Sunday, May 30, 2010

Starting to Mold

I used to bitch and moan "too damn hot and Sunny" ad nauseum but...Will solemly swear never again if you rain and snow gods promise tocall off the deluge for at least a couple days. Yes, I know here in the high desert, the semi-arid west needs all the water it can get but...Do we really have to get it all at once? We worried all winter, at least I did, how could it ever snow and rain enough this spring to keep our rivers and streams from drying up this summer...

Well, at least for the time being any worry seems unfounded. Ever since the beginning of May we've been getting dumped on big time. Judging the forecast for the next week or so no end in sight. Nearly bare mountain tops a month ago are now winter white. Yesterday even the surrounding foothills were once again snow covered.

Stream fishing is on temporary hold. All the area rivers and streams are raging torrents, chocolate milk indeed an apt descriptive. While mostly rain in the valleys, in the mountains snow continues to pile up even with June just around the corner. Should all that snow melt quickly you can pencil out stream fishing prospects for quite some time.

What all this has to do with the kestrel (sparrow hawk) pix? Well, nothing actually, just a little activity we engage in between rain and snow storms to, you know, keep the shack nasties at least somewhat at bay...   

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

At Least We Didn't Need Snowshoes...

With the big storm now history we decided to head to high country, more out of curiosity how much snow the mountains got than any real idea we might just get to fish...after all that moisture it seemed a given the little cricks would be ragin'. But surprise, surprise despite all--up top around Crystal Park there was still at least 6 or 8 inches and you could plainly see a lot had melted--we found them just about perfect. So naturally after having a look around we rigged up a rod and had at it.

The creek is about as brushed in as creeks get. Wall to wall willow thicket just getting to the water is tough finding room to cast at times a cruel joke. But poke around enough and usually we can find a pool or two and hopefully a willing trout or two waiting to nab our offerings.

We almost always rig just one rod and play it something like "three strikes you're out." Mostly because I was holding the rod when we found the first opening I got first dibs. But several good drifts with a soft hackle failed to interest the pools residents so we plowed on deeper into the brush. The next pool looked really good but with all the brush I could not get a decent drift so again we moved on...

The third pool proved to be the proverbial charm. Pitching the soft hackle upstream and letting it wash into the deep then slowly hand-twisting it in a brookie grabbed it but got off as I was manuvering it around the idiot dogs--bless them for their fishing enthusiasm but today the pair were a royal pain in the you know what. But the next cast another brookie grabbed the soft hackle and this time I managed to land it despite the dogs--hooray! 

Handing the rod to Gale she too landed a brookie and then I took a really skinny rainbow. Enough carnage for one spot we continued on. Switching gears we caught trout on a couple different soft hackles, a bead head fox squirrel nymph and Adams dry fly. Two hours and a mile or so upstream we'd had enough--cold, wet feet (why we didn't put on our hip boots who knows) way more than fed up with the damn dogs, and worn out leaping beaver ditches and willow thickets--called it good. 

Several yellow-bellied marmots, a couple sandhill cranes, one way up the crick at the base of the tall mountains, elk and moose tracks galore in the fast melting wet snow, a couple mule deer, two snipe and...hell, dogs excepted, turned out an OK day after all.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Global Warming? What Global Warming...

On the heels of one of the wimpiest, at least snow-wise, winters ever this spring is fast becoming one to "really" remember. Ever since winter was declared "officially" dead it seems every time you turn around more snow, yet another winter storm warning, is in the forecast. Two days ago it snowed here in Dillon where it hardly ever snows much more than a dusting, ALL DAY!!! True here in the valley the white stuff melted almost as fast as it hit the ground but it came down hard and the storm hung around just about dawn to dark.

Now today here we go again. Another winter storm warning, this time forecast to stay mostly in the mountains but it's been raining since daylight and the temperature is hovering in the mid-30s and...And well, like I said, here we go again...at least the potential is out there for another snow day.

I shot these mountain blue bells (I think?) up on Badger Pass yesterday afternoon where there was still a few inches left over from the storm day before. Yes, it sure is pretty all that snow hanging on the trees and spring wildflowers and green grass poking thru the white blanket here and there but enough, it is after all nearly the end of May and high time to get on with it... 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fly Fishing A Favorite Highland Stream

Ever since returning home from the NOWA conference in Seeley Lake (see previous posts) we haven't accomplished much other than moping around the house feeling sorry that we somehow just can't manage to shake the nasty coughs we both contracted...

