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Stoked On The Smith – VIDEO

smith river, montana, copper mine

smith river, montana, fishing, tintina, copper mine

Stoked On The Smith is now live!!!  This spring we had the opportunity to float the Smith River in Central Montana.  We wanted to see this resource for ourselves and document the trip to help raise awareness about the Smith and the current situation with a copper mine proposed for Sheep Creek, one of it’s main tributaries.  To read about the trip you can start with Part 1 right here > Smith River Trip Part 1

Informative links regarding the Smith River:

www.saveoursmith.com
www.tintinaresources.com
www.smithriverwatch.org
www.backcountryhunters.org/sign_smith_river_petition

-Zack

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Smith River, Montana – Part 2

smith river, montana, copper mine, fishing, trout

If you missed Part 1 you can read it here > Smith River, Montana – Part 1

Part 2 – The Trip Days 1-3

Day 1 broke under a fresh couple inches of snow.  A light snow filtered through a soft glow steadily growing over the eastern horizon.  The diesel turned over and we pulled the boats over towards the launch.  After a few minutes of playful jabbing about the weather we took it upon ourselves to unload the snowy boats and begin our day.

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And the adventure begins…

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The fleet for the week.

A little over an hour later and we had our three rafts in the water and loaded with our gear for the next 5 days.  Despite the frozen hands and a bitter edge on the day the overall moral was high and everyone was eager to start our push downriver.  One thing we had been concerned with over the past week was the condition of the river.  A long week of warm and sunny weather had sent a push of water downriver from the mountains and had bumped the river.  The water clarity wasn’t ideal but from all reports it seemed that the river would give up fish in all but the dirtiest of flows.  After the group shotgunned a beer we split up and pushed off.  The next few hours went off without a hitch and the weather had yet to unleash more than a light snow and a gentle breeze.

montana, smith river, fishing, snow

Beautiful although cold.

Montana quickly showed her teeth though.  A brutal wind out of the West whipped up the canyon and fired the wet snow in a horizontal pattern that had us wishing we had brought ski goggles.  The fishing was slow for those willing to freeze their hands working a streamer or nymphs along the fishy water which was hard to find with clarity that was all but nonexistent.  As we pushed into the afternoon we switched gears from fishing to just making it to camp so we could attempt to build a fire.

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Battling the elements on Day 1.

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Sam hooking up during a warm-up break.

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The snow breaks as we finally make camp on Day 1.

After finding some wet wood along the float we finally rounded our last bend of the day and anchored up to set up our first camp of the trip.  Everyone was feeling cold and wet despite plenty of Gore-Tex and warm layers.  The first order of business was to build a fire.  A strong group effort resulted in a fire finally gaining some strength and we began the process of piecing together camp and a warm meal.  (Tip #1 – although you can find wood along the float, I’d recommend bringing fire wood with you for each night.  Wet wood sucks and most campsites have very little in terms of firewood near camp)

smith river, montana, camping, fishing, cooking

A sick view, fishable water, a hot meal, and a fire. Life is good.

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Elk steak and potatoes for dinner.

With a belly full of elk meat and potatoes we all huddled tight to the fire until the urge to sleep overcame any warmth the dwindling fire could provide.  With calculated promptness we all found our ways into our sleeping bags and tents hoping the next morning would break with clear skies and a touch of Montana sun.  A quick peek from the tent in the morning revealed blue skies.  That short moment of happiness was quickly humbled by taking one look at the frozen waders and boots littered around camp.  A team effort set in motion a small fire and a breakfast of bacon and eggs and a warm cup of coffee.  As the sun finally rose high enough to throw it’s warm rays on our camp Sam hooked into the first fish of the day, a nice golden brown who wanted a red worm breakfast.

smith river, brown, trout, montana, spring, copper mine

Always good to hook a good one before you even push off for the day.

With the storm gone and the sun out we finally could enjoy some warmth and some of the most stunning river views found in Montana.  With each bend of the river a new view seared it’s spot in our memories as we casually rowed and fished our way downriver.

smith river, montana, wild, floating, fishing, camping

A favorite headwall along Day 2.

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Sam hooks another with Travis capturing the action.

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Smith River whiskey warm-up.

smith river, montana, fishing, floating, rafting, camping, 2016

A view worth saving.

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A short wade session resulted in a few fish and few shots on film.

