Saturday, April 30, 2011

Kate the Wirehair, Montana Legislature and Other Drivel..

Kate the Wirehair (click photo to enlarge)...
...was already terrorizing the upland bird world when I shot this photo 10 years or so ago. She's an old dog now but in the interim she's managed to compile quite the thick resume. Over the many seasons she's pointed countless birds all across and up and down Montana and Arizona, in Idaho, North Dakota and Alberta. Ringnecks, five grouse, two partridges, four quail species and once, about the time I shot this photo, a hen mallard's bill protruding from a flooded cattail marsh...which she put nose to water and obviously scent trailed up current for about a hundred yards before going stiff. I recall thinking perhaps she'd lost it but when she would not move so much as an eye lash I thought it best to investigate further and...I'll be damned that there girl really is pointin' a duck's bill...With several mallards already in the bag I didn't really want another so I waded in and tapped her on the head (release signal) whereupon she rushed forward plunged head under and came up sputtering with one very surprised (I imagine) hen mallard in her jaws.

Another magic moment in a long line of magical performances one cold November day up above Clyde Park she trailed up and pointed a large covey Huns. As sometimes happens at the flush my single shot dropped two more besides the one I had in mind. Two lay DOA in plain view, the third dropped just as hard but in taller grass...Kate ran to the nearest, stopped, picked it up. Then, instead of bringing it, took off in the opposite direction. Ignoring the whistle and my loud mouth she kept on going eventually disappearing over the hill. PO'd I picked up the remaining Hun and took off in hot pursuit...

Clearing the hill I spied her, standing with what can only be described as a confused look. Way out there, way beyond where any "goddam crippled Hun I know" might run. Ignoring more loud whistling, ranting and raving as in "get your sorry ass the hell here or..." When I got there, still fuming of course, well, you guessed it, still holding the original, front paw planted firmly on the runoff Hun...Well hell, soonere or later I guess we all learn tis best to trust the dog; obviously I'm just one those laters.

Kate's had some health problems that have of late been slowing her down. Although she never quits lately her back legs just haven't been working up to par. Suspecting the worst we took her to the Vet. And yesterday while our worst fear was some sort of tumor/cancer we found out she has diabetes, not at all good but... 

The hope is with perhaps rigid diet restrictions and twice a day insulin injections we can get her at least back to recovering enough muscle mass and able to get around better. For her sake hopefully she has a bunch more hunts left, if only for an hour or so...No doubt not what she has in mind but no doubt either no hunting is gonna make for one very unhappy dog...stay tuned.

Montana Legislature Adjourns...

To my way of thinkin, Hooray and Good Riddance to the worst bunch a wingnuts maybe ever. A couple last minute deals you might be interested: HB 171 which would have legalized "silencers/suppressors whatever" for "hunting" failed to garner the required super majority vote and ended in the trash can. Why any ethical law abiding hunter would want one is way beyond this ol' boy's mental capacity, but since I can't come up with any reasons other than making it more better/easier to be sneaky, sleezy, downright slobbish, like the legislature in general I say good riddance...

On another track, the "permitless carry" bill did get sent to the Gov whereupon most in the know expect his royal highness to sign it into law...since just about every male I know already carries wherever, whenever this one seems to me more a formality than anything...so be it. 

Poaching Goes High Tech

By Mark Freeman

Mail Tribune

A ring of Springfield poachers faces racketeering and other charges for allegedly stealing the identity of Oregonians to buy hunting licenses and tags and then illegally killing as many as 300 black-tailed deer in eastern Lane County over the past five years...also poached were elk, antelope and black bear. To read the rest of the pathetic details click the link below.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Annual Big Hole Tour Provides Few Surprises

Saddle Mountain (right foreground)/West Pintlar Peak behind show off typical Easter weekend snow bonnets... 
Yesterday we decided it was high time to do our annual Big Hole tour. Expecting lots of snow in the high country topping the Big Hole Divide, gazing across the drifted-in valley to the winter-white peaks of Beaverheads beyond erased any doubts. While the sagebrush foothills of the Pioneers to the east are as usual mostly bare looking west is a winter wonderland. Why this drastic change, actually just about follows the road all the way to Jackson remains a mystery to us.

