Thursday, March 31, 2011

Montana Non-Resident Hunting License Sales Drop...


From the Billings Gazette:
A voter-approved price increase for some Montana nonresident hunting licenses is being blamed for about 1,200 big game combination licenses remaining for sale after the March 15 application deadline.
Yet 7,500 nonresidents applied for licenses to hunt deer. Only 4,600 such licenses are available.
“Obviously the price is an issue,” said Ron Aasheim, Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ bureau chief. “Last year we had about 8,000 people who didn’t draw. This year we’re under by about 1,200.”
About 15,800 nonresidents applied for the 17,000 big game or elk combination licenses for the upcoming season. That means that every hunter who applied for either the $912 nonresident big game combination license, or the $812 elk combo license will receive one. Last year, more than 19,000 nonresidents applied for similar tags.
The remaining 1,200 nonresident big game combination licenses will be sold online only on a first-come, first-serve basis beginning April 18. The big-game combo includes licenses to hunt elk, deer and upland game birds and a season fishing license. The elk combo includes all of the same licenses except for deer.
“We’re confident that we’ll sell out again this year,” said Hank Worsech, license bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, in a statement. “People are already sending in applications trying to get a jump on things, but in the interest of fairness, we’ll return them and ask those folks to reapply because they essentially missed the original deadline.” Click below for more.
 Billings Gazette

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fly Fishing: Highlights...Part 5 and a Brief Unrelated Rant

Penn's Creek taught me a valuable, though painful lesson: A world of difference exists between fooling naive, half-starved hatchery wannabees and the real deal. 
Penn's Creek kicked our butts. Though we pounded the project water above Weikert for three days hook-ups were...well, I'm just not going there. Overrun with disappointed fishermen hoping to hit the big hatch, which even on the best of the three days fizzled badly, finding the open spot was small potatoes compared to the beating we took at the hands of the creek's persnickety wild browns. Each day a heavy caddis hatch came off mid-day, at times littering the water bank to bank. The term "boiled" is in no way a stretch.

During those blitzes we literally pitched everything in our arsenal and except for a few lucky hook-ups as when our flies were trailing downstream as we scratched clue-less noggins we basically ate skunk.

Then in the evening, deja vue all over again--those the bugs were sulfurs. First a blanket hatch, the creek wall-to-wall duns and trout up everywhere gorging the moveable feast. But that was just the matinee to the big event at dusk when clouds of spinners appeared and...damn we just could not get it done.

Clearly we lacked two things: the right ammo and the skills to get 'er done. As I say we got our hats handed to us big time...

Now for the rant:

Am I nuts or what? As ranted previously ad nauseum, I know, our illustrious politicians debated just how the hell they might get there crooked feet in the door and make adjustments to the Montana Stream Access Law more to their individual and collective benefit. A unique law that not only works damn well as is but arguably brings more dollars to Montana businesses than any other law on the books.

Then, even more ridiculous, more pathetic actually, a bill which would allow spear chucking for big game...I recall thinking at the time "man oh man, what next?"

But I had neglected to include Dillon's very own preposterous, arrogant senator Ms. Debbie Barrett's latest stab to denigrate TU; actually a back-door approach to her real agenda to oust the only conservation voice currently allowed at the table during water rights adjudication proceedings, from the process. Very neat, should it happen, since then the only votes counted would be those of the special interest thugs trying to steal the water in the first beginning.

And last but not least, while Kansas isn't Montana how about the bill currently on the gov's desk to allow SILENCERs for big game hunting...don't it just take your breath away?

To me all this proves yet again the two requisites to gaining elected office are "dumber than a stump and crookeder than the crooks attempting to put you there."

End of rant...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fly Fishing: Highlights...Part 4 and Other Related Stuff

Orvis CFO Reel I purchased many moons ago, like the proverbial Timex "just keeps on tickin'"
 In its first-ever comprehensive survey on fly fishing, the outdoors research firm Southwick Associates found 59.3 percent of anglers report they bought fly fishing tackle in 2010, an increase of 4.1 percent from 2009. The 2010 Fly Fishing Market Survey found flies were the most-purchased type of fly-fishing gear, Temple Fork Outfitters the most-purchased fly rod, Orvis the most-purchased reel, and trout the most-popular fish.

