Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Southwest Montana mountain lake notes for June 7, 2017

  • Current ice-out level: I don't think it's crazy to think that you could get to about 8,500 feet in the mountains around Southwest Montana right now. Of course it depends on many factors and is always a crapshoot, but Liz and I easily got to 7,800 feet a week and a half ago. This is not actually too far ahead of what I guessed to be a "normal" schedule in the book, when I surmised that 8,500-foot lakes should start to be fishable around June 15. Let me know if you go!
  • Grizzly bear trapping to begin in the Madison and Gravelly Ranges soon. Signs will be posted at all access points - be sure to check out the trailhead kiosk before you embark as they bait the traps which will attract bears. Unless you're a cooler cucumber than I am, you might want to find a different hike or lake if they're trapping bears.
  • Snowpack levels have PLUMMETED.  About a week ago, all of southwest Montana was over 100 percent and things felt promising. I'm starting to expect hoot-owl restrictions on the Big Hole, Jefferson, Madison, Gallatin, Smith, Bitterroot, Clark Fork and upper Missouri rivers again this year.
  • My book should be in-house and ready to ship on Monday, June 12. There is still plenty of brown water to fill the rivers and lots of prime time at alpine lakes. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Golden trout in May?

I can't really blame you if you thought I was full of shit - it is early. But you can start getting to some lower elevation mountain lakes in May. Some folks are convinced that this idea is pure horse pucky, like the fly-shop guy in Twin Bridges.

"Where did you say you're going?" he asked yesterday morning (May 27).
"A lake in the Pioneers at about 7,800 feet," I replied.
"You ain't gonna get there."
"Oh, I don't know. I think you can get to 7,800 feet around Bozeman."
(shakes his head)
"Well, you might be right, but we're gonna go find out."

What I didn't mention to him, and I'm glad I didn't, was that we were actually going to target golden trout. There are a couple of  lakes in Montana's Pioneer Mountains below 8,000 feet where FWP has decided to stock golden trout every six years (only once, in 2014, so far). FWP managers want to increase opportunities for these special fish and decided to go with lakes where naturally reproduction was unlikely - they prefer to save lakes with spawning tribs for native fish like cutthroats.
So with high hopes, we embarked up the east slope of the East Pioneers. And we made it to the lake with aplomb. There were a few small shin-deep snowfields on the 3-mile hike, but nothing that slowed us down. The lake seemed to have been iced-off for a while.

This was the worst of the hike and it was short lived.
Obviously we failed to catch any golden trout (because golden trout are hard to catch). We only saw three trout - all decent sized for goldens (assuming they weren't hold-over cutts from the final 2012 stocking) but they merely got annoyed with our flies and casually swam to deeper water.

We found a couple trout circling and shimmying, suggesting they were interested in doing the horizontal mambo.
But this lake has a long history of no natural reproduction.

Of note about this lake - it was FULL of sculpins. Sculpins are rare at mountain lakes, and I'm sure we saw several hundred from 1 to 6 inches, all different colors and patterns. It's unclear how that affects the fishery - they actually didn't seem preyed upon as there were so many, and they weren't the least bit skittish. Such a forage base could have a major impact on trout growth rates, but their significance remains unclear.

We called this one "Grumpy Guy." Photo courtesy Liz Juers. 
One theory could be that the trout we saw are actually holdover westslope cutts which were last stocked in 2012, making these fish 5 years old. The size of the trout would corroborate this idea, and the fact that the sculpins didn't seem worried also makes some sense, as westslopes are often thought to be one of the least piscivorous trout species (some populations throughout history have actually almost gone extinct despite having forage fish available).

Regardless, I'm just glad it's mountain lake season again. And that the fly-shop guy was wrong.

For more like this, check out the Flyfisher's Guide to Southwest Montana's Mountain Lakes. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Cover Contest!

UPDATE: It looks like Option 4 is the winner, with 35 percent of the vote! Thanks to all for voting!

We need some help - we're seeking input on which cover we should use for my upcoming book! Our general criteria is to use an action shot and to have it be representative of the area covered. Vote in the poll on the right-hand side. Thanks for playing!

 Option 1: 

Option 2: 

Option 3: 

Option 4: 

NOTE: The publisher will have the final say, but this input will help drive the decision.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Road beers?

If you've lived or fished in Montana for any period of time, maybe you've heard of the fishing tradition known as "road beer." It refers to passengers drinking a beer in the car or truck on the ride home.

I'm not advocating it, not saying I've done it, and definitely not condoning the driver participating. But it's a thing that happens and it's probably not the most destructive behavior ever.

Which I believe is to Montana House Rep. Daniel Zolnikov's (R-Billings) point. He has introduced a bill in the 2017 legislature that would again allow passengers in vehicles to have open containers of booze, in the interest of personal freedom.

Time for a beer?

According to an article featured in the Missoulian newspaper: "He listed several times when a passenger might want to drink while the driver does not, which he argued would not affect public safety: driving to a fishing hole, returning home from hunting, at the end of a community baseball game, or hopping in the car to help a friend move something while setting up an event."

Opponents argue it would divert federal funds from repairs (or other discretionary uses) to safety programs, a mandate for states that allow open containers. And would make drinking while driving easier.

Either way, it's hard to get more Montana than this.