Rivers, Including the Bitterroot, Rebound After Fires

Trout in water.

I remember the Bitterroot Valley's major fires in 2000 and 2003 and what that did to the attitudes of anglers—basically, it beat them down and many thought that the Bitterroot and its all important tributary streams would be destroyed, along with those native cutthroat and bull trout, and its non-native browns and rainbows.

But that wasn't the case, and I began documenting that in 2004, just a year after the fires, when I interviewedChuck Stranahan, a river protector and the owner of Stranahan's Flies and Guides in Hamilton, Montana. In addition, I interviewed the river's chief biologist, Chris Clancy and each of them, even early on, said the river was going to benefit from the blaze. Here are a few quotes from that interview:

"The fires have done nothing but good things for this river," said Stranahan. "That ash from the fires and all the woody debris it left are charging the system. Since the fires we are looking at more bugs per hatch, more fishable hatches, and elevated growth rates in our trout. The fires we had in 2003 will only sweeten the pot and provide a continued flow of nutrients."

And this from Clancy: "There's a study going on that follows the effects of fires on these tributary streams," he said. "In general, the study focuses on whether the recovery of fish was more pronounced in native or non-native species. It appears that the native fish are doing fine and the non-native brook trout are suffering (editors note: sweet!). Overall, the streams are recovering and our native fish have held on and are doing well."

Want to know more about fires and trout? Check out this article from the Ravalli Republic »

After a few years hiatus from the 'root, I fished it the last couple years and found Stranahan's and Clancy's comments to be true. The fish seem larger and stronger. The hatches are significant. Want more good news? Prime fishing on the Bitterroot begins early, with skwala and March brown hatches appearing as early as late February, but definitely sometime in March. Do you know how soon that is? Start tying brothers. I'll see you out there again this year.