In This Issue:
  • 2020 Annual Meeting Summary
  • COVID-19 Online Forum
  • New Board Members
  • Madison Update
  • West Fork Bitterroot


2020 Annual Meeting Summary 

This year’s FOAM Annual Meeting was held Thursday and Friday, 27 and 28 February, at the cool Rialto Theater in Bozeman.

Thursday was our Board of Directors meeting with our usual First Aid Class opportunity Thursday afternoon.  The board meeting was held on the second floor of the Baxter Hotel in downtown Bozeman.  We opened the meeting up to FOAM members where Dan Smith, Guide-at-Large Director, East, led a discussion of guide concerns on the Madison recreation plan.  Several FOAM guide and outfitter members attended the discussion.  At the end of the meeting, FOAM outfitter members, Joe Moore and Brian Neilson led a discussion regarding public perception of the outfitting industry.  This was the most well-attended board of directors meeting in recent memory as the room was filled with over 20 guide and outfitter FOAM members.

Following the board of directors meeting, everyone went across the street to the Rialto Theater to attend the FOAM and Casting for Recovery sponsored 50/50 On the Water Fly Fishing Film Tour.  It was a great evening of women-centered fly-fishing films, refreshments, giveaways, and raffles.  In addition, we raised some money for FOAM’s Guiding for the Future program and Casting for Recovery.  It was a fun-filled night with about 70 people attending.

Friday consisted of our Annual Meeting at the Rialto Theater as well.  The day started with a presentation by FOAM’s Madison regional director, Phil Sgamma on Risk Assessment.  Mike Bias, executive director, presented FOAM’s Annual Report as well as proposed changes to FOAM’s Constitution and By-Laws.  Attending FOAM members voted to approve a fee increase from $125 to $150 for FOAM Outfitter Membership; members also voted to approve removing term limits for FOAM directors, allowing them to serve more than 2 terms consecutively.  Matt Greemore, fishing outfitter representative for the Board of Outfitters, presented rule change updates, including requiring a throw bag on board and revised language in the life jacket rule.   Wendy Stahl, from IMG Insurance, presented the latest information on our travel insurance partnership with IMG Insurance.  During lunch, Costa’s Peter Vandergrift, presented their outstanding program where they are partnered with Yeti, the Kick Plastic Campaign.  Fish & Wildlife Commissioner, Pat Byorth, Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ (FWP) Fisheries Chief and Access Bureau Chief, Eileen Ryce and Don Skaar, respectively, and Mike Bias presented the latest timetable for release of the much-anticipated Madison Recreation Plan Environmental Assessment.  Zach Crete, Aquatic Invasive Species Technician for FWP, presented the latest findings from 2019 and what is ahead for 2020.  Sean Blaine and Brant Oswald presented the latest information on FOAM’s Guiding for the Future program.  The presentations ended with an outstanding guide on how to submit your articles for publication in outdoor periodicals by Miles Nolte from Meat Eater.

With the end of presentations and the beginning of drinking beer and snacks, thank you Bissell Agency, Jason Fleury, FOAM president directed the much-anticipated raffle drawing for the ClackaCraft drift boat and SmithFly raft.  Jeremy Brown, a FOAM guide out of the Missoula area won the SmithFly raft.  Tim Linehan, FOAM outfitter out of Troy, won the ClackaCraft drift boat.  Congratulations to you both.  Our Annual Meeting week ended again this year with music by Butte’s own, Chad Okrusch.

Thank you to all our presenters and attendees, your support of FOAM is much appreciated.  Hope to see you all next year in Missoula.

Tim Linehan was the happy winner of the 2020 ClackaCraft drift boat.  Congratulations Tim!

Jeremy Brown was the lucky draw of the SmithFly Big Shoals raft.  Congratulations Jeremy!


FOAM Establishes COVID-19 Online Forum

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has severely affected the outfitting community, FOAM has created a Google Group Forum entitled, FOAM COVID-19 Response Strategy Forum.  This Forum was established as an online resource for guides, outfitters, and business members to engage with each other and find solutions to the particular issues you are facing.  This includes questions, advice, or even solutions that other members have found as they navigate this new business climate as well a resource for the exchange of ideas.

We ask that participants use this as a constructive space to help each other through this period and strictly prohibit rants, political diatribes, and personal attacks.  If you have an idea to share to benefit the community this will provide a place to do that as well as find relevant information that affects us all.

FOAM emailed invitations to all its members with a link to join the group, invited members simply had to accept the invitation to join.  Members of the Forum will have access to posted information as well as the opportunity to join in the Forum to share ideas. To request an invitation to join the Forum, simply email your request to

The FOAM COVID-19 online forum currently has nearly 200 members and is growing daily.  The popularity and growth of this forum shows its importance, member involvement, and the help it is providing to FOAM members.

Tucker Nelson Takes the Helm in the Yellowstone Region

Long-time director and past board president, Brant Oswald, recently stepped down from the Yellowstone region directorship to allow Tucker Nelson to take over.  FOAM hasn’t gotten rid of Brant though as he will continue to serve with the board as FOAM’s senior advisor.

