April 2nd, 2001

Fencing Montana
By James Castwell


"If it bleeds, it leads!" "Whirling disease has shut down the trout fishing in the west!" "The fires have devastated the lands, all will be ruined by run-off!" "There is no snow in the mountains, all the Montana rivers will dry up!"

What a load of crap, but this is what some writers would have you believe! Truth is, gonzo journalism sells soap! The real facts are bad enough, some unfortunate events have occurred. However, for personal gain, many reporters have distorted and 'over-reported' events for the sake of the sensational.

The trout fishing and fly fishing is still fantastic in the west, period. They have plenty of fish and the non-residents are still filling the streams and rivers. Not as many since the bad press, but they are still going.

But, the winds of change are a blowing. You will see some new regulations about which days guides can use a particular section of river and if and when non-residents may fish at all. The word is the State is considering raising the price of the non-resident fishing licenses. Why? Do they want to build a fence around Montana?

Some do, some don't. Those who don't want to, really could give a hoot less. They just don't fly fish anymore! They gave up on it. They fish with bait and lures for walleye and bass and panfish.

That means a lot less fly-fishing gear is being sold. Will some fly shops go under this year? You bet they will, some never should have been started anyhow. So many new shops cropped up in the past decade it 'watered-down' the market and hardly anyone could make a living. If it hadn't been for classes and guiding, most would have gone under before this.

So, why should I care? Because I used to live and fish there and still love the place. I still know where to go to catch a lot of big trout; not secret places, the same places a good guide would take you. But, we don't need a guide. My wife and I were licensed guides and honored to have been. What's the real problem? It may be you! Or at least someone you know.

Montana residents are fine folks. Good, strong, neighborly, helpful folks. But they have had it with the snobby, better-than-you, nose-in-the-air attitude of a hell of a lot of fly-fishers who come in, dump a creel-full of cash, push their attitudes around and fly back home. The sad part is, the new fly-fishers don't see any difference, they have nothing to compare today's experience to. Believe me, it was not always so.

There were times when you did not have to fish 'cheek-by-jowl,' times when you had a stream, or at least a section of it all to yourself. If you had a guide you could be assured of it. It's not like that anymore though. It has become so crowded the locals have for the most part given up. Is there any fix for what ever is wrong? Perhaps.

Let some of the fly-shops with their 'nose-in-the-air' attitude go belly up. And let them take those 'macho-man guides' with them. You know the ones I mean, the ones who say things like, "Hey, move down, I'm guiding a group on here." It's the attitude, stupid! Attitude is the main problem, and that goes both ways. Just because you can afford to 'fly out and fly fish,' don't get the idea that you are a damn bit better than those you may meet. The guy fishing upstream may be a resident and own sixteen sections of cows.

Money does not make a man. The fly fisher has become the 'Ugly-American,' to many Montanan's. Those of you know who you are. It is you who have screwed it up for yourselves and now, for your buddies too. Thanks! The new regulations are in place right now, and there will be more. This is not a warning that it may happen if you don't straighten up, it is fact. You already have screwed it up.

Ok, so what is going to happen now? The 'Gonzo' journalists will continue to weep and whine about the fires, disease, lack of water and new regulations out west. Many readers will believe them and will go elsewhere and more fly shops will go under. There are some forces at foot who have now pitted the residents against the non-residents, great, that should instill an attitude of co-operation between the State and those who live there. Think we can look for improvement in the situation anytime soon? Makes one wonder how hard the State will work to protect and improve the trout fishing future.

But, some shops won't fail. They will survive and for good reasons. Little things like service and expertise and attitude. When you, or your children decide to go back, you will find good shops and good guides and good attitudes. And you will find a good experience too. The streams will not be as crowded, not as many boats drifting the rivers and the lakes will be more peaceful. The dammed up creek-ponds with the stocked Kamloops will be drained for irrigation reasons, so much of the 'pay-for-play' fishing will be greatly diminished.

Let's hope the State will have figured out how manage the fragile fly-fishing resource for it's residents and non-residents as well. Perhaps the State will recognize the true value of fly-fishing as an recreational asset. Not as an ecologically consumptive liability.

Eventually all will return to normal. The trout will still be there, mature, wild, and ready to take your fly. It's still the same game, but with new players and new rules. Let the games begin. ~ James Castwell

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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