Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Month 2, day 2, of a brief hiatus from our careers

A soft breeze sweeps through our detached Lance truck camper as it sits alone on the quiet yellow prairie about 45 miles south of Malta, Montana. "Aayy-meee-eee, what'cho wanna doo-oooo..." serenades my dog and me via a far-off AM radio station as I type directions to the Shonkin Sag's Lost Lake into my iPhone, which gets a miraculous LTE signal.

Aside from the pond that I've already fished and plan to possibly hit again tonight, this area's fishy potholes are at least an hour away by bumpy, slow-going gravel road, and the nearest public pump is in Malta. Conditions are poor anyhow - the tiny "tailwater" creek I tried to fish a couple days ago, that I'd heard was stacked with northern pike, was chalk dry. I could bike to the nearby Charles M. Russell Wildlife Management Area and imagine giraffes and elephants gallop in the distance, but I did that yesterday. An occasional bison or 12 ambles through this little campground, courtesy of the American Prairie Reserve. Coyotes, raptors, and prairie dogs are also abundant, as are animal feces and solitude.

I suppose I'd rather be fishing, but this undemanding moment is begging me to stay put and enjoy it. I guess I'll leave some things unaccomplished today.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A brief hiatus from our careers...

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
- Ferris Bueller

Liz and I have decided to accept some advice and take something of a temporary, mid-life retirement while we have the energy, patience, ability, and money. Mm hmm, we've done the "sabbatical."

For three months, we'll be neo-gypsies living between the trees, riverbanks and painted white lines. ♪Picture Liz/Josh in a boat on a river, ♪ with tangerine trout and marmalade slashes... ♪ Because "the experiences, Johnny."

For the first leg, we're splitting three weeks between Minnesota's Duluth, the Twin Cities and my hometown, Mankato to catch up with family, friends and nostalgic hangouts. From there, we'll head up to northeast Montana's American Prairie Reserve, work our way back to Belgrade, Montana along some central-Montana back roads, then take week-long trips at some preferred boondocks throughout the rest of the Northern Rockies in our adventure-mobile.

So far we've filleted some Superior macks, taken a long walk on the beach, watched the fireworks from Duluth's harbor, poked around some Minnesota trout streams, peered into the Boundary Waters at the Sawbill entrance point, broken bread and shared local beers with some favorite people, and watched the Minnesota Twins flop from the first row. And we've still got the better part of two weeks to go in Minnesota.

Here's hoping it's everything we hope it to be and that you all have this opportunity sometime in your lives.

To follow along, look for #sabbaticallife on my Instagram.

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.