Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

They will write songs about you


Alex and me on the banks of the Madison River following my wedding. Alex was one of my groomsmen and a treasured part of our day. July 9, 2006

Most readers will not have heard of Alex Diekmann, and that is not a surprise. Alex did not seek the spotlight or recognition; he let his work speak for him. But if you fish in Montana, tenkara or otherwise, you have seen or benefited from his work.

Alex and I worked together at the Trust for Public Land (TPL); he was a project manager, and I was a lobbyist. He found the places to protect, and I helped find the resources to try and protect them.

When I accepted the job at TPL, Alex called me. We had never met, and he was already getting me involved in his work.

“Hey, do you know where Three Dollar Bridge is on Madison?” Alex asked.

“I wouldn’t be much of a fly fisherman if I didn’t,” was my reply.

“So I have a chance to put an easement on the ranch where it is and create a trail connecting Three Dollar to Raynolds (Raynolds Pass Bridge). I need to generate some support for it, do you think your fly-fishing buddies would care?”

“Alex, you pull that off, and they will write songs about you.”

If you have fished at Three Dollar Bridge, you know that trail exists. And now you know to thank Alex Diekmann for getting it done.

He was infectious in his love of the land, gifted in finding unique places and tenacious in their protection. He was an artful dealmaker, at finding the right measure of charm, passion and incentive to keep people at the table and make a deal work. A testimony to Alex’s skill is how many friends he made while putting these deals together.

Alex’s friend Jeff Lazlo had started restoring the wetlands on the Lazlo family’s ranch. Alex was there to help, and O’Dell Creek is now a haven and breeding ground for native cutthroats in the Madison River. And yes, O’Dell is where Craig Matthews, Yvon Chouinard and Mauro Mazzo famously practice the gentle art of tenkara as noted in their book, Simple Fly Fishing.

A little further down the Madison Valley, before you get to Three Dollar Bridge, look to the east and see the Sun Ranch. Along with its Madison River frontage, it includes mountain creeks providing critical nursery habitat for native cutthroat. That was Alex’s handiwork.

Alex took me to the Taylor Fork during one of our trips together showing me a secret garden of prime elk and grizzly bear habitat in the Gallatin National Forest. Whenever I fish there, I think of Alex and how that magical fishing spot would not be what is today but for his tireless efforts.

Alex’s work is a gift to fisherman, and all who love the outdoors.

On February 1, 2016, nine days short of his 53rd birthday, Alex Boris Diekmann, died peacefully at his home in Bozeman, Montana. He leaves behind his wife Lisa, his sons Logan and Liam, family, friends and colleagues who will sing his song for years to come.

These other talented writers have shared Alex’s song. Please take a moment to read their wonderful tributes to this fine man and conservation hero,

By Todd Wilkinson: http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/opinion/columnists/the_new_west_todd_wilkinson/public-land-protector-was-an-unsung-hero/article_76a2a2fb-c441-57c1-95f0-30198241f235.html

By Michael Wright: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/environment/friends-colleagues-remember-passionate-conservationist/article_08acdcc5-97cf-5052-8c2b-e66f356dd10a.html

By Jeff Lazlo: http://www.flyrodreel.com/blogs/tedwilliams/2016/february/madison-loses-friend

His legacy in pictures: http://portal.tplgis.org/arcgis/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=a0b0a71a55aa4ddb97498cf089dc5e31

Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Why more fish are bad for business.

Editor Note: The post below showed up on OBN inviting other to use it as a guest post. The economic connection caught my attention.

Sounds counterintuitive doesn’t it, how can more fish be bad for business?

As Schustrom and Farling explain, angling numbers have declined on Flathead Lake as well as tourism dollars. Read below to learn why.

Not convinced? Check out this great Flathead lake fishery FAQ on Chi Wulff; The Battle to Restore the Flathead’s Bull and Cutthroat Trout Goes On…

Flathead Lake fishery collapsing thanks to non-native lake trout

By Chris Schustrom and Bruce Farling

This spring native westslope cutthroat and bull trout will stage for their epic journeys from Flathead Lake to spawning streams in the Middle and North Forks Flathead River.  Once quite common, their numbers are significantly diminished from the recent past because many cannot navigate the gauntlet of predacious non-native lake trout (and illegally introduced northern pike) that occupy the lake and river. Our neighbors, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, want to bolster the populations of native fish to once again provide a diverse sport fishery as well as revive an important part of tribal culture. With the support of anglers, the assistance of objective science and a review panel of biologists from state and federal agencies, as well as the university system, the tribes are working hard to strike a reasonable balance in the fishery at Flathead Lake. They deserve your support.

