Saturday, November 29, 2014

Giving thanks, from Window Rock Cabin

After a foot of new snow and in the midst of an avalanche warning, the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center gave us the go-ahead to drive to the forest service cabin we'd reserved months prior. Over the river and through the woods...

[Apologies for the dirty lens...]
Our first thanks went to the generous folks who stopped to drag us out of the ditch. From there, we drove clear to the cabin's driveway, incident free, on the mushy Hyalite Canyon roads (for the record, the county plows only to the reservoir, but with snow-packed roads and four-wheeled drive, you can drive beyond the lake). We arrived to t-shirt weather due to an apparent inversion and, after a quick bubbly toast, felt good enough to taunt the beautiful weather (and we got away with it). 

Turkey, stuffing, and potatoes later, we faded into a food coma, and another magnificent Thanksgiving was behind us.

I give thanks for affordable, rustic cabins on public land, where even peasants can enjoy Montana's peaks and valleys, first-hand.

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: 


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Little 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).

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...

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.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ten years home

When was the moment when you realized you found your home? I didn't realize I'd had my moment until years later.

My Montana.
My first ever weekend in Montana, some transplanted friends and I took a drive down Bozeman's Hyalite Canyon. I remember looking up at the mountains, mouth agape, realizing why Montana is so beloved. Then I learned that most of those mountains are public. And I can wade any river with a public road. And fly fishing is more fun than dragging crankbaits. And Minnesota became obsolete.

I used to get annoyed when people would say, "You're so lucky to live in Montana." I didn't just close my eyes and start walking. I had put myself in a position to be able to relocate, and I chose Montana. You can do it too. But nowadays I actually do feel fortunate to live here. I hope Montana keeps me.

All I wanted was a couple years of post-college adventure. Today is the 10th anniversary of the first time I saw Bozeman, and moved here. I'm grateful for Montana - the only place I've never wanted to leave.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The jewel of the western prairie

My old friend wanderlust recently brought me to the Chinooks and shrubs of northeastern Montana, and the American Prairie Reserve. What it lacked in sippin' trout, it made up for in wondrous openness for this old fisherman.

Dawn on a prairie reservoir.
It's a largely undisturbed landscape of scrub, grasslands, and unadulterated prairie (save for a few generations-old ranches) rich with beautiful emptiness, nicknamed America's Serengeti. The reserve was created and is operated by its namesake forward-thinking conservation non-profit organization, and is working to preserve a large-scale prairie complex. The actual property is a patch-work of public (BLM and state) and private (APR) lands bordering the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge south of Malta, Mont., and is open to the public.

In a way, it's a wilderness all its own. Not in the government-designation sense - more of Merriam Webster's version. A wilderness you can drive through, with power lines and occasional ranch houses, and where you have every square inch and similar biodiversity to what you have when you're miles deep into Yellowstone.

I went all the way to the prairie and all I got was this grousy photo. 
We had our own spot in the world about 45 miles down the notorious "gumbo" roads from the nearest amenities, accompanied by the nighthawks, swallows, doves, partridge, grouse, burrowing owls and prairie dogs. And a few miles away, buffalo. One of the APR's primary goals is to bring bison back to the prairie, which they've been doing for years. It's one of the few places in the world you can see pure-strain bison (APR's are from the Elk Island National Park in Alberta) - that is, not at least part bovine.

The dog had the time of his life. He pounced through the marshy shoreline of the nearby reservoir until he limped, fulfilled his dream of riding in the back of a pickup, and lived a life of freedom he's proven he can't handle in a settled area. I feel like a monster for bringing him home.

That night as I watched the dirty water run down the shower drain, I got to believing in what APR is doing. That drab, desolate prairie is something to save.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Undamming the blog

As we brainstormed how we could make enough money to get by (a few years down the road living in a camper), it dawned on me - there will not be enough opportunity in the fly-fishing-writing world. I need to expand into the total outdoors/lifestyle-writing realm (though it might be a pipe dream regardless).

The surge of relief momentarily startled me.

I realized how much I'd pigeon-holed myself. As the fly-fishing columnist for a Montana magazine, I felt that I should keep my blog strictly fishing related for credibility's sake, and I ended up forcing ideas, opportunities, and fishiness. It's time for TroutBugs to grow.

The ideas have started to gush again.

While it will largely remain fishing oriented, TroutBugs will also feature general Montana outdoors lifestyle content, like posts about music festivals, outdoor-wedding-venue hunting, interactions with the little people of the Pryor Mountains, Western craft beer, journeys into Wyoming, and more. Chasing hatches and exploring tributaries will always be my jam, but to limit myself is silly.

