Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Summer's Last Dance

The Indian summer held out as long as it could, but Ma Nature has finally hit us with a dose of reality, the snow is flying in SW Montana today and the highs are half of what they were just a day or two ago. Personally I feel that the shift in weather couldn't have come at a better time. I'd been hoping for a break from the steady pattern of bright, warm days. I'm leaving for an exploratory trout fishing trip to a remote portion of MT this weekend and welcome an assist from the weather.

That said, I'm glad I got in one last blast of summer fishing before the sudden transition hit. A few days ago I had a chance to spend some time on the Yellowstone River under bright, blue skies fishing terrestrial and attractor dries. For all intents and purposes that was the last chance to do so for a good 10 months, unless a trip to the southern hemisphere is in the cards.

I longed to hike into the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone, and the Gardner River looked awfully tempting as I made my way to and from a soak in the Boiling River, but I was too cheap to buy a fishing license for the park this year. I got as close as possible, starting my day's fishing just outside of the national park on a nice little stretch of water below the mouth of the Gardner River. Here I found good numbers of rainbows in the 10- to 14-inch range, fish that rocketed from deep runs and holes to slam PMX and Grand Hopper patterns. I had opportunities at larger fish, but apparently they'd become connoisseurs of foam flies over the course of the summer, rudely refusing my offerings on this day. Had I been willing to send a tandem of nymphs deep into the river I would likely have found her larger denizens, but there are plenty of long months ahead to use such tactics; this day was all about the rise.

Over the course of the day I worked my way down river, sight-fishing for a couple of nice cutts along the rocky edges of Yankee Jim Canyon, getting skunked at Emigrant and finally picking up a few rainbows above Pine Creek. I couldn't have scripted a better way to close out a great summer season on an amazing freestone river.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gettin' Birdy

With the daytime temperatures of 90 degrees in the rear view mirror, it is finally fit for man and man's best friend afield. September in Montana has been more like August. In fact, I have only been out carrying a shotgun (and a lot of water) a handful of times. And as of this typing, the bird-chasing days have yet to extend much past noon, due to the balmy weather. I can pace myself, but unfortunately, the dogs do not, so I play it safe.
But, now it is time to get serious. The cool, damp mornings are good for scenting, good for keeping dogs and hunters fresh. The young, smallish Huns of September 1st, are now three weeks older and sportier. Farmers that were patient about letting their grain mature into September, are now expediting their harvesting operations.
It is also time for the upland enthusiast to make hay. As we get into October, anything can happen with the weather. A foot of snow can accumulate before the Trick and Treaters are out and about. For those of us that like to put some meat in the freezer, we know that big game hunting seasons will also take time away from the bird dogs, who dread rifle seasons, excursions that leave them at home. Those same dogs are now a year older than they were last season and a year for a dog in its prime is beyond priceless.
I think I need to hunt tomorrow morning.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Indian Summer

At this time of year when chill morning air and shortening days signify a transition from summer to fall, I find myself caught between seasons. On one hand I'd like to be roaming the high country, flushing blue grouse and learning the haunts of wapiti. On the other hand there is some fine fishing to be had right now. I've managed to do a bit of both, but the fishing has been winning out of late.

Over the past week or so I've had some incredible fishing in SW Montana. The upper Madison (wade section) was particularly kind to me. In fact one fish from that stretch of water is still haunting me. It started out no differently than the other half dozen trout I'd landed over the previous hour, my indicator hesitated and I set the hook, but this one felt different. The fish immediately gave a couple of head shakes and then held tight in the current, wouldn't budge, it made no play, no run. I suspected that this was a big fish, I pressed my luck and perhaps unwisely put the pressure on it to make an upstream run (vs. downstream) and wouldn't you know it, the size 18 serendipity popped out, I nearly cried.

Since then I've been fishing the Gallatin, my home water now that I'm living in Bozeman. I'm still learning the river, but have had some good days over the past week. I've worked some great looking runs up in the canyon recently with varying success both on top and drifting nymphs deep. Terrestrials are still in play here and along with caddis and mayflies have the fish looking up. Of course going deep will pad your numbers a bit and will bump up the average size of your catch. Double bead stoneflies trailed by a small shop vac or pheasant tail have been doing the trick.

As I drive to and from fishing destinations, passing the trailheads leading into the high country, I'm torn. The day will come soon when I bid adieu to summer, leaving the rivers behind and journeying into the mountains in which they are born.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Time For The Blues

I don't claim to be on top of all pop culture, but since I was headed to an upcoming Modest Mouse show in Billings this week, I had been listening to more of their stuff of late. One of their more well-known offerings is called Fire It Up. I am not hip enough to know the lyrics or the song's meaning, but the catchy chorus was in my head all week previous to the MT upland opener. It was simply time to fire it up.
Dad still calls the shots when it comes to central Montana hunts, so I simply had to pack my lunch, grab the dogs and gun and be ready to roll Tuesday morning. The hunt started with a two mile ascent. In fact, there was no need to even throw the 20 gauge shut, until about two hours after leaving the truck-quite a bit of work, just to start hunting. (Right now would be a good time to name names, guys my age that wouldn't be able to hang with my Dad, in his 60s, but I won't do that to them)
The day was more fruitful than what I deserved; I had multiple easy shots at blues, over points. While the day was warm and dry, the balmy weather also put more birds on the ground, instead of perched in trees. We probably moved 20 blue grouse in our three hours of actual hunting time. The day was complete when Abby found a blue that had died after coasting farther downhill than we had guessed. This is why I still listen to Dad; his hunches for successful days are often correct. If the weather cools, maybe sharptail and sage grouse this weekend in eastern Montana. It is definitely time to fire it up.