We spotted dozens antelope and a small band of elk on the Grasshopper side of the Divide below the snowline. Just over the pass countless mule deer, some looking really poor, grazed the open sagebrush. Above Jackson to Wisdom the river is open and the snow in the valley is really spotty. Ground squirrels were everywhere as were the raptors hunting them--northern harriers, red-tails, rough-leggeds, ferruginous swainson's, golden and bald eagles to name several. Numerous sandhill cranes, several ospreys and a large elk herd just outside Wisdom highlighted that portion of the tour. From Jackson all the way to Glen waterfowl loafed in just about every puddle; especially numerous in the river above Squaw Creek bridge off the North Fork road...plenty muddy by the way around the edges, be sure to keep 'er on the straight and narrow. Mallard, wigeon, blue and green wing teal, white pelican, common and hooded merganser, pintail and of course scads of geese to name just a few off the top the ol' bald noggin'.

We stopped for lunch at Fetty's, now the Big Hole Crossing. The change of course came about when the original BHC across the street burned last summer. Extensively damaged, apparently beyond rebuilding, the owners decided not to rebuild. Instead bought out Fetty's. Lunch by the way was excellent and quite filling. Since the BHC owned a considerable reputation for serving up good and plentiful eats on the other side the street we were not surprised.

Thought I might make a few casts at Fish Trap but a marauding skunk nixed that idea...the good news is Annie baby failed to see it...No snow in the valley below Squaw Creek and once you get down around Wise River even the foothills are bare. The river is clear and open all the way. While there still might be some ice on the shadiest banks we did not see any. No fisher folk to speak of until Stanchfields but quite a few rigs from there down to the Glen Bar...the Salmon Fly access was just about standing room only largely due to a horde of ATV rigs.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Montana Fly Fishing: How High Will the Big Hole Rise?

Looking east through the Notch to the Tobacco Roots (click to enlarge)
Is always a hot topic and a big question this time of year. It got even hotter a few days ago when the Big Hole suddenly spiked up several hundred cfs almost overnight. Not at all unusual this time of year but since just about everybody I've talked to seems to agree we are still very much in the grips of either a prolonged winter or a real chilly spring...Since most days either start out damn chilly (12 on the porch yesterday) or end up that way no matter what the mid-day highs are I'd call it a toss up...

With that in mind we have been trying our best to just ignore the endless chill and do just that...Been fishing twice on the Big Hole, both admittedly somewhat aborted ventures, with similar though not unexpected rather grim results. Ditto the lake sort of...Yesterday being three strikes and out that's all I have to say.

How high the Big Hole will rise is of course more than I (or anyone else for that matter) know. I checked the Jeff snow pack info this morning and the snow water is 123% of normal; the snow pack a bit less. So assuming we get the usual dumpings over the next 10 weeks or so my bet is pretty damn high. If not well, who the hell knows given what's out there could come off pretty damn quickly or not depending of course on that other impossible to predict long range (with any accuracy) variable e.g. how hot?

So there you have it, a cop out I know, sorry...over and out...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bird Hunting: Ultimate Hunting Bus vs. Bird Huntin' Haus

Bird Huntin' Haus (click to enlarge) parked in the desert near Never U Mind, AZ.
In the most recent issue of Shooting Sportsman, Tom Davis, one my favorite writers by the way, penned a short piece, "The Ultimate Hunting Bus," to which I could not contain myself, shouting... Well, while I'm certain such refrains will no doubt someday be acceptable Gale says we're not quite there yet so here is the ah, kiddies version, sort of...

Re: The Ultimate Hunting Bus (Shooting Sportsman, pg. 22 May/June 2011)

Golly gee! what a novel idea. Imagine, a “mobile hunting lodge.” Why hellamighty, according to its proud and ingenious owner, “can literally park where he hunts.” And a genuine Blue Light Special to boot: “in the mid-six figures,” a mere drop in the ol' bucket, eh? Whew! Sort a takes your breath away; actually leaves me speechless…almost.