A couple times we decided enough already and feeling bad just didn't cut it so we headed to the hills hoping to get over the mountain perhaps find the road into our favorite little crick open and maybe, just maybe, get up gumption enough to at least make a couple casts...didn't happen as each time we made it as far as the locked gate and that was that...

Yesterday same game plan but this time around no problem, road open and snow free all the way to the crick. Instead of the usual dry fly I rigged up a pair of soft hackles instead. The idea being what could be easier than swinging a pair of wets? In other words keep it simple stupid... The onslaught of warm weather of the past few days had the crick rolling pretty good, but thanks to a colony of busy beavers behind the dams the current was at least tolerable. With the dogs wild to get started and dancing about dangerously underfoot I pitched the pair into a foam pocket beside a nifty run. Second cast I felt a tug and next cast hooked a fat 10-inch brookie. 

Handing the rod off to Gale in no time flat she had the grayling pictured above flopping in the shallows. After the requisite photo shoot it was again my turn. Several drifts later another fat, though somewhat smaller brookie. And so it went. Given our weakened conditions over the next few hours we didn't cover much water and we didn't set any catch records...But every so often one of us connected and really that was more than we wanted from the excursion in the first place. The dogs had a blast, so much so we expected Annie any minute to break a leg or worse...Kate spent so much time in the cold water she shivered such her teeth rattled nearly all the way home. Annie of course slept all the way...no surprise there, eh? 

Except for the single grayling and cuttbow I caught later all the rest were brookies...just in case you wondered.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

Montana Fishing Season Is Now Official

Opening Day in Montana essentially means you can now fish for trout in all those "other" cricks which aren't open year around. Traditionally the "season" opens third Saturday in May (couple days ago) and closes December 1. Lakes and at least large portions of most rivers are, for the most part, open year around. Be sure to check first though since there are numerous exceptions.

Anyway over the course of a typical fishing season I get to see and handle a lot of pretty wild trout. Big wild trout. Little wild trout and every size in between. Few however can top the rainbow Pennsylvania pal, Paul Antolosky fooled last fall. As I recall we guesstimated it an inch or two beyond 20 inches. Regardless the actual size, the best thing is he caught it on a size 24 BWO--psuedocloen for you nitpickers--dry. Doesn't get much better, eh?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

One Damn Big Beaver Dam...

...has been discovered in a remote corner of sprawling Wood Buffalo State Park in northern Alberta. For a lot of you this is probably not new news as proof of its existence, a Google Earth image, has been widely disseminated on the internet now for a few weeks. But since I've been involved in your basic love/hate relationship with the toothsome rodents for as long as I can remember I just couldn't resist tossing in my two cents...no news there either, eh?

Anyway for those of you unaware the dam is humongous by any definition: 2700 feet long (850 meters) it is thought to be the longest anywhere and an ongoing project of a large clan of ambitious rodents since sometime in the early 1970s. As a fellow blogger noted, "I'll bet a lot of landowners are saying thank God it's not on my property." Beavers, neat as they can be and often are, can and often do put even the most heinous vandalism acts to shame. For example back in the day a family of busy beavers set up housekeeping on a small creek on our property.

Over that first summer they erected several small dams, a single somewhat larger dam and built an impressive house. Next spring, apparently concerned high water might be a problem the crew dug an impressive ditch which allowed overflow from the main dam to enter our man-made pond, then cut an equally impressive, after all we're talking beavers here not D-8s, overflow trench which eventually eroded such the dam collasped. Each time we tried to fix it, the beavers quickly remodeled the repairs to their own liking.

Meantime the dam building continued up the little creek until eventually there were 11 dams as I recall flooding at least 100 acres of what was once prime woodcock cover. Oh well, wood ducks found it their liking so for a time we switched loyalities and instead of woodcock we ate wood duck. During all of  this we engaged and engaged the services of others in a futile attempt to trap at least enough of the culprits to slow the advance...didn't happen.

After about 7 or 8 years however the food supply was starting to dwindle big time. Evidently in desperation instead of alder, aspen and willow the beavers started on our many wild and productive apple trees scattered about the property. But the proverbial straw that broke the beaver's strangle hold was an old apple tree which produced in odd years about the sweetest, tastiest apples imaginable and stood at least 400 yards from the nearest water. For us that did it. We enlisted the aid of former bomb disposal guy with handy access still to explosives and...that as they say was that. 

Do I still have a fondness in my soul for the big rodents? Hell yes. But to paraphrase the man "Glad that big dam ain't on my place.  

