Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interesting But Tough...

One need look no further than the past couple days fishing the Big Hole River. Day 1 dawned cloudy, pretty chilly and as I recall thinking "A welcome change from the recent string of too hot for comfort days." Expecting the chilly start would make for slow fishing I was surprised when Harry hooked up just a few oar strokes below the launch ramp. When Erik hooked and I netted a pretty brown trout a little ways down river I thought, "Surprise, surprise not only are we in for a good day it's ramping up way more quickly than I at first imagined but...

Then it died and I mean really died. From there to the take out many miles and an entire day later the fishing sucked, big time. 

Yesterday, again barely out the gate Jim hooks up. The hot bite continues this time to around noon when we stop for lunch just below Maiden Rock but... After lunch pretty much same deal, maybe not so dramatic this time around but still pretty slow. 

The why in both cases is of course more than I know. Further reassuring the mysterious activity we call "fishing" is in no danger of being re-named "catching" at least not anytime soon.  

Or as Huck Finn might have put it: Interesting but tough.   

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mussigbrod Fire: 10 Years Later

Still today some areas burned hot enough to sterilize the soil. As this photo shows virtually no plants or trees have regenerated; estimates run as long a century or more before recovery can be expected. 

Other areas show dramatic regeneration, not only trees but wildflowers, grasses and forbes are lush and green.

But in many areas beyond the green remains a moonscape; nothing or next to nothing growing.

The creek corridors within the burn are green and lush looking but...in some cases looks are deceiving.

As shown in this photo of Tie Creek; Once a healthy, vibrant mountain creek full of life today much of the bottom gravel and rocks are impacted with suffocating silt, the result of runoff from the hotspots within the burn. Here we found very few trout; on the other hand Johnson Creek just over the hill appears to full of trout. Unscientific I know but to me the results are telling. A classic mosaic burn some spots got hit hard others fared pretty well considering.

Still more good news is some big old boys such as this giant old growth Doug Fir did survive and should provide a welcome seed source for future tree growth.

Some areas are currently being salvage logged; why the hell it took so long is more than I know. No doubt the dastardly deeds of a few whackos whose twisted brains think even harvesting burned trees is somehow evil...

Lightning strikes the night of July 31 ignited fires near Mussigbrod Lake, 12 miles northwest of Wisdom. The Mussigbrod Fire burned largely unabated until snow put them out in late September. Nearly 85,000 acres were torched, including 4 structures and threatened homes on the East Fork of the Bitterroot River east of Sula.

Eventually the fire merged with fires in the Bitterroot and formed the so-called Valley Complex burned a total of nearly 215,000 acres. The Valley Complex had the distinction of not only being Montana's largest during the summer of 2000, but the nation's largest as well. More than 1700 fire fighters, 80 engines, 12 bulldozers, 24 water tenders and 9 helicopters were involved. Despite all the VC consumed 66 homes by far the most costly Montana fire in recent years.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cliff Swallows Worst Nightmare

On a recent Big Hole River guide trip below Melrose we spotted this bull snake raiding a cliff swallow colony.
From the swallows perspective I can't think of a worse house guest than entertaining 5 or 6 feet of hungry snake.

Here fellow guide Terry attempts to pull the snake from the nest. Wondering aloud, "Chuck, you think I'm hurting this snake pulling on him like this?" But before I could answer the snake somehow turned about inside the nest and suddenly Terry found himself eyeball to eyeball. "OK now that's a little too close for comfort, Mr. Snake you win ."

While we watched the snake moved easily up and down the vertical face, checking out and no doubt dining on chicks, eggs, whatever. Oblivious to the angry parents bombing the intruder each time he stuck his head out. 

Bull snakes are of course non-poisonous but are capable of inflicting a nasty bite should you get too close. They are also fierce predators as many a venomous rattler has found out.

In all our many outdoor adventures throughout Montana I have only seen a couple bulls in the western part the state but out east, on the high plains bulls are common.

The biggest snake I have ever encountered anywhere was a huge bull slithering across the highway between Jordan and Circle. It stretched beyond one lane and appeared python fat...my idea was fat enough to swallow a small pig. Yikes!

Monday, July 19, 2010

For Once Plan B Saves the Day

Sad but true often the best laid plans go awry. Sadder still when Plan A fails Plan B might sound good but, at least in our experience, seldom works out much better. But today was different.

A day off from guiding, I decided to take the girls fishing. We hadn't fished a certain pet brook trout crick as much as we like this spring, mostly due to the abnormally long and high runoff. But now that the cricks were dropping to more normal levels it seemed high time to make up for lost time.

Alas, no sooner off the blacktop we encountered cows and lots of them. Based on past grazing seasons (most national forest grazing is rest rotation so cows aren't always an obstacle) we were fairly certain the meadows upstream would be over run and they were...now what?

Since we didn't really have a Plan B winging it seemed the only alternative...so we headed for a stretch of crick we'd been meaning to fish for several seasons but somehow hadn't...no good reason to think cows wouldn't be there too but as the man once said, "ya don't know if ya don't try."