Paradise Valley, near Livingston, MT has been the home of the Nelson family for generations. Tucker grew up on the family ranch and learned to fly fish at a young age on the fabled Nelson’s Spring Creek. After high school in Livingston, MT, Tucker attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. The trout streams of Montana eventually lured Tucker away from the promise of a high paying city job and he moved back to Bozeman and finished up his degree at Montana State University.

During his last year of college in 2006 Tucker began guiding fly fishermen on the Paradise Valley Spring Creeks and surrounding waters. In 2010 Tucker acquired his Outfitter license and now, along with his wife Jacquie, runs Nelson’s Guides and Flies and the S|N Fly Shop.

Tucker loves to fish and finds tremendous satisfaction in sharing this passion with others. When he is not guiding, he is either working on the family cattle ranch, or fishing with his wife Jacquie and two children Morgan and Ander.


Jason Orzechowski Joins the FOAM Board as Missouri River Representative

Mark Raisler has stepped aside from the FOAM board as the Missouri River representative allowing Jason Orzechowski to take the helm!  Mark served for better than two terms helping with the Executive Director transition from 30+ year director Robin Cunningham to Michael Bias.  “I am so proud of our board for moving in a fresh direction with new President Jason Fleury and Executive Director Michael Bias.  FOAM’s work on the Madison River Rec Plan is impressive.  The knowledge and inspiration that Jason O. will bring to the board continues in the tradition of FOAM directing the future of the commercial fishing industry,” said Mark at the last FOAM board meeting.

With a BA in journalism from Grand Valley State University, a 20+ year career in the Michigan metal casting industry and a life-long obsession with trout and moving water, Jason Orzechowski has traveled many roads to arrive in the outfitting industry in Montana where he forged a new career in 2012. In addition to his work with FOAM he is a licensed Montana Outfitter and Guide and is the owner of Wolf Creek Angler Fly Shop and Lodge as well as Iron Fly Outfitting LLC. Jason also serves on the board of the Pat Barnes Missouri River Trout Unlimited Chapter in Helena as Vice President and is a sustaining member of and River Ambassador for the Upper Missouri Watershed Alliance (UMOWA).

Jason loves to share his passion for the natural wonders of Montana be it on the water with clients or through Wolf Creek Angler’s “Running Line” Blog and social media outlets. He is also passionate about the issues facing the industry and prides himself on a commitment to a big-picture approach. He is proud to represent the outfitters and guides of the Missouri region. Jason lives in Helena with his wife Sheila, their son John and their Yellow lab Jake. He enjoys spending his free time exploring the endless waters of Montana.


Madison River Plan Update

As many of you now know, the March 27th meeting of the Fish & Wildlife Commission (Commission) was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  At the end of March, we heard also that the April Commission meeting will be cancelled as well.  At each of these meetings, the Commission was scheduled to make a decision to release for public comment an Environmental Assessment (EA) being developed by the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) to manage recreation use on the Madison River.  Today, we received news that the Commission and FWP proposed postponing until mid- to late-May any decision to release a Madison River EA for public comment.  Based on the current COVID-19 situation we are all experiencing right now, we fully support and understand delaying the release of an EA until at least May.

The Commission and FWP are committed to providing the longest allowable public comment period, out to 60 days.  With the potential release of an EA now in May, this also allows for commercial-use allocation in a plan to be based on 2019, one of the most productive commercial years ever on the Madison River.  Basing commercial use allocation on 2019 assures that outfitter use would be sustained at 2019 levels into the future.  Our concern is that we not establish commercial use at a level based on a year when use was adversely affected by conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the Commission were to accept FWP’s proposed EA, this would finally allow for an economic impact study to be conducted.  An economic impact study has not been previously conducted because there has not been an approved plan with specific management options that could be accurately assessed.   An economic impact study is necessary for the local business communities that depend on the economy generated from recreational use of the Madison River.

With this potential May timeline, the rulemaking process and public comment process would start by late June, at the latest.  This, we feel, could provide a little certainty and some time for the Coronavirus-crisis to hopefully settle down.  With the current state of affairs changing daily, we will continue to support any alterations to this timeline to best deal with everyone’s safety and health while developing a Madison River recreation plan that ensures long-term health and sustainability of the fisheries and sustains the ecological and economic benefits of the river for all Montanans and our guests.

Thank you for your time and patience as we all go through these unique and unprecedented conditions.

Bitterroot TU Relaxes Their Position on Floating Restrictions on the West Fork

During the first week of March, Tony Reinhardt, Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana’s (FOAM) regional director for the Missoula area, informed the FOAM Board of Directors and staff that the Bitterroot Chapter of Trout Unlimited (BRTU) was pushing to close the West Fork of the Bitterroot to floating.

