Thursday, December 20, 2012
20 days left to hunt ducks and geese! With big game done and fairer weather behind us most hunters have hung it up for 2012. But for the few late season fanatics now is the time to hit the rivers and find those little known pockets ducks and geese pile into on rivers and streams. The best part about it is there is little to no pressure at all. Any morning when I think about hitting the snooze and rolling back into the warm comfort of my bed, a cold nudge from my lab's nose on my arm reminds me that there are only so many hunting days left. When she's bringing in a fat, late-season greenhead I'm glad I got up.
The weather has been up and down of late but the cold snaps seem to be coming in quicker succession with only a day or two of warm up in between. The stillwater is staying locked up good now and the birds are sticking to the rivers which means better access to the birds. A half dozen dekes and a flapper are about all a guy needs. If you find them piled in already on a spot you may not need any dekes at all. If heading to a new spot scout it out the evening before to see where birds are flying to. If you can get on moving water in good grain country good shooting should not be far away. Think food and open water and birds will be there.
Don't sleep in! Get up and go get 'em.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Now that general big game is over there are still some weapons restricted areas running seasons into January for antlerless whitetail, check the regs and get at it while you can if you still need meat in the freezer. We also still have a good chunk of waterfowl and upland bird season to get after. The coyote pelts are going to be at their prime from now until mid February. So there is no excuse to be cooped up inside.
As for my friends-Ty(first bull!), Doug and son Cody(first head of big game ever!), and veteran Brian(Nice Buck!)-Congradts gentlemen!
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
We moved downhill for a few weeks of pheasant season, combined with the occasional Hun and sharptail outing. I also chased sage grouse one day with a friend from the Deep South, who was shocked at the size of the big bombers.
Then, to the dogs' dismay, the 20 and 28 gauges were moved to the back of the gun safe for a few weeks. Antelope, deer and elk hunting took up valuable time during the precious autumn, but the thrill of the big game chase is pretty special too, when you consider the speed of the prairie pronghorn and the alertness of majestic mountain elk.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
On another note, I've been making good use of my Hunting GPS maps app in the Garmin. My first season with it, I've been intentionally taking it to places where you have to mind which side of the fence you're on and often times the fence isnt even good enough to keep you in line-that is the boundary line is a good 200 feet away from the fence. Not a problem with this new software though. In addition to having high resolution topo features it shows color coded land ownership data along with the name of the property owner. As we all know there are great public areas that butt up to private land and sometimes its a sliver at that. With this you can narrow down to within mere feet exactly where the boundaries are. If you haven't heard of this software check it out at huntinggpsmaps.com.
Monday, October 29, 2012
We were based in northern Montana at a quiet farmhouse, miles from a small town, hundreds of miles from something classified as a city. On an average day, two or three vehicles may pass by, so when shotgun shots rang out, just outside the house, we rushed outside, as if we were under attack.
As my host headed down the driveway, additional shots were fired, in a slough adjacent to the gravel road. Surprised to see anyone home this weekday afternoon, the road hunters attempted to race back to the truck, ejecting shells as they jogged to the awaiting getaway car, its engine still running. My host was more cool-headed than I predicted, explaining that no one is allowed to hunt near the farmyard, especially without permission. The "hunter" in the backseat, quickly tried his best to diffuse the situation, by offering us a cold beer from the 18-pack at his feet. The driver, who was let of the hook since he was from town, offered a number of excuses, the most memorable being the doozy in which he "had meant to ask permission, but didn't want to bother anyone during work hours". The leader of the dumb-pack had continued to ramble on, telling my hunting partner where else we could find roosters on my host's land. Thanks.
This is preaching to the choir, but hunting on private land is a privilege, not a right. Shooting off roads and littering is endangering the future of our sport. Please clean up your act. Even during work hours.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
This opener was no different. As we sat in the truck, listening and watching arrogant roosters as they flew from the stubble into their refuge in the CRP, it was evident that we would be seeing plenty of birds. The three of us had seven dogs between us, trying to decide which three or four would get the call this morning. The only other decision was how long to sit in the truck before letting them loose.
