I really didn't have time to hunt today. I had bags packed, bags containing clothing for Big Sky skiing, clothes for the beautiful people. And it was windy as heck. Steady winds 25-30 mph, gusts more than that.
Saturday, December 31, 2011
I really didn't have time to hunt today. I had bags packed, bags containing clothing for Big Sky skiing, clothes for the beautiful people. And it was windy as heck. Steady winds 25-30 mph, gusts more than that.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
In Montana and other states such as the Dakotas, some autumns our upland seasons end early, occasionally as early as Halloween. Snow can fill the grasslands completely, often icing over, creating a crust that is unfriendly to both dogs and birds. Sure, the birds are still out there, but often they congregate in farm yards, making them off-limits and just as well, if they are subject to five months of winter survival.
Thus far, 2011 has been a wingshooter’s blessing. There has been only one significant snowfall to date and the bulk of that has melted. Pheasants are still seeking refuge in tall CRP and Hungarian partridge are spending their time, well, where you find them. I am still seeing coveys in stubble fields and the shorter grasses, and on sunny hillsides. All of a sudden I am making up for lost time, days that were taken up by work, big game hunting and other necessities of life.
Despite the obvious added hunting opportunities for hunters and our beloved gun dogs, perhaps the biggest benefactor is the birds themselves. They are still enjoying the good life, having plenty of access to food and continuing to put on fat reserves to survive the winter ahead. Fortunately, we are already down to just three months of it.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
My name is Jay and I am a bird hunter.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Eventually I had to return to my email, voicemail and old school mail.
However, as I was nearing my home in central Montana, it dawned on me that the sage grouse season was about to close November 1st. Since I hadn't hunted sage grouse in a couple of years or so and I was in the midst of prime sage grouse country, I pulled over. The dogs were 7 days into a fairly intense road trip, but when their dog box opened, they still showed the same excitement they did a week earlier.
I grabbed just enough water for the dogs with about an hour hunt in mind. I headed for a large sage flat on public land where I had seen birds a few years ago. It was a case of deja vu, as the dogs became birdy on the same knob, pointing the same flock of sage grouse, which flushed in the same direction as years before. Obviously the birds were a newer generation, but everything else was a repeat. I only shot one big male sage grouse, not needing to shoot another majestic, native bird that is struggling in some parts. I headed back to the truck, but not before the dogs also found two coveys of Huns, which added to my mixed bag of birds very nicely, putting an exclamation point on my 2011 upland odyssey.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Trout Unlimited is working to raise funding for, and install screening on irrigation ditch headgates, but progress is slow. Additionally, many regional TU chapters are hosting events in cooperation with landowners to rescue fish stranded in irrigation ditches.
A fishing buddy and I recently held our own unsanctioned fish rescue on the irrigation ditch that runs by my house. This ditch diverts water from the Gallatin River, and likely claims the lives of thousands of fish every year. In about two hours of work with a boat net, a bucket and a sheet of window screening we managed to rescue nearly 100 fish. Many of them were fingerling whitefish, but a number of them were fine brown trout that belong in the river.
Our efforts were just a drop in the bucket, but every bit helps. Contact your local TU chapter to learn more about opportunities to get involved.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Most of us Montana bird hunters headed into the 2011 pheasant season with lowered expectations. Winter was pretty brutal, as it started early and lasted until April, without a lot of reprieve throughout. When spring did arrive, the state was saturated, with above average rainfall and a fair amount of lowland flooding. It was an unfortunate “perfect storm” scenario.
However, thirty minutes into the opener, I commented to Ryan that there were enough birds to hunt this fall, despite the negative outlook by wildlife biologists, farmers and hunters. By ten o’clock, when we had our limit of six roosters, I upgraded my description from “enough” to “average numbers". In one field alone, we moved probably 50 birds in a mile-long walk. However, there were areas that were fairly void of birds, but typically have held pheasants in the past. Over the course of the weekend, we did put on a few fruitless miles too. But, overall, there was plenty of action and good dog work.