The man who made $3,000 fishing reels

March 28, 2011 by John McCoy
The creator of some of the finest fly reels ever made (and certainly some of the most expensive) has died.
Stanley Bogdan died Monday at the ripe old age of 92. For decades, his exquisitely machined reels were sought after by fly fishing royalty — baseball great Ted Williams, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, singer Bing Crosby and jazz legend Benny Goodman.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Bogdan’s craftsmanship is that he remained active in it until just a few months before his death.
Monte Burke wrote a nice piece about Bogdan for Forbes magazine. The article can be found in this blog post Burke wrote when he learned of Bogdan’s passing.

Upon graduating high school, almost but not quite pure, thanks to a grave yard shift job that left me not only free all day to fish as I pleased but also paid the way to keep the ol' Studebaker tickin' my fly fishing horizons took a giant leap. With fishing buddy Dale Coombes, riding shotgun we set a course to cast flies in every fishable stream within range--that is allowed us at least a couple hours sleep prior to punching in 11 p.m. That we didn't manage to hit them all was not because we didn't give it our best shot.  It was during that frenzied period an old guy (sorry can't come with it) I worked with taught me to tie a decent fly--at last flies started falling off the vice didn't threatened to cause the OM to die laughing.

We also began running into Jack Beagle frequently. I had known Jack for sometime as he drove the school sports bus to all our baseball, basketball and football games. On the way to the games naturally we were not allowed to talk anything but the game at hand but on the way home victorious--which we happened to do frequently--we could talk anything we wanted. I would grab the seat behind Jack and talk fly fishing all the way home.  On stream he graciously taught Dale and me maybe not every trick in the book but close...And our catch rate that summer soared beyond our wildest imaginations.

Pretty hot stuff, these two young punks? Damn straight.

But we were about to be knocked down a peg or three by a storied crick name of Penn's.

Ever since we'd first turned the pages of Outdoor Life, Field and Stream and Sports Afield periodical tales of the fabled crick had hooked us deeply. The much ballyhooed green drake hatch was of course the HATCH you didn't want to miss so...

At the appointed due date--Memorial Day is prime time--we packed the Stude with sleeping bags, food enough for an army--I could eat but Dale's appetite was the stuff of legends--fishing gear and headed. First stop though was a hardware store in Lewisburg--Donehower's I think--reputed to hold the biggest fly selection in our part of the Universe. No disappointment we came away armed to the teeth with green drake patterns and nearly too broke to get to the crick and back...a minor detail we'd deal with later.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fly Fishing: Highlights...Part 3

So far the day had not gone well. In two hours I had managed to catch just two brookies--neither of which quite made the requisite length of a dollar bill. I had muffed a chance at perhaps the largest brown of my abbreviated career when I let the 12 or 14 incher get into a root ball and break me off.

There hadn't been much surface action, just a splash every now and then. I decided to switch to wet flies but..As I settled down on the bank to make the switch trout began rising in earnest. Upstream, the Bear Hole--by the way, so named when the OM and uncle Bob years before surprised a sow black bear and two puppy-sized cubs swimming there--was stiff with risers. I recall thinking something along the lines of, "now by God catching the limit is just a matter of time." 

Frantic to make good I flailed the pool to a froth. At last I felt a satisfying tug and, fearing it might get away, backed quickly up the bank and literally towed it onto the rocks. Barely legal I broke its neck, hurried into the trees to gather hemlock boughs to line my creel--a family tradition. 

The hatch (back then no idea but if I were to guess now, caddis) intensified, bugs littered the water and filled the air ramping up what had been a steady rise to a serious feeding frenzy. The most and what appeared to be the best were as always against the far bank, just beyond range of my best casts. So I kept edging deeper into the pool. With the water lapping at the top of my hip boots finally the cast I'd been hoping. The fly landed a foot or so from the bank, floated a short ways and disappeared in a swirl.

