Thursday, October 12, 2017

Duckworth Vapor Hoody

I don't care for sunscreen or bug spray, so I like long sleeves even in summer. But sleeves are too warm for many high-summer high-noon high-elevation days. So this summer, I tried out a breathable long-sleeved shirt: Duckworth's Vapor Hoody.

It's a paper-thin wool-blend hooded top that fits and feels like a cotton tee, but is wicking and breathable. The breeze virtually blows right through, but sun and bugs are kept out. It dries quickly and does not stink - you can wear it day after day after day. Which I did.

Duckworth is a Bozeman-based Merino wool clothing company whose wool comes exclusively from a ranch near Dillon, Montana (some backstory). These sheep live in the Pioneer Mountains (I assume it's the 'Neers) all summer long, so their product is grown to be perfectly suited for folks like me who spend time in the mountains.

Or those who spend a lot of time in boats. 
To follow along with their wool operations, like Duckworth on Facebook. They often post about moving the sheep up into the mountains for summer, bringing them back down, the guard dogs, etc. It's fun.

The Vapor Hoody is ideal for camping, backpacking, or traveling because it's comfortable, suitable for various weathers and packable (along with keeping the sun and bugs off and not getting smelly). It replaced three or four shirts for me. Cool evenings might require an additional layer, but it's thin enough that wearing a sweatshirt or jacket over it is perfectly comfortable.

It works well as a layer. 
I wore it in the humidity of Minnesota's July and the dry smoky sun of Montana in August. In either case, when a cool breeze kicked in, I felt the relief on my skin.

There are plenty of options out there, but Duckworth's Vapor Hoody is my choice for an ideal summer fishing shirt.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Looking back on a temporary, mid-life retirement

Now that it's over, I can see clearly how good our little "sabbatical" was.

For the past three months, we've been on our version of the great Northern Rockies road trip. Three months away from work, camping and fishing, packing and unpacking, pooping in the truck bed (in the camper), hike after hike to mountain lakes, floating to unfished sections on seldom fished rivers, solar panels keeping our camera batteries charged... or so we'd planned.

For myriad reasons, we had to call some audibles. Time planned in the Yellowstone backcountry was derailed by a dog virus that prevented us from boarding Boges. Sun-dimming smoke took a toll. Off-trail hikes turned out hairy. Too many washboard roads in a stiff 1-ton pickup. Our air mattresses leaked and our dog showed his age. I maybe did too. Constant decisions with a wide-open world actually start to wear on you. We actually felt pressure to be happy.

So some planned epics became trips to catch up with friends. Quick jaunts to the local stream and back home in time to meet friends at the brewery. More than tales of crazy adventure, we sometimes opted for time with loved ones. More grins than grunts. Slowed down and happier. Truer to ourselves, with more valuable memories.

These once in a lifetime opportunities don't happen often enough.

Some select fishing memories:
Lakers and coho on down riggers on Lake Superior. North Shore trout streams. Panfish, an unknown shiny fish and one brown trout at my hometown in Minnesota. Largemouth bass on dry flies in eastern Montana. Riding our bikes to Big Spring Creek. Zillions of rising whitefish on the Marias. Floating and boating and floating. Bike shuttles. Trout in the Milk River (believe it). Our anniversary spent stripping callibaetis nymphs on Hebgen. Wind and a beautiful purebred cutthroat at Quake Lake. A hairy off-trail hike to the upper end of Cliff Lake. Wade Lake's sophisticated gulpers. Wildfire smoke. Pinedale, Wyoming and the biggest trout I've ever caught. A fantastic streamer day on a favorite river. Rowing out for several miles and losing the boat at the takeout. Lake trout on the fly. An old and lovable dog who hates floating  but toughed it out to fish with us every time. Not being afraid to change plans.

As I get back to work, I'm sad. I miss the companionship of my wife and dog. I miss the feeling of being on vacation, while fond images populate my head. I am bummed that the excitement's over, and that it's no longer there to look forward to. But I'm grateful we had the foresight, commitment and cooperation to see it through. I am so glad we did it.

I captured some inner peace that I was afraid was gone. Now we have to figure out how to do it again.

Check out a slide show of some of our fishing times:
Sabbatical fishing

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Time travel

Step 1: Travel to the American Prairie Reserve and find some bison to watch.
Step 2: Tune your radio to 88.1 out of Fort Belknap which regularly plays tribal drum and chant rhythms throughout the day (this music incidentally is completely badass; I'm totally into for all the wrong reasons).
Step 3: Tell yourself that Lewis and Clark haven't yet been here. You'll believe it.

If your bones don't get chills, I'll refund your money for this blog subscription.

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.