Friday, February 26, 2010

Opening Day Late This Year

We arrived at the Silver Springs Fishing Access on the Ruby River shortly after noon. Despite the relatively balmy(for late February)43 degrees thanks to a north breeze and cloudy skies it seemed a whole chillier--especially so with just a skimpy worn ball cap covering a really bald cranium. Gale, however, was gracious enough to lend me a spare beanie and we deemed the minor crisis ended.

With piles of deer and moose droppings everywhere obviously the willow jungle guards the Ruby is a preferred hangout. Judging the muddy critter tracks the nearly constant sound of geese hronking, ringneck roosters crowing, ducks quacking and owls hooting a lot of other wildlife finds the living conditions to their liking as well.

Wildlife aside we came here to fish, or rather I came to fish, Gale mostly for the fresh air and the chance to shoot a few action fishing photos--key words action fishing photos--plural. Alas didn't quite happen.

I started out with what is normally a deadly go-to winter rig: size 16 orange/pink egg trailing a size 20 midge (Zebra, string,brassie),mostly the midge is no never mind since enough trout to satisfy my by now well-watered expectations usually whack the egg. Not today. So I began cycling: worm/same midge; worm/different midge; more weight/less weight; deeper drop/less deep drop; and so forth.

Three hours or so later still fishless--just one quick tug all afternoon and that on about the second or third drift--I thought to try a bugger a time or two and for better or worse call it good but...No buggers in the two small fly boxes stuffed inside my wader pockets. But there were couple soft hackles, one a size 10 peacock/sage hen hackle and a size 18 red ass...

Starting in at the top of fast run ended in a wide still pool, I swung the pair down and across several times covering the faster water and allowing the flies to hang in the soft water below for several seconds before slowly stripping them back, picking up and recasting. Six or so drifts with the same dismal results I thought one last cast and we're outta here.

Stripping the tandem ever so slowly just as I was about to end it--BAM!--moments later Gale shot the above photo: a handsome though really skinny, really cold (judging the lack of fight) 14-15-inch brown.

Revved why not try a few more swings--right? Alas, first cast, half-way down the flies hung up--too deep to wade naturally I broke them off and called it good to go. Not exactly the sort of opening (I usually get out once or twice in January and come February sometimes several times a week but for reasons escape me not this time around)hoped for, but as Gale put it--sure beats heck out what we've been doin'...I'll drink to that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gun Control Panic Fuels Wildlife Agency Coffers

Widespread fears Obama would enact sweeping control changes have created a nation- wide windfall for wildlife agencies. The Pittman-Robeson Fund, which is funded by excise taxes on guns and ammo is up 40 percent over the previous year. For Montana the increase translates to about $3.5 million extra for wildlife conservation.

The tax is collected by the Feds from firearms and ammunition manufacturers and distributed to state agencies based on number of hunters and habitat. Montana's cut was $12.5 million. State wildlife officials voiced skepticism the windfall will continue.

Meanwhile the rest of us hope and pray such skepticism is unfounded; like tell us it ain't so and divvy up even more next time around.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Arizona To Shut Down 14 State Parks

Beginning next week Arizona will start closing 14 State Parks. Why? Yet another example of a bad economy which, thanks to crooked, inept politicians raping and pillaging public coffers from Washington DC to Alaska, seems headed south fast with no turnaround in sight.

Having camped in at least two on the list, Homolovi Ruins and Roper SP, both of which were badly in need of repairs, it's easy to understand with not enough money to go around these two would lead the chopping block list. Closing Tonto Natural Bridge however is not so easy to fathom. Of all the many places we've visited TNB ranks right up there--scenic, awesome natural phenomena, lots of wildlife and at least seemed to us in pretty good shape--old to be sure but still...Let's hope the powers that be somehow find a way to fund Tonto as well as many of the others on the list.

While Roper suffered mostly from neglect Homolovi Ruins, thanks to looters and vandals, was all but gone. Already well along the path to oblivion when the State took over in 1986--to our untrained eyes there wasn't much left other than piles of rubble--getting it takes some imagination. A few scattered signs explain what once lay beneath the rubble--apparently our mind's eyes weren't quite up to the task.

Anyway, not to panic, the above photo is indeed the canyon we call Grand and NOT, thank goodness part and parcel of the AZ Parks Commish...But then with the tight squeeze Washington crooks have on the NPS these days who the hell knows...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Montana Pygmy Whitefish Record Shattered

For at least the 7th time since 1982 the Montana pygmy whitefish record has been broken. Russ Geldrich of Kalispell caught the 0.36-pound (5.76-ounce; 9.84 inches in length) pygmy in Little Bitterroot Lake on February 13. The monster whitefish devoured a jig and maggot rig intended to nab kokanee.

Three types of whitefish live in Montana. Two, the pygmy and mountain whitefish (pictured above), are natives, while the lake whitefish is introduced. For its size the pygmy has a very large eye and lives near the bottom of deep lakes such as Little Bitterroot, Ashley, and Flathead. They feed on tiny zooplankton, bottom insects, and mysis shrimp.

