WFS 416 – Kootenai River Fly Fishing with Dave Blackburn – Montana, Bull Trout, Bluegrass
Show Notes: wetflyswing.com/416
Presented By: Range Meal Bars, Yellowstone Teton, Trxstle, Stonefly Nets
Dave Blackburn takes us on a journey through the Kootenai River in Montana. Discover the rich history of Kootenai, learn the secrets of when to fish for the best catch, and explore the various fishing techniques you can use there. Dave also shares some hilarious anecdotes, such as teaching Hollywood star Richard Dreyfuss how to cast on the set of Always.
Find out how you can book a guided trip with him. And don’t miss out on the grand finale where Dave delivers a fantastic banjo performance to complete our Kootenai experience.
Kootenai River Show Notes with Dave Blackburn
5:24 – Dave tells the story of how he got into fly fishing. His teacher in the sixth grade taught fly tying classes. He started tying flies at age nine.
6:10 – He went to West Virginia University and participated in a placement program for foresters. He was inspired to work in the Bighorn National Forest after seeing the movie Jeremiah Johnson, which depicted the Rocky Mountains.
6:40 – Dave was a backcountry ranger in the Cloud Peak primitive area and met his wife there. They visited his wife’s family in Libby, Montana, where he discovered the Kootenai River.
7:54 – He talks about the first time he went fly fishing for native rainbows in the Kootenai River. He used a Mustad 94833.
10:23 – He describes the Kootenai River. He also talks about the impoundment of Libby Dam in 1974, which created a 90-mile lake and became home to various species of fish, including Kokanee salmon, rainbows, and cutthroats.
13:38 – I ask him about the best months to fish at the Kootenai River. He talks about the flows of the river mimicking a natural hydrograph due to the endangered status of the white sturgeon.
15:18 – He met with the technical management team along with the Fish, Wildlife & Parks and agreed to stop power peaking to prevent the sturgeon from becoming endangered.
16:15 – The green drakes have come back since the power peaking stopped. Green drakes can be seen around the second or third week of July.
17:46 – Dave shares a brief history of Kootenai and what the area is known for. The name Kootenai originated from French trappers to refer to the deer robes that the Kootenay Indians would tan.
19:34 – Libby is home to a historical museum. There is also the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness which is a grizzly bear habitat.
21:15 – He talks about the seasonal progression of hatches on the river. They have this thing they call a happy hour hatch.
22:58 – He discusses the various ways of fishing on the river, including float fishing, walk-wading, swing, and Euro nymphing. Dry fly fishing is the most popular way to fish at Kootenai River.
26:53 – He talks about fish size at Kootenai River. He mentions the 29-pound rainbow caught at the Kootenai River.
30:24 – The films River Wild and The Revenant were shot in Kootenai falls.
30:43 – He met Steven Spielberg when the film Always was shot in the Kootenai National Forest and around Libby in the 1980s. He had an opportunity to teach Richard Dreyfuss how to cast on the set and also had lunch with Holly Hunter and Dreyfuss.
33:03 – He talks about their 30-inch club and the incidental catches on bull trout. The biggest bull trout they’ve ever taken was about 41-inch bull trout, probably about 25 pounds.
35:31 – He discusses native fish management. The Redband rainbows currently do not have Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection, unlike the bull trout and white sturgeon.
38:22 – He talks about fishing trips at Kootenai. He says that a 3-day trip would be ideal when visiting Kootenai. Kootenai is the second largest river in the state.
42:35 – He talks about their lodging at Kootenai Angler and that time when they built their first rental cabin in ’92 under $15,000.
43:25 – He shares that time when Meryl Streep wanted to stay in their cabin during their filming of The River Wild.
44:15 – Now they have a total of four cabins and an onsite restaurant that is open to the public.
45:20 – He describes what their busy summer looks like in the cabin and the drift trips they do. The floatable section of the Kootenai with the exception of the falls is 50 miles.
49:03 – Kootenai River is less famous than the Madison River or Big Horn. The traffic is unlike in other areas, and Dave thinks that is Kootenai’s saving grace.
50:55 – There are a lot of places where people can camp along the river.
52:51 – He talks about the Kootenai Falls.
55:01 – Dave runs a full-service package for those who plan to visit Kootenai.
56:02 – He talks about the possibility of hooking big-sized rainbows. Streamer fishing is the most effective way to catch big rainbows. His head guide, Joe, caught a 32-inch rainbow on a hopper dropper rig.
58:04 – Jeff Currier was up in Kootenai fishing with him a while back. They used the SA stillwater line. Jeff caught a 9-pound rainbow using a Scientific Angler Stillwater camo. We had him in our first Traveled series episode.
58:50 – He applied Jeff’s technique when he went to Iceland.
1:00:15 – They provide gear and flies in their guided trips. He’s a Winston Pro Staff, so he carries Winston rods in the boat. For those who want to use their own gear, he gives tips on what gear to bring.
1:01:52 – They also offer last-minute guided trips.
1:02:31 – Their peak season is from August to early September.
1:04:38 – He talks about what the Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ bull trout regulations.
1:07:47 – I mention our previous episode with Derek Bird of Fly Fusion Magazine.
1:09:06 – Dave mentions the possibility of catching a Westslope cutthroat trout.
1:11:07 – It’s time for the two-minute drill. I ask Dave for some online resources where people could dig in more about Kootenai. Dave recommends the Libby Heritage Museum and the Libby Chamber of Commerce.
1:11:31 – He also recommends Sources of the River for those who want to dig deeper into history.
1:11:47 – Dave was a regional director of Montana Trout Unlimited and the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana.
1:12:29 – He tells us about that time when he took American author John Gierach up on the Elk River in the late ‘80s. He also went fishing again with John two years ago in the Kootenai.
1:13:50 – He talks about the Sheldon Mountain Boys and gives us a fantastic banjo performance to cap off today’s podcast.
1:14:20 – I mention our episode with Brandon Molzahn who also plays the banjo.
1:16:40 – He also plays with the band called Boulder Creek.
Show Notes: wetflyswing.com/416