Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Up is hard

There's no strategy for hiking. You just put left before right along a path. It's mindless, cathartic, and healthy, and usually takes you somewhere good. But as was noted on our first mountain-lake trip of the year on Sunday, "up is hard".


We did about 12 miles round trip with about 1,500 feet in elevation gain, which I believe is my biggest distance-day ever, with or without elevation gains. The trip was part of a years-long high-country fly-fishing project just getting underway, which will require many more uphills.

One "up" down, and I'm feeling empowered...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

PR 022, and others

Somewhere on the public-private jigsaw puzzle of northeastern Montana, an unnamed swimming-pool-sized mud puddle sloshes in the prairie breeze. It is a remnant of a drained reservoir, I'm told, whose tributary stream still flows across the adjacent mud flat. It seems vacant, until you near its edge and see the wakes shoot toward the center. The wakes veeeee off the backs of carp that grow up to 10 pounds. 


This rectangular oasis sits among a sparse number of arid reservoirs that provide this desolation with some recreation. Most are 10ish-acre impoundments stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, catfish, and/or rainbow trout, and some have wild bullhead and carp. Each one provides the potential for big fish in small ponds.

It's the epitome of exploratory fishing, lacks bearded and buff-masked flotillas, and holds a piscatorial newness and beauty that's more obvious than you might guess. And my ill-behaved mutt can raise hell as he sees fit. Yes please.
Clean feet are for waders. 



Monday, April 13, 2015

One week in the Kootenai

The Kootenai River is out of the way. That might be the main reason it remains full of native rainbows, cutts and bulls. Please enjoy a quick visual recap. Thanks to Linehan Outfitting Company for hosting us at their cabins, and getting us into many dandies.

















Tuesday, March 10, 2015

35 Fish

Inspired by Fitz Cahall's video 35 in which Brandon Leonard climbs 35 pitches on his 35th birthday, we set out to catch 35 trout on my 35th birthday. A lofty goal, indeed.


You can't just go to every 10-fish hole you can think of - the spots need to be near each other or you'll spend too much time driving. So we settled on the Madison River - everywhere but the Kitchen Sink.

Early to rise, late to bed, until I catch 35 trout....


When the first hole yielded a fish, our hopes were dashed. When the second hole yielded no eats, we waved the white flag in the interest of enjoying the day over stressing over an arbitrary goal. We were 10-run-ruled in the 1st inning. Not saying I did everything right, but I've never caught that few of fish at those two holes ... So we adapted.

Drive the car 35 miles per hour for 35 miles? Get 35 drifts in 35 mph winds at 35 degrees? Lose 35 flies? Shout 35 curse words? Drink 35 beers?

The 35-fish challenge highlights a difference between fishing and climbing (as the inspiration did). Climbing is slightly more in one's control; even the best anglers need cooperative trout. Not making excuses, just sayin'. What fun would fishing be if every fish was a guarantee?


But lamenting a long day of trouting is silly. We had views of sunlit crags. We caught fish - some chunky - ate well, laughed hard and shared it all with the dog. I saw the biggest bighorn sheep herd and the biggest elk herd of my life. We returned to Belgrade in time to share a mug at the brewery with friends, and my heart was full. Despite the dearth of trout, we celebrated every minute and ended the day with well over 35 memories - the real measure of any birthday or fishing trip.

I better brush up - these fishing birthdays will only get more difficult from here...


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Disenchanted on the South Fork

Dear steelhead:
Why don't you like me?
Sometimes things feel good between us, like in the first hour we're near, and when I'm catching the whitefish around you, and for about 15 minutes after we hook up. I don't know why it can't always be that good.
I thought you were kinda into me. You can't deny that we had a strong connection on my first-ever visit, but you seem like you're avoiding me now.
Just between you and me - I did some really demeaning things for you. I want you to know that I am not really that kind of angler, but I'll clearly do whatever it takes for us to be together.
But if we cannot be together, please promise me that you won't hook up with my friends. That'd be pretty hard on me.
I'm doing my best to move on. I've even started seeing some other fish in your area (see below).
And while this has been painful, I am learning some valuable lessons. Just like every love, each rendezvous between us is a glorious miracle. I cherish every bit of you, and hope we can eventually work things out.

Keep it real,
Disenchanted on the South Fork

Please confirm that this is a steelhead...

Friday, February 6, 2015

Translation of esoteric science-related terminology for a non-specialized piscatorial audience in a publishing environment (or Blah, blah, [slump]...)

