Montana snowpack holding steady in April

The percentages of average snowpack stored in Montana's river drainages held steady in early April at levels way above normal. Adding to the carnage, Montana is being hit by early spring storms right now, with more weather forecast next week. There are winter weather watches and advisories posted across the state for today and Friday.

If you are traveling, be careful. If you can, avoid it all together. Summer will arrive soon enough. It only seems as though it will be just a long weekend in early August.

The good news: all this snow if river storage for summer. Trout and whitewater guides will be the primary beneficiaries if cool temperatures prevail this spring. Farmers won't be too angry either.

Spring fishing season delayed?

Well, it is spring in Montana so the storm that blew through the state Sunday night and Monday morning really isn't out of the ordinary. Still, I'd hoped I'd shaken the last of this season's snow and ice off the boat tarp this weekend. I guess not.

Still, all this snow, or more importantly precipitation, bodes well for the summer fishing season. All that white stuff is simply a whitewater in storage. We'll appreciate it in August if it lasts. At least for now, the forecast is bullish for full-flowing summer rivers.

Skwala time in the Bitterroot

The weather's a little iffy, but iffy weather in a Montana spring is about as redundant as Sahara Desert (Sahara means desert in Arabic). Still, if you're a fly fisher you should be thinking about the Bitterroot River skwala right now. And if you're now a fly fisher, you should be thinking about becoming one. Seriously, you don't fly fish. What's up with that?

Here's my latest column on skwalas.

Skwala time on the Bitterroot

Trout are beginning to chase skwala dry fly patterns on the Bitterroot River. It's a good time to head south out of Missoula and follow the hatch. Keep an eye on weather reports, and also river flows on the USGS stream gauge website. River flows have climbed about 200 cfs in the last week at the Darby gauge, and if it warms and the river spikes, that could shut down the bite.

Snowpack buries Montana

There's good news in all that white stuff covering the state: Montana has abundant snowpack.

It's still only March, and as we saw last year, conditions can change dramatically by summer, but for now it looks like there should be plenty of water for river users, trout and farmers in 2018.

The Upper Yellowstone watershed leads the way, sitting at 164 percent of average snowpack on March 9. Also above 150 percent of average are the upper Clarks Fork at 156, and the Sun-Teton-Maria drainage at 155.

The Flathead River, which drains into the Clarks Fork near Paradise, Montana, of course, is at 141 percent. All that snow has led flood warnings when temperatures rise. Smart investors in the western part of the state are already stocking up on sandbag futures.

The spring months generally provide the heaviest precipitation of the year in Montana, but that wasn't the case in 2017. Following a wet winter, Montana's spring was especially dry, and the the summer turned the state into a fire-scorched inferno.

If the state gets average spring precip, all that snow should keep rivers full, and habitat conditions healthy for trout.

Southwest Montana leads state in game violations

FWP regions 2 and 3, spread along Montana's southwest border from Missoula to Yellowstone National Park, had the highest number of FWP violations in the state, according to a report in the Great Falls Tribune.

There were 7,262 violations in Region 3 from 2010-18. Region 3 includes the Bozeman area, Butte and the Big Hole Valley. Region 2, which includes the Missoula area and the Bitterroot Valley, was second with 5,467 violations. South central Region 5, which includes Billings, was third with 4,503. Region 1 anchored by Kalispell had 4,119 violations, Region 4  had 2,842, Region 7, in eastern Montana, had 2,810.

Region 6, on the Hi-Line had the fewest violations with 1,526 from 2010-18.

Recreation, including off road vehicles, camping and boating, made up 29 percent of the citations. Hunting accounted for 25 percent, and licensing issues another 24 percent. Fines totaled $3.8 million. The money is split 50-50 between the state and the county where the incident occurred.

CWD infected deer concentrated along Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone

Two percent of deer killed and tested during the regular fall hunting season, as well as in a special hunt that ended Feb. 15, were infected with Chronic Wasting Disease. Ten deer had CWD, out of about 400 deer tested in the region south of Bridger, according to a release from Montana FWP.

Hunters killed 327 deer during the special hunt and all were tested. The 400 number includes deer killed during the regular hunt season, when hunters voluntarily submitted samples for CWD testing. Those voluntary tests showed two deer were positive for CWD. FWP then authorized the special winter hunt in which all deer were tested.

A 5 percent infection rate is the level at which biologists implement additional measures in an attempt to control a CWD outbreak. While the overall infection rate was below that level, in Hunt District 510 along the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River between Belfry and Bridger, the infection rate was closer to 10 percent.

CWD is fatal to deer, elk and moose, but there are no documented cases of the disease being transmitted to animals or humans outside the deer family. Still, the Centers for Disease Control recommends testing for all deer killed in areas where the disease is known to exist, and that the meat from animals that test positive not be consumed.

Malformed proteins called prions cause CWD. The infection is similar to so-called Mad Cow Disease that can be transmitted to humans when they eat infected beef. The disease has killed more than 200 people, primarily in Great Britain, since an outbreak in 1996.

For more information about CWD in Montana, check Hook and Bullet's rundown of the issue here. The story provides links to past articles chronicling Montana's efforts to compact the fatal wildlife disease. Included is a map that shows the extent of the disease in North America.