The trade off for more birds than expected, was the quality of the birds. According to Ryan’s dad, who is a rancher and spends a good amount of time on the land, many pheasants had an unsuccessful first hatch, but managed a very successful second hatch, due to the lush grass that developed. Since many of the late hatches occurred around August 1st, the evidence was present this opener. We saw pheasants that would cackle like a rooster, but had no coloring whatsoever. One flock of pheasants were the size of Hungarian partridge. We vowed to select only the mature roosters over points by the dogs, but despite the attempt, we still ended up with a few young birds.
It was a pleasant surprise to see what Mother Nature can giveth after she taketh away so much during winter and spring. It should make for some decent hunting longer into the season. Let’s hope that winter doesn’t arrive early this autumn.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Most of Montana had a wet, extremely wet, spring. As a bird hunter, we worry about the spring hatch as much as we worry about getting water in our basement. One thing I am learning is that the spring weather on the low ground, the stuff that adversely effects grouse, partridge and pheasants, may not be as detrimental to the mountain grouse populations.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Shoco is located just outside of Augusta, along the Rocky Mountain Front.Shoco is an oasis amidst mostly dry cattle country, with good bird habitat along a gem of a little trout stream. The fourth-generation owner of the ranch, Sally Shortridge, now manages the ranch for birds and also releases pheasants and chukars. Not truly wild birds, but you wouldn't know as you never see a pen of caged birds on the place and they fly as strongly as any game bird I have hunted.
Sally was a good host, as we hunted over both her German shorthair and my setters. (Guess which dogs required an hour of combing and grooming that evening) The dog work was good, the shooting decent and we finished the evening at a campfire at one of the three rustic, secluded cabins along the creek.
The next day Laura and I decided to trade the shotguns for fly rods and did a little fishing. The early September day was prime hopper time and Laura landed her first brown on a Joe's hopper. The creek held good numbers of fish and there were more deep runs than we could get to in a weekend. I really couldn't think of a place I would rather have been.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
If you read Montana Sporting Journal, you know that we often tout Montana's great mountain lake fishing. The season is very short, the list of potential lakes to fish, so lengthy. While I am one the folks bragging up these little-fished resources, I hadn't yet been up in the mountains this summer to hike and fish.
Friday, July 22, 2011
July 4th was my guess. Today is July 22nd. A couple of months ago, during "the flood", we all took bets on when our local creek would be clear enough to wet a line. This evening, there was finally enough clarity to commence the 2011 fly fishing season on Spring Creek. Was it crystal clear? No. Good enough to make you feel like you had a chance at a trout that hadn't seen anything man-made for 9 months? Yes.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Typically in late June, early July, I am usually still chasing walleyes on Montana reservoirs, but this summer, with the lack of fishable trout water, makes it nearly a necessity. Granted, the boat ramp was completely under water and part of the campground was also damp, but our Fourth of July plan sounded like a good one.
Friday, June 24, 2011
|The Gallatin River at 7,000 cfs on June 24, 2011|
This is a year with the potential to set records, both in terms of maximum discharge and late dates for peak flow.
A couple of untamed rivers in southwest Montana are perfect examples: the Yellowstone and the Gallatin. The Yellowstone near Livingston went over 30,000 cfs last night and is still climbing. The river hasn't recorded flows that high since 1997 when it measured 38,000 cfs on June 6th - a peak flow nearly three weeks earlier than what the river is experiencing this year... assuming today's flows are the peak. The Gallatin River near Gateway touched 7,000 cfs last night, it hasn't seen those levels since - you guessed it - 1997 when it hit 9,160 cfs on June 2nd. Those high flow events in 1997 were the highest measured discharge (at said location) on record for each river.
Only once in over 100 years of recorded data has the Gallatin River peaked as late as July - an event that occurred on July 4, 1975. Similarly the Yellowstone River's latest recorded date for peak flow came on July 6, 1975. The calendar is creeping toward those dates and considering the abundant snowpack remaining at high elevations, some of Montana's rivers could come awfully close to setting 100 year records for the latest date of peak flow.