We waited until 7AM. The first bird was brought to hand at about 7:15. By 8AM, we had five birds in the bag, the dogs doing their best to stay focused, despite the wave of overwhelming bird scent. The morning hunt was casual, despite being our first outing for ringnecks. We enjoyed ourselves, taking photos of the young dogs earning their first wild birds. By 9AM, we were walking the road back to the truck, trying to keep the dogs from needlessly pointing birds that would be there tomorrow.
Before you declare this post as boastful, keep in mind it is far from an ideal day. Shooting opening day roosters is not the challenge. Young birds that sit tight for a pointing dog are fairly easy sport. And who wants to be done at 9AM? Some of the dogs hadn't left their kennels yet, wondering what they did wrong to draw the short end of the straw.
But, as anti-climatic as opening day can be, it won't last. In fact, day two is typically 30% more difficult than day two and day three, well, no guarantees of limits anymore. As roosters are bagged and the others become wise in a hurry, pheasant hunting changes rapidly. Snow can come by Halloween and some days, it is difficult to have a bird sit tight for a trained bird dog. I won't complain about the easy pheasants; from here on out, they only become more challenging and a lot more rewarding.
Monday, October 1, 2012
This fall, summer won't end. The heat and drought have even made an impact at 8,000 feet and higher. It has been 80 degrees on the prairie and about 70 at timberline, which are both at least ten degrees higher than normal. It is nearly impossible to carry enough water for one dog, let alone two. The elk wallows are only mud, the creeks down to just a trickle.
But, the birds are still up there. It was nearly a hopper-free summer, so the blues are focusing on berries and greens. As a result, they are feeding in the woods more often than in high-elevation clearings. It makes for sporty dog work and more difficult shooting.
As of last weekend, we were still moving plenty of dusky (I still prefer blue) grouse. It appears that they had a great hatch, as the broods we found were large. Another nice bonus is the good number of ruffed grouse we are also seeing at the lower elevations. Since ruffs are included in the daily bag limit, most of them had to be left alone, as we climbed back down the mountain with our three blues in our vest. Regardless, it was good training for the dogs and nice to see the "partridge" doing well.
As the calendar turns to October 1st and the upcoming pheasant opener this weekend, I am now saying goodbye to the beloved blue grouse and the beautiful country they inhabit. It is bittersweet, as I will miss the wonderful bird, but also look forward to the autumn that remains.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
We had only been hiking for 90 minutes when Dad spotted an obvious white spot that looked out of place against the granite backdrop. While there was some snow remaining above the timberline, this wasn't snow. After setting up the spotting scope, it was confirmed; it was definitely a goat and appeared to be a big, solitary billy. It's coat was slightly off-color and it was alone. Most of the nannys would have a kid still with them. The goat was roughly 1,500 feet above us and we would ideally would like to get above him. Complicating things even more is the land ownership arrangement in the Crazies. Within the confines of the national forest boundary, were checkerboard private and public sections.
After finalizing our game plan, we started the long climb. We weren't sure if other hunters would spot the same goat or if the goat had a second perch that he would move to once the sun would hit him directly. All we could do was hope that he would be patient while we sneaked uphill. The game plan was good and bad, as were able to stay on public land and remain out of sight of our goat. Unfortunately, we had to pick our way through large boulders and some loose talus that made it nearly impossible to hike discreetly. Finally, it was getting so noisy and precarious that I took both of our packs and decided to drop back and let Dad finish the sneak on his own. One hunter making noise was much better than two. We figured we were already at the goat's elevation and we only needed to go another 100 yards to be comfortably above the animal.
I had only been sitting about ten minutes when I heard one muffled shot. It sounded like a shot that hit its target. And hearing one shot is always a sign. Two or three reports put doubt into one's mind. I grabbed the packs and caught up with Dad. He gave me the nod that the hunting part of the hunt was complete. The mood was a bit tempered as goat had tumbled downhill quite a distance. Despite spending his days on a good-sized ledge and and Dad making a perfect shot with his .270, the billy still stumbled off the ledge, breaking off half of one of its horns. Not ideal, but a pretty common part of goat hunting.
The hunt was over at 10:30AM on the first day. It took us two hours to skin and butcher the goat on site and another two hours to get the meat, hide and skull back to the truck. Our packs were heavy and clumsy on the big boulders, but we were in good spirits.