By comparison the state record mountain whitefish caught in Hauser Reservoir in 2007 was 23 inches long and weighed over 5 pounds; while the record lake whitefish hauled from Flathead Lake in 2006 stretched the tape to 27 inches and weighed about 10.5 pounds.

For reasons escape me it seems many anglers, particularly fly anglers, loath even the idea hooking-up a so-called whitey; persish the thought actually having to take one off the hook. In worst cases, usually amid loud cussing, the poor whitey ends up in the bushes. In my boat every whitey in the net is treated with the same tender loving care given the biggest trophy trout...much to the dismay of many clients I might add. While I can't prove it my take is the worse the trout bite the brighter Mr. Whitey's star shines...nah, can't be...right?

As an intersting side note: When I first moved to Dillon a local guide told me (whispered and sworn to secrecy of course) his main goal in fly fishing was to one day own the state record. Diligently nearly every day off for at least an entire season he spent dredging the nearby Red Rock River where he said "the biggest damn whiteys anywhere swim." Alas, while he caught some dandys none quite measured up to the then reigning champ...Whether or not he's still at it is more than I know...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Montana's Three Month Bison Hunt Closes

Ten thousand applied; 44 drew a tag; Much to the dismay of the Montana livestock industry just one buffler bit the dust. The lucky hunter is said to have tagged his trophy way back at the start of the three month long hunt just outside West Yellowstone. Officials on both sides the fence blame the mild, relatively snow free winter for the bufflers remaining inside the Park.

Both sides also agree the out-migration could very well still happen should the weather turn nasty in the next couple months. Normally bison exit the Park in early winter and some often stay out well into spring--May and even June. Livestock officials say they have the authority and vow to "vigorously pursue" any bison outside the Park come spring or anyother time for that matter. This eventhough NO brucellosis transfer from wild bison to domestic cattle has EVER been recorded. But, hell, there's always a first time--right? Forget the interaction has been going on now for well over 100 years and counting...Right.

While I'm with you 100 percent on the wolf deal just can't bring myself to buy into this one...Sorry.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Montana's Wildlife Legacy:A great, informative read.

Whether you hunt or just enjoy watching or photographing Big Sky Country's incredible wildlife you need to get a copy of Montana's Wildlife Legacy, Decimation to Restoration, by Harold Picton and Terry Lonner, published in 2008 by Media Works Publishing, Bozeman, MT.

I found it difficult to put down. Page after page told the fascinating tale of how this species or that was literally pulled from the ashes and in most cases returned to viable, huntable populations in just a few years. With beginnings way back in the early 1900s all the way to the present we owe a helluva lot to a relative handful, dedicated, hard working folks. Thanks to them and their relentless drive despite being faced with what must have seemed at times daunting, nearly impossible hurdles just about every critter Lewis and Clark stumbled onto remains today--and in decent numbers.

Of all the big game species many of which are so common they've become almost ho-hum only moose and woodland caribou were not physically trapped and widely transplanted; wise, sound wildlife management painted the finishing touches. Elk and antelope are good examples. From the brink of extinction both now occupy nearly every suitable piece of habitat east to west, north to south. As late as the 1940s mule deer were found only in isolated pockets east of the western mountains; today the long-ears are found in huntable numbers in every one of our 56 counties.

Big game, furbearers, predators, upland game birds all with a unique story to tell and the authors have done a thorough job of digging them up and telling in fine fashion.

Get this book, you won't be sorry, guarandamnteed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thinkin' Spring

The other day I started my monthly piece for the March issue Big Sky Outdoor News and Adventure tentatively titled "The Hunt for the Mysterious Skwala." To be sure one of the first and a real harbinger of spring, but that's not what I want to talk about today.

What pulling up the skwalas did was got me to thinkin' about spring. Not so much the coming of warmer temperatures--we all know all too well how cruel and stingy Ma Nature can be and too often is about doling out springtime warmth in the weeks and even months following the solstice.

No, what I'm looking forward to are the sights and sounds of spring.

The sounds of running water, returning colorful songbirds trilling it seems behind every bush. The Exalted Ruler's heated crescendo reverberating loud and clear from a nearby river bottom. The spreading rings of slurping trout in a neighborhood spring creek. Ducks squealing and geese hronking anywhere there's open water. The sagebrush sea featuring once again the odd, unmistakeable sounds (to me much the same as the sound of Pap's old John Deere struggling to get going)and the inimitable show a small army strutting sage hen cocks bedecked in their finest trying their damnedest to entice the ladies. And all about the soothing whisper of a spring dawn wind which no matter how cold the air temperature somehow seems to have lost its nasty winter bite.

Spring for us is indeed a busy time.

Of course there's fishing and sage hen viewing, renewing acquaintances with old feathered friends and hopefully meeting a few new ones. All the while trying desperately to capture it all on film. Perhaps this will be the spring to at last discover a new turkey spot--as Gale says do you suppose one a little closer to home (our traditional spot lands us way out east near Ekalaka). Or maybe this will be the spring we elect to take on nothing more adventurous than just floating more ofen our beloved Big Hole.