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Astonishing Migrations

By the time this hen steelhead completes its spawning run, up the Columbia, Snake and Salmon Rivers to      Stanley, ID it will have traveled 900 miles, negotiated a dozen dams, dodged commercial nets as well as the efforts of countless anglers litterally lurking around every bend. Ditto the Chinook salmon soon to follow. While both runs are but a shadow of what once was--numerous accounts tell of salmon packed in the upper Salmon River such "you could walk across their backs"--and comprised largely of hatchery reared fish still...

Native bull trout have been known to migrate up and down stream nearly 150 miles between home water and spawning sites. While Arctic Grayling have been known to cover 75 miles of river in a few days apparently with nothing more in mind than satisfying an itch to wander.

Pronghorn migrations aren't quite so spectacular and not nearly as long winded but...Consider those spend part of the year in and around Crater of the Moons National Monument in Idaho and the rest of the year about 180 miles east in southwest Montana; or the roughly 300 mile trek the continent's most unique big game animal makes twice a year between southern Alberta and Saskatchewan to the Missouri Breaks country well south in Montana.

Sandhill cranes arrive in Montana each spring having completed the long arduous round-trip from southern New Mexico and Arizona. Recently a radio-implanted long-billed curlew took off from just north of the Missouri Breaks and flew south 1200 miles in just 26 hours!! While each spring tens of thousands of snow geese set down on Freezeout Lake staging for the next leg of their long migration from Texas to beyond the Arctic circle.

Each spring mule deer and elk arrive in the Big Hole having spent the winter up and over the jagged peaks of the Beaverhead Range into Idaho. The mule deer you see this summer in the Wise River country will not likely be there when the shooting starts in mid-October, most having already boogied to winter range over the hill in Idaho.

As spring morphs into early summer songbirds filter into the northern Rockies and High Plains from as far away as Central and South America. Only to wing it south once again with the first hint of fall frost.

Migration is truly astonishing. If you haven't already get out there and bear witness. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

And OK, should you wonder where to start in Montana, why it just so happens that's exactly what my book Great Places Montana is all about. I know I know, shameless self-promotion...what can I say.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Glacier National Park 100 Years and Counting

High, wide and handsome views such as this are a dime a dozen on the spectacular Going-To-The-Sun Highway on the west side of Logan Pass in Glacier NP. Each year thousands upon thousands of tourists flock here to gawk scenics such as this while hoping to catch a glimpse of Ol' Ephriam (not too close thank you). No grizz?  OK, how about a shaggy ol' Rocky Mountain billy goat instead or at least a by god moose or two...

This month the Park is celebrating its 100th birthday. And while we probably won't make the celebration I'll bet the farm our friends, Bert and Janie, will...And for good reasons since Bert spent many years there working as Park Ranger. In fact he was heavily involved in the infamous "Night of the Grizzly;" August 13, 1967 was the night two women were fatally mauled in separate grizzly attacks. Tragic events that were to forever change how bears and people are managed within our National Parks and elsewhere for that matter. For more Google "Night of the Grizzly."

But grizzlies are just the tip of a giant iceberg. All sorts of wildlife live within the Park, including hundreds species songbirds, raptors, waterfowl and shorebirds. Countless wildflowers, some found nowhere else in Montana, thrive in the many diverse climates ranging from relatively low elevation to peaks well over 10,000 feet. Below, by the numbers, are just some of the highlights.

5.11.1910—Glacier officially established as a park

1.2—Million acres
16,000—Square miles of protected land
350—National Historic registered places
131—Named lakes; more than 700 lakes, total
700—Miles of trails
25—Active glaciers
2030—The year scientists predict above mentioned glaciers may disappear
0—The number of permits/licenses required to fly fish within park boundaries

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Time-Worn Joke I Know But...

...did you ever dream of seeing it on a sign...an official agency sign at that. Oh, by the way, Fort Steele is near Cranbrook, B.C. and you need to read the "entire" sign...over and out...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Esox Lucious: Not Every Angler's Cup of Tea

Photo Courtesy Montana Pike Masters

Esox Lucious, translates to Water Wolf and for good reasons; not the least of which like their land locked cousins (not really) pike rank numero uno among freshwater piscatorial predators...killing machine is not overstating it.