Writing about fishing isn't always a dream job. One lackluster aspect is when the writing involves translating articles from scholarly journals and fisheries biologists' language for anglers - usually challenging and always very dry. I actually had the opportunity to speak about how writers craft these facts and numbers for a fishy readership (which I declined). Ultimately, I just do my best to understand the science-ese (it helps to have a housemate with a biology degree), then regurgitate it as fish-ish.

Courtesy NPS.gov
That said, it's usually worth the effort. The findings of the research and the biologists' on-the-ground information is usually at least intriguing, and at best game changing.
In fact there have been a number of worth-while scholarly journal articles recently that relate to fly fishing. Here are a few:
  • Fish-eating mice. With a little luck, you'll be able to read a fly-fishing-focused take on this and related concepts in the May/June edition of American Angler (I know because I wrote it ;)).
  • Rainbow trout show smell preferences and taste preferences (H/T Anne Marie Emery of the Henry's Fork Foundation). Obviously trout get keyed, but sometimes what they've keyed on doesn't make sense. Here's solid evidence with rationale.
  • Alarm signals in fish (are they letting each other know when we're around?):
I'm sure there are many more - feel free to comment with any similar articles you've found...

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ten things about Belgrade, Montana

You probably know a thing or two about Bozeman, Montana, but probably not nearby Belgrade (where my fiance and I have set up shop). We sometimes get to lamenting our little bedroom community as lame and lacking in character, but it has it's qualities. I've highlighted 10 things to love about Belgrade, Montana.

The water tower during the "Millie Fire" of 2012.
  1. Madison River Brewing Company. The brewery, our brewery. The best beer and the best brewery ambiance I've found. Living in Belgrade would be difficult without our beloved brewery. 
  2. Amaltheia Dairy. You ain't shit until you've indulged in Amaltheia's goat cheese. Seriously. 
  3. Curry Express Indian Restaurant. Closed circuit to the owners: "Please don't leave." We love the food and diversity so much that we're trying to single-handedly offer them enough business to keep going. They were delightfully (and probably rightfully) surprised when someone from Belgrade knew what naan was. If you're in Belgrade, you must try the curry. 
  4. Actor Phillip Winchester. A Belgrade native and the brewery's most high-profile and polite patron. He's great, really. 
  5. The Bozeman Airport (BZN). It's actually in Belgrade, and this proximity is marvelous for our airbound guests. It brings excitement through our town in the way of celebrities, like Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel eating at McKenzie River Pizza, Jeff Bridges getting his photo taken with a kid wearing a shirt of the dude (in a Simms shirt, no less), and well-substantiated rumors of Tiger, Oprah, John Mayer and more. Oh and POTUS.

  6. A standard rainbow from the "East". 
  7. The East Gallatin River. It's the quintessential small stream with big fish. Unintimidating for rookies with enough bends and challenge for veteran anglers. Marvelous thing to have four miles from your door. Oh and POTUS fished it.
  8. The autoharp-playing lady at Desert Rose's Thursday Jam who sings about Belgrade. Have a couple beers, grab a partner, and immerse yourself in all the Belgrade that surrounds you.
  9. Beaumont Greens. It's the badass name of our neighborhood. While all of Belgrade offers relative real-estate affordability coupled with proximity to Bozeman, mountains, rivers and the rest of Montana, Beaumont Greens offers minimal covenants and no home-owners associations like those that plague the younger housing developments. 
  10. Valley Barber. The recently retired Randall, and Chris and Steve. It's the old-school barber shop that I need. Get your fix of hunting and fishing gossip, a low-key hair-cut without much haggling, and support a local business. And of course, it has a spiraling red, blue, and white barber pole.
  11. The Chalet Market: Everything Montana, food-wise. Buffalo, elk, cheeses, sandwiches, bison burgers, bacon, chocolate, and of course, beer and wine. Perfect for gifts for folks east of here.
Honorable mention: the Ponds at Dry Creek - a wonderful venue for any occasion with very nice owners, complete with monster trout. Kostas: a singer-songwriter from Belgrade. I've never actually heard him, but I gather he's legit.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Small scale steelheading

There are incredible fly-fishing opportunities in Montana, but mostly for trout/grayling. Some bass, pike, carp, even walleye for the extra intrepid. But many anglers yearn for and travel great distances to try their hands at catching the magical West Coast ghosts. Montana does not have, nor has it ever had, steelhead, but there are places and methods in Montana were anglers can come close to replicating steelhead fishing. Think the Jefferson, the Lower Lower Yellowstone, headwaters-to-Toston on the Missouri River, and the Fort Peck tailwater (a few other places come to mind, but they shall remain off this blog). These (mostly) marginal trout fisheries don't have stacked pods of 12- to 18-inchers like so many of our steadfast fisheries, but they do have monster rainbows and browns, that keep the limited biomass all to themselves. If catching few but big appeals to you, read on...