A few paragraphs in it hit me our “mobile hunting lodge” a rather spare (Ok, cheap) 18 ft. camp trailer we christened “Bird Huntin’ Haus,” (corny I know) we had somehow kidded ourselves into believing adequate might very well be, well, laughable. In case you wondered it came in slightly south of 12 grand, yes, as in low five figures).

But not so fast. Delving deeper I came to realize the two are indeed quite similar—price aside that is. UHB boasts a stereo; BHH, check. UHB, flat screen TV; BHH, check, no doubt way smaller but still. UHB, galley, shower, head, refrigerator-freezer, sleeping berths; BHH, checkmate.

OK so we don’t got a “bump out or enough kennel space for 17 (!) dogs” and damn we don’t even own an ATV, let alone one tricked out by none other than Green Bay’s finest  “Artists in stainless steel.” Double damn! Though we do kennel 1 (!) dog under the dining table it pains me to admit the old dog is left to fend for herself—on the couch or, you know, share the queen size bed—poor precious puppies, eh? And 8 miles per? Shucks, our old diesel hauler beats that even in a 40 mile headwind.

You might write this Ol’ Boy off as awestruck, envious even jealous but you would be wrong. For you see we (two hunters, two GWPs) have lived (quite comfortably and thanks for asking) in the BHH amongst countless feathered fowl in all sorts of outback spots, all over Montana, in Idaho, Nevada, North Dakota, Arizona (55 days this year; lest you loyal followers forget, literally surrounded by quail to boot).

But as I’m sure the man once said, “To each his own.” If it takes plunkin’ down “mid-six figures,” to trip your bird huntin’ trigger all I got to say is… By God goferit…And should you stumble on one our sorry camps, perhaps tired a swillin’ beer, hell stop in, we got bourbon and ice even…

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fly Fishing: The Quack Coachman

Royal Wulff/Brown Wulff (click to enlarge)
The Hair-wing Royal Coachman, aka Wulff Royal Coachman, or the more common label, Royal Wulff. was not the brainchild of Lee Wulff as is commonly related. Rather, in 1930, it first fell from the vice of Reuben Cross, a well-known and talented fly tyer, at the bequest of one Q. L. Quackenbush a disciple of the venerable Beaverkill Trout Club. As the story goes Ol’ Quack’s beloved Fan-winged Royal Coachman had fallen from grace largely due to the fly’s notorious frail wings. Looking for a better mousetrap so too speak he engaged Cross to build a more durable version. Cross tied up some using stiff, white, kinky-haired impala tail hair for wings and the rest is as they say history. 

Blond Wulff/Ausable Wulff (click to enlarge)
Call it what you will “The Quack Coachman,” as it was lovingly christened by his fishing pals remains even today one very effective dry fly; a must have to complement any dry fly box. Ditto all of the Wulff Family—which over the years has grown considerably in number to now include Wulffs of just about every conceivable color variation. Commercially Wulffs are tied from huge size 8s and 10s down to itty-bitty size 22…anyway the smallest I have ever seen. While I find the smaller sizes quite useful, and highly effective at times, I find tying any Wulff smaller than a size 14 to be…well, a royal pain in the arse. Since I don’t tie ‘em you won’t find many itty-bitty Wulffs in my meager collection. So there you have it…

Monday, April 18, 2011

Big Hole skwala hatch is in full swing; but the bad news is the early runoff is in full swing also.
Visibilty at Glen yesterday afternoon was still in the ballpark, barely, but this morning the river is up to 1700+ and still rising. SO...who knows. On another mission we stopped to check out the bugs and walking just a short piece of the bank below the FAS ramp found several. Gale shot this adult while I did my best to keep it on the stone.

Bowing to temptation I rigged up and fished a wooly worm from the bridge downstream 100 yards or so with nary a bump. Duty calling, on that note, derigged and we continued on our way. Proving? I guess actually nothing more than wrong fly, feeble attempt, bad timing (rising river and all), bad fishing...all the above? As I say who knows?

