two surviving native populations represent less than 4% of their original native range. As we walked upstream I ran over a bit of the homework I’d done on Montana grayling and what the locals thought was the best spots to catch them and remembered that I’d read they are often found where a feeder stream comes in to the main river. " The largest landowner – and one of the founding ranchers in the CCAA – Cal Erb said it was the threat of lengthy legal battles with conservationists and federal restrictions for land use that prompted him to join. The fly fishing on this stretch of the Big Hole River is primarily for brook trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and the native grayling (all grayling must be released). The Upper Big Hole River is home to the native Arctic grayling. There are 32 landowners enrolled in the CCAA, covering about 156,000 acres of land along the river, CCAA Administrator and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Riparian Ecologist Jarrett Payne said. And though some dry years made it difficult to abide by the restrictions, Erb said the effort has been beneficial overall. And I think we’ve shown for the last so many years, if you just get together and talk things out, and be reasonable, you can really accomplish a lot.”, P.O. A little jet lagged we just kept fishing and although I was in the right place I sort of pushed grayling out of my mind and got down to enjoying the Upper Big Hole and was just happy to be there. Fish and Wildlife Services Fish and Wildlife Biologist Jim Magee said. I’d busied myself trying to work out a mini hatch and stubbornly changed flies until I managed to rise and then miss a fish but left the pool with at least some sort of moral victory. Another huge recent influence on the decline of Big Hole River grayling: the chronic dewatering of the upper Big Hole River by ranchers. The Big Hole slam possible here; including native grayling 9-13”, brooks 9-14”, rainbows 12"-18", browns 16"-20"+ and an elusive westslope cutthroat. The grayling subsequently experienced severe declines in response to near drying of the Big Hole River on an annual basis caused by increased irrigation use and drought. Casey S. Elliott photo. In contrast, Arctic grayling at high densities in the control and a sympatric treatment exhibited slow or negative growth. The Big Hole boasts some of the best trout fishing in Montana, with the distinction of being one of last untouched rivers to be home to the native arctic grayling. The Big Hole is home to the “Native Three”: cutthroat, grayling, and whitefish. The smell on my fingers was the same, and the fight the same but the fish had a few less spots than our grayling have and that was about all I could see in the short time I admired them. It didn’t make sense to cast into the flow coming from the feeder stream as it was so shallow but the pool on the bend was deep and inviting and although I was happy to fish the dry until now I couldn’t resist throwing a heavy bug in just to see who was home. Just a quick update on the Grayling. In sympatry, Arctic grayling grew faster at a low density with a high density of brook trout. A nice Big Hole arctic grayling. I am happy to throw a rod in the truck and go after something a bit different at the drop of a hat and on planning a trip to Montana recently I got this idea that I would really like to try and catch a river grayling. “We do give up a little bit – we don’t get to irrigate quite as often, especially when the river is low. Back by the bridge where we parked there was a rise going on. The Big Hole River is home to the only known river-dwelling grayling population, U.S. Ninety percent of the land along that river is privatelyowned, creating a unique challenge for protecting the species. The arctic grayling – whose drastic population decline spurred a number of Big Hole River-area conservation initiatives – has bounced back, proving conservation efforts are working. As I advance in years the fishing part is as strong as ever but the numbers thing is something that doesn’t really motivate me in any real way. Wisdom is a great town, town is probably the wrong word as there are a few shops, restaurant and a petrol station but the people were friendly, the rooms good and the coffee excellent. They are all helping, too.”. At home I catch a lot of my winter grayling by inducing them by gently raising the rod as the fly drifts down. Grayling savior - science or politics? “But when you have that many people enrolled, it’s like a shared sacrifice. We couldn’t work out if it were the fish I’d caught earlier or not but it was a similar size so I can’t say for sure. I tried it the third drift and felt a gentle take as I did so. We fished up until our bodies gave up and walking back I had to have another go in that same pool and using the same technique hooked another. BHWC Executive Director Pedro Marques explains some of the many projects the committee helps with to restore the species. “From what I gather from talking to the people who are counting fish, it’s been very successful.”