This late runoff is a frustrating prospect for anglers, but with the bigger picture in mind these extended flushing flows are great for the fisheries. For those who just have to fish, most of the tailwater rivers (ie: Bighorn, Missouri, Beaverhead, etc.) are fishing pretty well. The Big Hole is dropping and clearing just in time for the salmon fly hatch. Countless headwater streams are an option, as are numerous spring creeks and a myriad of mid- to high-elevation lakes.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Traditionally on Father's Day, my Dad and I make plans to go fishing somewhere locally. Often it is fishing walleyes, occasionally trout fishing. The routine is only fitting since he introduced me to the sport many years ago.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
For some of the purist fly anglers that subscribe to MSJ or only follow this blog, I realize you are probably very indifferent, or perhaps even disgusted, by my walleye and other warmwater activities. Fishing out of a motorized boat, using live bait, often nightcrawlers, may turn your stomach.
Monday, May 23, 2011
|Josh and Boges admire a solid Yellowstone cutt.|
Despite the forecast for heavy rain, the long drive, the grizzly warnings and the potential to arrive only to find a muddy creek - Josh and I went through with the trip. We were confident that we had our timing right for this trip - and timing is everything on this stream - but what concerned us was that we were completely at the mercy of whimsical Ma Nature. Fortunately a cold front moved through the state last week, slowing runoff and rendering Notellum Creek fishable, with 2-3 feet of visibility for opening day.
|A big cutt, a small stream and the stuff of dreams.|
Sunday, May 15, 2011
The Lodge at Eagle Rock, located on the river in the beautiful Mid-Canyon section of the river is officially open for business after an extensive revitalization. The owners have done things right and started with an excellent management team and staff. Jen Newmack, of Great Falls, is the general manager and her energetic attitude will be a great fit. The fishing side of the business is also in good hands, those of her husband, Jason Newmack of 45 Degrees North Outfitters.
We wrapped up our day on the water, anticipating our evening at the lodge. After a quick tour, we kicked back and enjoyed appetizers which were the creation of chef Geoff Langell. That was later followed by a wonderful four course meal, accompanied by great conversation, and a few fish stories. Laura would later comment that I was in my element, as we were enjoying some hockey on television, mixed in with some ping pong and shuffleboard, after a great meal and a great day of fishing. She was right. Thanks a million, Jen, Jason, Geoff and The Lodge at Eagle Rock! - Jay
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Thursday, May 5, 2011
That's been the mantra in Montana over the past week... runoff is overdue.With runoff will come weeks, months even, of excruciating non-fishing activities.
Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday found me on the Gallatin River, reveling in the good fortune of fishing in May. Mid-day hatches of March browns have been excellent, baetis are coming off in good numbers on overcast afternoons and there are even a few lingering skwala stoneflies. The streamer bite has been productive in late afternoon, and nymphing has been consistent all day.
The river has picked up some color in recent days, but still has 3+ feet of visibility. One only has to glance at the snow laden mountains looming over the river valley to realize that we're fishing on borrowed time - enjoy it while it lasts.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
The river had been warming into the upper 40's consistently every afternoon, and reports of good streamer fishing sounded promising. We launched at Pine Creek Bridge late in the morning under overcast skies. Right out of the gate our double nymph rigs were working well - although much of the catch consisted of whitefish. We caught trout on a variety of patterns, including stonefly nymphs (girdle bugs, etc.) and smaller trailers such as soft hackle pheasant tails, SJ worms, and caddis larva (green rock worm, etc.)
We stopped to wade fish at a location where the river split into multiple channels, and it was here that we felt the first powerful wind gusts blast us from the north. A couple of eddies along the channels produced numerous fish, many of which were rainbows that aggressively chased a streamer.
