Sunday, April 25, 2010

Golden Eagle, Sandhill Crane and Sagebrush Buttercup Shots....

...more than make up for tooth rattling drive in the Blacktails. Despite a slow start elk, mule and whitetail deer, red foxes, long-billed curlew, the bluest bluebirds imaginable and more antelope than you could shake the proverbial stick added up to quite the wildlife viewing experience especially considering we were back home by noon.  

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Snowmelt Ponds Attract A Wide Variety Migrating Waterfowl

Each spring snowmelt ponds attract legions of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. In our area the upper Big Hole is at times nearly wall to wall running and ponded water and every sort of water bird imaginable eventually shows up there. Though viewing wise, yesterday was on the slow side compared to most early spring days.

But still we spied numerous teal, such as this pair of cinnamons as well as blue and green winged, widgeon, pintails, goldeyes, Canada geese, northern shovelers and probably a few ringnecks, although too far out to really make a positive ID. In addition we saw several pairs sandhill cranes (like the water birds not nearly as many as usual), numerous hawks (ferruginous, northern harriers, one redtail, several ospreys) and a couple golden eagles. Songbirds other than ubiquitous robins and redwing blackbirds and non-descript sparrows and such (non-descript in that we did not take time to ID) were also for some unknown to us reasons in short supply also. Maybe too early who knows? Ravens and magpies were of course everywhere and so were antelope, most of which, especially in the morning, were on the move. Though we didn't see any elk we did spy several big bunches of mule deer. Add one pile fresh moose turds not far from Miner Creek and as you can see the day weren't all bad.

Still too early for a real wildflower show but we did see sagebrush buttercup and a small penstemon blooming. And while the occasional willow was laden with pussies most were still barren?

Surprising to us the upper Big Hole was not at all as high and off-color as usual. Actually quite fishable but alas we had the dogs along and didn't feel like dealing with the usual chaos their first fishing trip of the year always brings. Maybe next time. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Beaverhead Trout: Chunky Colorful Clark Canyon Cuttbow

Clark Canyon continues to give up some really handsome trout and this chunky colorful cuttbow appears to fit the description. Sort of a first for me since I can't ever recall catching a cuttbow in CCR although every now and then one shows up in the upper Beav. A pink-head black jig was the ticket yesterday fooling the cuttbow and several equally colorful and fat rainbows. Briefly I tried stripping a couple midge patterns and the usually reliable Sheep Creek but to no avail. All the trout ate the black jig hung 5 or 6 feet below a bobber. I changed top flies several times just because but the trout weren't interested.

Judging yesterday's crowd at the dam this spring's hot bite is far from secret. But since there are plenty of other mostly empty hotspots scattered about the lake makes you wonder what's so special about the dam area. Bigger trout? I doubt it but who knows maybe the crowd knows something I don't? Regardless I'll continue to seek out the empty spot, take the leavings so to speak. I'll take trout such as this one any day. And if there's not another soul around to show it off, well hell, such is life, eh? 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Good News On The Local Sage Grouse Front...

...I ran into our local wildlife biologist yesterday and as usual took the chance to quiz him a bit on the state of the local wildlife situation. First on my agenda of course were sage hens. His response was just what I wanted to hear: "They're doin' ok, more than holding their own. With what is shaping up as pretty good nesting conditions hopefully we'll see even better numbers come fall. Have you been out to the ?????? lek this spring? The other day so and so's group counted 39 males and another guy reported even more...mid 40s actually. That's pretty good. All the lek counts (males) with just a couple exceptions seem to be stable or up...not many negatives.

We then went on to discuss the seeming upturn in Hun numbers in the area. Like most agencies because Huns are introduced FWP does not officially monitor population trends. But off the record most biologists have an opinion of what's happening in their areas...especially those who are bird hunters. More good news as he felt as I do Hun numbers are on the upswing. We both marveled at their tenacity and how Huns perhaps more than any other gamebirds seem to adapt quite well to a wide variety of habitats...especially surprising to both of us is how high you sometimes find coveys. And as I've ranted many times those coveys hang out really high...like above 8000 feet apparently live up there year around...Nifty birds and then some.

