Friday, December 26, 2008


I have no idea how many birds I’ve shot in my life. When I was a youngster I thought I’d always keep a count, but that ended 15 or more years ago. What I know is that the number is insignificant.

I love to hunt, but more than my passion for waterfowling is my passion for teaching people to enjoy this bit of my life. As we were out on the river today I recounted with my hunting partner just how many people I’d been with when they had their first successful hunt on the river. I remembered the excitement that each one showed with the first goose that fell from the sky.
Today I hunted with a guy I coached in high school football just a few years ago. He tagged along with our hunting parties a few times, and last year purchased his own Remington 870 with Christmas money. But aside from a day of shooting trap and maybe a grouse or two that crossed his path, Mikey hadn’t had a chance at the first goose.

But today it all changed. With more geese on our stretch of the Yellowstone than I’ve seen in my life we got into some great shooting. The birds came willingly and after a few missed opportunities on both of our parts, Mikey dropped his first Canada goose. The bird pitched into us and gave as that full front shot that we all love to have. Mikey converted the shot and was soon celebrating his first success of many to come.

And on the way home he said the same thing that all those other first time goose thumpers have told me in the past. . .and it’s that statement that makes the number I shoot completely insignificant. After talking about the shot, the weather, and everything else associated with the hunt, he turned and said, "Coach, I’m hooked on this."

And in taking all these guys on their first hunts I’ve created for myself a lifetime of great hunting partners.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Elk Resolutions

Montana is blessed with a liberal elk hunting season that typically extends for about five weeks and allows resident hunters to pursue bulls across much of the state with nothing more than an over-the-counter license. You would think that such generous regulations would result in a relatively easy hunt, but you’d be wrong. The truth of the matter is that in many elk hunting districts older age class bulls are few and far between and further complicating matters are the issues of access, weather, and etc., which I’ll refrain from belly-aching about.

I took some pride in toughing out the recent, and ongoing, frigid winter conditions during the final days of the ‘08 extended elk season, but I also realized there was little reason I should have been out there. Had I been better prepared and done my homework prior to the season’s start I could have been at home comfortably watching the snow fall outside, instead of getting distant glimpses at the odd cow and calf. Instead, I spent a couple of frostbitten days bundling up, snowshoeing in past closed forest service gates, and prying my frozen eyelashes apart.

The onus is on me, no excuses. Looking ahead to the New Year and reflecting on changes I’d like to make, I resolve to spend some time scouting for elk.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Calm Before The Storm

12/12/08 While a major winter storm forecasted altered my plans to take a hunting trip east this weekend, Dad and I sneaked out for a day of bird chasing. We had decided to hunt some remote parcels, coverts that might be difficult to access once the snow begins to drift on the prairie.
The day started out poorly, as we had a rancher (or rancher's hired man), slam a door in our face, when we were just trying to get his take on a public land boundary, near his ranch. We didn't want to take any chances with a crackpot like that, so we vowed to come back another day. As a result, no Christmas card for him and our Hun plan changed to a pheasant one. (It also made me log on to the PLWA website and make a donation when I got home. These guys are an outspoken group that does a lot of good work. Check them out.)
The birds and the dog work saved the day. There is some sentiment from a few birddoggers that pheasants are the devil and can ruin pointing dogs with their propensity to run. Sure, they love to run-especially in December, on ground that has been hunted by many. But, the birds can't run forever. Dad and I shot 5 roosters, over points. The shooting is the easy part, sort of a necessary evil to reward the dogs for scenting, pointing, relocating, pointing, relocating........I am amazed at how dogs can handle Huns, ruffed grouse, blue grouse, pheasants, sage grouse, sharptail and woodcock, all in a span of three months. They all reside in slightly different habitats and respond differently to dogs and hunters.
And yes, the storm came. Hope those birds find cover.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Not Time For Sunday Football Yet

