Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Herring illegally stocked in Montana?

My wife, dog and I were basically alongside Jeremy Wade on River Monsters this past Saturday, hiking across the grassy hillside, casting into the defunct abyss. Chasing rumors, again.
The substrate was the proverbial "pea-sized" (suitable for spawning) gravel where it wasn't muck, there was a small fish ladder on the earthen dam, and a handful of 10-inch trout (I won't even mention the scores of three-inchers) kissing the surface. Maybe that indicates it's a wild fish nursery, which means the parents have to come up sometime...
A cup of wine drew us back to camp after giving what we felt was an appropriate effort.

I don't know the truth about this place, and I wonder if anyone does. I'm starting to suspect that some old-timer has dumped a bucket of red herring into the fly-fishing gossipshere.
Every once in a while a fishery proves more than a rumor, and other times it's my own inability, poor choices, and quick temper that make it seem merely rumor. Timing is almost always a factor - daily or seasonally, and the fussy nature of trout can't be discounted.
Excuses, though. We'll continue on, until the next whisper blows through...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Seasonal-affect fishing

That first awe-filled gaze around the shoreline of an alpine lake is always gratifying, so when that reward ebbs, you know it's time for a break. The high lakes have all blended together in my eyes; their beauty's effect has paused.
Beauty blindness has triggered a revolution in fishing environs, for now.
This thought triggers a private reflection. 

"Yeah, but the highs are lower and days are shorter, and I need to pack the mountain trips in while I can." 
"Yeah, but the macks are migrating and the browns are moving, and the lakes all look the same." 

...woe is me, an angler's dilemma...
Then I remembered: There's a small impoundment on a small creek at about 6,100 feet. In June it's a small-brown fishery, but for some reason, come October, it's big-brown town. Does that qualify as a mountain lake? It does this weekend. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fairy Shrimp

I'm pretty good with bugs as they relate to fly fishing. For some reason, learning the aquatic entomology was one of my first priorities (should've probably focused on reading water and downstream hook sets). But recently at a high-elevation lake I was stumped by the creatures before me, so I thought I'd share the find.

(sorry for the low video quality - that's partially Blogger's doing)

They are kind of scud-like, but propel themselves differently. The have lateral filaments similar to some burrowing mayflies, but are not mayfly nymphs. This is why god gave us entomology professors. Professor Malcolm Butler from North Dakota State University had no problem identifying them as fairy shrimp.

It seems that they are so slow and meaty, trout often eat them up to the point of complete extermination. Therefore it's likely that if you see fairy shrimp, you won't see trout. That held true where I found them. And for some reason, they often occupy seasonal pools - indeed, I found them in a cutoff oxbow from a lake's outlet stream.

Trout apparently do coexist with them in some places like Montana's Blackfeet Reservation lakes, however, so do further investigate if you find fairy shrimp. If there are fish, they'll probably be fat.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Now accepting intangibles: Why I'm okay losing money to get published

The first 90 years or so, they go by pretty fast. Then one day, you wake up and you realize that you're not 81 anymore. And then you begin to count the minutes, rather than the days and you realize that pretty soon you'll be gone and that all you have, see, is the experiences. That's all there is Johnny. The experiences.
                                                                                            -Grandpa Gustafson, Grumpier Old Men

Writing for magazines can seem more a of money pit than a gold mine. You want me to spend hundreds of dollars in gas, more in lodging, many days of vacation, and hours researching, writing and processing photos, all in exchange for a few hundred dollars? .... Actually, yes, please. The monetary compensation is only part of the package.

These assignments provide the perfect excuse to become acquainted with the rivers on my "someday" list, today. Some "help" is usually offered, along with the chance to make some new friends.
An autumn day on the Bitterroot with Joe Cummings of Classic Journey Outfitter.
The "help" comes via opportunities to spend time on the water with guides and outfitters I'd not otherwise book. For example, I got to fish with former NFL linebacker and current Missoula-based outfitter Joe Cummings on the Bitterroot a few years ago. We spent a day catching cutts and browns, Joe telling stories of football and fishing. Joe's a great guy running a fantastic operation - book your next Bitterroot trip with him, seriously. And this April, I had the chance to meet and fish with the Kootenai River's Tim Linehan. He's a nice man who will have you into fish before you realize you're fishing, amidst warm conversation and encouragement. In three days of fishing, Tim provided two all-time fishing days for me. It's hard to put a price tag on that. (Incidentally, treat yourself to a day of fishing on the Kootenai River. If you're feeling especially indulgent, book a day with Linehan Outfitting Company.)
Good fishing begins and ends with a smile.
And especially if I have the opportunity to advocate for my causes like public land and stream access, there's inherent payment in that.

