continued from the Fly Fisherman May/June addition 1982 – The Missouri River No One Knows by Gary LaFontaine
Why am I writing an article about my favorite waters? The relative solitude that my fishing partners and I have found on this river has been one of its attractions. Unfortunately the comparative lack of angling pressure and publicity on the Missouri means there are not enough people who appreciate it. If the fishery is not used, it may be lost. It needs friends.
The Bureau of Reclamation has plans (shelved for the time being) to convert Canyon Ferry Dam into a peak-power facility. Instead of flowing at a steady rate twenty-four hours a day, the water would be released in a rush to produce power during time of peak electrical usage. During low-use hours much less water would be released into the river.
Just as the defenders of the Missouri’s fishery began to relax—having helped to derail, at least temporarily, the Bureau’s plans—the same peak power threat cropped up downstream at Hauser Dam. There, the Montana Power Company, the state’s largest energy producer and owner of the dam, wants to institute peak power practices. Montana Power is in the midst of a comprehensive study of Hauser scheduled for completion in two and a half ears, according to Montana Power officials. This study will attempt to find ways to institute peak-power practices without damaging or destroying the fishery. Fishermen are sceptical.
In a study prepared for the U.S. Department of the Interior the authors admitted that “Canyon Ferry’s tailwaters support a trophy brown trout fishery. Re-production of this species may occur 1.2 kilometers ( .75 miles ) downstream of the present power plant. Extreme water-level fluctuations would have a negative impact upon this species’ reproduction and food sources.”
Holter Dam is also owned by Montana Power and there is fear that peak power at one dam will cause a ripple effect that will spread to all three dams. Were peak power practices instituted at Canyon Ferry, for instance, there would be pressure from some quarters to do the same at Hauser and Holter. The easiest way to minimize water disturbance in the lakes, where water-level fluctuations would be unacceptable to local recreation uses (boaters, stillwater fishermen and lake-shore home owners), would be to have the downstream dams also “peak” at the same times. The natural tailwater fisheries below Hauser and Holter would be sacrificed to help the lakes because there is so much other public use of these waters.
Fly fishermen from outside the state can help the Missouri River fisheries in two ways. They can stop federal funding of peak power management for Canyon Ferry Dam. In an age of government austerity this is a project worth cutting from the budget. A rush of letters and telephone calls to Montana elected officials in Washington could kill it for good. Let Representative Pat Williams and Senator Max Baucus know how much their efforts to stop the project are appreciated. People can also urge their own representative and senators to support the bill introduced by Senator Baucus calling for a full review of peak power proposals.
The second way fly fishermen can help is by coming and fishing the Missouri River. Tourist have a financial impact on an area—something that is not lost on community leaders. Values that can be calculated in terms of dollars are important to the local economy. If the Missouri can attract the fishermen that other great Montana fly-fishing rivers attract, then its future will be assured.
For anyone planning a trip to the Rocky Mountain region this last request should be painless. Helena, a convenient base, is a city with art museums and historical exhibits. In addition to the Missouri and the reservoirs on the river, there are many other fine streams in the area—Dearborn River, Smith River, Little Blackfoot River, Sixteen Mile Creek, Big Blackfoot River. Fly fishermen can either explore the Missouri by themselves or they can hire experienced guides. The entire region is waiting for them.