Sunday, December 23, 2012

Why I live here...

My dog has recently tore his ACL (actually a CCL in dogs) which means my travel fishing plans will have to wait until my next tax refund. But it reminds me why I chose to live in Montana in the first place - I don't need to travel to have a vacation. In lieu of New Zealand or Forks, Washington, I have already discussed a multi-day trip on the Yellowstone with a buddy. Or maybe I'll explore the Kootenai drainage. I just need the time off of work...
Or check out the tailwater no one knows much about...

...or hike into the wilderness...

...or spend some time in the mountains...

...or go for an ill-advised float...

...or explore downstream sections of popular water...

....or get to know the local rivulet better...

...or check out the ranch ponds...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Little pink stuff

With an inch or two of new snow on the ground, winter has descended. Fly-rod guides are iced. Which means it's time for small pink shit. Soft-hackled Sow Bugs, scuds, worms, and my personal favorite, Dave McKee's Shrimp Cocktail. Think what you will, but I am convinced trout eat all of these flies (with the possible exception of the worm) for eggs. It's a nice little trick to fish an egg, without actually fishing an egg.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Treat yo self

We're taught that all seconds tick the same, but I'm skeptical. The weekday seconds between about 7:30 and 4, for example, seem much less ambitious than some. But that gives us plenty of time to dream and plan, and hope that the best is yet to come.
Now that I have a little wiggle room in my budget (crazy shout goes out to Assurant Health), I can afford to trade some of the slow seconds for quick ones - like the ones I spend between the banks of a trout stream. And spend a little money on luxuries like Depuy Spring Creek. And treat myself.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Muted colors

This fall we took a Saturday to fish Ennis Dam, cuz we were taking a novice and I cannot think of an easier place to catch trout on a fly. The novice was told to wear muted colors, as bright clothes might spook the fish. Then I showed up in a Kool-Aid Man t-shirt, and we caught plenty.

Since then, I've become acquainted with Boise's Ed Dunn, who first debunked the myth of muted colors years ago, going as far as wearing sequins on the Railroad Ranch. He noticed that not only does the flashy garb not scare fish, it does scare his competition.
Ed's Facebook profile pic
"I scored a hot pink soccer shirt for 50 cents from a thrift store," Dunn said. "Even before dipping a tootsie in the water let alone making a cast, I instantly noticed that the hot pink shirt scared the living snot outta fishermen."

That and Dunn's defense of the perpetually scorned native whitefish spun into his regionally famous moniker: Whitefish Ed. You'll know him if you see him.

Stay tuned for more a thorough account of Ed's exploits... 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stand thy ground

Not positive what it is, but I suspect it's that I don't shy away from notorious places (Mitchell Slough, the Ruby River, Ted Turner's properties, etc.). I'll even admit I sometimes enjoy a good ranch-hand/landowner encounter fishing within Montana's high-water marks, but most often it's a shit-show that can ruin a good day.

I've had two so run-ins so far this year (one with multiple encounters), and have had a good number over the years. They're often confrontational and angry - it's always a big "here we go again" moment when I see someone on their way.

But since I fish these places, it's important to be sure that when approached I am doing things legally and I am armed with knowledge. I encourage everyone to patronize any fishing spot you've heard is patrolled, but know the law (for the record, it's not 10 feet nor two feet - both of which I've heard anglers say - it's WITHIN the high-water mark). The enemy wins when anglers avoid.

Some tips for such situations:
  • Know the law and be within it. Be able to explain the law accurately showing that you are not ignorant and/or wrong (click here for a primer).
  • Be polite but firm, and try to deescalate the situation. 
  • If the Napoleon-complexed wiener won't let it go, it might be best to take off for the day. Maintain, however, that you are in the right and come back another day.
  • Avoid taking photos, tempting as it might be, of the confronter. This will definitely escalate tensions.
  • If any threat is levied or weapon brandished, get the eff out and notify the authorities. 
It's easier to avoid these places sometimes, but there's often decent fishing to be had where others fail to go. For good fishing and defense of our rights, go fish.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"Me and Joe" Story

Although veteran Missoula outfitter Joe Cummings tossed me from his boat Sunday (ok, the spill was completely my clumsy fault), we had a great time dry-fly fishing the Bitterroot River's October hatches - baetis, tricos and mahoganies - as I researched the river. Action was steady all day, although the fish became real "assholes" as the day got older.

