MISSOULA — Fly-fishing guides in Montana say the season on the state’s blue-ribbon trout streams got off to a slow start this summer because of high water levels from a heavy spring runoff, but the lucrative industry is starting to pick up as flows decrease.
“I’d say everything was a month behind,” Jim Cox, co-owner of Missoula’s Kingfisher Fly Shop, told the Missoulian. “Even the hatches were delayed. It was just cold and nasty. But now things are definitely happening.”
Cox said he canceled every guided outing in June after telling clients at the end of May it wasn’t worth the trip because of the high, turbid flow in rivers — the result of a deep snowpack melting in the mountains.
“We basically thought June was a throwaway month,” Cox said.
A University of Montana study in 2006 found that out-of-state visitors spent $34.2 million just on outfitted fishing trips, which doesn’t include money spent on hotels or gear. The study also found that 33 percent of anglers came to Montana specifically for an outfitted trip. Another 43 percent said that was just one reason for traveling to Montana.
“We are definitely trying to keep our eyes on this as much as possible to see how things rebound,” said Christine Oschell, assistant director of UM’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.
Outfitters are hoping the additional water will extend the season into September so businesses that rely on fly-fishing can recoup losses.
Ryan Thompson of Glacier Anglers said that during June and July the shop lost about 50 percent of its business taking anglers on 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.”
Even now, water flows in many major rivers are twice normal. But that could help extend the season.
“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.”
“We are anticipating smooth sailing right into the frosty nights of September,” he said.