Monday, September 3, 2012
When I arrived at the trailhead, I wasn't the first hunter to arrive, but I was the first bird hunter. The other pickups and horse trailers, all belonged to bow hunters in search of bugling elk. I didn't mind sharing the woods with them, as I would be hiking above all of them, occasionally above tree line. Other than the constant hazy skies from distant forest fires, it was a perfect day. My shooting wasn't perfect either, in all honesty, but it was good enough. The dogs didn't need much a refresher, but since they are both middle-aged in dog years (8 and 5 years old), they shouldn't need one. Beyond the birds, the shooting, I took a lot of satisfaction in the little things; just seeing the dogs jump at the sight of my double, seeing them honor each other, walking on ground that rarely sees another hunter.
As expected, the birds had a good hatch, according to my relatively small sample size. One brood of blues numbered eight birds, which makes for a lot of noise when they start flushing out of a dog's point. The birds' crops all showed a healthy diet of greens, berries and grasshoppers. The one males were where they should be, hanging out near timberline, with stunted trees and awesome views. The young birds were much lower, having spent the first few months of their lives in lush, more forgiving habitat.
After two days of chasing blue grouse up high, I spent Monday on the prairie, looking for Huns. They too, appear to have had a good spring hatch, following a mild winter. But, right now, I will limit my time chasing sharptail and Huns for later. The mountain grouse window is small one and right now it is wide open.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
For those that are unfamiliar with the Beartooth/Absaroka mountain lakes of southern Montana, the area is host to more hike-in trout water than most folks can fish in a lifetime. With hikes ranging from short, level jaunts to week-long adventures into remote bodies of water, choosing your destination may be the most difficult part. The variety of trout from golden trout and grayling to cutthroat and brook trout, add to the complex menu that the backpacking angler can choose from.
On a recent three-day, two-night trip, Laura, Mark, Lindsay and I parked a vehicle at one trailhead and commenced our journey from another, twenty miles away. We fished three different lakes, caught three different species and only saw one other party fishing. There were a moderate number of campers we met on the trail, but most didn't even carry a fly rod tube lashed to their packs. Fishing aside, the highlight was crossing a pass between drainages at 11,000 feet above sea level. Waking to mountain goats in our camp was a close second.
Every trip in the High Country leaves me wanting more. As Laura said, having solitude at a mountain lake campsite makes one feel very rich. This past trip was nearly perfect; the weather was ideal, the fishing was consistent and the company was great. The only regret is that it would be my only alpine fishing adventure this year.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
By all accounts (mostly mine), it should be a good fall, markedly improved from 2011. The past winter was a non-event. In fact, for those of us that enjoy fishing through an eight-inch hole in the ice, there was a very reduced season to be had in most of Montana. Safe ice was in short supply. While the snowpack in the mountains was about average, it was mostly a dry winter across the eastern prairie. If there were major blizzards, I slept through them or just simply don't remember any.
The other major factor, the spring hatch, appeared to also be successful across central and eastern Montana. The spring was mild, without extended rainy and cool periods. There was ample nesting cover and plenty of insects during the juvenile birds' vulnerable stages. Lastly, damaging hailstorms were also rare across the Treasure State.
Not everything is in place to make it the stellar season afield that it could be, however. Thousands of acres of Conservation Reservation Program (CRP) grasses have fallen victim to expiring contracts and high crop prices. In other words, one of your favorite pheasant coverts or sharptail spots, may be black dirt this year. Also, due to this summer's drought, some counties in Montana have been granted emergency grazing or haying of CRP to help ranchers survive the record-setting, scorching summer of 2012. While not as widespread as the overall loss of CRP, it still removes some of the huntable acres from the menu this autumn.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Dan hooked up with Glacier Anglers, a company based out of West Glacier, on a four-day float on the upper Middle Fork of the Flathead River in the Great Bear Wilderness Area. Glacier Anglers (and parent company Glacier Outdoor Center) is the only entity with commercial permits on this stretch of the river.
Before you start planning your own freelanced adventure, keep in mind this was no weekend trip that started after work Friday evening. In fact, while the gear was transported by mules six miles into the bush, the fortunate participants hiked ahead of the pack train, not knowing quite what to expect once they reached the Flathead.
Once arriving at the holy grail, the rafts were present, thanks to two young strapping lads who hauled them in on their backs the night before. Between the six mules, the 1,200 pounds of gear (dutch ovens included) were loaded into the three rafts and the trip was on. Miles from civilization, the likelihood of seeing a bear (black or grizzly) was more likely than another angler.