More good news for REAL hunters is the newly instituted elk and mule deer rules for some of the most overrun hunting districts in the area should eventually help alleviate the thundering hoard of road warriors who of late annually descend on southwest's best districts. To hunt bulls for example now requires applying for and drawing a permit...the draw is automatic but once drawn you can only hunt bulls in that district. Same for the mule deer districts...While "it'll take time to get the word out" the thinking is eventually we will be able to alleviate the chaos of recent seasons.

A word about the photo: Due to the intense backlight created by the rising sun directly behind the bird the photo came out of camera completely blown...as shot you could barely make out there was a grouse in the photo. But thanks to Photoshop, a decent (no not great) shot is just a couple mouse clicks away. First I resized the image for web viewing. Then I opened layers, clicked on adjustment layer levels, clicked to set the black, white and gray points, tweaked it just a little more by adjusting the sliders ever so slightly, clicked to flatten the image...and Voila! what would have been a sure toss in the garbage can with film now thanks to digital and the wonders of PS the image is saved. As I said not a great shot but dramatic as hell and ahem, ahem, I for one kind of dig it...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Beaverhead Trout Report...Sort Of

Amid a haze of swarming midges, surrounded by  loony loons in full courtship mode, at times wailing such even the irritating interstate truck noise is at least temporarily put on hold, no wonder I'm missing more than hooking up. But of course I wouldn't want it otherwise, like who needs a slimy old trout anyways. Actually yesterday afternoon hook-ups were hard to come by...at least for this ol' boy...

About to quit we ran into Bart Doig and Terry Throckmorton with clients in tow...given the client's grins I didn't need ask...but did anyway and both guides admitted to catchin some...In guide speak, at least with those two, that meant only one thing...Chuck you have indeed once again blown it...Terry later hinted a purple jig with a pink head might have worked better than the green and brown jigs I'd been fishing...He also hinted egg patterns were working pretty good all morning, although not so hot this afternoon...Since we didn't get to the lake until mid afternoon that little tidbit didn't hurt the ol' ego half so bad...Oh well, as someone once said fly ain't workin try sumpin else...sounds like sound advice to me, eh?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Beaverhead Trout Report

Saturday marked my first guide trip of the season. We floated the Beaverhead from Pipe Organ to Barretts. The day started off dark and dreary and a light drizzle. Rather  perfect actually and as expected Andrew and Rob were soon hooked up. Browns mostly with a couple small rainbows tossed in for good measure. Most were in the 10-12 inch range but both landed trout in the 15-16 inch range. One Rob got probably would have gone 17 but that's just a guess. It seemed to me like an unusually large number small trout in the river. An observation the Frontier guys totally agreed. Since the bigger browns seem to be in exceptional shape this spring the consensus was the apparent over-abundance of small trout could very well be just temporary...stay tuned.

We started with nymphs and for the most part stuck with them most of the day. Although we tossed a variety streamers below Grasshopper. Didn't do much for the overall body count but did induce a fair number of chases. But other than a few tugs not much came of that idea. For what it's worth a brown cone-head bugger drew the most looks. A size 16 tan soft hackle with a pink/orange head was far and away the star nymph. (I forget the name, sorry). A thin bwo hatch brought a couple tiddlers to the surface, not near consistent enough to even consider switching. There were a few caddis around but again nowhere near enough to get the trout fired up.

Last week I fished the lake twice with mixed results. The first day the lake was nearly dead calm and way too bright for my taste. Thus the fishing was sort of slow. A few tugs, a couple quick long range releases and just one solid hook up. A sizeable brown which I somehow managed to lose right at the beach. The second day was just the opposite, slight breeze, noticable chop, not too bright resulted in takes about every 15 minutes or so and a couple really fat rainbows (see above) on the beach. Obviously in full spawn mode Clark Canyon rainbows at this season are really something to behold...fat, fiesty, colorful and damn happy lookin to my way of thinkin... Small jigs worked best, especially a glitzy dark green job.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Blue-winged Olives Relish Lousy Weather, the Lousier the Better.