For reasons escape me pike are most commonly labeled northern pike or great northern pike or in many circles simply northerns. Are there southern pike? And why great northern? Are there lesser northern pike? Northerns is also a misnomer since pike are found all across the U.S. many south of the Mason Dixon Line. But regardless what you choose to call him, mention his name in most any angling circle and don't be surprised to find yourself embroiled in a lengthy conversation; mention the hated word amongst trout lovers and you will find yourself in one damn long and likely heated debate. 

In Montana pike are native only to the Saskatchewan River drainage. Elsewhere he is an alien, for the most part an illegal one at that. According to Jim Vashro, Northwest Montana's chief fisheries biologist the problem with pike isn't so much the fish itself but the bucket biologists who apparently won't rest until every sort of gamefish is well established in every body of water.

Having said that Vashro goes on to say he's not against having a healthy pike fishery and he doesn't believe pike will wipe out trout since their primary victims are forage fish he just doesn't want to see them take over everywhere. Not all trout fishers of course agree and the beat as they say goes on....

I just returned from Seeley Lake one of a string of lakes on the Clearwater River. For many years now the pike population there has been steadily increasing. Yes, trout remain a big part of the local picture but most locals will tell you the fishery is nothing like before pike came on the scene.

Back in the day I chased pike all over eastern Canada in the best pike waters we rarely found large populations of native brook trout but we did find brook trout and most of them were larger on average than where pike were absent. I'm told the reason the average Labrador brook trout is measured in pounds is simply because of the heavy pike predation....the dumb and weak perish and only the strong survive...sounds good anyway. 

That said, bucket biologists are not only criminals they're downright dumb...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

NOWA Conference: Not Only a Profitable Learning Experience But Fun Too

Seminars such as Keith Szafranski's entertaining and enlightening presentation on digital photography and Tim Christie revealing an intuitive website development software, "so easy even I a relative computer illiterate" (yeah right Tim) and in a second seminar explaining why we as photographers are missing the boat by not using Adobe Lightroom make attending more than worth the price of admission. But conference is far from all work and no play: Consider the annual Wine Tasting Social, bring a bottle or two share with your friends; the previously mentioned Photo Shoot-Out; a belly-aching, tears running down the cheeks performance by a talented, shamelessly bawdy song and dance group from Helena; several great belt-loosening sponsored meals; during, pre and post conference FAM trips to suit just about every whim; fish, float, paddle a canoe, learn to fly fish, go horseback riding and/or hop aboard a wagon pulled by the magnificient team of Percherons pictured above; hours and hours of co-mingling with old friends and making new ones, most you don't get the chance to see year to year. All in all more to do each day than you can shake the proverbial stick at...

Next year's conference will be held somewhere in Washington state. No matter where one thing sure it'll be more of the same just different scenery...can hardly wait.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

NOWA Conference: Photo Shoot Out: Day 2

With the snow finally ended, at least temporarily, the day dawned sunny and bright, near perfect photo light actually. But with nothing to show for Day 1, Gale, my model, still very much under the weather and only a few hours to go I was as they say up agin it.

Over night I had however at least come up with sort of a game plan whether or not I could pull it off remained to be seen. First on my agenda was to shoot some touristy stuff in town; just how I would fit those shots into one the categories...who knows?  While I was shooting the C of C historic barn, Tim Christie stopped and said to get out to Seeley Lake the scenic shot of the lake with the sunrise, snow and mountains was about as good as it gets. Adding "if you win remember I get half."  So I did and of course got there just in time to see the color disappear. Not good (for my prospects) since Keith was just folding up his tripod and wearing that patented grin which we've all come to recognize all too well...if you get my drift.

Really scratching now I shot the scene anyway and it didn't turn out too bad but without the color I knew would not cut it in the final judging...oh well. 

Heading south to Harper's Lake with time now fast running out I pulled on waders and rigged a fly rod, set the camera on the tripod, tripped the self-timer and starting firing away. The best of that hurried effort (above) looked pretty good to me but alas failed to trip the judges' triggers...
Racing back to Broken Arrow to edit what few shots I had wouldn't you know it the computer declared the CD disk corrupted. As I fumbled and fumed Gale despite feeling really bad went off to find someone to beg/borrow another. Sue and Eric Hansen came to the rescue. Eric even insisted on lending a hand with his help I got it done just in the nick of time. 

We spent the afternoon attending various seminars. While the photo shoot out is fun and potentially lucrative (winning shots in each category pay $100 and the best of show pays $300) still the seminars are what lured us here in the first beginning. I'm always in awe how much some of our members "know" and more than a bit mortified how little I've absorbed having done this now for more years than I care to admit...What can I say? Stay tuned...  