Many of these places offer lake-run rainbows, similar in spirit to steelhead. They're not Olympic Peninsula winter fish or Idaho B-runs, but they are fantastic salmonids considering they don't get to plump up on ocean protein. For most intents and purposes, they are junior steelhead.

Historically, the closest steelhead ever came to Montana was up the headwater forks of Idaho's Kelly Creek (which go basically to the state border on the Continental Divide), but that ended when the North Fork of the Clearwater River was dammed in 1973. Today, the closest that steelhead come to the Big Sky is in the Salmon River, which is about 8 miles (as the crow flies) from the border, in the Beaverhead Mountains. (Correct me if I'm wrong about any of this - it's all from memory and I'm finding the information hard to track down).


Swinging flies can remain the preferred technique for hooking these trout, but if you love the rarity of catching a winter steelhead on a swung fly, you might consider other tactics that offer the challenge and exclusivity, like committing to the mouse (on any given Montana fishery). It's similar in that you're likely fishing for big fish, and you really need to spend time searching for "players". If the tug is the drug, the slam can be your jam (*please withhold feedback on that one). And if you're really bored with trout fishing, you can fish a mouse in any of the few-but-big fisheries mentioned above.


While you're not going to catch the mystical, giant, sea-running oncorhynchus, you're also not putting pressure on this vulnerable and important species, joining the masses sprinting to this latest greatest trend in fly fishing (this jab is not aimed at all who pursue them). And you can save a little money, lighten your carbon footprint, and anger your significant other a little less.

I too yearn to catch steelhead, but in the mean time, I can challenge myself in Montana.




Saturday, December 27, 2014

Barely literate: writing advice from a non-reader

Sometimes I feel old and haggard, without much left to learn. Then the universe rolls its eyes and checks me, and I'm reminded that none of us know much.

In my long, drawn-out dream to write well, I've recently taken some advice to heart: read.

The problem with that is that I don't read... Here's me reading: Reading, reading, reading, about three paragraphs in, I pull the book down to pontificate, gazing into the distance, embarking on an endless thought train. Then, at about the fourth paragraph, my eyes will continue working over the words on the page, but my mind will cease focusing.

Problematic for a guy who both writes and works at a book-publishing company.

Until I was about 30, I'd literally only ever read one book: Space Station Seventh Grade by Jerry Spinelli. Then at about 30 I completed my second book: The Alaska Chronicles by Miles Nolte. Other good books I've picked up are Haunted by Waters (which is a great introduction to fly fishing's best writers), and A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.


So, in my quest to be better, I've picked up a book again. I am continuing with Haunted by Waters - a great idea for this early, harsh winter.

Other writing advice I've encountered recently:
  • Write something everyday. 
  • Join or start a writer's group (maybe not even the type that shares stuff to improve writing, maybe even just a group to share a pint, and recent successes, frustrations, travails, etc., to support and offer advice)
  • Read above your level, but write below it (h/t Grant and Martha).
  • Specifically on the daily struggles of full-time freelance writing (courtesy Semi-rad/Brendan Leonard). 
There's so much room for improvement; this is my little effort.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The rivers will kindly wait

"We went to give our thanks along the river banks." - Neil Young


The forecast diverted our path from closing day (for fishing) in Yellowstone National Park to the greenish water below Ennis Dam, one of the fishier places within a smaller radius. It took a bit to acclimate to fishing little pink stuff winter style, but it was good (even landing half as many as my partner). As such, these traditions are often more about assessing vitals than fishing.

With the World Series over, daylight savings upon us, snow on the mountain tops and other recent woes, there is a temptation to let it affect you. I say let the gloom wash over you like a back-country thunderstorm. Share a pint with friends, distribute the weight evenly, and endure this glacier. As many have noted: This too shall pass.


The rivers will patiently wait. Until then, don't let the frost bite.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Time machine

You ain't cool if you ain't catching these: 



UPDATE:



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fishing on the prairie

Another sensational weekend in Phillips County, Montana, on and around the American Prairie Reserve. Best believe we caught some dandy trout in the brown-water BLM reservoirs, and that we weren't the only ones doing so.