We floated the middle Bitterroot, which is apparently where anglers have the best shot at a trophy, but also where fishing can be tough. No mammoths were landed, but a couple big fish were moved during our limited streamer fishing. The top-water action was strong enough that we didn't venture much into the sloughs.

Cummings, a hulk of an oarsman and a guide through and through, is a retired NFL linebacker and former Belize outfitter. He's got years of recollections that accompany sports down river. His photography and writing skills are helmet and shoulder pads above most fishers and his blog rarely disappoints.
To be guided for trout was new for me. I'd been guided on a saltwater trip, but to see exactly how hard Joe worked and how many fly changes he used was enlightening. Made me feel lazy - normally, if the trout don't like what I'm using, I try to find some that do. I don't stick with fishy water if it ain't working, and I learned that maybe I should - they're in there and they're probably eating something. I should probably also increase my fly selection to be prepared...
Thanks to Joe for the help - if you need a guide around Missoula, check with him.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fall color

Driving across northern Minnesota on highways 200 and 34, I was confounded by  the leaves. We don't get that color in Montana - maybe some bright yellows juxtaposed against the conifers, but nothing like the reds, oranges and yellows of Minnesota. It was a great start to a great trip to help an old friend celebrate his new life...
In between reunions, I had the chance to fish up the North Shore - something I'd never done when I was there in college. My research told me there should be pink salmon in the rivers, as did the the gentleman at the fly shop off East Superior Street. I planned to bead (HEY! - I only had one day and since they don't really eat anyway....) but I was told that's illegal in Minnesota (good for Minnesota) so I was forced to work with what I had. Some Glo-bugs and various other offerings....
Sho 'nuff, there were about 30 to 35 pink salmon in every other hole or so. They're small - a pound to pound and a half - but still cool. So I threw my double Glo-bug rig through the hole. And again. And again. And again. And again....Nothing. So I worked upstream, and finally, one small pinker slashed at my Egg-sucking Leech and I got one! Probably about 15 inches, but nonetheless... Slept well at Tettegouche State Park after a Jimmy's Pizza....
The following morning I got two more on a stripped General Practitioner - there was no hatch matching - and I was happy. Breakfast at Betty's Pies and I was on my way...
Pinks, reds, oranges, yellows and the tannin-stained water in Lake Superior tributaries light up fall in northern Minnesota like few other things. Just wait until you see the northern lights from Duluth...

A few more:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"Psst - don't eat that"

A buddy and I were talking about something he recently read - apparently, carp release pheromones once hooked that tell other carp of danger. I'd heard years ago about catfish "screaming" when hooked to alert others. And today, I read an article on about birds who use a certain "cacophony" upon finding a dead companion.

From that article:  "In other words, the birds tell each other about a dead companion, and so individually and collectively the scrub-jays may learn something about predation risks. By calling in others (the cacophonous aggregations), they may be more likely to drive a predator away or to warn relatives and mates of danger." - Barbara J. King

This may tell us something about how trout evolve to be more selective - they learn that eating certain "food" can cause them to be pulled to shore, and general leeriness of suspect food becomes the m.o. Maybe they then can share what they've learned to be "hook-ful food" with others, and eventually they collectively (and slowly) learn to identify a Stimulator or Girdle Bug as a no-no, at least now and then.

Or maybe trout are just instinctual animals that cannot help but eat what appears to be food.
"AAAAHHHHH!", the trout said.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Honesty in photography

Which photo do you prefer? I'm kinda torn, as I like elements of both. The top photo is more "honest", but the bottom photo is more eye-catching and interesting, in my opinion. Is "honesty" in photos always of the utmost importance? Ever? Do you appreciate a little artistic license? Note the higher detail in the "enhanced-photo" trout's eye - is that worth the added saturation? Do you feel "lied to" or cheated if the photo has been enhanced beyond the real-life scene? Lay it on me!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blame it on something

It felt good to be on my way while the stop lights were still blinking yellow. Morning Edition was just beginning - some browns had likely not yet returned to their daytime lies.