A few things were apparent by the end of Day 2.  The fishing was tough.  Our best fishing came when we pulled in and worked inside bends hard with nymphs.  It seemed a guys could pull a half dozen fish out of each good run if he wanted to put in the time.  Unfortunately with a good chunk of water to cover each day we couldn’t spend time in all the spots we wanted.  We also found good fishing at the low ends of the tributaries which were all open this year due to a new regulation change.  Again with little time to spare these moments were kept short and sweet but kept everyone in the game and catching fish.  The more obvious take-away from the day was that the Smith River is easy on the eyes.  The grandeur of the mighty rock walls and faces almost lose a bit of meaning since each bend reveals a new epic view.  As we floated beneath these towering giants I was surprised no one has died from falling rock.  With some cliff walls easily pushing a hundred feet or more, even a small rock would be life-threatening if it dislodged and found you at the bottom of its fall.  After a long day we pushed into camp and began the process of unloading the rafts and assembling camp.  With the forecast calling for more sun we hit the hay and got some much needed rest in anticipation of another long day starting early in the morning.

camping, smith river, montana, spring, hunting, rifles, camp, 2016

Pancakes and a couple rifles set on seeing a bear.

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Streamer fishing under savage towers of limestone.

fishing, smith river, montana, epic, landscape, tintina, mine

Montana proving again that it’s “The Last Best Place”.

Our goal for the afternoon was to go bear hunt on some public land near our camp.  A moderate hike put us up on a ridge we hoped held good grass.  Unfortunately the snow from our first day had stacked up and covered the hillside and ridge we were hunting.  We saw one set of bear tracks and a bunch of elk and deer tracks as we slowly climbed up above the Smith River canyon.  With little for options given the snow, we sat down and glassed the hill across the canyon to the north.  A few minutes in and Sam spotted a nice black bear traveling across the opposite hill.  The bear fed his way down into the timber as he dropped out of sight into the canyon looking for anything green.  With a precarious snow covered canyon below the decision was made to work back to camp and cook up dinner for the evening.

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The beauty of the area extends far beyond the Smith River Canyon.

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There be bears in them hills!

To read about the rest of our trip and hear our thoughts on the current state of the Smith River read Part 3 which will be live on our site tomorrow!

-Written by Zack Boughton

-Photos by Travis Boughton, Zack Boughton, Calvin Connor

 

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Smith River, Montana – Part 1

SMITH RIVER, MONTANA

To protect a place or thing, you must appreciate and understand the value of it.  The greater the number of individuals that have that appreciation and value residing in their souls, the more support you have and the stronger the voice when a call to action is needed.  Although the Smith River is the only permitted recreational river in Montana and is enjoyed by thousands of outdoor enthusiasts each year, it continues to seemingly fly under the radar as a Montana destination in comparison to some of our other wildly famous resources.  That all has slowly been changing over the last year as a proposed copper mine has brought the beloved Smith River front and center.  Some cringe at the idea of more people knowing of their beloved spots and diluting their chances at drawing a permit yearly, but others see the necessity of a wider awareness and hope more people can become personally acquainted and educated on this beautiful river system and the overall majesty of the larger landscape of which the Smith River calls home.

smith river, montana, copper, mine, fly fishing, tintina

A classic look at Montana’s Smith River.

The Smith River is what I would call the Grand Canyon of Montana.  Flowing north out of the Big Belt, Little Belt and Castle Mountains it picks up size as it winds its way through windswept cattle country near White Sulfur Springs, Montana.  As it passes Camp Baker, where floaters put in on their 59 mile float, it dives into a deep limestone canyon that provides some of the most stunning river vistas Montana has to offer.  Cliff walls soar over corner after corner of this epic river and the beauty often distracts the fisherman from an eat of their fly by a hungry brown or rainbow trout.

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This dynamic river is considered a red-ribbon trout fishery with trout densities back in 2011 averaging about 250 brown trout and 250 rainbow per mile in the upper stretches.  Angler-days averaged about 14,200 between 1982 and 2009.  The primary species to be hooked under these limestone walls are brown trout and rainbow trout, but cutthroat and brook trout do exist in lesser numbers as well.  Given the nature of the upper 100 miles of river it often runs a varying hue of brown for much of the first half of the float season.  Fishing a nymph will produce your best numbers but the Smith offers some exceptional dry fly fishing and great structure and pockets for the streamer junkie to target the larger fish in the river.

smith river, montana, brown, trout, wild, copper, mine, fishing

A nice Smith River brown trout.