This time the rod bowed deeply, surely a lunker. No net (and I would not have known how anyway) I started to backpeddle, stumbled on a rock, went down, scrambled back up, fell again and...And wonder of wonders when at last I regained dry land the trout was still on...Turning sideways I all but ran into the trees (thanks to Dewey's foresight for heavy tippet) and drug the struggling brown (all of 12 inches) onto the rocks. Dropping the rod, I leaped down the bank, grabbed it with both hands and...And that's when I heard the man chuckling, then, "Boy I gotta hand it to ya, never quite seen it done that way before."

To make a long story short, once the trout was creeled, he asked how long I'd been fly fishing. "Not long." Asked if I'd be interested in his showing a me a couple "tricks" might improve my casting. "Sure" Handed me a couple flies, said "this one's been workin' pretty good for me this mornin', give it try. Good luck, maybe see ya around another time."

And that was that. 

As turned out I learned more about fly casting in just a few minutes than in all the time since I first picked up the "wonder rod." The flies were wets, Orange Fish Hawk, a pattern I later discovered ranked high among Ray Bergman's favorites--who, through his writings, I fly fished vicariously all across the country for many years. 

Interesting to note, the stranger who took me under his wing was none other than the guy who wrote the weekly outdoor column in our local paper (sorry the name has long since evaporated). The same guy the OM's gang despised yet when it came to hot-fly-of-the-week treated as gospel--no questions asked.

Later when I spilled the trout and the tale for the OM to consider, adding I'd decided to become an outdoor writer when I grew up, naturally he scoffed, "Yeah boy, and when I grow up I'm thinkin' maybe President, headin' up the whole goddamn kit and kaboodle--make yourself useful and fetch me another beer from the ice box.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fly Fishing: Highlights...Part 2

The wonder rod now shattered my fly fishing career was put on temporary hold. There weren't any extra fly rods laying around the house, worse no fly rod money at least none the OM was willing to part so...Swearing me to secrecy (like don't tell Mom) he vowed to play the punch boards overtime, "though I wouldn't hold yer breath." I didn't. Nothing left I finished the season chucking bait. Not what I had in mind but as the OM so succinctly put it. "Quit yer damn whinin', in the real world ya gotta play the hand dealt ya." End of discussion.

By the time I saved enough from my paper route to buy my own it was fall and in our family we fished spring and summer, hunted in the fall and winter...well mostly the men drank and told lies, me, I played basketball and dreamed spring.

As spring approached once again I started saving up for a new fly rod. Trout season opened April 15 but our routine was to fish bait early on until the cricks dropped then switch to flies. But then in early April, a surprise. The OM came home from work one day said, "C'mon boy, there's somethin' down at Dewey's you need to see."

 On the counter lay a long, narrow box, with OM's name scrawled on the package. And since it was so out of character and I found it hard to believe, still I knew right away--a new rod. The box also contained a reel, fly line and as we went out the door Dewey slipped me a small plastic fly box containing a dozen flies, a leader and a spool of tippet. "Good luck son, I hope ya like it."

By today's standards the rod was a real clunker but compared to the "wonder pole" it cast like a dream. It was much later I learned the reel, a cheap knock-off of the popular Pfluger Medalist--one of the best fly reels ever by the way--and the line (HCH) matched the rod perfectly. All of which contributed big time to my ability to get the fly to go where I aimed and land properly at least some of the time.

But what really got me going the right direction were a few chance encounters with guys I suspected even back then but now know for to be experts. Stay tuned...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fly Fishing: Highlights and Some Not So Hot...

Though the wear and tear of six decades chuckin' bugs is hard, damn it's been a fun ride...

True story: Way back when I started chuckin' bugs, Ike reigned and Vince's reign of terror had yet to begin. 

The first fly rod I could call my own was crafted (not really) somewhere over seas. In hindsight I'd say the guy who put it together had at least as much to learn about rod-making as I learning to fly fish. The OM won the wonder (as in wonder what the maker had in mind) rod on a punch board at the local American Legion; I'm pretty sure he handed it over to me as a sort of twisted peace offering designed to distract Mom's outrage at his late night carousing...Anyway it came in a balsa wood case which fell apart after only a few openings and closings...as it turned out, a bad omen but that was yet to come.

