Monday, July 26, 2010

Full Of It

If you have fished or boated on many of the reservoirs in Montana the past decade, you have seen a prolonged period of drought and low water levels. However, decent mountain snowpack and moderate spring moisture have changed that. As of now, Fort Peck and nearly all of the major reservoirs on the Missouri River watershed are full. A few are even spilling into their flood pool.
It is truly a great sight to see people using the entire length of Fort Peck "lake". Boats can now travel from Crooked Creek all the way to the dam, a good haul of roughly 80 miles. Compared to fishing on some Midwestern lakes, Fort Peck fishing just went from quiet to desolate.
On a recent trip, Laura and I took the Lund into a weedy bay that we had to ourselves, roughly 10 miles from camp. We started fishing along the edge of young cottonwood trees, trees that were now nearly submerged from the lake's rapid rise. The first fish was a strong one, a fish that peeled off line like a northern pike. A pike it wasn't, as it was a meaty 32" walleye that was feeding in seven feet of water. I rarely had experienced good walleye fishing by casting crankbaits, but in this case, it was what the doctor ordered.
Deeper in the bay, we caught gold eye, sauger, catfish and even crappies on cranks. While it was remarkable to see the lake rise nearly 20 feet in two springs, it was even more remarkable to catch fish in strange places by methods I don't typically use. The big question is how the fish react this winter and next spring.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Legend & Lore

I don't remember just when or where I first learned of the creek. Maybe it was at Bud Lilly's in West Yellowstone as I eavesdropped on a hushed conversation while perusing the fly bins. Or perhaps it came from loose lips over a frosty pint at the Silver Dollar in Ennis. Truth be told I probably couldn't trace my fascination with this particular fishery back to any single source. Bit by bit over the past couple of years I've accumulated a pittance of knowledge about the place...never enough to really go by, but just enough to keep me intrigued.

Legend has it that the creek hosts a mysterious, almost ghostly run of very large cutthroat trout. What's more, the rumor of this run is substantiated by sound, but antiquated, stream survey data compiled by fisheries biologists. My own trips to fish the creek have done little to sort out fact from fiction. Were it not for an occassional rare, unabashed report from fellow anglers, I'd probably have given up on the place long ago.

Last Friday marked my third trip to fish the creek in search of its phantom cutthroat trout. The two previous trips had resulted in few if any trout caught and those that were caught certainly weren't of mythical proportions. This trip proved to be no different, nary a trout was brought to hand despite the fact that an able angling comrade and I spent eight hours methodically prospecting some excellent looking water along various portions of the stream.

Fortunately the creek offers more than a long shot at hooking up with migratory cutthroat trout. The watershed harbors a remnant population of a rare, wild fish native to Montana - the arctic grayling. I've caught the species in some mountain lakes throughout Montana - and even as far south as Arizona - but this particular population is special. They are one of the few remaining fluvial/adfluvial populations of grayling occupying native habitat in Montana - the only state in the lower 48 where the species still occurs naturally.

I'll always look forward to returning to this mountain valley for its unspoiled beauty and for the grayling, yet I'll always be hoping for something more. Should I ever find myself tight to a big cutthroat on this stream I'll thank my lucky stars. In the meantime I'll enjoy the legend and lore that the creek is enshrouded in, and the process of unraveling the mystery.