west slope cutthroat trout

Flathead Lake once hosted one of Montana’s most popular and robust sport fisheries, featuring millions of kokanee salmon, cutthroats, yellow perch, bull trout and lake trout. Today, the salmon are gone and cutthroat and bull trout numbers have been reduced dramatically. Also gone are many fishermen. Perch and lake whitefish remain, but their availability fluctuates year to year, depending on water levels and predation. Well-meaning state managers who introduced Mysis shrimp into the Flathead system in the 1980s triggered the decline in the lake’s fishery and fishing opportunities. The shrimp provide an ample food source for young lake trout, improving their survival rates. Once these lake trout get larger they feed on other fish. In the nineties the exploding lake trout population consumed about 10 million kokanee in Flathead Lake, collapsing perhaps the most popular lake fishery in the state. Angling numbers then dropped by about 50 percent.  When the kokanee disappeared, so did hundreds of bald eagles that gathered each fall to gorge on spawning salmon at McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park. Thousands of tourists then stopped coming to view the eagles. Tourism dollars dropped.

one of the bad guys, a non-native lake trout

The large lake trout population – as well as illegally introduced northern pike — also preys on bull trout. The result has been an alarming loss of the native fish in the lake and the connected North and Middle Forks. Today, adult bull trout in Flathead Lake are estimated to be only about 3,000 fish. Localized spawning populations continue to disappear. It is now illegal to fish for them. Scientists estimate lake trout numbers, however,are around 1.8 million. They are tough to catch without a large boat and specialized gear. Lake trout migrating from Flathead Lake have also nearly eliminated bull trout from 10 of 13 lakes on the west side of Glacier Park. Further, they have severely reduced cutthroat numbers in the upper Flathead system, reducing their population to less than half of what they were before Mysis arrived. Because many of the easier-to-catch cutthroats in the upper Flathead River system migrate from the lake, angling opportunities – and the tourism dollars they generate — in the Middle and North Forks are threatened by lake trout.

The near monoculture of lake trout in Flathead Lake threatens the future of sportfishing in the upper Flathead basin. The tribes, however, are addressing this challenge head-on. They are evaluating tools, including maintaining fishing tourneys coupled with limited and scientifically based netting, that can reduce the lake trout population to a reasonable number. This could reduce predation and benefit native bull and cutthroat trout, as well as other sportfish such as perch and lake whitefish. It would also still maintain a lake trout fishery for the minority of anglers who can afford powerboats and the specialized gear it takes to pursue them. Despite the fears of the small cadre of commercial charter operators who fish for lake trout, it would be impossible to eliminate their favored fish from Flathead Lake.

Without new approaches at Flathead Lake, bull trout and cutthroat trout will eventually be reduced to a tiny fraction of their historical numbers, or even extirpated. Without new approaches, angling opportunities and the economic benefits they generate, will continue to dwindle. Without trying, and instead turning the lake and river over to lake trout, we will be judged harshly by future Montanans who will never feel the tug of a large cutthroat on their line at Flathead Lake.


The Economy and Conservation Nexus From People Who Know

A survey released last week validates a common refrain here at the Dispatch; healthy habitat creates recreational opportunity which drives economic activity.

The 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West poll found that western voters who identify as sportsmen view America’s public lands as critical to their state’s economy and quality of life, and support upholding protections for clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife.

The survey, completed in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming by Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican firm) and Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a Democratic firm), found that 92 percent of sportsmen  – the majority of whom identify as politically conservative or moderate  — believe that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an “essential part” of the economies of these states.

There were press releases for each state highlighting key points from the survey in that particular state. What were especially interesting to me were the quotes. These people articulated the economic importance far better than I can.

See if you don’t agree.

In Arizona:

“It doesn’t matter which part of the political spectrum you are on, one thing we all agree on is that Arizona wouldn’t be Arizona if we didn’t have our public lands and waterways. And certainly my business  — and most businesses in Flagstaff  — depend on those special places like the Grand Canyon being protected,” said Alexandra Thevenin, General Manager of Flagstaff-based Arizona Raft Adventures & Grand Canyon Discovery. Her business employs 110 people during the peak season.

“Spending by Arizona hunters and anglers directly supports 21,000 jobs and generates $124-million in state and local taxes. This especially benefits rural communities like those surrounding the Grand Canyon.  Why wouldn’t we take steps to protect our parks, national forests, and wildlife habitat?” asked Tom Mackin, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation and long-time resident of northern Arizona.

“Arizonans understand that their quality of life and their state’s competitive economic advantage is tied to a healthy environment,” noted John Shepard, Senior Adviser to the Sonoran Institute. “Moreover, they see the economic opportunities tied to transitioning to a clean-energy economy. State and federal leaders should take stock in the poll’s consistent findings in this regard to advocate for strong conservation, environmental and renewable energy policies.”

In Colorado:

“We know that visitors come to Durango because of all of the outdoor opportunities they can experience in our backyard. For our business, protecting land and the Colorado River is part of our business model,” said Kirk Komich, owner of the Leeland House and Rochester Hotel in Durango.