We found this handsome honey-moon couple, a drake and hen hooded merganser,  swimming in a slough of the river, as yet not much affected by the runoff...my guess is won't be long until it too turns brown and ugly.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fly Fishing: Ice Out Trout

Ice out ushers in one of the season's hottest bites as winter savaged rainbows and, in this case, browns and even a few cuttbows swarm the open banks: looking, first for a decent enough meal to rev up for the spawning wars.
As the ice melts wind blows the remaining ice shelf around; making where best to go sort or a daily crap shoot. Usually the most consistent fishing is on the far side the dam around to Cameahwaite, across the lake at Boka point and around the mouth the Red Rock River...on the east side below the campground (dam) is also worth a shot.

Most popular amongst locals are small, crappie-size, jigs below a bobber. But I've caught ice out trout on egg patterns, San Juan Worms, stripping buggers and leeches (egg sucking), Sheep Creeks, chronomids, Prince and PT nymphs and well, just about any pattern in the box sinks.

No need to bring the boat (although many do) just find an ice-free spot on the bank and flail away. Because it is after all fishing some days are better than others; and CCR is especially noted for wind so...Yesterday was such a day, lots of wind, not so hot fishing. As guide buddy Bart said, "ya shoulda been here yesterday." An all too familiar tune for sure but then what better excuse than to give 'er another go today...So there you have it, the Gone Fishin' light is lit...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Montana Outdoors: Gobblers on the Prowl...

...Despite this year's version April looking and feeling more like January gobblers such as this Eastern variety shot by the way not far from the shores of Flathead Lake are indeed on the prowl...Season opened last Saturday and runs thru May 15.
From what I'm hearing some of Montana's traditional hotspots, thanks to a really tough old fashioned winter which at least here in southwest Montana just won't go away, this spring aren't so hot. Ashland, I hear, is particularly grim and while I haven't heard any first hand reports my guess is things down Ekalaka way aren't real rosy either. Having said that I know from past experience wild turkeys are tough and resourceful hombres when it comes to dealing lousy weather. An old pal of mine did a graduate study on how our largest upland gamebird dealt with cruel winters of northern Pennsylvania...in a nutshell they moved onto spring seeps and spent the worst of it fat and happy dining on aquatic plants and insects...whenever there was a lull in the action they move out to forage on more traditional fare. A few years ago I met a southeastern Montana rancher who according to FWP biologists' best estimates, hosted as many as 800 "of the black bastards." Even if the tally was off by half that's one helluva pile of turkeys to find roosting in your yard, more to the point I suppose, one helluva pile a turkey crap to deal. By the time I ran into the poor harried soul spring gobbler season was well along, spring had at last sprung and the bulk of the herd long gone...Did he mind if I hunted his place? "Kill 'em all and if any your buddies still got tags bring 'em on..." I took that to be a green light and later that afternoon killed a big Merriam's a few hundred yards from the ranch buildings...some days you eat chicken, eh?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Montana Outdoors--Lewis and Clark Fishing--From the Edge Weather Channel

Prime time for sage hen watching is NOW!
If you like me are in awe of Lewis and Clark and the incredible journey the Corps of discovery managed to pull off now...Now you can catch up on what has been called the "greatest fishin' trip EV...ER. Which I for one find hard to argue. Anyway click here to enter:  http://www.undauntedanglers.org/

For you camera nuts out there the Weather Channel's From the Edge, featuring the talented and well-traveled Peter Lik airs tonight--Thursday April 14th at 8PM ET--6 PM MT--Peter travels to Glacier NP this week.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Montana: Day Tripping

Fox pup highlights a Sunday afternoon walk in the southwest Montana...
Each spring for as long as we've lived in Dillon one thing we can count on is discovering a fox den, sometimes several, on the Blacktail Road out past the Matador Ranch. Today we somehow missed this on the way out to run the dogs, give we geezers aging joints a much needed workout.

On the way home I almost missed the den again but spotted what I thought, still think were three almost fully grown kits out the corner of my eye. Stopping, I grabbed the camera and bean bag out the back seat, they bailed and went to ground.

Surprised how big at this early date, the real surprise came when this little guy/gal poked its head out the hole. About the size of a kitten, perhaps five or six weeks old no way could it have been one of the three I spotted originally...but then if I did actually see what I think I saw what the hell are 3 obviously older, maybe even mature foxes doing in the same den as such a little kit???