To be fair, I do have the advantage of having a regular 40-hour job. But that's what it takes - I work hard to be able to accept small paychecks.

Not everyone is on board with this way of thinking, regarding freelancing. Some colleagues argue that we should demand top dollar so as to keep the market value for articles and photos at a livable monetary wage (which they really are not, in many cases). They contend that we should not accept such small paychecks for that amount of work and expense. I understand, but mine is not to drive market price. Mine is only to live my life as I see fit. I cannot be responsible for yours.

Because no matter the circumstances, I want to be writing, I want to be getting published, I want to be fishing, I want to be traveling and I want to be making these kinds of friends. That's all there is, Johnny.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The nuances of Montana's Stream Access Law

(Originally published in the Montana Sporting Journal, Winter 2014)
Hike, fish and be happy.

Enter a Montana river from a public place and stay within its high-water marks – it's the foundation of Montana's stream access law. That access is one of the biggest reasons Montana is world-renowned for trout fishing.

The law is far from cut and dried, however - it's definitions and descriptions are often vague and open to interpretation. If you fish often enough, you'll encounter a protective landowner. But if you understand the law – and its intricacies – you'll be able to stand your ground and hopefully continue that day's trouting.

The Ruby River's Seyler Lane bridge.
The most important thing is that you always follow the rules and stay within the fine lines called high-water marks. To be fair, there isn't an angler who's never stepped out of bounds due to fishing zeal or difficult conditions, myself included (which is not to excuse it, rather it's to be forthright about it). But river users should try to minimize that, not only because it's the law, and not only so you can defend yourself in good faith, but because careless anglers give us all bad names and add fuel to the perennial fire that tries to burn Montana's stream access down. 

First off, the definition of "high-water mark" should be understood. Fish, Wildlife and Park's Stream Access in Montana brochure describes it as "the line that water impresses on land by covering it for sufficient time to cause different characteristics below the line, such as deprivation of the soil of substantially all its terrestrial vegetation..." and I wouldn't dare deviate from that. And it's "ordinary" high-water mark meaning normal-flow mark, not "annual", meaning run-off mark. And it's not within 10 feet, nor two feet (both of which I've heard anglers say), it's within it.

But there are caveats about which many anglers and landowners seem oblivious.

The easily recognizable signs posted on Ted Turner's land. Fair enough. 
One oft-overlooked aspect is that notice denying entry to private land must be posted. From the brochure: "...a member of the public has the privilege to enter or remain on private land by the explicit permission of the landowner or his agent or by the failure of the landowner to post notice denying entry onto the land. The landowner may revoke the permission by personal communication." I warn against taking advantage of this, but those are the law-maker's words.

That notice must consist of "written notice or by ... painting a post, structure or natural object with at least 50 square inches of fluorescent orange paint. In the case of a metal fencepost, the entire post must be painted. This notice must be placed at each outer gate and all normal points of access to the property and wherever a stream crosses an outer boundary line."

Some other details:
·         The law does not address lakes.
·         A no-trespassing sign at a public-road bridge is notice of private property, but does not mean anglers cannot access that stream there (despite the potential intent of whomever posted it within the road easement).
·         River users may portage around man-made obstructions (like fences, irrigation equipment or junked appliances/vehicles) in the least intrusive manner possible but does not address natural barriers, leaving such instances open to interpretation.
·         Not every public-road bridge is always fair game for access. The Seyler Lane bridge on the Ruby River goes back and forth, pending the direction of the judicial winds.

Conflicts often occur on seldom waded drainages where ranchers aren't used to seeing strangers. These places can be desirable fishing holes since they get little pressure.

I've had on-stream conflicts from Darlington Ditch to the Ruby River to the upper Madison to Mitchell Slough. I've seen guns brandished, and sheriffs called. I've also had many congenial conversations with hospitable locals who care more about how the fishing is than why you think you have the right to be there.

Mitchell Slough: We caught fish, but also caught an earful. 
If challenged, it's important to remain respectful and cool, even if you're confronted with a firearm. Calmly explain that you entered legally, and that you have remained within the high-water marks the entire time (and be sure to have done so). Inquire about what evidence they have (some claim to have trail cams at bridges, etc.), and explain the law. Some anglers carry a copy of the law verbatim as defense. Always try to deescalate, and don't argue too long.

Don't be surprised to find neighborly nepotism favoring the landowner if a sheriff's department is called. In such a case, I recommend that you concede but consider writing letters to the appropriate parties. The Public Lands Water Access Foundation out of Billings takes on these cases, and county commissioners sometimes take an interest.

So go find a map's blue line and confidently enter it from a legal place. Search for likely holding water, lay down a gentle cast, mend well, set, and fish without fear.