We continued our float downriver, stopping at a few likely looking runs where we caught some sizable browns and rainbows on the soft inside corners of riffles - and in the riffles themselves. But the weather was becoming a concern. The wind was blowing hard out of the north, posing less of a problem for fishing than for rowing - a brutal headwind isn't much fun in an oar powered boat. Despite the wind, the fishing remained good - although we had to push through lots of great looking water in order to get off the river by dark. Baetis hatched throughout the afternoon, and a few March browns were spotted.
The Yellowstone still has a brief window of opportunity for good fishing over the next couple of weeks. It was already a bit off color, particularly below town. The nymph and streamer fishing should remain very good until runoff hits - and with any luck we'll see the caddis hatch while conditions are still favorable.
Friday, April 8, 2011
The gobblers are responding to calling, and the cold conditions are keeping them in their tree top roosts late into the morning. I watched a sizable flock this morning from first light until about 7:30am - the majority of the birds didn't hit the ground until well after 7:00am - a full half hour later than usual.
For those getting out tomorrow: best of luck and enjoy the time afield.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Our crew met up at a buddy's house, which is conveniently located within ten minutes of what would be our fishing destination on this day. Breakfast was sizzling on the stove top when I arrived, and talk of trout filled the room.
With bellies full of pancakes, eggs and coffee, we headed downstream from the county bridge spanning the river. A couple of us were hell bent on throwing streamers, while the more practical among us employed a tandem nymph rig. Despite the recent warm-up, the streamer bite was non-existent. After working several great looking areas of winter holding water without a single chase or flash, I clipped off the streamer and affixed an indicator, hare's ear nymph, San Juan worm and two BB's to my leader... I never had to change from that set-up the remainder of the day.
We were into fish consistently with nymphs, in hole after hole. Ninety percent of the catch consisted of rainbows in prime, pre-spawn condition. The average trout stretched the tape to 15 inches or so, and the largest went 19 inches - pretty impressive for a freestone stream in late winter.
We couldn't have asked for nicer weather, after a few brief bouts of rain and sleet in the morning, the clouds parted. Wildlife was abundant throughout the day. Large flocks of ducks and geese filled the sky, roosters flushed across the river, bald eagles soared overhead and whitetail deer fed in riverside fields. All in all it was a memorable day of winter fishing in Montana.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Unfortunately, the covey of 11 Huns in November, numbered only 7 this day in February. Different covey? Possibly, but doubtful. They flushed to their usual refuge, a patch of buck brush, just over the ridge. They sounded the same, flew the same, but I felt sorry for them. When the landscape is nothing but white, crusted snow, I really wonder what they eat. I feel less sorry for pheasants, as they are bigger, can eat foods such as Russian olives and can scratch through some snow. Sharptail and sage grouse, I don't worry much about, as they are more native than we are.
Folks like myself that hunt, often tout that the hatch is more important than winter mortality numbers. Sure, the hatch can make or break a hunting season. However, if the birds are dead in a March blizzard, their nests in May don't exist.
So, I completed the mission on this long, lunch-break from work. I carried the Home Covey a bag of food and spread it on the only bare knob on which they like to sit and scratch grit from. It may be without benefit, it probably wouldn't sit will with Montana Fish and Game. Feeding wildlife is frowned upon, but I had to do something. Let's hope there are 7 Huns remaining when this long winter finally comes to an end.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
The bill was introduced by Jeffrey Wellburn (R-Dillon) and was supported by an alarming number of our elected officials as the bill made its way through the House of Representatives this week.
The analysis' of HB 309 from trustworthy organizations that have our interests at heart: Montana Trout Unlimited (TU) and Fishing Outfitters Assoc. of MT (FOAM) reveal that the bill is a serious threat to the status quo of stream access in Montana. You can read a thorough dissection of the bill on the websites of those organizations, but the gist of it is that the bill aims to do more than simply clarify the law as it pertains to irrigation ditches. Rather, the bill would broadly define an irrigation ditch as, "Any waterway created at least in part by waters diverted from a natural water body where the diverted water is the principal source of water in the water body."
There's a lot of gray area in that type of language, it could be interpreted in a number of ways. In a worst case scenario the bill's passing would prohibit public fishing on a lengthy list of the state's best water - from small streams to mainstem rivers.