Well, like I like to say you just never know but one thing sure there's always somethin'...Later.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Big Hole River Use Rift Brewing

With the river use rules up for review this spring it should come as no surprise some non-resident anglers and I suppose some outfitters and guides would take advantage of the opportunity to change things more to their liking. The surprise to me though is that the Big Hole River Foundation would allow itself to become embroiled. The Foundation was chartered in the first beginning on the premise of protecting the river from abuse--dewatering, pollution, over-crowding, et al. The River Use regulations were put in place primarily to allow citizens the chance to dodge the increasingly heavy boat traffic--largely outfitters and guides but increasing numbers of non-residents--real or imagined--were tossed into the mix as well. In a nutshell the River Use restricts float fishing by outfitters and guides and non-residents, a sort of rest-rotation system, on one section of river each day of the week. For instance Divide to Melrose is closed on Sundays from Opening Day through Labor Day. And another section is closed on Monday and so forth.

As a guide the only problem I have is my aging, scattered brain doesn't program so good anymore and I have to use flash cards to keep it straight. I suppose there are outfitter and guides out there who have a big problem with the current system but I honestly don't know any...haven't heard any bitching other than most think generally a waste of time but most just say hey, who the hell cares there's a lot of river so just go somewhere else. I have heard non-residents whining, oh poor me, a heinous example of blatant discrimination...to which I say get a life, like there are far more pressing problems out there to fret and fume...

Back to the Big Hole River Foundation: My two cents says they are making a huge mistake getting involved in the first place. No matter how it flies--and I can't imagine FWP changing things at least not much--by taking a stance somebody's gonna be PO'd. And as we all know a PO'd customer is not a happy camper and highly unlikely to continue lending support--which of course all foundations large and small depend on for their very existence. So there you have it. Yes, yet another rant by a tired old man, sorry I just can't help myself...maybe I need to check myself into rehab? Nah, I ain't that far gone...

Friday, February 5, 2010

More Sheep Culled to Help Curtail Yet Another Pneumonia Outbreak

The latest outbreak has been confirmed in the upper Rock Creek herd. Over the past few days biologists culled 28 of 46 bighorn sheep showing symtoms of the deadly pneumonia bacteria.

That makes four herds so far this winter, all in northwest Montana.

Biologists fear many more of the 170 or so in the upper Rock Creek herd could be infected. They will revisit the area next week.

All hunting will probably be curtailed for several years or until the infected herds make a significant recovery. Biologists hope in every case there are isolated pockets of uninfected sheep to help speed the process.

For Montana hunters this winter has not been exactly brimming good news. First came the announcement mule deer doe tags will most probably be drastically cut in many of the hunt districts across the state. Then yesterday came the announced proposal to limit Region 1 whitetail hunting to bucks only. Now this, and let us not forget the proposed changes in elk hunting still in the lurch. Oh and let us not forget also the highly controversial proposal to impose non-toxic shot restrictions to all Montana WMAs...Yikes, enough already although to be fair none of this is anything but good for the critters which is all that really matters in the scope of things...Right? Right.

And of course none of this is new, all of it has occured in the past and most likely will again in the future, even once the current crises pass. Ma Nature has shown time and again she really does not cotton to voids within her world. So as long as the habitat remains healthy sooner or later she will refill it...In other words have faith my man this too shall pass...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

FWP Proposes Restricting Region 1 Whitetail Hunting to Bucks Only

After listening to hunters in Region 1 (Northwest MT)FWP has decided to recommend to the Commish restricting whitetail hunting within the region to bucks only. The reason is the apparent downward population spiral observed over the past two hunting seasons. If approved it would be the first bucks only hunt in the region since 2001.

The why of this was not made entirely clear in the press release but my guess is reduced fawn production, as is the case with mule deer across much of the state. With mule deer it appears a combination hard winters, decreased forage production due to drought and in some cases increased predation--coyotes, bears and such. Regardless wildlife populations tend to ebb and flow naturally anyway so curtailing the kill for a few seasons should allow both species to rebound assuming of course Ma Nature decides to cooperate.

My off the wall idea for helping to speed up the process is to trap and transfer whitetails from the many ranches here in the southwest currently stockpiling them in unbelievable numbers--Ok, just kidding I'm not really naive enough to believe anything of the sort might work. And I don't believe for a minute there is a solution or even if one is called for these are after all private lands and the individual landowners can and will do any damn thing pleases and rightly so. But if you doubt the stockpile thing just take a ride any morning or evening around Dillon, Twin Bridges, Sheridan, Alder area and take a looksee for yourself. I guarantee driving out Blacktail to the Matador turning right to Carrigan Lane and back to Dillon you will see hundreds, perhaps thousands, and that's not counting the many hundreds mule deer also grazing the very private pivots and hay meadows within the short 15 mile or so loop.

Be that as it may and besides none of the above is really much of a concern to me personally and certainly none of my business. Still every time I see all those deer crowded together in what really is a relatively small area the thought occurs what if EHD strikes? I can hear the caterwauling already, can't you?