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Jul 17 2013

Kids’ flyfishing and stream ecology experience

"Bigs" and "littles" explore Bozeman-area waterways

Madison-Gallatin Chapter, Voices of NexGen

Becky Hattersley
MSU NexGen Intern

The Outdoor Explorers Mentoring Program is a partnership between the Montana Wilderness Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the U.S. Forest Service. Student interns with the Montana Wilderness Association help plan monthly outings with "bigs" and "littles" in Missoula, Helena, and Bozeman.

The Outdoor Explorers kicked off Bozeman’s warm weather season with a trip to the Cherry River fishing access located just a mere five minutes out of town. The beautiful area features both stillwater ponds and moving streams — which means it houses two types of insects and fish adapted to those separate environments. The picnic benches and grassy trails provided perfect areas for us to set up our four stations for the day: fly tying, fly casting, safety and etiquette, and stream ecology.


A “little” practices casting a line before heading to the river. MWA photo

Justin from Montana Troufitters lead our first station where he showed us how to tie a dry fly called a “woolybugger." Justin explained that it is a pretty popular fly and showed it to us in a couple of different colors. To make the woolybugger, he used various materials including soft fluffy chicken feathers, thread, wire and chenille. The end result was a work of art that would apparently appear pretty tasty to a hungry fish.

In the second station of the day, we tried our hands at fly casting with the help of the folks from Simms. They explained to us the reason why the last few feet of line were a different much heavier material — that extra weight helps the cast reach its destination. Unlike traditional casting with bait, such as hook and worm, flies don’t have much weight, so something else, in this case the line, needs to provide it. We took this knowledge and a few helpful hints on getting the motion right as we tried aiming our lines toward large fake fish set inside brightly colored hula-hoops.

“Who knew I was such a good caster,” said one little sister named Emmy.

At the stream ecology station or the “bugs” station as some of our littles saw it, we got a  lesson on what’s living in the water and who eats who. Clint and Gary of the Forest Service and Fish Wildlife and Parks showed us specimens they collected from the nearby pond and stream. These included all sorts of creatures ranging from crawdads to salmonflies. The larval stages of the mayfly and stonefly were both present and they explained how to tell them apart based on size, gill shape, and the number of spikes on their tails. Leeches, snails, worms, beetles, and crane fly larvae also got close examination.

“So it’s a vegetarian?” asked one little, as she inquired about an insect who only eats plant matter.

Another inquired about why a stick appeared to have legs. They explained that that stick was actually the home to a caddisfly larva. Unlike the other larvae they don’t have a protective exterior, instead it is gooey and soft — and extra delicious to fish — so they survive by coating themselves in natural matter such as small particles of wood or rock for protection and camouflage.

In our fourth station we got to get all muddy as we tried on waders with the Simms crew. They explained the safety measures, such as the belt at the middle helps keep them from filling up with water if you were to fall over, and then they lead the more adventurous littles over to the water to try walking around in it.

Once we came back we talked about etiquette and gear cleaning. Cleaning your gear not only helps protect it from wear — it also helps protect the environment by making sure you’re not transporting invasive species to the next area you go to fish. And of course, if you do fish, they told us that we should be aware of the regulations for the area and consider catch and release “so that there is always fish for the next time”.

After that taste of being out by the water all day, I know I can’t wait for the next Outdoor Explorers trips in July when we’ll be back out there kayaking up Hyalite and floating the Madison!