12/7/08 After chinook winds warmed the temperature in central MT from 10 degrees to 40 degrees overnight, I called Dad and talked him into a brief pheasant hunt. I had to skip a 1/2 day of office time and he had to skip a 1/2 day of retirement. Easy sell.
Unless I make a trip out of state to hunt chukars or quail, my bird hunting window of opportunity is closing rapidly. For the most part, our season here closes January 1. Any hunting in December is usually a bonus, as snow conditions can make hunting tough and life on the birds even tougher. For now, easy going. And after a very busy season of hunting deer, antelope and elk, the dogs were left at home more than I prefer.
With the benefit of chinook winds warming the air across the prairie, comes the wind itself. Abby and Tess did fine considering they were chasing running roosters in tall CRP that was swaying in the strong breeze. The sharptail were jumpy too, but instead of using their legs to avoid hunter and canine, they just flushed earlier than normal. No complaints-plenty of birds, good dog work and after all, it is December.

Monday, December 1, 2008

From Deer Camp to Elk Camp

11/23/08 Left deer camp, skinned and butchered deer, repacked gear, grabbed additional provisions and slept like a baby. Deer camp was good, shot decent deer, but elk camp always trumps deer camp.

11/24/08 Arrived at camp around 11AM. Sent Blair out to scout while Brian and I set up camp. We caught up to Blair just before dark, as he glassed ridges we planned to hike to the next day. Saw plenty of tracks-both humans and elk.
11/25/08 Blair went north, Brian and I hiked west, putting on some serious miles. They all seemed up hill.....I made a drive up a ravine for Brian, but the only thing I moved his way was a lion. Heard a shot, just before dark, had to be Blair. As we awaited his story in camp, he arrived, late and disappointed. He took a shot at a cow, through the timber, but missed. Not an easy shot, he felt, but a makeable one.
11/26 Blair's last morning-he went west, on some large, fresh tracks. The trail went beyond the forest service boundary, onto private land. Smart bull. Brian and I wandered dark timber all day. I found fresh tracks and scat, eventually leading me to a glimpse of a fleeting elk. A big, lonely bull? I will never know.
11/27 Will arrived in the morning darkness. He hiked high and far. Will was rewarded for his efforts, seeing elk, eventually being surrounded by barking cows and a few spikes. Nothing worth shooting at this point. Brian and I wandered familiar country, looking for fresh sign.
11/28 Day 5 and still no fresh snow. Brian and I went north out of camp, glassing some meadows at daybreak. The elk have gone nocturnal, not showing themselves in the open at all. We rushed back to camp at lunch, eating in minutes and heading out in a new direction. Our final hunt was in a scenic bowl that elk seemed to have used since the last snow. Not today, however. Will returned to camp again late, with only good stories of elk spotted. He would see a nice bull on his final day, but never get a shot.

Our elk camp wrapped up with a few close calls, a lot of good meals in the wall tent and of wishes for fresh snow next time. Luckily, half of the fun of elk camp, is camp.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Montana Muley

As the Montana general big game season nears its conclusion there is always a sense of urgency to get out and make the most of the remaining days afield, after all next season is a long way off.
This is a great time of year to be out under the big sky, and many of us at MSJ have been out conducting some "field work". I just returned from a few days of mule deer hunting in the eastern part of the state, chasing love struck bucks through sage flats and coulees. Our camp went 4 for 4 on mule deer bucks. No B&C trophies, but respectable, hard earned bucks.
On the last day I had to hunt I spotted a big bodied buck chasing a doe along a ridge. I had passed on bigger bucks earlier in the hunt, but at this late hour he was looking good. After quickly cutting the distance between us I peered over a rise and there he was just 200 yards away. I promptly found a solid rest, took a few calming breaths and squeezed the trigger - putting an end to the mule deer chapter of my '08 hunting season.
Now its back to the office for a couple of days returning voicemails and emails before finishing out the '08 season in elk camp...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"May B Late. Dad Has Elk Down"