See ya at the put-in.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wedding Recon, Southwest Montana Style

Is it just me, or does it seem like there has been a lot of wedding planning going on lately? Maybe it just stands out because Liz and I have been doing lots of wedding planning lately. We're still on the first step: choosing a location.

Finding the right venue can be overwhelming in an area with so many naturally elegant options. Naturally, we want our wedding to be outside and have something of that Montana sais quoi. We've looked at several locations over the past weeks, including:
And more. Lots of touring, and lots of learning about the area, and lots of fun (and slight drudgery, in brief moments).

We basically have it narrowed down to two; one being a lodge that would work for the favored float-in, float-out option. We took to the boat to see if the wedding party could feasibly arrive via the river (incidentally, when you get to float the Yellowstone River as part of your wedding planning, you can feel pretty good about your life choices).

The dry-fly bite wasn't quite as strong as I'd hoped (maybe due to the storms), but in spots it was great. In the end we both caught a few fish - some on dries, nymphs and streamers.

And we determined it'd likely work fine to float-in.

As original as we're trying to be, it's hard to find a never-been-done venue in an area so full of outdoorsy folks. We'll just have to make up for it with original nuptials and subsequent union. It's about to get real matrimonial up in here...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

White Sulphur Soul Revival

Even fishing can become routine and mundane. Even "adventurous" lives gets stale.

With that feeling, Liz and I went to the Red Ants Pants Music Festival this past weekend to wake up my soul in an equally sleepy town. The dusty prairie was my dawn and the thump of the music was my wake-up call.

It wasn't too raucous for the thousand-person agraria of White Sulphur Springs, Montana.

Jason Isbell, Red Ants Pants Music Festival
Polite awakening with Jason Isbell. 
As the fantastic green and purple sky dimmed, we brainstormed how we could make this lifestyle permanent. Work hard and save money, and maybe in 10 to 15 years we can sell our assets and become full-time gypsies, hosting campgrounds, playing irregular musical gigs, contributing articles to whomever is paying. And have that off-the-grid cabin in the woods of which I've dreamt since I was a teenager.

Or at least jump from campsite to campsite every 14 days, fishing and following music without the stress of a routine life.

Late in the day.
Some personal favorite weekend acts were Baskery, James McMurtry (new for me), Matt Andersen and some local band (Hooligans?) that filled in for the mysteriously absent Holly Williams. Also there was Josh Ritter, Ian Tyson, Jason Isbell, Charley Pride, Brandi Carlile and a moving tribute to local doctor and musician Ben Bullington by a high-school band (video of that perfomance not yet available). And the cross-cut competition was surprisingly captivating - go Moonsnails!

James McMurtry, Red Ants Pants
James McMurtry.
Doesn't mean I didn't fish a little.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tying the (fisherman's) knot

Fly anglers, myself included, tend to let the sport infiltrate their thoughts, conversations, travel, employment, relationships, and ultimately, the majority of their lives. Therefore as silly as it was, I really wanted a fishy social-media engagement announcement/photo.

So Liz and I headed to the Lower Madison, but got distracted with potential riverside wedding venues and didn't land anything noteworthy. Giving it one more week, we headed to Wyoming's upper Upper Green River which was full and fast. Fishing was initially frustrating.

But soon, Liz's rod bent and bobbed.

I hollered, seeing the robust rainbow flail. "This is our fish!"

Fighting the pressure and the fish, she brought the feisty, freezing-water rainbow to hand, where a toast was in order. Silly as it is, this photo is kind of a big deal to me.

No prizes for guessing the wedding theme.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Catching upstate

We traveled to where it all began for Liz. And we made a point to try to find the exact hole where she landed her first-ever fish - likely a trout - from Fall Creek in Ithaca, New York.

Whether this was it or not, she wasn't positive. But it was close enough, and in the couple hours we ended up with to fish, she caught that fish again. A special moment on a wonderful trip across the northern U.S.

The rest of the trip involved floods, mudslides, a broke-down car that's still in Pennsylvania, little league baseball, a wedding, friends new and old, family, and lots of driving. Great trip, but good to be home. We're ready for summer in Montana, and all that it entails.

Ithaca Falls. Probably should've fish here...

Giant Lake Erie midge - like the ones that helped the Indians beat the Yankees in the 2007 ALDS. Go midges!
The Mankato Brewery. We approved. 
A stonely out of the catfish water in Mankato.