The whooshes of songbird swooshes can startle a person, far from the relatively metropolitan vibe of southwest Montana. Boges, who started with two good eyes and four good legs, plundered about without worry of endangering the neighborhood. Sunrises like the one below decorated each morning.


If only we can convince the powers that be to stock the reservoir on the private property at which we stay - it has a large forage base of scuds and probably fathead minnows. I'd happily fish for anything - even the weird fish native to this area like sauger, channel cats, paddlefish (yes, please), or sturgeon.




But the Madison River's nice, too.



Saturday, October 4, 2014

Redington Butter Stick, or Molasses in January

I've always liked fiberglass fly rods, but have never cast one with regularity. My dad's old 7-weight St. Croix and the 7-weight Wright and McGill Sweetheart I pulled out of a neighbor's garbage were fiberglass and I was curious if this new generation of fiberglass fly rods would tickle my fancy as much as those unwieldy old rods did. So I borrowed a Butter Stick.


Redington's new fiberglass offering promises "high modulus fiberglass, added premium components, and ... retro styling, all at a phenomenal price" and "enough flex to deliver delicate presentations, but all the strength to reach fish on the far bank." Mine was an 8-foot, three-piece 5 weight.

My first several impressions weren't great. It felt heavy in hand (until casting it) and it was bad at casting heavy flies, especially on the roll cast. Light flies were much easier, and casting distance was not an issue. And it scored some bonus points for making 13-inch trout feel 17 (noodly disposition and all); and a friend who likes to spey cast (and isn't easily impressed) liked how it roll cast.

But I wasn't in love with it.

Dinks feel decent with the Butter Stick. 

The rod I compare it against, which admittedly isn't fair, is the Sage Circa. I so love the modern, slow action on that rod that my expectations got a little elevated for actual fiberglass. The Butter Stick ($249.99) comes in at a much lower price point than the Circa ($775), however, and doesn't try to compete.

Finally, on about my seventh trip, I figured out that if you slow your cast, then hesitate a second, then wait a little more, then go slower, it casts great. It is slower than I was expecting. I was finally able to cast big streamers (though it took its toll on my arm after a while and I still can't recommend fishing a big or dual streamer/s).

Slower! 
Once in the zone, it was a heckuva lot of fun. It provided every bit of that velvety feel that fiberglass fans love and that I was hoping to find in the contemporary models. It's obviously not the Circa, but for it's price point, it's a charming rod.

The most important measure: I did, in fact, buy one of my own.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Job opening!

The Bozeman angling and floating community has a job opening! We are seeking a reliable, affordable shuttle service to make runs on the Madison River from Black's Ford to Headwaters State Park.
Job requirements: Must be punctual, have access to a vehicle, and be available on evenings and weekends (ideally weekday days, too). Must not change CDs in or steal from vehicles being shuttled. Must run the shuttles you promise to run. Must want to be your own boss, and make some bank during peak seasons.

Please reply with your name and phone number on this posting. Anglers will get back to you.

It seems that all the shuttles services on the Lower Madison are currently either out of business or unreliable. It could be an opportunity to make some money, for the right person/crew.

Some quick hypothetical math: It's about 30 miles for me to get to the river, and 30 to get home. If I did six shuttles for $25 each, totaling, let's say, 92 miles (making six random stabs at where and in what order I'd shuttle cars), I'd drive 152 miles for $150. My car gets about 30 mpg, so I'd use a little over five gallons of gas costing me $17.18 (at the current $3.39/gal). Six shuttles would gross $150, and net $132.82 (pre-tax, and sans additional insurance). That's almost double the current standard mileage reimbursement ($0.56). Doesn't seem like six shuttles would be a difficult number to reach, at least in the summer and on weekends, March through November.

You'd need a partner, however, so splitting that money even would yield $66.41 (though the car's owner should get more). Accounting for 25-percent payroll taxes, it's equivalent to earning about $11.07/hour for a standard 8-hour-day job.

Feel free to do your own math, but would it be worth it for that pay?

Do... you ... want .... to run a shuttle service on the lower Madison? Good boy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Crickets, in Wyoming

I found 'em. The best secret keepers of the fishing world are in Wyoming.

Working on a short article regarding a mountain range in Wyoming we recently visited known to be arcane, I gave it my best. I read up, spoke with locals, and tried to track down fish-stocking records. All I found were wild geese, which I gleefully chased.

The upper Green River below Warren Bridge. We landed *CLASSIFIED* trout over *CLASSIFIED* inches.