There was literally frost on the grass and my thermometer read 35 degrees (August 25) at the bridge on the Beaverhead River. For the first hour, my hands and feet were stinging and I questioned how long I'd make it. The high was scheduled for 80, so any minute now... Eventually the sun rose above the insulating, alpenglowing wildfire smoke and I felt better.

The fishing was mediocre - that section was more willowy than hoppery, and I like to reserve that last weekend in August for hoppers (my annual "hopper weekend"). But the water was cold and the river was vacant.

I got back to my car and opened a couple fly boxes to sun them  on the roof while I broke down (they'd gotten wet in my pockets). I made a mental note to not forget them, which apparently shifted my focus from my rods (one for streamers and one for hoppers). I didn't know it until I was parked in my Belgrade driveway - I left them. A Sage and a Winston with Orvis reels - none of it top-end, but all of it nonetheless expensive. FUG. Instead of driving back, I called Frontier Anglers in Dillon and a generous gentlemen offered to run out after work (about 30 minutes from the phone call) and grab them for me. Soon he called back - they are not there. Within three hours.

Sept. 11, 2007, Gallatin and Madison 014

Craigslist was littered with my "Lost & Found" posts, and local shops were notified. Frankly, I'm kind of surprised they were not turned in.

Fortunately, a flyfishing company is having a sale soon, so I have a rare opportunity to upgrade to some serious gear for a serious discount - seems the fishing gods simply didn't approve of my "cheap" gear.

At times like these, I find it helps to pontificate on some lines from a favorite decades-old lyric:

Cuz the rain don't mind,
And the rain don't care,
You got to blame it on something...

If only there was a cloud in the sky.

Monday, August 27, 2012

In the middle of the great park snakes a river like no other...

These words in the post title commence chapters 1 and 50 - the first and last - of Nate Schweber's recently released book, "Fly Fishing Yellowstone National Park: An Insider's Guide to the 50 Best Places".  They reference the renowned Firehole River - one of the park's most iconic fisheries.

Schweber's book is a non-partisan (both Jimmy Carter and Dick Cheney share stories) look at special places and experiences fly fishing in Yellowstone National Park. It brings Yellowstone's fly fishing community together as if they were swapping stories over cocktails at Yellowstone Lodge on the first Monday in November. And as such, you'll probably catch wind of valuable information.

The author put in his leg-work. Fifty chapters resulting from finding the right people and interviewing them, and hiking about 300 miles to try to fish all of the included locations.

Tips on how to catch lakers, the reason westslope cutthroats are native to part of the east side of the continental divide, the real story of "Yellowstoner", and more stories and tips are sprinkled throughout, with a special emphasis on Yellowstone cutthroat conservation.

If you want a thorough where-to guide to fly fishing in Yellowstone, buy Ken Retallic's Flyfisher's Guide to Yellowstone. If you are interested in unique perspectives and intriguing stories on several fisheries along with good information, buy a second copy of Retallic's book and I'll lend you my copy of Schweber's (I work for a competing publisher) :).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Them hills.

A couple years ago I wrote in a column that I would never have the opportunity to fish for golden trout because of the difficulty in reaching them (being more of a "Chubby Chernobyl" than a "Skinny Nelson").
But since last Thanksgiving, I've straightened my diet out and put a little more effort into exercise and am down 65 pounds. Couple that with the fact that some golden-trout lakes in the Gallatin Range require a hike of only about 2.5 miles and elevation gains of only about 1,000 feet, and I thought it time to try.
The fact that I got lost at about 9,000 feet and couldn't find the trail for about a half hour after getting altitude-woozy notwithstanding, it was all pretty easy. Including the fishing.
We arrived at the first lake to find cruising and rising goldens. Already excited just to be in their presence, I picked one out and cast a Bloom's Parachute Flying Ant to within its radar. A quick twitch of the ant and the fish whipped a u-turn, swam directly for the fly and ate it. One cast. Granted, it was the only one I caught since we couldn't find fish in any other lake and the rest were quite spooky (as legends hold), but that's cool. And we made it back to the valley in time for 48 ounces at the brewery. Nice little Saturday.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Family reunions, romantic getaways, respites from the mundane, drug binges, and more