The wonder rod cast much like I imagine a buggy whip might. It came with a flimsy reel that squeaked louder than a the proverbial wheel badly in need of grease. The OM though had a sure cure for squeaks, reels or otherwise, and after lathering on a hefty amount of vaseline called her good to go. A line was also part of the package. Fly lines in those days were all double taper (at least all I knew about) and designated HDH, HEH and so forth--I think HDH was comparable to today's 6-weight. The one in the box was marked HCH. Whether or not it "matched" the rod is more than I can say but I can tell you without reservation, proper line weight or no, the whip-like rod combined with really lousy technique was recipe for disaster--which I proved many times over in the ensuing weeks and months. I think nylon had by then all but replaced gut leaders but since I have fished gut can't be sure what I broke in using.

I don't recall many, if any, fish in the basket that first season but I sure took fly casting to a low level I'm not sure I've seen the likes of since. One episode stands out and I recall the frustration as if it happened yesterday. Along with the OM, uncle Bob and their buddy, Doug we were strung out in a big pool casting (for want of a better term) to a line-up of hungry trout busily engaged in sucking down some sort of big fly. All of the trout I might reach with my best ever cast, however, were in close to the bank, guarded by a big hemlock. The lowest limbs as I recall were about 5 or 6 feet above the water--a piece of cake now, friggin' impossible back then. 

To make a long story short, I pitched every which way but the right way--too short, too long, one in the trees the next would splash down such to make a beaver blush. With only about 6 or 8 flies total in my meager stash, doubtful anything close to whatever the hell it was hatching (more on this in a moment) I was soon out of ammunition. With the last fly firmly stuck, cussing loudly (such to trip the OM's notorious quick trigger, "Boy watch your goddamn mouth or you'll find yerself eatin' through a straw) I gave it one last mighty yank and...broke the worthless wonder pole in two.

Believe it or not back then there were no "fly shops" at least in our little northeast Pennsylvania village. There were no "fly fishing schools" no "Orvis certified casting instructors" no "fly fishing outfitters/guides" at least none in our neck of woods. If you were lucky someone in the family knew what he (as far as I knew no lady fly fishers either) was doing and willing to pass it on. 

Alas in our gang of four, myself included (and you already know how sorry) only Doug had the vaguest idea what might be going on in a trout's head. And even he, by his own admission, was somewhat lacking. To whit "I mostly just wing it and hope for the best." All but clueless the OM and Bob relied mostly on the guy who wrote the local weekly outdoor column to inform "what's working," A might odd since I never heard either utter a single nice word about him.  

Anyway,  if he wrote "slayed 'em last evening on a #10 Multi-variant" one or the other would rush down to "Dewey's" and buy a buck's worth (five for a buck being the going rate for dry flies--wets were cheaper but I can't recall how much). Two for the buyer, one each for the rest of us, although Doug almost always fished wets so the fifth was more or less up for grabs so long as the buyer didn't run out first. Dewey being Doug's father and owner/operator of the town's one and only hardware/sporting goods store.

So there you have it for now, stay tuned I'll try my best to recollect a few other gems later...over and out...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fly Fishing: Bugs n' Brookies

October 21, 2006 while fishing a lake in Manitoba this lucky angler landed what turned out to be the largest brookie ever...29 inches long, 21 inches girth, estimated weight between 15-17 pounds. Because the beast was later released it goes into the record books as World Record Catch and Release and since it was taken while trolling a Rapala on unofficially tested line it stands as the All-tackle record. Anyway you look at it tis one helluva brookie, eh? Photo courtesy Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame
No, that's not me drooling the record brookie. But now that I think on it perhaps the date 10/21, my birthday, really is an omen that someday soon...Nah!
More our speed, no doubt having much ado with our increasing devotion to pitching dries.

Truth is, in a career now spanning 6 decades and counting, despite having chucked first baits, then hardware and, for many years now, flies, to more brookie holes than the law should allow, having hooked literally thousands in the process, I can boast just two might...I repeat might...have gone an honest 18-inches. OK, honest is something of a stretch, since neither was actually taped. But 18-inches or whatever, naturally I recall both historic moments vividly (sort of) even though much water has flowed beneath the proverbial bridge since.

