Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Drop in the Bucket

Fish mortality associated with irrigation ditches is a problem throughout the West. In Montana alone it is probable that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of fish (not all are trout) perish in irrigation ditches on an annual basis.

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

Pleasant Pheasant Surprise

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.