Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rowing A Raging River

High country snowmelt continues to fuel the still ragin' Big Hole River as well as its many tributaries. This morning at Melrose it is once again above 5000 cfs, having dropped for a couple days last week to about 4500 cfs. While nothing like the 10,000 cfs plus of a couple weeks ago at this level the river is bank full and really running. For experienced rowers and geezers like me it's not so much dangerous as a helluva lot of work. But it does pose a threat for the inexperienced and any rower not paying attention is a prime candidate to pay a price. Al reported yesterday two experienced guides from another river thought they knew how to portage the Dam at Divide and didn't...A bad screw-up which luckily didn't cost any lives but did cost them a pile of expensive gear--rods, reels, flies, vests, etc., etc.--and a sunken drift boat.  

The lure of course is the annual Salmon Fly Fest and the madness it always brings no matter how high or how fast the river's risin'. The fishing so far has been anything but consistent, what with the weird weather, constantly yo-yoing river and what not...Three days ago there were bugs galore between Divide and Dead Zone...The next day bugs were scarce and the fishing for the most part sucked. Oh sure there were fish caught and several flurries when it seemed about to turn on but in the end...Pretty slow at least according to the several guides I talked.

On a slightly different track between guide trips we loaded the girls and headed to upper Big Hole valley to collect some photos to perhaps fulfill a magazine photo call. For lunch in a different spot and to get away from the skeeters now swarmin' amidst all the running and standing water on the valley floor we headed up Steel Creek past the campground turnoff and out the road above the Huntley Ranch. Very enjoyable way to spend a couple hours hiking and poking about in a spot we hadn't visited for some time. No we didn't completely dodge the skeeters but the pesky bastards were at least tolerable. At one point Annie must have had a hundred or more riding her backside...Didn't seem to phase her though even a little bit...No surprise there, eh?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Big Hole River Continues to Foil the Forecasters

Be sure to duck that is if you're foolish enough to find yourself in a boat about to pass under Browne's Bridge spanning the Big Hole River anytime soon. Contrary to any and all predictions just when the river would peak and how high yesterday it topped 10,000 cfs. And if anybody out there thought it would reach 5-figures they sure weren't shoutin' it out. This morning it has dropped slightly but it did so too night before last only to start back up as the day warmed. What will happen today is of course more than I know...like don't expect any prognosticatin' here.

Anyway with guide trips cancelled we decided to head up into the nearby high country perhaps fish a favorite lake we haven't tried in several years. WRONG!

Our hopes soared as we gained elevation on a surprisingly dry road, smooth too, no doubt the usual ruts washed out in the deluge of a couple days ago. But the last 5 miles are always the worst and this time was no exception. Then after bumping and grinding up the steepest part wouldn't you know it... Yes, snow blocked the way and of course I did not think to bring snowshoes so, like the aborted guide trip two days ago this one too ended in skunk, though naturally a different flavor since we didn't actually fish.

The crick we followed was, as expected, raging, ripping or roaring, take your pick. Wildlife sign was nearly non-existent up high as the snowpack is far from melted. Lower down we did see a few mule deer and I photographed a skinny little rattler. Up high in the wet places marsh marigolds lent an air of optimism spring is indeed just around the corner...albeit the corner this time around might very well be a ways down the road...even still, despite than June is well along and July really is just around the bend.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Montana Backroads: Always An Adventure

In late November 2008 I bought a used truck with about 44,000 miles on the odometer; a few days ago it turned over 75,000 miles. While I can't prove it at least half (and probably more) of those 30-some thousand miles came at the expense of bouncing and rattling down the many backroads literally line Montana end to end...North south east west you want to get in on the sort of action trips our triggers--fish, hunt, shoot wildlife and outdoor scenic pix, hike, camp whatever--amid a cloud of dust and the sound of grinding gravel sooner rather than later a backroad will be in the cards...and don't be at all surprised for in most cases eventually even the gravel ends and the dreaded "gumbo" begins. Trust me when I say trying to latch onto a greased pig can be far easier than steering a rig down one those gumbo tracks--oh, and by the way, not many are so advertised as the one above...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Travel: Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest

Each spring as soon as the roads in the BNF are passable we head to one of the many tributaries of the Big Hole to fish...at least that is Plan A. Many times, especially early on high water cancels the fishing and forces us to switch to Plan B...basically this involves nothing more complicated than taking a hike...poking around would be another way of putting it.

As this photo shows the ongoing pine beetle infestation is taking a terrible toll. One that will change the look of the forest for many decades...way more than we have left. With no end in sight and essentially no way of stopping it until it runs its course...however long that is...many millions acres forest stands to be lost. Aside from the obvious loss scenery-wise a wildland fire starting at the wrong time and place...well, it could really be something. 

I can't tell you how many trout have grabbed our flies in this little crick over the many years we've known it but...a bunch doesn't begin to tell the tale. Even with it raging as we found early this spring still all it usually takes is a couple swings of a soft hackle or a few drifts of whatever dry happens to suit our fancy at the moment.