Stocking records are not on the website, as Wyoming Game and Fish receptionists will try to tell you, so I called for a PDF or a biologist. Five times:
  1. Transferred to voice-mail that cut me off mid-message.
  2. No answer (business hours).
  3. Answered by a strange beeping sound. 
  4. (shortly after call number 3) Busy signal.
  5. I got a person, who directed me to the website. I asked if she could be more specific so she looked it up. Couldn't find anything. But she did have a print-out of the June stocking, that she could make copy of and mail to me (no PDFs in Pinedale). Can't wait to see what actually arrives. Even if it is the June stocking report, I'm sure it's only one season's worth. 
The US Fish and Wildlife Service lists stocking records on their website - the fishery, the hatchery, and the lat/long. That's all. No species, sizes or dates, and only for the Wind River Indian Reservation. I left a message for the Forest Service. I left messages with fisheries biologists ...

The close-mouthed champions.

Eventually, a brave soul from Lander e-mailed me a pdf with the most recent records. The fish species, however, were in a three-letter code. When asked for help, she responded, "This might help" (no attachment, no link). 

You win, Wyoming.

But in a time of online fish surveys, loose-lipped message boards, and steelhead tickers, it's kind of nice to think there's a place where you really gotta go to know. 

So fish the fishy stuff, and let me know what you find.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The bugle of the brown trout

There are not many places where trout are as long as the flow, so I figured it was worth a shot. I didn't expect to catch any 30-inchers, nor do I know what I'd have done if I hooked one (probably thrown my rod in and gone home) but it was not the only two-foot brown sampled here.

Problem was, there are also plenty of dinks here. I figured my biggest challenge (besides getting a monster to eat, fighting off moose, avoiding the harassment of ranchers and the eyes of anglers) would be to getting a fly past the eager adolescents.

It was moosey land - I took a minute to analyze every black or brown head sticking out of the willows to see if it had an ear tag. All I saw were brawny bulls of the bovine variety, but most of them stared me down then encroached a bit - not reassuring when you're already on edge. I had one hand on the bear spray most of the first couple hours.

At fisheries like this, you almost feel like you're breaking the law, stepping through river-spanning fences and getting the hairy eyeball from locals (though everything is officially on the up and up as long as the water is open to fishing, you gained access at a public road/land and stayed within the high-water marks). You at least feel like you must be out of the loop since few others ever fish these certain places. Or the only one in the loop.

But the ranch workers couldn't have cared less, no moose were seen (until the drive home when I saw a group of six) and my six-inch Double Bunnies quickly sank past the dinks.

I landed a half dozen fish over about eight hours, but zero browns. And one chamber-of-commerce rainbow - I should've packed it in then.



Thursday, September 4, 2014

The high motivation of creamy Jif

My shoulders spelled my soul, and we started uphill for four days and three nights in Wyoming's Wind River Range.


It was my first back-country camp-trip since a 2002 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness trip, and it was different. This was no Duluth Pack, float-and-paddle vacation. I bought a Go-Lite backpack, had my packing list quartered then halved, and researched food that offered high energy in small packages. 'Twas then that I discovered my true motivation: Peanut butter.

A couple years ago, I abandoned certain foods like bratwurst, macaroni and cheese, and my beloved creamy Jif. I grieved like a mother dolphin, but it was worth it and I lost weight.

I found alternatives like PB2 - a low-calorie powdered peanut butter. It's fine. Perfectly edible, and great for low-calorie Asian sauces, but not a suitable substitute for p.b. connoisseurs. Incidentally, PB2 is usually ideal for this kind of lightweight trip, except that I might actually need more calories. Why waste the opportunity?

I turned into a dopey mule behind a dangling carrot, bounding uptrail, counting down until snack time, and spreading on a little too much. If the bears could've smelled my thoughts, I'd have been scalped.

The manifestation was truly exquisite... Mmm... Let us take a moment for silent reflection...

Guardian.
Beyond the back-country delicacies, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in the Bridger Wilderness of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. We fished, thanks to Finis Mitchell's pre-fisheries-enlightenment bucket biology. No golden trout were hooked, but a low-pressure front and thunderstorms were certainly to blame (#sarcasm?). We did find eager rainbows and a stunning brook trout.

Hooked up at Seneca Lake.
brook trout, Miller Lake
It's not a golden, but it's not so bad. 
 Home again, the blisters are healing and the peanut butter has returned to the shelf. Until we start uphill again.