And the fishing. In a nutshell, Westslope Cutthroat, over 20", all on large, dry flies. 100-fish-days were the norm. The fish were healthy, abundant and aggressive.
Fishing was only part of the adventure. Great meals, well-versed, experienced guides and top-notch gear made the trip enjoyable and trouble-free. Finally, the final day of the trip was exciting whitewater rafting, which was an added bonus during the heat of the day. This was the trip of a lifetime for any angler who enjoys the combination of stellar fly fishing in a truly wilderness setting.
Look for a complete article in the fall issue of Montana Sporting Journal.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
District 313-00 was your 1st choice for the ‘2012 Goat License’ Drawing.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
Spring walleye fishing can be fickle. The window of opportunity from ice-out through the spring spawn can open and close and open again in hours on Montana reservoirs. When water temperatures creep into the mid-forties, walleyes begin their quest to reproduce and point their noses up rivers and creeks. Anglers also become anxious this time of year, looking forward to that first boat ride of the year and with a little luck, the first 'eye of the season.
Monday, April 2, 2012
The only reason that you're reading a report about the creek is because I traveled to Lewistown this weekend to meet with Jay. It was the second leg of an ambitious road trip combining business and fishing (read the full report here).
After wrapping up our meeting Jay guided me to one of his honey holes upstream from town. Upon arrival I was surprised to find the creek running a bit high and off color, the result of low-elevation snowmelt during this unseasonably warm spring. Even so, the spring creek was in much better shape than many of the regional freestones, some of which were too turbid for productive fishing over the weekend. From Brewery Flats upstream, the creek had two to three feet of visibility - clearer up near the hatchery, and dirtier further downstream.
Each of my first two drifts through one of Jay's favorite runs resulted in trout, both took a size-16 pink soft hackle fished deep under an indicator. Over the ensuing couple of hours I worked my way upstream, picking up a trout or two in most of the larger pools and runs that I came to. The aforementioned fly, along with a San Juan worm, accounted for most of these fish. I also spent some time methodically working a streamer along banks with structure. A black sex dungeon affixed to a heavy sink-tip line lured two nice browns, one that I landed, and another that charged out from a rock, but wouldn't commit.
Good numbers of baetis were hatching from about 1pm-3pm, most of them were a size 18, with a few that were closer to 16. The dry-fly fishing was non-existent due to relentless high winds all afternoon. Anglers who find themselves on the creek over the next couple of weeks on warm, overcast afternoons with calm winds should come prepared for baetis hatches and rising fish.
Who knows, perhaps Jay will surprise us all and report on the productivity of a simple Adams (#18) and pheasant tail emerger (#18) combination (fished on 5x tippet with a long leader... hint, hint) in the coming weeks. If you make it up to Big Spring Creek yourself, be sure to drop him a line reporting on just how good the fishing was out his back door.
Look for a feature on central MT trout water, including Big Spring Creek, in the next issue of Montana Sporting Journal.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Fortunately, the climate varies greatly from the Canadian border to where I reside. While Fergus county area ponds and reservoirs were losing their ice to 60-degree Chinook winds, lakes on the Hi-Line were still holding up fairly well. In fact, I had planned on walking out on the reservoir, pulling out my gear in my Otter sled. But, with a solid 14” of ice, we were able to travel by four-wheeler.
Fishing in March provides an opportunity to possibly catch a behemoth walleye, full of eggs on her way to the spawning grounds. However, we were fishing deeper structure, mostly perch habitat. In fact, the only three walleyes we caught were males. The weather was probably the highlight; fishing in the March sun, with no wind, is a great cure for cabin fever. Don’t tell my dermatologist, but I almost look forward to the first sunburn of the spring, especially if that occurs while fishing on the ice, grilling bratwurst.
As I write this three days later, the ice if vanishing from larger reservoirs such as Petrolia and Fort Peck. The next sunburn will most likely occur while in a boat.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
|Winter '12: Sunshine, solitude, and good fishing.|
My home office is located just a stone’s throw from the lower Gallatin River and lately it has been a rare day when I haven’t managed to get in an hour of fishing during the warmest part of the day, mid-afternoon. Midges are hatching, and on overcast days a few fish can be found rising to them. The nymph fishing has been very productive with caddis larva, midge larva and pupa, grey and pink sow bugs, red worms, eggs, and increasingly, stonefly nymphs… the usual winter line-up.