Small streams are just plain fun...and challenging...true story.

A Parmachene Belle, a classic wet fly supposedly first tied to fool the giant brookies once swarmed Maine's Rangeley Lakes region, accounted for the first. The catch could have been classic in every sense but...For starters it wasn't even caught in Maine but at the mouth of small tributary of Ontario's Lady Evelyn River. But what really makes the catch pale in the classic sense...I snagged it.

Beaver dams and fat brook trout go together like apple...well, you know
Sad I know but true. Trolling a big slow pool in the main river past the creek mouth, littered with beaver cuttings, Dick Byrem, in the bow (me in the stern) hung up. Nearing the end of a long trip and dangerously close to running out of flies, breaking off was not an option. Lines trailing, we bent to the paddles, turned the canoe up river, paddled like hell to where Dick reached down and pulled the flies free. As the canoe once again turned down river my line came tight and what turned out to be the trip's biggest brookie splashed the surface. Obviously other than the fly, classic, even bragging rights, hardly apply.

A few years later, again trolling (no idea what) behind a canoe, although this time in a Quebec lake (sorry the name too is long gone), I landed another bigger than we (Billy Eves and me) were accustomed.

Ingenuity helps...

As always no tape so, nothing left, Billy brought forth a dollar bill. For the uninitiated, a U.S. dollar bill measures a hair over 6-inches. Nose to tail he declared "3 bills" so...

I can't say how widespread this dollar bill trick but, in our case, it played a significant role. Early on, actually for many seasons, brookies made up at least 90% of my catch...truth be known really small brookies. Catch and release having not yet found its way into the Pennsylvania hollers, naturally we kept any trout of legal size; the idea of course bragging rights went with catching the daily limit, which I think back then was 8 per. Anyway the minimum legal size being 6-inches, the OM issued a dollar bill at the start of each adventure...As yes, where dollar bills were concerned C&R was well ingrained and indeed not an option as in...boy, make damn sure I get it back, ya hear.

Gale style, up close and personal, obviously pays off...

As any true blue trout nut knows the brook trout is not a true trout but rather a char. It is native in the northeast, down the Appalachians to Georgia, in the upper Midwest and in eastern Canada. But these days brookies swim just about everywhere trout swim; some say they have been transplanted to more places than any other fish species. Here in Montana, trout nirvana to many, " brook trout as natives" is a common refrain. Sorry, not so...

In the literature of fly fishing for brook trout it is de rigueur for the reporter to wax poetically on the beauty and allure of the fish itself.  For example, one breathless scribe painted them, "the aphrodite of the hemlocks." Sounds good, but...Mr.Webster notes, "Aphrodite" as the Greek "goddess" of "love" and "beauty."

Sorry my man, this is one case where in the category "good looks" the male, especially when bedecked in his spawning finery, wins hands down...no contest.

Why brookies, when there are far larger trout out there to be had especially considering in many of our best waters 18-inch browns and rainbows, while probably not dime a dozen easy, catching one certainly won't turn many heads. Well, one thing, we like a little solitude with our fishing, these days a really rare item. But the real reasons: brook trout and good country is a given; most rank high among the last best left on the planet.

Beauty (of the beast) and scenic aside, a typical day fishing the backcountry (wherever) bird and water song fills the clean, sweet-scented air, wildflowers and wildlife at times so abundant it takes real tunnel-vision to maintain focus on the task at hand. Realization on my part there simply was no hope, I no longer consider a missed take as call for despair.

In a typical Montana season Gale and me catch brookies by the dozens (hundreds probably but who's counting). After all we fish often; fish mostly brook trout strongholds; and brookies being notoriously easy pickings...how could we not?

These days the Parachute Adams is often the only fly we bother to tie on...Lazy? Yep. Effective? Usually so...

