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Kootenai River moves from Blue Ribbon to Purple Heart

| June 16, 2006 12:00 AM

To the Editor:

The Kootenai River has gone from "Blue Ribbon" to "Purple Heart." It's wounded but not dead.

From 1994 to 1999, there was incredible, amazing fishing, both in size and numbers, 60-75 fish. Riverbank fishing for 6 hours; 75-150 fish for a 12-hour float trip - lots of bugs, lots of bank fishermen.

Since the start of the 21st century, there has been a radical overall decline in number and size, bugs and bank fishermen, but there are still "exceptional" days and periods of fishing.

My natural instinct is to ask why the decline and then answer my question to the best of my knowledge. My observation is that "keeping" fish is not a factor. The Kootenai is primarily "catch and release."

Everyone who regularly fishes the Kootenai "recognizes" the tremendous amount of "wet toilet paper." As I understand it, it is a single-cell diatom that forms "strings" and then in "mats" of what looks like wet toilet paper, which in covering the rocks interrupts the natural life cycle of aquatic insects. I also understand that the "wet toilet paper" presence is the result of very low, very cold, very clear water during the winter and spring, which allows sunlight to wash the bottom of the river.

I personally conclude that much of the problem in the Kootenai is "management by default." The extreme fluctuations in water level is not a positive factor. Along with water fluctuation, we have the practice of releasing huge amounts of water in order to make a so-far-futile effort to return salmon and sturgeon population decimated by the presence of dams in the first place. The effort as I see it is "trading" the past highly viable Kootenai trout fishery for a "pie-in-the-sky" federal fish recovery program downstream.

The effort of a 6-year drought in the watershed compounds the complexity of potentially managing the Kootenai trout fishing.

My sympathy goes out to all the bank fishermen, including myself, who now stand in water up to the thighs with grass two feet over their heads and not catching fish.

It surprises me that in a "state rights" state such as Montana that the residents allow the federal agencies: NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Bonneville Power Authority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dictate/mandate the management of the Kootenai at the "seeming exclusion" of state agencies.

Peter Bond

summer resident