Those were the simple words I sent via text message to family and friends, from a high-elevation location in central Montana. While text messaging may be a preferred method of communication for teenagers, it was a handy way to tell people that were waiting on me, that I may not show up on time that evening.
The 5 x 6 bull that was down was a decent animal, especially for a day hunt on public land in this part of the state. It was the result of some fair knowledge of the area, some timely weather, and a little luck.
We left town at dawn, the overnight snow making for some terrible roads, but also some perfect tracking snow. We headed to an area where we had seen elk on previous hunts. Twenty minutes of walking the boundary between private and public land, we found fresh tracks. The luck was in the fact that these elk had just crossed from private land, onto public, giving us a chance to sneak on these elk in the quiet, powdery snow. For the next four hours, we would be "in elk". The first sightings, were just that: only glimpses of hide, no sign of antlered animals. The second run-in, Dad saw the rack of a bull, but only had a rear-end shot, and passed. Finally, the shot an elk hunter waits for all season presented itself: a 75 yard shot, at an antlered bull, in open timber, broadside. Success.
The returned text messages all conveyed the same thing-Good Job, Way To Go, and Enjoy Packing It Out. Well, we did. As every elk hunter knows, it can be a long time until your next bull elk.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Elk Hair Caddis

"Going elk hunting are ya?" hollered my neighbor as he peered from under the hood of his Buick. It was an astute observation based on the dozen trips I'd just made from my house to the truck with the necessities for an extended hunt in the high country. When I emerged from the shack with a final load of gear my well-meaning and all-knowing neighbor took notice of the contents clutched in my arms. Audibly prying himself from the confines of the engine compartment and portraying a perplexed look he stammered, "I thought you were going hunting." I explained that the reason for the waders, rod, net, and etc. was that I was actually going fishing, but first needed to secure some material for a few elk hair caddis patterns. As he shook his head and reacquainted himself with the intricacies of the internal combustion engine I realized that my attempt at humor was lost on him. The brief exchange would probably only provide fodder for the "odd neighbor" conversation that was sure to follow over dinner with his wife that evening.
My route to elk camp, via Hwy 89, would be taking me near a favorite piece of trout water, close enough to justify a detour, hence the fishing equipment. That afternoon of fishing was time well spent with several browns up to 18" aggressively striking just about any streamer I threw at them, dead drifted or stripped. The browns were decked out in their fall colors, although I saw only the occasional redd. There was no let up in the action and as I worked my way upstream I realized that the overcast sky and absence of a time piece along with the good fishing, had conspired to keep me on the water much longer than I had intended. After one last cast I was back in the saddle with snow capped peaks filling the windshield as I wound my way up the road to elk camp. For those interested, this fishery was covered in the Mar/Apr '07 issue of MSJ (see web store to purchase back issues).
Its fortunate that my fishing success didn't hinge upon my ability to obtain a supply of tying material for elk hair caddis. After hunting hard and seeing lots of game, including elk, I left the mountains empty handed. Before November and the elk season have run their course, I'll return to hunt the high peaks and ridges, undoubtedly making a detour along the way to fish a favorite trout stream in its fall glory.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Local Advantage

11/2/08 In an era where hunter access to the land is often mentioned as the primary concern for many, it is nice to know that some things haven't changed in Montana.
This weekend for example, I hunted with Scott Kanning, someone who grew up on a wheat farm in rural Montana. This part of the world is where everyone knows each other by name and you are only judged by how hard you work, not the car you drive or the size of your home.
The weekend hunt involved a lot of visiting with neighbors, a lot of shaking hands and drinking coffee, even when you didn't want to. At times, I was kicking at the dirt, worrying that we were wasting precious hunting time. But, I gradually relaxed as we had plenty of ground to hunt with no competition. The weather was great, the birds were plentiful and the dogs did what they do best. But, most of all, I enjoyed the people who live here; they live in a simpler place and are very willing to share it. Thanks a lot.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Proper Preparation