The blue-winged olive is one of the surest signs of spring I know. True, bwos, as they are sometimes called, hatch more or less throughout the season; especially in March and April and again in the fall.

The best hatches occur on cloudy days, usually from mid-day through late afternoon. The very best seem to occur just when you'd least expect them; dull, damp and dreary certainly but I've experienced some of the blue-wing fishing during the nastiest weather imaginable. Days when my fingers wouldn't work and my toes went numb, during driving snowstorms and all out downpours. Times when it was really difficult to tell a rise form from a snowflake splat and raindrops were the only things dimpling the surface.

My theory for all of this nasty weather business is the nastier, colder it gets the more time it takes for the tiny mayfly's wings to dry, the longer the bugs sit on the runway so to speak the denser the blanket becomes and the more tasty the smorgasbord looks to almost always hungry trout.

Blue-wings come in several sizes, depending on time of the year. The bug above is about a size 18 and landed on my fly pole in mid-April. Last fall on the upper Beav, Paul and I fished a hatch that was at least size 24 and may have been 26s...I tend to start losing faith once the bugs drop much below a size 20, regardless of pedigree. But Paul seems just the opposite, the smaller the bugs the more trout end up in the net. Although that could just be my imagination...OK call it envy...

Blue-winged Olive patterns are so varied and numerous I sometimes wonder what the creator sees that I don't. But one thing sure, the closer my fly is to the real deal and the more I fiddle with my leader to insure getting as close a drag-free drift as possible the better...This is one hatch where I seldom have luck pitching something really off the wall and one of the best hatches I know to reel up with the acrid taste of skunk hanging heavy in the air.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Beaverhead/Big Hole River Use Rules to Remain Essentially Unchanged

Awhile back FWP initiated use restrictions on the Beaverhead and Big Hole Rivers. In a nutshell the new rules restricted float outfitting and non-resident float fishing on one section each day of the week on the Big Hole and one section of the Beaverhead on Saturday and another on Sunday. In addition float outfitting was closed from Tash Bridge to Selway Bridge (thru Dillon). Also outfiitters were restricted to however many use days they owned based on previous years use. The rules are in effect from 3rd Saturday in May (Opening Day trout season) thru Labor Day.

The reason was to give residents a chance to escape the increasingly heavy guide boat traffic and to allow citizens the chance for a less chaotic overall river experience.

They came to be known as Citizens' Days and as you might already know or suspect among citizens a rousing success. I suppose there are outfitters and guides out there who are bent but I don't any. As for non-residents most of the complaints I've heard are more along the lines of discrimination abuse and less about the restrictions per se...

In Montana with most things concerning rivers and wildlife and such in due time there is a mandatory review period. FWP goes about the area holding town meetings where everyone is allowed to bitch and moan or rant and rave as the case maybe. In the end usually not much comes of it, the status quo is maintained and life goes on...Essentially as to River Use Rules that is what happened this time around but...

At the time nobody thought much about the lower two miles of the Beaverhead river coming under River Use restrictions. But depending who was doing the interpretation outfitters wanting to access the upper 7 miles of the Jefferson suddenly found themselves in a dilemma. Do I waste a Use Day for two miles of fishing or do I hope the right warden comes along, the one allows floating thru with clients as long as the rods are disassembled...In other words because not all wardens intrepreted the law the same way you just might get a ticket regardless. To avoid the hassle most outfitters simply stopped guiding on the upper Jeff.