Why the Smith is the #4 most Endangered River in America for 2015

Currently Tintina Resources is going through the permit process with Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality for an underground copper and related minerals mine in the Sheep Creek area.  Sheep Creek is a tributary to the Smith River and prime spawning habitat for native fish populations from as far away as the Missouri River hundreds of miles downstream.  The proposed mine has many worried.  A few of the concerns revolve around acid mine drainage and it’s potential effect on fish and other aquatic life, the potential for a lowered water table that could effect adjacent stream flows in a river system that already has to deal with low flows during the summer months, as well as groundwater contamination issues.  (More about the risks of the mine can be found in the links at the end of this post).  Now it’s a fact that our society and most all of us rely on mining in our daily lives.  I’m surely not anti-mining, but given Montana’s poor history with mines heavily polluting waterways it’s hard to not be highly concerned that we eventually will see many negative environmental effects from a mine such as this.  The Upper Clark Fork basin is currently one of the largest Super Fund sites in the nation due to a flood in 1908 that caused an open-pit copper mine in Butte to spill millions of tons of contaminated sediment downstream along the river for hundreds of miles (https://www.hcn.org/articles/clarkfork_superfund).

smith river, montana, wild, fishing, landscape, epic, conservation

Over hanging cliffs line a large portion of the Smith River.

With the debate raging on it was easy to see how both sides had valid points regarding their stance on the project.  One side wanted to protect the environment and recreational value of the resource and the other wanted to mine a valuable raw material our society demands while providing jobs to the local economy which currently has few to offer.  I figured the best way to feel out the subject was to actually get a first hand experience on the river.  Both my brother Travis and I had drawn permits for mid-April, and we knew that after 5 days on the river we’d have a much stronger opinion on the matter at hand.  As we spent time researching more about the river, I found that there was not much to be read or seen about the fishing on the river or the experience in general.  A quick Google search of “fly fishing the Smith River” led to the first page being dominated by outfitters and fly shops offering guided trips.  A read through these pages did provide some insight into the river but left more questions than it could answer.  A quick look at Youtube revealed an assortment of poor quality, handicam style videos that didn’t seem to showcase the grandeur of a place that was seemingly so epic and suddenly so threatened.  With little high quality content it seemed it would be hard for someone to understand the amazing value the resource had to offer without going on a trip firsthand.  Given the nature of our work we felt documenting our trip would be a great way to raise awareness for a resource that seemed to desperately need it.  It seemed that if thousands enjoyed the trip each year and our state was comprised of tens of thousands who enjoy fishing we could do better than only 8,022 signatures on a petition that needed 10,000 as of writing this.

smith river, montana, fly fishing, wild, copper mine, conservation

Looking for risers in the foam.

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Filming a nice cuttbow.

After a few weeks of quick planning we had arrived at Camp Baker with rafts, camping gear and a handful of cameras in tow.  Our group totaled only six people and only Sam had been here before.  Our goal was to see this resource firsthand and capture the trip through photo and video.  We had no big production crew, no big sponsors, no shot lists or scripts and no expectations, just a group of good friends, a beautiful river and five days of wild experience before us.  (Part 2 is now up on the site.  You can read it HERE > Part 2)

camp baker, smith river, montana, wild, gnar

Launch Day

To learn more about the Smith River Mine please see the following links:

Save Our Smith – (www.saveoursmith.com)

Tintina Resources – (www.tintinaresources.com)

Montana Environmental Information Center (www.meic.org/issues/smithriver)

Black Butte Copper – (www.blackbuttecopper.com)

Smith River Watch – (www.smithriverwatch.org)

Tintina’s mine proposal – (deq.mt.gov/Land/hardrock/tintinamines)

News Articles:

NY Times – (www.nytimes.com/smithriver)

Montana Kaimin – (www.montanakaimin.com/news/smith-river-mine)

Bozeman Chronicle 10/17/15 – (http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/opinions/guest_columnists/why-gamble-on-the-future-of-montana-s-smith-river)

Helena News 2/11/16 – (http://www.ktvh.com/2016/02/black-butte-copper-project-tintinas-technologies-part-3/)

 

-Written by Zack Boughton

-Photos by Travis Boughton, Zack Boughton, Calvin Connor, Maddie Sieler