If you’re anything like me, you read all the “expert” advice telling you to organize your hunting gear well before the beginning of the season. As so many hunting guides and outdoor writers suggest, “check and recheck all necessary equipment on a rainy spring day, on a sweltering summer evening, or during halftime of a Notre Dame football game."
And if you’re exactly like me, you acknowledge the validity of the advice and promptly ignore it.
I suppose that’s why the first day of pheasant season found me reaching into the pocket of my vest for a few samplings of number 6 and instead finding an old Almond Joy, a spent cartridge, and the grocery list I lost back in December. The cartridge reminded me of the last hunting day of 2007 while the grocery list reminded me of the many times my wife is right and I’m wrong. The Almond Joy simply provided me a nice morning snack on the first hunt of 2008. The chocolate was chewy and the almond certainly could have been more joyful. Still, a good find.
I’d like to say I was a bit more organized for the start of big game season, but alas I was again not as dutiful as the expert said. The good news is I remembered my tag; I packed it neatly into my “deer hunting only” pack that hangs on a nail in the garage. I know that’s where I had the tag because I put it in the pack the day I got it.
Just imagine how sorry that buck would have been had I not left the pack hanging on that nail. To make matters worse, I had no Almond Joy with me.
But I live for waterfowl season, and yesterday I decided to organize my decoys, add weights to the ones needing to be replaced, untangle the cords, and even apply a little touchup paint on those bright green heads. As for my goosin’ gear, I planned to fill every shot sleeve with a dose of 3 ½ inch BB shells.
Who am I kidding, I’ll do it when I get out to the river.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A day to remember

After a couple weeks of seemingly working every waking minute, the stars aligned and I got out for a day of bird hunting. And what a day it was! Early Saturday morning I hit the road with Paul Reinker, of MSJ field staff fame. Our destination was the ranch of an acquaintance in the Powder River country. Upon arriving we were pleasantly surprised to find the ranchers claim of having, "Plenty of birds" to be an understatement. Never before had I seen the sheer number of pheasants that this ranch held, nor had my much more experienced (aged) hunting partner. Despite diligently passing up a number of shots in favor of solid flushes from our young golden retriever, we both found ourselves with limiting trios in little more than an hours time. The mornings hunting was only topped by the bowls of chili awaiting us at the ranch house.

Thanks to Paul & Kristi Mobley of Twin Buttes Outfitters for having us out, your hospitality was greatly appreciated.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

It has been a warm fall on the uplands. I have had too many days where the dogs were whipped by noon from hunting in above-normal temperatures. As a result, I was often cussing the balmy weather, looking forward to cool days and cold nights.
Well, it changed and it changed dramatically. On Thursday, I was hunting sharptail in a tee-shirt. This Sunday, the 2nd day of pheasant season, it snowed over eight inches in eastern Montana.
Hunting was bearable and even enjoyable, despite the constant snow in the face and the brisk north winds. The birds sat tight, unable to run in the snow, making for some great points by the dogs and some easy shooting. It also forced a lot of hunters into the bars, to watch football, giving us less competition afield. I love hunting late season pheasants, but I don't think it needs to happen in mid-October.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pheasants Forever

Pheasant season has always been, in my family, what fishing was to the Maclean family of A River Runs Through It. Dad loved walking the ditches for ringnecks and would rather have hunted pheasants than just about anything. Because the opening of pheasant season usually came within days of my birthday, I could count on a small, square, heavy box poorly wrapped by dad full of 20 gauge shells.
Long after our last hunting lab was gone, dad and I would still walk the ditches and fields for his favorite quarry, ever cautious that a wounded bird could easily hide and disappear from sight only to die later. We pulled birds out of shrubs, out of log piles, and left no leaf unturned in retrieving fallen birds. That was his way.
Dad’s last shot at a pheasant got away. It dropped once and just about as he was to retrieve it, took off again. Once again dad shot the bird down, and once again it found the power to get up and scurry away across a small ditch, through a little patch of weeds, and then took flight.
Dad died a year later, still regretting that he hadn’t been able to retrieve that bird. I think he knew it was his last opportunity and wanted to bring one more bird home to mom.
But in a lot of ways that pheasant summed up dad’s life: despite a long battle with cancer, he kept going. We’d both been shot hunting at different times, but kept doing it. In the end the bird did the one thing that dad wished he could—it made it away.
I look forward every year to my birthday and the start of pheasant season, still missing dad, still looking for that pheasant, and still enjoying every walk and every ditch.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Torn Between Two Loves

Craig, MT. I never fish in October. Or September for that matter. Once autumn arrives, I trade my days on the water for days behind bird dogs. But, I combined a little business in Helena with pleasure on the Missouri.
While the Mo' has never been good to me, I still enjoy the consistency of the place. Nice drifts, plenty of room for working on your long casting game and the potential for a femur-sized brown. It can be crowded, for sure, but there is a lot of water. And it is October.
I never saw any of those big browns. Just small rainbows that felt sorry for me and wanted to let me know that the day was not wasted just because I wasn't chasing birds.
But, the inner pain I was feeling leaving Tess and Abby on the couch at home was only made worse when I was surprised by nearby shotgun volleys. It took me about 30 minutes of fishing to realize that waterfowl season opened on this Saturday. Anyway, thanks guys.
That made my decision easy: time for a quick burger at Izaak's and then head back home. I need to get those dogs out on Sunday........