Amid numerous complaints FWP is now considering exempting the lower two miles of the Beaverhead from the existing River Use Rules. In the overall scheme of things not such a big deal but I suppose for some yet another example of too many rules, too much hassle, too much government intervention...like hell man, all we wanna do is go fishin'.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Opening Day Photo Shoot Yields Unexpected Results

Spring gobbler season opened this morning so naturally Gale and me gulped down breakfast, grabbed our cameras and headed for the Big Hole (I'll probably do the real deal with my friend Gig later). Anyway you may recall awhile back we went gobbler chasin instead found moose...Well as you can see the gobblers won this time around too but...I was able to at least bring home 3 decent action shots of...Well, ok, sort of booby prizes but... Like I realize there's way more glory to shootin struttin toms but I've been at this long enough to have become a strong believer you takes what you gets be damn glad you did...Whatever, you got to agree beats tastin skunk big time...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Snow Gods Smile At Last Leave This Ol' Boy Grinnin'

When at last the snow gods conspired to blow the storm away, Bert and Jane were able to finally get out of Utah and make their way to Montana.

As planned early next morning found Bert and me huddled in a hastily erected photo blind at the edge of a sage grouse breeding ground, aka dancing ground or lek.
Because of the seemingly endless unsettled weather pattern than had been plaguing southwest Montana since mid March I had grave doubts the weather gods would cooperate this morning. But my fears proved unfounded as the day dawned cold and clear, perfect actually for what we had in mind.

At least a dozen roosters were engaged in their spectacular dance even as I set the blind up. Again Lady Luck was on our side as sometimes setting the blind at dawn spooks the birds which then usually return but it takes awhile...Not this time however as the dancing cocks simply moved off a short ways and we were soon able to start shooting. As the sun came up the strong backlight proved a slight problem but only for a few minutes. As there were enough targets to aim our long telephoto lenses slightly left or right of the rising sun and keep shooting.

I suppose it might have been better somehow but I really can't think just how. Anyway thanks to our large capacity digital cards we both shot several hundred frames before the dance crowd started to leave around 9 a.m. And while I can't speak for Bert, trust me this ol' boy was sure grinnin'...

I'm sure upon reaching home Bert will post some of his shots on his blog as soon as he gets time. Check out the Links to the left...that would be Gildart Photo and click on Weblog.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spring Snowstorm Puts Our Sage Hen Photo Shoot On Temporary Hold

Our friends Bert and Jane are on the way home after spending the winter writing about and photographing the desert southwest. Bert is one of the best photographers around but has never had much luck with sage hens.

So when I suggested they stop off here for a couple days and just maybe we might get lucky naturally they jumped at the chance.

Alas after leaving Zion National Park they made it as far as the Utah/Idaho before running into a massive spring storm. Having experienced blizzard conditions before on Monida Pass on the Idaho/Montana border and wanting no part of an instant replay they wisely pulled into the KOA to wait things out.

This morning they awoke to 6 inches new snow and my grim report of more to come around this neck of sagebrush later this morning. But the worst thing is we got several inches already. I've never tried to photograph sage hens on snow but if Bert ever gets here and wants to give it a go...why not?

I scouted a local lek yesterday and found plenty of dancing roosters busily courting a fair number of hens. Whether or not the group is up for posing in the snow...well, hopefully we'll be able to better answer that soon...stay tuned.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

No April Fool's Joke, This Sucker Is One Beeg Fish...

17 years young Stephen Naethe obviously knows how to catch fish. But this one surprised even him.  It took the Pablo teen over 30 minutes to put the 41 3/4 inch, 30.4 pound lake trout in the net.

Perhaps even more surprising  he took its measurements, snapped a picture and released it back into the lake. Good on him for it's the largest lake trout he ever caught and very well might be his biggest ever...as they say time will tell the ending to that tale.

Nonetheless the monster puts him at the top of the leader board in the "largest fish" category and in first place overall with 426 entries so far at the 2010 Mack Days competition that continues on Montana's sprawling Flathead Lake.

Steven Benson of Columbia Falls is in second place in the overall fish count with 303. Don Peters of Missoula is third at 298. Three weekends into the competition, anglers caught 9,822 lake trout.

Mack Days is part of the Flathead Lake co-management plan sanctioned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to reduce non-native lake trout and increase the numbers of native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.

Anglers are competing for $100,000 in cash and prizes and there are 972 anglers registered in the Spring event. It ends May 23rd with a fish fry and awards.