As luck would have it we found plenty of cow sign but surprise, surprise, no cows at present.

The crick here drops significantly creating a series of deep, though plenty fast moving, plunge pools. Inviting as hell but I thought it could be too high gradient, the bottom scoured by ice and run off and worse, troutless.

As turned out I needn't have worried for first cast--actually more a shaking out line to make a first cast--as soon as the #16 Royal PMX hit the water a trout grabbed it. Startled and way too slow on the uptake I failed to make the hookup...but not to worry.  Two or three casts later I hooked a beautiful dark cutthroat of decent size, kicking off one of the best couple hours fishing we've ever experienced. Gale then took a colorful, exceedingly dark brookie from the same pool. Then I nailed a stunning rainbow and then...then we just kept handing the rod back and forth as we hooked trout after trout--mostly brookies, with a few cutts, cutt-bows and rainbows for good measure. Lady luck continued to smile until finally Gale declared "enough fun" I'm hungry."

"Me too."

Back at the truck we broke out the lunch cooler. Gorging, much as the trout did earlier, on left over bar-b-que chicken legs and thighs, peanut butter and cheese crackers and fruit...In between bites Gale observed, "What a way to wile away a summer morning."


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Guide Wars Heat Up

Dick Moore, one of many repeat clients I've been privileged to befriend over the years, caught this beautiful rainbow on the upper Beaverhead a few days ago. It ate a size 18 split back nymph and was just one of many fine trout he managed to hook over three days while fishing the Beaverhead and Big Hole Rivers. 

A fellow geezer, Dick and me share much the same fishing philosophy as well as a strong interest in photography. As such the talk usually revolves more about the latter and the critters and constantly evolving bankside scenery than the actual fishing. Still Dick manages to take a fair share and every once in awhile a real trophy shows up amongst the many memorable photos on the digital memory card.

As you can see it's been awhile since my last post and since then a lot has changed, especially on the Big Hole. The flow is currently dropping like an anvil in a swamp, to the extent yesterday I had difficulty getting down from Fish Trap to East Bank. Below Deep Creek wasn't  too bad but up above I had to drag the boat a couple times. So that's it for me until next season.

On another track during the interim between posts I've fished the Beaverhead below High Bridge several times. Mostly it's been more a boat ride than a fishing trip between High and Hildreth...but from Hildreth to Pipe Organ the fishing and the bugs have been pretty good. Surprising to me are the number of quality fish down there as compared to other seasons. Hopefully before too long High to Hildreth will once again fill in but until then...

The Big Hole had been on fire of late but the last two afternoons in the canyon the fishing has died, at least for me. Two days ago seemed most were in the same boat but one boat, two gals, seemed to be hooked up every time we passed. Do you suppose it weren't the river what died but... 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dry Fly Fishing Picking Up

The Big Hole is at last dropping toward more normal flows, while the upper Beaverhead is running as usual for this time of year--high but not too high. As you might expect dry fly fishing is really heating up these past few days.

Three days ago we fished dries right out of the gate on the upper Big Hole and found the trout looking up pretty much all day.

The next day started out pretty cool and as expected the bite was slow but around 11 a.m. pmds started to pop on the upper Beav, followed quickly by a swarm of yellow sallies. Suddenly heads started showing up and down river and anglers able to make the proper pitches were in for a fun afternoon.

Yesterday again started out again chilly and slow but as the morning heated up so too did the sally hatch below High Bridge. From Hildreth Bridge all the way to our take-out at Pipe Organ the sallys continued to pour off and the trout were on them big time. Somewhat curious the pmd hatch down there never really did get going a few here another smattering there was about it.   

Monday, July 5, 2010

Upper Big Hole Wildflower Walk

What a difference a week makes. Last week wildflowers in the upper Big Hole valley were hard to find, to non-existent. A week later the entire valley seems to be in bloom. Lupine (blue and yellow and even a few whites), paint brush, blue camas, penstemon (sp.), elephant head, rocky mountain iris, oregon grape, sticky geranium, mariposa lily, and several more I can't recall at the moment.

Creeks are still brim full but some are starting to drop to more normal early July levels...notably Bull and West Fork Fish Trap creeks. More whitetails sighted than any other single day in the valley and everywhere we went were antelope and a ton of babies...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Big Brookies in the Big Hole

Over the past few days I enjoyed a couple guide trips on the Big Hole with some of my favorite clients--Doug (above) a Coloradan went both trips while Rocky a Texan and Steve a Californian did one each. Both days we caught a surprising number of fatter than average brookies. The first day Doug and Rocky experienced several hours of non-stop dry fly action--cripples, PMDs, Black Magic, Purple Haze and such. Next day Doug stuck to dries and did okay but the hatch (pmd) never materialized. But Steve went in pitching streamers and stuck with them all day...His reward: hooking more fat brookies in single day than any day I can recall. Both days the fishing was interrupted as a series of ferocious storms swept through in the afternoons. Yesterday the wind roared down river and blew the damn drift boat right up into the grass. Steve recovered quickest, remarking, "Chuck, gotta hand it to you that's certainly a unique way to stop the boat."