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Call 'em in

As I was lying in bed last night fading to sleep, blaring sirens from passing emergency vehicles on the city streets kept me awake. Only twenty four hours earlier I'd been sleeping under the stars in the high country with nothing but elk bugles keeping me awake at night. Trading bugles and wilderness for sirens and city life isn't all bad, but it definitely makes me long for my next trip into the mountains.

The wapiti in SW Montana are definitely in full rut right now, in fact where I was it may be on the decline with many bulls already busted up and content with maintaining their large harems. This time every year I vow that I'll be shooting a bow by next fall, but again I find myself without a bow in hand this September. Instead I opted for a little catch and release elk hunting with my camera. Calling bulls into close range is a thrill and challenge even without an arrow nocked and is a great way to get stoked for the upcoming general season.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Big Country

Sales director Will Jordan and I made the trip to Denver last week for the annual fly fishing retailer show. The show was impressive, but we had our fill of big city traffic, paying to park and car alarms blaring.
Regardless of our disdain for the concrete jungle, it amazed us just how many people at the show wanted a piece of Montana. The average fly angler we spoke with spent at least a week each summer in Big Sky Country; a lot of those guys would reside here permanently, if they could.
I felt a little guilty for taking Montana for granted, needing to be reminded how great our state was, reminded that we have resources that many sportsmen would die for. On the drive home from Denver, I vowed I would fish those rivers that I ignored this summer and hunt the big, wide-open spaces that are made for a man, a dog and a gun.
On a recent hunt since returning from Denver, the birds were not as numerous as past autumns, but the views were sweeter. And more cherished.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Summer or Fall?

This is definitely still the transition time between seasons in our outdoor pursuits. I left town with the A/C cranked up in the vehicle, headed for the hills as it was pushing 80 degrees and too hot for my liking on the prairie. I had heard of some remarkable hatches of late on the local spring creek and considered going fishing instead of chasing birds. Thinking of the dogs, I chose the latter. And by the time I loaded up the dogs and headed for home, I had the heater running to take the chill off. When the sun goes down in the mountains, it cools off pretty quickly.
This was a combination mountain grouse hunt and elk scouting trip, however, it is a lot to ask to see any elk (or hear the occasional love sick bull scream) while shouting commands at the dogs and firing the occasional volley at a flushing bird. We moved both blues and ruffed grouse in the afternoon hunt, so I can't complain too much. Fishing might just have to wait until next spring.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sometimes the Fish Wins

Last Friday advertising director Will Jordan and I left Billings early to head up the Stillwater River for a pre-noon fishing trip. Although we each landed a few mid-sizers, the most intriguing fish were the ones who wouldn’t play the game with us.
A small, almost unnoticeable riffle ran through a deep, big area of calm water and on the far edge of that riffle were the constant pops of fish rising to the surface. To cast straight out to them required a little more line in the back-cast than the trees and bushes would allow (in fact Will found evidence of other fishermen in those very bushes) and the pool forms right off the shore so wading out closer is not an option.
Letting the fly drift down to them isn’t much of an option either since the area above the pool is fast, deep, and not very accurately described as "still water". Casting from below the pool wouldn’t provide any better chances as the inability to mend the line properly or get the right drift would ruin any chance of fish. And no way could a fisherman get enough leaverage to utilize the roll cast.
I finally made my way out to a rock, cast upstream and whipped the rod slightly to the side just before the fly touched water in an effort to basically mend the line in the air. The drift was then good and the fly could hit the areas I wanted.
Still, that deep, slow pool gave any fish in there plenty of time to look at my fly, the knot, the line, and perhaps even discuss it with the other fish before deciding to go after it. I had one raise as a result of all that figuring, though that's one more than I had with any other method.
There are reasons why fish get so big—they manage to avoid getting caught and the beasts in that pool certainly have seen their share of enticements.
In my mind, I taught myself a new trick to fishing a difficult piece of water like that. It didn’t pay off on this trip, but I’ll save it for another day when the opportunity arises.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Get 'em involved