“Coloradans love this state because of the outdoor recreational opportunities, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching,” said Suzanne O’Neill, director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “Protecting our land, clean air, and streams requires balancing energy development on public lands with  safeguards  for  important wildlife habitat and open space for all of us to access and enjoy.”

“Sportsmen put their money where their mouth is when it comes to funding conservation,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We were pleased to see that overwhelming majorities of Colorado voters recognize the importance of funding protection of our land, water and wildlife even in the face of state budget problems. In particular, Coloradans remain deeply committed to using lottery funds to support our state’s natural areas.”

In Montana:

“From gear manufacturers to outfitters and guides in the field, there are hundreds of businesses in Montana that depend on clean air and clean waters in our majestic wild places. Montanans understand that a healthy environment is not only fundamental to our quality of life, it is the bedrock of businesses like Simms,” said KC Walsh, President of Simms Fishing Products, based in Bozeman.

Ben Lamb with the Montana Wildlife Federation was not surprised by the poll. “These results confirm what Montana’s hunters and anglers have known for years: political party doesn’t matter when it comes to protecting our outdoor heritage and our way of life. What matters is that everyone works together to ensure that future generations can enjoy the resources we have today.”

In New Mexico:

“Healthy public lands make it possible for thousands of New Mexican families to hunt and fish, and to pass on their love of the outdoors to their kids. In turn, that strong hunting and fishing tradition creates jobs and opportunity for small businesses,” said Joel Gay, a spokesman for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Everyone in New Mexico benefits from protected public lands.”

“Both Republican and Democratic Presidents have designated national monuments on public lands in New Mexico. Thanks to their leadership, places like White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, Bandelier and Chaco Canyon have remained among the most beloved treasures of our state. It’s no surprise New Mexicans are supportive of new national monuments,” said Mary Lee Ortega, President of Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ).

In Utah:

“Clean air and water, as well as protected lands, have significant economic impacts for Utah, in terms of tourism and our quality of life,” said Jay Banta, Utah Board Member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “But the value these lands provide in the way of wildlife habitat and solitude, for hunters and anglers, goes far beyond what an economist or pollster can quantify.”

“Voters and public officials across Utah support renewable energy and energy efficiency for numerous reasons and want to see barriers to their adoption eliminated,” said Sarah Wright, Director of Utah Clean Energy. “These poll results confirm what we hear from residents, businesses and local governments every day: public and private sectors and elected officials can work together to create a robust economy and healthy communities powered by clean energy.”

In Wyoming:

“I think we’ve understood this here in Wyoming for a long time,” said Ken Cramer, owner of Cross Country Connections, an outdoor store in Laramie. “It doesn’t matter what your political party is. People live here because we care about the outdoors. People want to hunt, fish, have the outdoor experience – otherwise we’d leave.”

“Tourism and outdoor recreation is the second-biggest industry in the state. We have three out of the top 10 destinations in the U.S. for snowmobiling. Skiing, camping, rock climbing, hunting – it’s all huge here. We’ve got to have places to recreate and we’ve got to take care of them. Clean air, clean water and snow are vital to our activities and, of course, for our lives.”

“We are very humbled by the results of the poll. It is a direct reflection of the partnerships we have been able to forge with more than 70 organizations in every county of Wyoming. Those of us on the board are continually amazed at the conservation work that happens in Wyoming, and are thankful for the support the citizens of Wyoming have shown,” said Delaine Roberts, Chairman of the Board of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust.

From Sportsmen:

“Investments in conservation of our public lands and water are not only critical to providing quality hunting and fishing opportunities, but also a critical component of the $192 billions sportsmen contribute to our national economy annually,” said Gaspar Perricone, co-director of the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Sportsmen and women continue to value a stubborn stewardship of our natural places and the recreational opportunities those places provide.”

“Conservation efforts amount to only about 1 percent of federal spending but in return sustain fish and wildlife and their habitats, enable out outdoor traditions and safeguard the nearly 6million jobs supported by outdoor recreation,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.  “The general public, including sportsmen, supports our continued investment in conservation, and we will  continue to work with our leaders in Washington, D.C., to uphold these critical policies that facilitate the responsible use and enjoyment of our public lands.”

You can find the full survey and individual state surveys on the Colorado College website.


Seems like only yesterday

When the good folks at the Outdoor Blogger Network posted their most recent photo prompt, Outdoor Photo Prompt ~ Favorite Outdoor Places…, asking, “Where is the one place you’d trade all your leftover Christmas candy canes to go visit for a day?” it was a no brainer.

Four and a half years ago I was standing on the banks of the Madison River at $3 Bridge in Montana enjoying one of the most special days of my life. It was the only time I was there and didn’t fish.  Would trade the Christmas candy and then some to go there any day.

The wedding party at $3 bridge