Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A call to rods

It does happen - stream access was taken away from Utah's anglers. And despite the popular belief, it wasn't by the Obama administration.

Attempts to overturn Montana's stream access law will not stop, and one day, anglers might be on the losing end. Enjoy it while you can.

Now is the time we should go stake our claims on the lower Ruby and Mitchell Slough, being mindful to be respectful of the law and the landowner.

I lived on the banks of the Gallatin River for three years and saw, on more than one occasion, naive and disrespectful anglers march across landowner's grass, sit on their furniture while pretending to be oblivious to their indiscretion. I've seen hordes of embarrassing anglers hike from one end of a private property to another, over and over and over on the Bitterroot. I was going to holler an apology to the pissed-off landowner on behalf of responsible fishermen, until I saw his silver pistol glisten in the sunlight - that was my cue to move on (see photo to the right).

In my experience, the myth of the gracious Montana ranch owner is true - they've been nothing but gregarious and warm, as long as you obey the rules and don't endanger their land or livestock. It makes me wonder if the angler who gets chewed out doesn't deserve it (most times).

Opponents of the stream access law claim it's jealousy and social warfare. Or, as in Utah, that it depreciated property values. But really, I think it's just that they don't want people on their property, which is understandable, but in Montana, folks have the right. Landowners ought not take it out on the angler - rather take it up with their legislative representatives.

Even President Obama has enjoyed the right. When he fished the East Gallatin River last summer (a river known to host its share of landowner v. fisherman conflicts), he didn't pay to fish a private stretch - he took advantage of his legal right.

Some burden to keep anglers honest is on the landowner, however. If there are not 50-square-inch orange signs posted, consent for access is implied (read it here), which can be verbally rescinded. But when you find yourself fishing a questionable place that is not posted, at least pick up some trash so if the landowner comes out and accuses you of trespass, you'll have a peace offering (to go with your defense).

So get after it - but be vigilant, respectful, law-abiding, and most of all, exercise common sense. We've got it pretty good in Montana, for now anyhow.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hebgen Lake Ice-out Report

Friday we hiked in to the Madison Arm of Hebgen Lake from Highway 191. It wasn't an easy hike over snow and through mud, but if there's open water on Hebgen, it's usually worth it. To our surprise, it appeared as though the entire Madison Arm was open (can't be positive, though). There were lots of Hebgen midges, but it was blowing a gale and no fish were rising. The lake even appeared to have slightly turned over as it wasn't very clear. So it was one of the few times when fishing Hebgen seemed futile. There were lots (I counted about 50) baetis along the river, and we found one pod of consistently rising fish (alas this section of the river is closed until May).
The estuary is interesting water and hosts some big rainbows.
But, the point is that there are definitely sections of Hebgen that are ice-free and on less windy days, I have no doubt that the fishing is lights out (rumor has it that the South Fork Arm and Whiskey Bay also have open water - the north shore has a ways to go). It takes a little work to get there, but anyone who has fished Hebgen knows of the reward.
On Saturday I towed the camper out to the lower Madison and floated Black's Ford to Greycliff with Clay, Brady, Caroline, Josh Duchateau and his fiance' Sandy. The fishing was good for the first half of the float (for everyone but me, but I digress...). The closer we got to the takeout, the bonier and less fishy the water became. We capped the day with beers around a campfire, enduring that infamous lower Madison wind. We hit the hay thinking the wind would soon stop; alas it gusted and gusted all night. It was kind of insane. I got up at about 6, broke down and came home.
The rest of them floated again today and apparently the fishing was quite good, but windier yet. I wish I could've joined them, but I popped home to get my aggressive dog before last night's campfire, so I was on my own.
Also, last Wednesday I found some new public water on Bozeman's locally "secret" stream. It's a place that doesn't have much for public land so it's always good to find more. The fishing was good - they wanted the baetis nymph.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Macro what? Wha-cro lens?

I promised my dog I'd spend some time with him today, but I also thought I'd try to sneak in some fishing, so I headed over to the Yellowstone across from Mayor's Landing. Alas it was quite windy (I'm sure it was more than the 26 mph winds that said), so I decided to hike along the river instead of fish.

Along the way, I stopped to check for bugs and got some photos with my Canon point-and-shoot. I used the "super macro" and am impressed with the results. You can virtually put the end of the lens on the subject and it still focuses, and it was way easier than my slr macro lens to hold steady. It makes me wonder if I shouldn't put the lens on the open market and get some cash for it.
Incidentally, the baetis are looking semi-cooked - they didn't look quite ready to pop.
From top to bottom: Midge larva, baetis nymphs, cased caddis.

Finding that swagger on the Boulder

The (Big Timber) Boulder River is wide awake, and not just down low. I decided to head over there after seeing that temperatures had reached about 54 degrees at Big Timber already - it was my best shot at some blue-winged olives. But instead of staying low and maybe catching some mayflies and run-up rainbows, I decided to fish new water at the Boulder Forks FAS, which was good because I was able to fish the West Boulder for the first time.
Both rivers are absolutely stunning, with gin-clear water in beautiful settings. A fresh coat of powder made the scene all the more gorgeous. It was the warmest 32 degress I've felt in a long time, and the wind was minimal. Peace and trout.
Both the mainstem and the West Boulder were fishing - small fish in small pockets on the West, bigger fish in nicer runs on the main (appar- ently, the West de-iced only a couple weeks ago). I managed to bring a 19-inch rainbow to hand - a nice stepping stone on my way to filling Brady's shoes on Fridays.
Hopefully I'll have a chance to get better at holding fish for grip-n-grins (and more creative in shooting them). It doesn't make it any easier when you have to set the timer, balance the camera on a rock and hope it's in focus. At least it validates my claim.
For the third week in a row there were good numbers of winter stoneflies - I've seen more in the past three weeks than I thought existed in the world.
I wouldn't mind getting back over there before long - but we have other fish to fry (so to speak). Stillwater River, anyone?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Winter stones, skwala nymphs and the Big Hole

Got back to the Big Hole, my favorite river du jour. The fish were hungry - unfortunately the whitefish were hungrier than the trout. For the first time, I actually got sick of catching them (I'm usually happy just to catch a fish). It was all about the size 10 yellowish variegated-chenille girdle bug (which I fish as a skwala nymph, and I assume they take as one), and the occasional Copper John. I only fished a small chunk of water downstream of the Maiden Rock Fish & Game access, but there are several holes there, all with fish. Clay, Brady and Josh Duchateau fished upstream and I'm sure hammered fish.
There were a few midges, but more winter stoneflies. I saw three fish rise so I threw on a size 14 Royal Wulff at the end of the day, but got no respect.
There were tall ice shelves, but they had mostly receded. I heard that the river is actually ice-free (for the most part) down- stream of Jerry Creek, which is kind of crazy this early in the season. I've seen several harbingers of a low-water year (fishing closures) and I will add this to the list.
And I have to mention the huge fish Josh D. and Brady got at the Upper Clark Fork on Thursday. I'd love to post pics, but they're not my intellectual property so you'll just have to imagine the long beautiful browns and obese, ornery rainbows. Several 20-plus-inchers.
I took last Friday off as I had the opportunity to work, and that night we celebrated my 30th birthday with homemade sushi and Salmonfly Honey Rye. They tell me it was a good time - I have reason to believe it was.
On a side note, Brady's work schedule will prevent him from fishing on Fridays for the foreseeable future. That puts the onus of producing impressive fish squarely on Clay and me. We can do it. We can do it...