As we all know, getting the next generation interested in the tradition of hunting and fishing is crucial to maintaining our sporting heritage. Exposing our youth to positive, fun experiences in the fields and streams at an early age is undoubtedly the biggest factor in their becoming future sportsmen.
This weekend I went along on a fishing trip with my nephew, who is not yet 3, and his father. While some anglers might have viewed young Samuel's presence on the boat as a distraction, he didn't detract at all from the trip. Hearing his laughter as he "turned in" the reel on each leaping fish and watching his amazement as the fish was brought to hand was well worth the little bit of extra attention he required. A healthy supply of powdered donuts and snacks went a long way in keeping him happy when the fishing slowed or he grew tired of playing with the worms.
Samuel is already looking forward to his next trip and has developed the tell tale trait of waking before Mom comes to roust him on mornings when a day of fishing is in store . To say he gets excited when his Dad hooks up the boat is an understatement. He is lucky to have someone to provide him with these early experiences in life, not every child has such opportunities. Take a kid fishing.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Game Time

Unless you work on a carnival or you don't fish, summer always flies by in the northern lattitudes. It seems like yesterday we swapped our flannel shirts and wool pants for t-shirts and Speedo trunks. Well, maybe not the Speedo. Regardless, here in MT, the nights are already cooler and the days shorter. And now, September 1st is looming.
While some archery antelope seasons open in August, September 1st is the real turning point for many of us multi-sport outdoor fanatics. Upland game bird season opens on the 1st, with archery big game to follow on the 6th. If you haven't already, it is time to get your bird dogs' feet toughened up with some road work and probably get your own mid-section slightly slimmer.
It is also time to start shooting some rounds through your centerfires. I vowed to shoot my .243 more this past summer than in years past, preparing for the antelope opener in October that always sneaks up on me. Now I need to do the same with the bigger deer and elk rifles. Monday will find me behind two dogs, looking for blue grouse. Wow, it is hunting season already. Bring it on.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Local Discovery

I often lament the fact that I live far enough east in the esteemed trout fishing state of Montana to make a quality trout fishing trip just that, a trip. From Billings, the Madison, Gallatin, Missouri, Big Hole, Beaverhead, Blackfoot, Bitterroot, etc. - even the upper Yellowstone all require a multi-day trip to really fish effectively. Granted we've got a few trout fisheries within an hours drive, but they aren't secrets. I was in desperate need of a local, unpressured trout fishery. Impossible you say? I thought so too until recently.
I received a tip regarding the possibility of a local stream holding a few trout...I'd chased weaker leads before. With map in hand I pointed my truck south in search of this unlikely trout stream. After a few miles on pavement, followed by a few more on gravel I arrived at the waters edge. What I stumbled upon that day was a legit, high quality spring creek. More importantly the creek was teeming with trout, mostly browns and mostly small, but also with a few large surprises lurking in some of the deep holes. This location has the makings of a year round fishery and is close enough to home for the occasional nooner when I need it.
Energized by my recent discovery, I now have about a dozen local and easily overlooked streams circled on my map; all locations that I intend to explore with a fly rod in hand. While I don't expect it, one or two of them just might have a surprise in store.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Teacher

Have you ever taught someone else to fly fish? I’ve helped friends improve their fishing skills but never started from scratch with someone. My wife of six weeks was the student this past weekend in Yellowstone Park, and though I couldn’t have asked for a better student, where do you start?
For starters, I can talk about casting, mending, stripping, etc. but haven’t addressed where to cast, where the fish are, why they’re there, why we picked this certain fly, why I tied this knot, why this water is good and this one is bad, and so on and so on.
How do you expect to hand a person a fly rod, teach her how to get the fly into the water, and expect her to catch fish? It’s like teaching someone to throw a football and expecting him to throw a skinny post to Randy Moss and hit him in stride.
It surprised me on that cold, Soda Butte Creek that my wife is a naturally good fly caster, and she began to inquire about flies and where the water was good, and if she had enough line out, if she was mending right, and so on. I was so proud of her.
And I knew she caught on when she spoke those famous words every fly fisherman has uttered after getting shut out, "I don’t think there are any fish in this river."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