True most fall into the sub 12-inch category with a handful 13-15-inches and the occasional, maybe one every couple years, 16-17-inches. Still evidence abounds of far larger out there. The state record is slightly over 9 pounds (Lower Two Medicine Lake, 1940). While it seems unlikely the record will be broken anytime soon ( maybe not ever) breaking my personal record seems a definite maybe...more a matter of time than anything. Close to home (Dillon) the upper Big Hole and Georgetown Lake harbor such hefty individuals as do many others...I know of a couple 3-pounders mounted on local living room walls said to have been hauled from Big Hole tributaries. One day last spring my friend, Steve, buggered several 15-17- inches from a single run. So who knows, maybe if I just keep chuckin', eh?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Beauty Contest: Ms. Debby and Ms. Hooty...

photo courtesy MT. Standard
...Whitefish vie for title: Montana Native Face Anglers Love to Hate Most....VOTE NOW!

I know, I know tis like splitting hairs, the resemblance really is scary, eh? But please suck it up best ya can so's we can have a clear winner--after all ain't much of contest comes up tie so...Just in case yore still straddlin' the fence, click the link below...might help ta spur ya on...


Tomorrow is D-DAY for HB309 or perhaps more's the point, The Day Montana Stream Access Could Very Well DIE...Be sure you notify your illustrious reps/senators that any YEA votes WILL be remembered and Thou Shalt By God Pay DEARLY at Ye Old Ballot Box.

Anyone knows me, knows I am hardly ever at loss for words but this BS, actually this legislature's arrogance...Wow! Enough to leave this ol' boy speechless...Almost...over and out...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Montana Birds: Return of the Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill crane migration should soon be underway....

This photo and the above were shot at Whitewater Draw in southern Arizona. A major sandhill wintering area, the day we shot these photos biologists estimated the flock at around 25,000...quite a sight.
Gale's favorite bird (mine too), each spring she marks the date of our first sighting...last spring March 16th. These two arrived the year before in the Big Hole near Wisdom on her birthday...March 9th...As you can see the snow cover then was much different than this year...Will the cold and snow delay their arrival?  That is a question we've been tossing around a lot lately...time I guess will tell?
Early or late, before long sandhill music WILL jam the spring air waves...Their wild music combined with their even wilder mating displays are, for us, a delight, one we never tire off or fail to miss...Actually we can't think of a better way to shake a heavy dose of the shack nasties...Those of you haven't indulged give it a try it, hell, you never know... over and out...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Brace Thyself...

In case you had any doubts where this latest gas scam is almost surely headed thought I'd share this photo I shot end of January outside Death Valley, CA.  Thus forewarned hopefully the bitter pill goes down a bit easier. Don't it make you wonder just what if anything our elected heroes are really doing for the "folks" while basically remaining mute on real crisis situations such as this? Maybe it's just  me but...over and out...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spring Has At Last Sprung...

...So Sayeth The Brave Order of Virtuous Weathermen...And if you believe that one just take a gander out yonder window... 

Ok, so depite that the official solstice is still three weeks down the road, most of us do consider March, April and May spring months. And as a bona fide- true-blue-carded-fly-pole-toter spring, the official sort or otherwise, tis indeed time I typically get off the proverbial pot and get at it but...for a variety reasons, some of which escape me at the moment, the bug as they say has yet to bite this ol' boy's butt. 

Could be the drive to Butte yesterday: snow drifting the highway, the icy wind howling, oh say, 30-miles plus, to say nothing the stark white iced-over Big Hole broken only here and there by skinny ribbons black, really black open water or...

...the past week's widespread reports of negative 30s and worse in all the right places (read rivers), like someone once noted we all have our limits...right.

Or it just might be that after 50 days or so gamboling about the desert  bedecked out for the most part in tee-shirt and shorts (OK I lie but) I just can't bear the idea a dealin' with a mostly froze-up crick, freezin' butt whilst wavin a silly ol' stick and maybe...just maybe...snaggin' a silly ol' trout or...

Worse...findin a by God Montana bone a tuggin on the line...

Perish the thought, eh?

Instead me thinks tis high time to toss nother log on the fahr, splash a dash a bourbon in the glass, kick back and when the bluebirds start to singin' up ta lemonade springs well... Be sure and call me, ya hear...over and out...    

Trash talk aside, the mountain whitefish has saved many us iced-up bug dunkers from tastin' dreaded skunk...true story.