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Snowshoe Hares' in Transition Despite the Winter-Like Conditons

Photoperiod determines when the snowshoe hare transitions from all white winter coat to brown summer dress. The change occurs seasonally and on time regardless of temperature extremes or whether winter comes early or spring springs late...as is the case this spring. Here it is May and a major snowstorm is just passed and temperatures are expected to plummet in the state's coldest spots to low to mid teens or perhaps even lower. In other words don't be surprised to see a brown rabbit trying desperately to remain incognito during a spring blizzard or a white rabbit dashing boldly across a brown fall landscape.

Forest-dwellers, snowshoes prefer thick brushy undergrowth, such as found in swamps and thickets in northern boreal forests. Snowshoes range all across the northern U.S., as far north as the Arctic Ocean and in the mountains as far south as Virginia (the Appalachians) and New Mexico (the Rockies).
Fitted with large, furry feet perfect for navigating the deepest winter snow snowshoes forage widely utilizing an ever increasing trail system as winter deepens. 

In some areas of the country, New England for example, hunting snowshoes ranks right up there with ice fishing in popularity. Serious hunters employ long-legged hounds to ferret out and give chase, while the hunters spread out hoping to ambush the fleeing hares who generally run a big circle to eventually return to the starting point...or very near. In what many would label truly a mispent youth, a buddy and me made the arduous, sometimes hazardous, drive each winter from our homes Pennsylvania to Vermont to particpate with old friends in "The Great Annual Hare Roundup." Trust me nothing but laughs and a great time had by all...Hounds seemed to especially enjoy gleaning the leftovers of the requisite feast following the hunt almost as much as the hunt itself...Imagine!  

Admittedly the above shot failed to please the judges (see yesterday's post) but it sort of pleases me...After all, given the funk I found myself in that first day, eating skunk was indeed a distinct possibility. Stay tuned... 


Monday, May 3, 2010

Snow: The Surest Sign of Spring--Montana Style That Is

Snow, at times serious snow greeted us last Wednesday as we drove the 200 miles or so from our home in Dillon to Seeley Lake, MT to attend the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association (NOWA) annual three-day conference. Not at all surprising to us but something of a surprise for the writers and photographers who live on the west coast where snow is mostly a winter phenom, or as one put it, "Where I come from we have SPRING RAINS...SNOW? NEVER!!!

Anyway it snowed all day Wednesday (the day prior to the start of conference) and all night and in the morning the scene--as you can see from the shot above--was way more winter like than perhaps even some less hardened Montana pilgrims might have expected. Coming from the high elevation southwest corner of the state, however, we've come to expect spring snow days but nonetheless disappointed since it was sure to put a crimp on some of the planned outdoor activities which make the conferences so enjoyable. 

Over the next several days I plan to post more on just what our group and conference is all about. But first let me tell you about one of my favorite activities. It's called the Photo Shoot-Out. Starting at 8 Thurday morning and running until about noon Friday participating photographers (any member can) try their best to fulfill a variety of "assignments." This year there were three "catagories" Lifestyle, Recreation and Scenic. Individuals could shoot any number of shots but only 10 could be entered for final judging. Of the 10 shots you could mix and match any way; in other words all 10 could be Scenics or you could enter several in one category, the rest in another category and so forth. Judging was blind, in other words the judges only saw the photo and not the name of the photographer. Criteria judged were Theme, Composition, Technical (exposure, focus, etc.). 

While the above photo was one of many shot during the Shoot Out it did not make the final cut for obvious reasons. One it's not much more than a revealing snap shot certainly not one I would deem worthy of competing against, for example, my Livingston MT pal Keith Szafranski whose scenics rival and often exceed the best artwork and two...well since "one" kills it why go there. So I spent the first day rambling around the area apparently in something of a brain dead state as nothing seemed to click. I did manage a nice shot of a snowshoe rabbit in transition but since wildlife wasn't a category...what to do with it who knows?

Day 2 dawned somewhat nicer, a little morning sun and much better light. I had planned to pose Gale in a variety of shots but alas she'd come down with a nasty cold and didn't feel up to the task. So setting the camera on a tripod and using the self-timer I posed myself fishing and after took a couple shots of flies...really stretching it I know but...To make a long mostly sorry story short...The shot below did somehow manage to garner second spot (Recreation). My take is the judges just felt bad for the ol' boy....Oh well. Stay tuned...