And I Followed you, Big River, when you Called

Until Sunday my only true fishing experience on the Yellowstone River involved terms like "setline" and "ling"—never had I done much fly fishing on the "big river" (subtle Johnny Cash pun) though I’m a native Montanan and a most avid fly fisherman.
For me fly fishing is something done on small creeks (and yes, Jay, I do say "crick") and rivers like Rock Creek, the Boulder, the Stillwater, and those wonderful rivers in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone Park. To me, fishing the "big river" means the Gallatin.
So many fishing stories offer great tales about looking beyond the big rivers for the serenity and charm of the small streams, and that despite the smaller fish there remains something unique about fishing those waters.
For me, the opposite tale is true. For a guy who basically uses the same eight flies fished in a manner of different ways on the same eight rivers, the trip on the Yellowstone with MSJ editor Jay Hanson and advertising guru Will Jordan was an eye-opening experience.
I hooked a number of good fish, even landed some nice ones and enjoyed one of only a handful of floating fishing trips I’ve taken in my many years of fly fishing.
I’ll never abandon my love for the smaller waters, but thanks to a good float and some good fishing, I won’t shy away from the "big river" any more.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Little Guys, Part II

Last issue in MSJ, our fly fishing columnist, ratted out a little gem
of a creek, (crick to some) and we took some heat; mostly by a few guys that fish it. Sorry guys, we will be more careful in the future. Then again, we can't just write about the Bighorn and the Madison....
Regardless, I enjoyed a quick evening out on a local stream this evening, six feet wide and fertile. I don't expect to catch any fish over 22" here, but on a Wednesday night, it was just the deer, pheasants and I sharing the creek bottom. Two hours staring at a hopper indicator is better than Prozac or therapy. Now back to work. And don't ask me to rat out this creek. I understand why one can get protective of these little guys.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fishing For Dollars?

Governor's Cup Walleye Tournament-Ft. Peck, MT

This was only my second fishing tournament. And after spending hundreds of dollars for boat gas during a week of "pre-fishing" and having the first day canceled because of strong winds, I was wondering what I was signed up for. Our first actual tournament day wasn't much better and we were sent out to battle wind gusts up to 40 mph. My partner Mike Upgren and I played it safe; we didn't run the 15 miles down the lake that many made. It worked out fine as we caught one nice walleye, while many teams were fishless. Day two was beautiful and we traveled anywhere we wanted. By 8:30AM, we had boated 12 and 9lb walleyes. If there was ever a time for "man-hugs", this was it. We were flying high and finished in 6th place out of the 80 teams. We even cashed a nice-sized check for our troubles. Maybe this tournament fishing isn't so bad after all..........

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fishable, But.......

6/22/08 Sales director Will Jordan and I tried in vain to talk our colleague Greg Walter into fishing with us Sunday and Monday. We even talked it over with his bride at their wedding reception Saturday night, but no-go. Greg, this is called "setting precedent".
Anyway, Will and I hit the Big Hole, Beaverhead and upper Madison for a few hours each over the course of two days. The Big Hole was a grayling mission for us, but we never saw the elusive fish. Water was still high and murky for the most part. The Beaverhead was most fishable, but the word was out. We saw more boats on the water than fish rises. Fishing was pretty slow, but the scenery was awesome; a lot of snow remains in the mountains. Another highlight was the 1lb burger and view of Clark Canyon Reservoir from the Buffalo Lodge. Also saw a nice group of elk; all cows and calves. That will be filed away for November.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