Once runoff ends Annie can easily hop across this crick just about anywhere. Even shakers have no problem finding a narrow enough spot to step across. Like the one pictured above it too holds more trout than you can shake the proverbial stick...brook, rainbow, rainbow/cutthroat hybrids and even the occasional pure strain cutthroat...at least that's how we call 'em...biologists of course disagree...but hell, if it quacks like a duck...

Twin Lakes in the west Big Hole is among the prettiest lakes around. Although from our point of view one of the lousiest fishin' holes around. I think I might have once had a tug but then again that could be just an old man's vivid imagination. I know for sure have never landed a single trout here...supposed to hold the remnants of a native strain of lake trout and rainbow but like I said can't prove it by me.

The BDNF is so huge it boggles the mind...something like 3.5 million acres. A few days ago we drove 3 hours on the highway to Wade Lake, down below Ennis not far from the 3-Dollar Bridge and just a hop skip and jump from Yellowstone National Park..yep, you guessed it still in the BDNF.

This time around Plan A was to celebrate our Anniversary...29, maybe 39 years but who's counting...In case you wondered the celebration came off without a hitch, while Plan B the fishing...well there wasn't much fishing. But we did get to poke around for a few days in one of the niftiest corners the forest and one thing not lacking was the wildflower viewing...Although due to the weird spring we've been enduring peak wildflower season is still a week or so away...anyway twas a fun time enjoyed by all, ugly dogs included.

This is Wade's sister Cliff Lake just over the hill. Both are part of the so-called Chain of Lakes which includes Elk, Hidden, Goose, Otter and Smith. Unlike most other "chains" these are not anyway connected and a far hike indeed should you want to go end to end...But all are scenic, essentially un-developed, feature some the bluest water on the planet with white sand shallows, and pretty good fishing (bring a boat)...I know better but for reasons I still don't understand failed to act...geezer thinking strikes again...ahhgg 

Good bourbon, good wine, good steaks, great company, like I said, all in all a pretty damn nifty way to celebrate don't you agree...

This guy "did" think to bring a boat...

Three Dollar Bridge on the upper Madison River...
Mama moose and baby just above our campground within sight Wade Lake...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nez Perce Trail Saves Day

What began as fishin' trip in the upper Big Hole quickly deteroiated as a sea of muddy roads foiled access to what most certainly would have been folly anyway--as suddenly, almost overnight--the combination rain and snow melt have the area streams literally ragin'. The Big Hole at Melrose for example two days ago was running in the mid 2000s and yesterday jumped to nearly 4000 and this morning is still rising.

When we hit rain near Wisdom it became obvious as a fishing expedition this one just wasn't going to happen. But with already 60 miles driving invested as Gale said, "Seems pretty dumb to turn around and head back to Dillon, it's been nothing but muddy roads since since we left town."


So we put together a quick Plan B and headed toward Chief Joseph Pass the only hint of clearing skies on the horizon. What the hell we'd do once we got there, who knows?

May Creek, like every other stream in the county was all but over the banks so any idea of fishing was officially declared DIW...literally.


We turned off on the first two track looked rocky enough to allow at least getting off the blacktop not get mired down. At the first pull off we got out more to stretch our legs than anything, also the dogs probably needed to pee. An old forest service jack fence beckoned we take a stroll up the mountain whereupon we soon came on a well-trodden trail. While I went to the truck to grab a camera Gale went down hill to the trailhead. And discovered the trail was none other than the Nez Perce Historic Trail...Imagine.

So off we went.

The trail climbed gently offering a great view east to the Big Hole valley and the West Pioneers beyond. Elk and deer tracks and droppings littered the trail and the mountainside, as did the droppings of coyote and what I think was pine marten but can't prove it.Wildflowers were everywhere, some in full bloom others just starting. Marsh marigold, Nuttall's and blue violet, penstemon, alpine buttercup, spring beauty, a teeny tiny blue flower we couldn't ID and a bunch other stuff just starting to show. All in all, the wildflowers, a few old growth snags such as the one pictured, the music of several small creeks and the constant vista made for a scenic, downright pleasant hike more than making up for the aborted fishing sojourn.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chasin' Colorful Char Is All

What at first sounded like a muffled motor, perhaps an unseen camper's generator, running somewhere down in the trees below upon closer inspection turned out to be the roar of water spilling from the relatively flat, benign meadow into a narrow boulder-strewn chute. Knowing the white and tea-colored, roaring malstrom offered no chance of tempting even the hungriest brook trout to take a swipe at our flies without further ado we opted out.

Later, swinging a pair of soft hackles in the flat calm behind the beaver dams in the meadow, we took turns hooking colorful brookies almost at will. Considering that a 12-incher in this stream puts it in monster class many, no, better make that most anglers couldn't be bothered. Laughable, flat out insane, why would you want to...

But then, why would we not? Brookie fishin' suggests solitude, scenic, simplistic, surprise, serenity, stunning, stimulating, spirited and more. And all that wrapped-up in one nifty package, hell, can't beat it...