National Forest cabin log books can be infinitely intriguing – mostly funny, but also weird, whiny, and sentimental. People use these former ranger stations for family reunions, romantic getaways, respites from the mundane, drug binges, and more I'm sure. I left my mark at the Porcupine Cabin on the westslope of the Crazy Mountains sometime around 2008 in photo form. No that's not John Goodman – in fact that's me.

Here are a few comments from the “HOW WAS YOUR STAY?” column in the East Fork Guard Station log book on the East Fork of the Bitterroot River:
  • Full emancipation from mental slavery
  • Scount.
  • Was hard to be here this time after losing our dog Max in April. He loved it here – we still enjoyed it.
  • !Sickbird!
  • Rats live under this cabin and want everything you have. Be wary. They will pack YOU off. Best cabin in MT...Love it long time. 
  • Fire, pizza, music, beers, good luvin' (in that order)
  • [Troup 94 from Darby]: It was prefick.
  • Great elk camp.
  • Don't eat red or yellow snow
  • Music, whiskey, food...repeat.
  • You know it was S-I-C-K-B-I-R-D!
  • We got our cow elk, saw a moose, caught some brook trout, all without getting lost , Plenty of “GAS” left in cabin. Axe needs fixed.
  • Leap year. Enjoyed our extra day. This was a gift we both needed. Read some Thoreau and Emerson – lots of snow and great friendship.
  • Except for the hard time getting my mask off, it's pretty fun!
  • Fish, fish, fish, eat, relax, aah! Thank you – the fire pit is awesome. Great fishing too.
  • Great stay! No bugs, super facility, no phones, lots of cutthroats and 3 less pack rats!
  • Great cabin, many fish and quite a ham!
  • Bigfoot stole my baby
  • The dogs went crazy for a very large rabbit under the porch. Had a relaxing time.
  • Loved drawing on the windows that had fog. Also did Jiffy Pop.
  • No phone, no TV, no work, no asshole neighbors, no nagging mother! This is heaven!
  • Great cabin. Fishing was excellent.
  • Beautiful. No fish though, might have found some gold or maybe it's fake.
  • Great fishing, wonderful time with family.
  • Still love the East Fork!
  • Not fun!
  • Awesome/great hiking! Fishing & togetherness! Don't tell anyone about this place! Nature always wins......perfection.
  • Herd lots of owls.
Obviously you'll want to herd owls. But most of them were nice comments about what great places the national forest service cabins are. And they are. And I learned that the kids say "sickbird". 

My comment? “This cabin retains temperature really well.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

Whitefish Weekend

I slammed on my brakes. The middle Big Hole was awash with concentric rings. A trico blizzard had incited pandemonium amongst a clan of whitefish, and I was helpless. I didn't have a great trico imitation, so I fished a size-14 Rusty Spinner in front of a size-18 H&L Variant (the bugs were probably about size 22). Both worked, but the big spinner was hot.
And it was like this up, down and across this stretch.  
Later, I got a couple whitefish on hoppers (and finally got my first fluvial grayling!). After staying the night on the East Fork of the Bitterroot, I stopped at Rock Creek and Flint Creek on the way home. Not to be outdone, Rock Creek's whitefish amassed for a family portrait, waiting to spoil the next fisherman's dreams.
Click to enlarge. I counted about 35.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

High plains drifting

I'm going where the water tastes like wine.
We can jump in the water, stay drunk all the time.  - Canned Heat

This week, we visit outer Utah Creek where the ubiquitous wildlife keeps you on your toes. We saw a rattlesnake, two minks, a giant beaver, a garter snake, many deer, five moose, several trout, and a cow that momentarily looked like an African lion (it was hot).

Our herd of turtles floated 5.5 miles over 11 hours, with water temps rising from 55 to 68 throughout the day. There's nothing but bends and every bend has a riffle-tailout-hole. We fished as many as we could until the sunlight tilted, then we pushed through until a moose with a calf halted us.