6/16/08 I feel a little suspect writing about the weather, but it is pretty much the story across the state. Nearly every river is still blown out and muddy and has been for weeks. This is mostly rainfall-related; mountain snowpack is hanging tough. Hopefully, by the July 4th weekend, your favorite water might be fishable. For now, it might be time to break out that float tube and do some lake or reservoir fishing.
For us bird hunters, record rains and low temperatures this time of year make for sleepless nights. Snow and temps near freezing (June 11th???) can be devastating to young chicks, freshly out of their shells.
Looking for that silver lining, I would like to think this spring has been a drought-buster. The countryside looks as green as Ireland and reservoirs that have been drying up gradually, are filling nicely. The mountains may have less fire problems than in the past few summers.
And perhaps, I will have a better chance of catching fish this summer, when they have haven't seen an angler's offering for months on these off-limit waters. At least that's my hope.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Fish For What's Biting

5/17/08 The trip to the big reservoir was meant to be for an early walleye foray, but it ended up being a trip to the dam of Ft. Peck targeting lake trout. Scott "Mack Daddy" Kanning did catch a 28" walleye, but it wasn't enough, as we got out the deep-diving crankbaits and trolled for lakers. The water temperatures were still in the forties, so the trout were relatively shallow.
Trolling cranks isn't my first choice of fishing technique, but lake trout fishing without downriggers is pretty rare. Typically, by the end of May, the fish are 50+ feet down. This trip, they were still hanging out in 25-30 feet of water.
We had a couple of good days on the water, with Dad, Justin, Scott and I each connecting on a couple of fish, all in that 3-10 pound range. We also had slight winds, making the boat ride manageable. The first sunburns of the summer, were not so pleasant.

Who's the turkey?

5/14/08 Turkey hunting is always greeted eagerly, as it is a great time to be out in the woods and a great cure for cabin fever. This year in Montana, winter hung on later than normal and ideal turkey calling weather was tough to come by.
One day of my spring hunting that was memorable for the wrong reasons, was near the end of the season. I was hunting public land, an area that I had not hunted before. I had just stepped out of the truck, gathering my gear, when I heard a gobble. It was close to the road, but I had hoped it wasn't a shock gobble and just a call for love instead. I sneaked in trying to get around the bird, playing it extra safe. I figured I had gone far enough when the same Tom busted me again from the top of the ridge that I was avoiding. I watched the gobbler and his harem run off, never to be seen again. On the bright side, I found myself in some pretty good elk woods, with a lot of sign. To be continued......

Break Out The Waders

4/26/08 Angie and I were guests of Jeff Reed at Paradise Getaway near Pray, MT. It was a deluxe vacation home on the Yellowstone that we weren't worthy of: views of the snow-packed mountains, private trout-ponds at our disposal and the 'stone within a stone's throw....
Fishing a stretch of river with someone who knows the water like the back of his hand is worth more than I realized. We were wading this stretch and one is easily fooled into thinking that a drift boat is necessary to do well on these big rivers. Hardly. I left Jeff's place thinking that the boats floating by at 3-4 m.p.h. are just scratching the surface. When you dedicate an hour to a favorite run or riffle, you learn that there are a ton of fish that are always just out of reach of each cast.
This was a trip that was pre-runoff. Hence, the river was as low as it ever is. I will never claim to be a good fly-caster and it showed on this larger stream. But, even I caught some fish, both nymphing and on dries. As is usually the case, I ended up taking photos of the more skilled. In our day and a half of fishing, we brought cutts, rainbows, browns, cutt-bow hybrids and whitefish to the hand.
I wasn't worthy of that, but it was fun.

Predator Control

Dad and I had been talking about getting out for a day or two of coyote calling, but things just hadn't worked out. We were waiting for a fresh snow, not too much where the unmaintained roads would be blocked, but just enough to make the animals really stand out.
Finally, we had ideal conditions: an inch of powder, very little wind and a cold morning. By dawn, we were in the Missouri Breaks country; country that hasn't changed since Lewis and Clark worked their way upstream 200 years ago.
The coyotes were definitely in the area. We heard some howls every place we called. Dad killed one at about 75 yards with his .220 swift that sneaked in without me spotting it. The rest of the wary predators were safe; two even laid down some tracks from behind, walking in our bootprints, but were never seen. Great to be out in the wild prairie, even when we get out-smarted.