There are scores of water bodies throughout the state that suffer from low flows during late summer. This situation is exacerbated by - and in some cases rooted in - irrigation out flows. I'll never forget one August day a few years ago when I stopped at Selkirk FAS on the Musselshell - the river was a collection of pools connected by a mere trickle; yet the irrigation ditch paralleling the river was plum full. That is an extreme example, but it's certainly possible that - during periods of low flow - the primary source of in-stream flows on numerous waterways is the return flow from irrigation ditches. HB 309 would define a free flowing river or stream as a "ditch" in such instances.
Looking at the bill from a pragmatic and simple minded angler's perspective, it's completely unnecessary. Assuming that the bill's true intention is to clarify the prohibition of recreation on irrigation ditches, the current stream access law already has that covered. And what's more, who wants to fish a ditch anyway? I can't imagine it really being an issue for landowners.
The bill - and our collective fate - now rests in the hands of the state senate. Whether you live in Montana or not, contact your senator... any MT senator... a republican senator. Should the bill pass the senate, our last line of defense against HB 309 lies in a veto from Governor Brian Schweitzer, but let's not allow it to get that far.
If you don't think this is a big deal, think again - and if you need a second opinion just ask any Utah angler.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Going back is when you show a so-called friend, one of your hard-earned hunting or fishing honey holes and they make it their own. It can be an inconspicuous stretch of stream that holds larger-than-average trout. Maybe it is a hidden drainage that offers up more big bull elk than normal. For some reason , the classless act seems to torment bird hunters more than most. Maybe it is our need for elbow room, the onset of dwindling access or maybe we are just solitary folks. Regardless, many of us serious bird hunters are very careful who we hunt with. We will often hunt alone, before we hunt with some we don’t know or trust.
I won’t defend any guy that “goes back”, but for some, they are just ignorant. When it happened to my dad, the scofflaw had the gall to brag to my Dad about a recent hunt he just had in the very grouse and woodcock covert that was previously shown to him. I caught my college friend red-handed, just as he and his dad were returning to their truck, exiting the pheasant bonanza that I had driven him to the weekend before. Needless to say, I didn’t stop to chat.
Poaching another man's spot isn't always black and white. How about on private land, if the landowner says you are both invited back, when it was you that introduced the two? Can your buddy go back when he pleases or only with you? Same question applies to Block Management. It appears in a public pamphlet, but you did the groundwork to determine good from bad Block Management? Bottom line, if in doubt, don’t go back.
So, Dale, don’t you think after all of these years, we can finally hunt together in Montana? Let's hunt your Hun stuff first.....
Sunday, January 23, 2011
|Tim Tollett of Dillon, MT|
This weekend a local fly shop gave guys - and even a few gals - a good excuse to get out of the house for a couple of hours. Montana Troutfitters, a Bozeman fly shop, has recently started up their annual "weekends with the legends" series on Saturday's. To those of you who aren't into fly fishing, this may sound like a mundane outing. To those of us who are passionate about the sport of fly fishing and the art of fly tying, it was very interesting.
This weekend's presenter was Tim Tollett of Dillon, MT. Before listening to Tim speak I knew him as the owner and operator of Frontier Anglers, but to be completely honest I had no idea just how legendary he is in the world of fly fishing.
His knowledge seemed infinite, his story telling was top notch and his tying tutorials were educational. All in all it was a fairly humbling experience, making me realize just how much I still have to learn about fly fishing.
Those flashback nymphs that we've all relied upon at times over the years - yeah - Tim is responsible for bringing those onto the scene in the states. He told stories about fishing with the likes of Al Troth and Lee Wulff, famous anglers and innovators from a bygone era. He dispensed more knowledge in the two hours that I was in attendance than many anglers learn in a lifetime of fishing.
Check out the line-up of legends that will be presenting at Troutfitters over the next several weeks and make it to the shop if you can, there's a wealth of knowledge to be had.