. They formed the Big Hole Watershed Committee with area ranchers in 1995; that committee works with a variety of groups to ensure drought management plans and restoration protects everyone’s interests in keeping the Big Hole flowing. That potential endangered species listing also prompted the creation of the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for the Big Hole River. The program has been so successful that officials are now in the beginning stages of setting up a CCAA in the Centennial Valley. The Big Hole is the last habitat in the contiguous United States for native fluvial ( Equally as diverse as the water on the Big Hole is the varied opportunity for anglers. I guess I could now write all sorts of poetic stuff about the fish and the fight but all I know is that I played it really carefully, got it in, got a photo and put it back. The arctic grayling existed mostly in Michigan and Montana decades ago. Fishermen speak and are heard in Montana and there has been an attempt to list grayling as an endangered species that looked like it might just happen last year but lack of money means plans for this are on the back burner for the time being and hearing news like this meant I knew I had to try and see one before it was too late. We even caught a few of them with plenty of whitefish and a few rainbows too. I apologise in advance if some of the facts have changed a little, or a lot, since I wrote it but hope you enjoy it anyway. Just north of Wisdom, the North Fork Big Hole River joins up, adding significant flows and width to the Big Hole. Home to the last naturally occurring fluvial Arctic Grayling in the lower 48 states, the river irrigates meadow for ranchers and provides amazing angling opportunities. Flows in this area have dropped below the 20 … Grayling in Montana were the subject of a status review by the USFWS in 1994 (59 FR 37738), which identified grayling indigenous to the Big Hole and Madison Rivers as elements of a fluvial Distinct Population Segment (DPS) in the upper Missouri River. Surrounded by peaks that reach above 10,000 feet, the river flows from Skinner Lake at an elevation of 7,340. I know how precious these fish were and I was keen to make sure it got back as quickly as possible. The Big Hole River is home to the only known river-dwelling grayling population, U.S. Ninety percent of the land along that river is privatelyowned, creating a unique challenge for protecting the species. Fall population surveys in the upper Big Hole River and tributaries provide an index of fluvial Arctic grayling … The U.S. This classic freestone river is also the last strong hold for the arctic fluvial grayling in the 48. Ther upper Big Hole holds the last remaining fluvial (river-dwel-ling) grayling popu-lation in the lower 48 states. Grayling live in mostly high-altitude lakes and rivers in the state. Legal status and recent conservation activities » The Big Hole was fantastic but I never got to the grayling you found. The good outcome is partly why (the grayling) didn’t get listed. But it’s not that onerous. People just diverted whatever their water rights were. I have to hold my hands up and say I am probably one of the least competitive people around and it is the weirder more esoteric stuff that floats my boat more than anything else these days than sheer numbers. “Dewatering the river doesn’t make your property any more valuable,” he added. Frick’s operations lease roughly 3,000 acres along the river. Locals are worried because if the estimated total population numbers of 1,000 are to be believed then they are in serious trouble. One of the most genetically pure examples of Arctic Grayling (Thymallus articus) have been living in the Big Hole river since the ice age. The only populations native to the lower 48 states were in Michigan and Montana, and the Michigan population is now extinct. On one trip it was way up river where they are supposed to be. The grayling population has increased about 172 percent compared to the early 2000s, Payne said. The Big Hole River is a free-flowing, undammed river that flows for 153 miles before joining the Beaverhead and Ruby to form the Jefferson River in Twin Bridges, Montana. A decades-long partnership between area ranchers, state and federal agencies boosted the population of a native Big Hole River fish, enough to keep it from being listed as an endangered species this year. “I think it’s honestly worked pretty well, because there is a pretty high percentage of ranchers in the upper Big Hole doing it. Landowners that sign on and agree to management plans have assurances they will not have to do more if the grayling are listed as an endangered species. Just the lack of numbers puts the odds against this but who knows? E.g. Jackson-area rancher Peter Frick – who joined the CCAA in the early 2000s – agreed. Box 911 | 31 S. Idaho St. | Dillon, MT 59725 | (406) 683-2331 | Fax: (406) 988-0437. This season we caught several and a couple that reached 15 inches. Then I saw the unmistakeable dorsal fin of a grayling. The partnership had to learn what the ranching community needed, and at the same time, (the ranchers) had to learn what the fish needed,” Magee said. Today, I was smack dab in the middle of that 4%. It is possible in a single day on the upper river to catch brown, rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout as well as arctic grayling. ... An uninvited rattlesnake guarding its territory on the banks of the Big Hole River. 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