In a letter dated 27 February 2020, Jeremy Anderson, president of BRTU, expressed that their primary concern was habitat destruction along a 7-mile section of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River from Painted Rocks Dam to the Canoe access site.  This upper section of the West Fork contains large amounts of woody debris.  BRTU claims that floaters using this section of the river have illegally cut trees to allow for safe boat passage, and this illegal cutting has disrupted the woody debris, adversely affecting fisheries habitat.  Given this scenario, Mr. Anderson wrote “Bitterroot Trout Unlimited is therefore compelled to conclude that the only viable alternative to the current destructive practices is to recommend a change in regulations to walk/wade assess only from Painted Rocks Dam to the USFS access informally known as Canoe, approximately seven miles downstream.”

Following this letter and a flurry of editorials in local Missoula-area papers from BRTU and local guides and outfitters, FOAM held a guide and outfitter meeting at the Bitter Root Brewery in Hamilton on 6 March to inform and discuss the issues of floating and wood cutting on the West Fork.  The FOAM board of directors decided to meet in Missoula as well where they discussed, at length, the issues on the West Fork.  Outfitter and guide attendance was good and discussions were informative and productive at both FOAM meetings.

FOAM also discovered that on 10 March, Jeremy Anderson would be presenting BRTU’s West Fork Bitterroot proposal to the Bitterroot Conservation District (BCD) at their board of supervisor’s meeting.  FOAM executive director, Mike Bias, and regional director Tony Reinhardt attended the meeting as well as several other local outfitters.  Following BRTU’s presentation, BCDs supervisors allowed questions.  FOAM asked why BRTU was even presenting a proposal to close the West Fork to floating when conservation districts in Montana have no authority to affect fish and wildlife management rules or regulations—that authority lies with the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP).  BRTU responded that they were informing local authorities, garnering support for their proposal, and looking to address illegal cutting of woody debris in the waterway.  Cutting trees or downed woody debris within the high-water marks of streams or rivers in Montana without a permit is a violation of Montana’s Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act.  These permits, commonly referred to as 310 permits, are issued by local conservation districts.

FOAM addressed the BRTU proposal by expressing to the BCD supervisors that commonly when proposals to local authorities or jurisdictions are presented, they often meet one or more of three criteria.  They provide either:

1)    documentation or evidence that the described impact had occurred,

2)    authority, qualification, or expertise in the field that some impact had occurred, or provide expert witnesses with necessary qualifications that can attest that the proposed impact had occurred, or

3)    persons or other groups that support the proponent’s claim that some impact had occurred.

The BRTU proposal did not present any evidence at all that fish habitat or fish populations had been affected, nor did their proposal show that that there was any decline or adverse impact to large woody debris due to cutting by floaters on the West Fork of the Bitterroot River.  The BRTU proposal did not show support or evidence from experts qualified to make such assertions, such as fisheries ecologists, hydrologists, or geomorphologists.  Finally, the BRTU proposal failed to have any additional support from other persons or groups that agreed with their claim that fisheries habitat or population impacts had occurred.  This seemed remarkable to FOAM, since the West Fork is such a popular fishery and in the local area for other groups like Montana TU (MTU) or other conservation-minded non-profits.  However, BRTU did assert that they had the full support of MTU.

FOAM also expressed to the BCD supervisors their full support for the work and direction of the newly-established task force headed by the BCD,which includes members with professional expertise from the Forest Service, FWP, and National TU, as well as three local outfitters.  The task force is charged with assessing and evaluating the effects to the resource of cutting large woody debris along the West Fork of the Bitterroot.

The next day, FOAM staff and directors met with staff from MTU, including Clayton Elliot, Conservation and Government Affairs Director, Bill Peiffer, Outreach Coordinator, and Casey Hackathorn, Upper Clark Fork Program Manager for National TU, to discuss BRTU’s assertion of support from their office.  MTU expressed strongly their support for the autonomy of their chapters and the chapter’s ability to make their own decisions.  However, they did express their hesitance to outright support BRTU’s assertion of habitat destruction and that the only viable alternative to the current destructive practices is to recommend a change in regulations to walk/wade assess only from Painted Rocks Dam to the Canoe access site.  MTU informed FOAM that they were, in fact, meeting with the BRTU chapter that week to discuss the issue and find workable solutions.

While BRTU did not completely abandon the idea of closures to floating, they did relax their stance on the issue.  Most recently, BRTU recently released a statement on woody debris management in the West Fork where they expressed “that this illegal cutting has the potential to negatively impact habitat in this reach and must be stopped.  BRTU feels that measures must be adopted by all users to comply with the 310 Law and to stop the illegal removal or manipulation of the large woody debris.  There are possible solutions to this illegal activity that do not require modification of the current river recreation rules and we will advocate for those.  However, failing development of effective measures to deal with this habitat problem and as a last resort, BRTU may propose closing the upper 7 miles of the West Fork to all floating.”

FOAM applauds the efforts of the staff of MTU to work with their chapter leadership to promote workable solutions to issues for all groups involved, especially when those groups are seemingly opposed at the start of an issue.  We too advocate for best management practices as will be determined from science to make a positive impact on the health of the fishery.  We also advocate that all illegal wood cutting must stop by all users and pledge to work with the established task force to find solutions on the West Fork that works for us all.