Streamers have even been producing recently, both with an active retrieve and dead drifted. Reports have been surfacing of quality streamer fishing on the Yellowstone River near Livingston, with conditions even allowing anglers to float the river - an extreme rarity in February.
The trick to good fishing at this time of year is finding the winter holding water. Trout are not evenly distributed throughout a river at this time of year, rather they are congregated in the deepest, slowest holes. Where there is one fish, there are likely to be many more holding in the same location. I was reminded of this fact this past weekend while fishing the lower Madison River, where I caught all of my fish from just two holes along a half mile stretch of river. Repeatedly drifting through these holes produced fish after fish, and when the action died, changing flies (particularly the fly size) produced more fish.
As enjoyable as the winter fly fishing has been this year, I think most of us are ready for a solid dose of winter weather to close the season out - quality summer fishing depends upon it. The Gallatin and Madison watersheds are currently sitting at 70% and 74% of average snowpack, respectively. Old Man Winter has some catching up to do.
Friday, February 10, 2012
We just received our FAS sponsor certificate in the mail. MSJ has adopted Black's Ford FAS, a heavily utilized access point on the lower Madison River.
As part of the sponsor agreement we'll be organizing bi-annual clean-up events at the access site... stay tuned for dates and details.
The Madison River Foundation has been proactive about finding sponsors for FAS locations along the Madison River. Sponsorship opportunities are available for FAS locations throughout Region 3, for more information contact MT FWP.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
I used to fancy myself as a walleye specialist. If I was not catching eating-sized walleyes, in that perfect 1-2 pound range, with the occasional trophy, I was just wasting my time. Northern pike were slimy and perch weren’t worth messing with. While pike can still make a mess of your lines when ice-fishing, I have changed my opinion on perch.
Perch are an ideal winter species. They are great eating (walleye is a member of the perch family) and easy to fillet. Perch are often very prolific in the right fishery and their numbers can swell quickly, making them available and aggressive. When the perch population is robust, a bucket of fresh perch in an afternoon of sitting on the ice is a real possibility. The goal is to find the happy medium between good numbers of perch, but also maintain that “jumbo” quality, not a bunch of stunted fish.
A trip north this weekend was a perch outing on somewhat thin ice with the warm temperatures of late. Once on the lake, it was a matter of finding the proper depth and the right presentation that attracted the larger perch. Eventually, I settled on 29-30 feet of water, with a Swedish Pimple and a minnow head. A full minnow was too large and caused me to miss too many fish on the hookset. A mealworm enticed too many small perch to race to my lure. My Vexilar was worth its weight in gold.
As a result, I brought home about 18 perch to clean that evening. They weren’t perch pushing that coveted one pound threshold, but they were close. Dipped in Italian bread crumbs and fried in olive oil, the white flesh was like candy. Who needs walleyes, anyway?
Thursday, February 2, 2012
On this one day ice-fishing trip, we didn't make it easy on ourselves. Dad, Scott and I were determined to try a remote access point on Fort Peck Reservoir that anglers rarely visit. We were betting on good ice in this fairly protected section of the lake and with the lack of snow this winter, the road appeared to be in find shape.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
On Monday and Tuesday of this week a couple of fishing buddies and I found ourselves floating prime trout water below Yellowtail Dam. Despite the unseasonably warm weather, over the course of two days we saw only a couple of other boats. The fishing was very productive, with both nymphs and streamers taking scores of fish. The streamer bite was particularly strong, with a variety of colors and sizes taking fish from late morning through evening. 200-grain sink-tip lines were generally relied upon to pull fish from winter holding water. Nymph rigs consisting of soft hackle sow bugs and midge pupa drifted deep accounted for many fish, particularly earlier in the day before the streamer bite really picked up. Midges - and even a few baetis - were hatching, but there were very few fish consistently coming to the surface.
Bighorn Trout Shop are your best resource.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Typically in early January it is easier to find ice in Montana than to avoid it. In fact, on many lakes by this time of year fishermen are brave enough (or foolish) to drive one-ton trucks across 12-18 inches of hard water.