We caught close to half a century of brooks, cutts, rainbows and browns up to about 18 inches. I had two (what I believe were) double hook-ups - a fish on both of my flies. Neither time did I land both, so  it could've been another fish excited by the hooked fish shadowing, but it seemed heavy. The streamer chase was red hot, but the bite was hit-&-miss. By evening, the small-fish hopper bite was steady.
The dusk bicycle shuttle up a rough gravel road was not ideal, but it's a small tax for days like that.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

2 p.m.

Heat can affect people, including inspiring poetry. A haiku: 

2 p.m. 
The sun takes its toll.
Dip your thermometer; look.
Fish another day.
[I didn't have a photo that corresponds.]
Maybe search for (what will assuredly turn out to be hallucinations of) Benicio Del Toro, or patronize the nearest brewery. Switch to your Type 10 sinking line and fish an impoundment, or lay in a field and let the sunshine take you to an Arcadia where trout serve you Manhattans as you wax philosophic with them. Or keep fishing, but consider your impact on our quarry.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Proprietary Flies

What's the biggest difference between these patterns: Shanafelt's Mongo Hopper, Yeti Hopper, Grand Hopper, Morrish's Hopper, Hoppindicator, Charlie Boy, Surfboard Hopper, Triple Decker and my favorite, the Harley Hopper? Their names (except the Harley). Each fly company has their proprietary fly pattern/name(s) for the foam hopper. I get it, but it all seems kinda silly.

And of course, some do seem to work better than others, so it's nice to have a memorable name. A few years ago for me, it was Card's Wiggle Worm. When that became hard to find, I dated a few different patterns until last year, I entered a long-term relationship with Morrish's Hopper.
A destroyed Morrish's Hopper. 
Fly patterns, like songs or magazine articles, are someone's intellectual property. I first encountered this when I wrote my first column for the Montana Sporting Journal. Do I need to properly credit the creator of a fly recipe that I'm including? My answer was, just like music or books, and just to be safe, yes.

With flies, unlike music or writings, most creators probably wouldn't care. Most would appreciate the attention regardless of citation. But some might, and then you'd have a potential copyright violation on your record.

It's one more way our beloved sport is not always the simple escape it's advertised to be.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dries, nymphs and streamers

I guess sometimes you have to settle for the mini-victories in lieu of the grandiose triumphs. 

We floated a section of the Yellowstone River downstream of Livingston Saturday and it wasn't very productive (or we weren't). But we boated fish on dries, nymphs and streamers, touched a couple nice trout and paid some dues. If there was some powerful lesson to be taken or some eloquent soundbite I could recite, it'd make trips that like seem more worthwhile. Alas, I should be able find value in the trip itself, and value the fact I can do this type of thing basically every weekend. Ultimately I do. But some big trout would be nice.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Water temperatures

If you look at the USGS streamflows for Montana, you might be a bit alarmed at the temperatures. It's been a hot topic at the brewery lately, but then I recalled that this has happened before. On July 21, 2010 (a good water year), I blogged about the same thing, only to fish through to fall with no real heat concerns...
Then this morning, the sun glowed red. Not sure what it is about wildfire smoke that causes this phenomenon, but it's eerie and ominous. The rays are barely choked, but it's there. We're seeing temps as high as 75 in some rivers, which, especially for early July, is not good.
So while I don't want to be the alarmist I was last year, we are seeing more significant signs of hoot-owl closures on the horizon. For now, be aware, and try to avoid water that is too hot.

This is from Sept. 2007. The Gallatin River beneath a red sky, at a seriously malnourished level.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fishing the "warm"

Fishing's different in Minnesota than in Montana. It's Aluma instead of Clacka. Northern instead of pike. The smell of an outboard churning through algae. The haunting call of the loon. Eurasion milfoil & Canadian waterweed. Piscivorous fish. Perch. Bass. Panfish. Carp in which no one sees any sporting value. Blind casting. You never know for sure what's on your line. It's a nice change of pace, but I'm happy to back in trout country.