Oh well, whatever, we got our annual spring fox kit fix anyhow. Will keep the investigation going until the kits and/or adults leave the area, hopefully solve the case one way or tother...

Prior the dogs seemed to enjoy the romp as did we under the watchful eye of a large elk herd, countless deer, a few antelope, a raptor or three to say nothing of the Sisters being for a change on their best behavior made for "indeed a pleasant outing" as a DH we'd just as soon forget might have put it...sorry.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fly Fishing: Highlights...Part 7

Even back in the day brook trout such as this were as rare as white crows...at least for me.
Following graduation I landed a job as a consultant forester. Lucky me HQ turned out to be about 10 steps from the Lackawaxen River (more on the fishing later). My territory included PA's Pocono Mountains, eastern New York, most of New England including southern Maine. More to the point I performed or oversaw various forestry operations on a variety of properties--all very private, all very wealthy, nearly all containing within their boundaries some really cushy, really private fly water. Naturally, upon meeting up with said landowners and/or appointed reps, utmost on my agenda was gaining fishing access...don't tell the boss.

The Lackawaxen turned out to be even better than I hoped. Heavily stocked and surprisingly underfished it also harbored a decent population of wild and holdover trout, rainbows and brookies mostly. But the real surprises were the healthy population of smallmouth bass and the shad run--fugitives from the big event hosted by the Delaware River each spring. The confluence lay just a couple miles downstream of the office where, by the way, the famous and talented writer Zane Gray and new bride, Dolly, first set up house-keeping. A practicing dentist at the time Gray decided to switch gears and instead pursue a full-time writing career. And we all know how that turned out.

Anyway the job entailed considerable travel and long hours in the woods. Admittedly at times putting a severe crimp in the fishing. But since I almost always roomed or camped out on the various properties the fishing was seldom more than few steps away.

While much of it is starting to blur badly a couple still stand out clearly--even though for the life of me I can't recall the names--sorry but what the hell private anyway so...

The first was a huge (over 2000 acres as I recall) mountain estate not far from the office. I never met the owner but as luck would have it his manager and I hit it off from the start. With a standing invite to fish anytime as you might expect I took full advantage every chance. The stream was one those really pretty mountain cricks, studded with huge rocks, deep crystalline pools and runs no trout in his right mind could resist. Better still, unlike many mountain cricks suffer inadequate summer flows and low fertility--this one ran pretty good even in the driest times and while no where near the high quality limestone streams of central PA, as Pocono waters went ranked pretty darn high.

One day in early June I got back to the office early enough to get the day's paper work in order, made myself an early burger and headed for the crick. As I drove up the mountain alongside the crick suddenly the windshield was covered with bugs--zillions caddis crawling all about the windshield and swarming over the road. Stopping above a big pool below was a sight to behold! End to end, side to side rising trout and of course since it was hatching caddis they were chasing the rise forms were more like you would imagine chucking rocks. Putting the pedal to floor I sped recklessly to the first turnoff, hopped out, pulled on hip boots, rigged the rod on the fly and...It still ranks as one the bestest, fastest couple hours chucking flies...EV...ER. Honest.

Another evening at a cushy lodge in the Catskills as I dragged my weary (hand planting trees since daylight) butt up the steps to the cabin looked over my shoulder and... The lake was...Boiling.  Countless numbers of what appeared to be really big trout slashing the surface to a froth. Weary hell, I ran to car grabbed my gear and sprinted the hundred yards or so to the canoe rack. Paddling like hell to what appeared somewhat the center of the melee I rigged up--tied on a big bushy fly that sort of mimicked the hatch and...And first cast caught the biggest rainbow I'd ever seen let alone caught. And then I caught another and another and then it got dark and the hatch quit but the trout kept on eating my fly until finally I just reeled up and...So there you have it almost...

Next evening hoping, no, make that expecting, a replay didn't happen...no bugs to speak of, just a few random rises and...skunked! Ditto the next and then I had to leave. A few weeks later I was back again and couldn't wait to get even...Only there for one evening I got two right off the bat--no where near as big but the worst thing two was it...Oh well can't win 'em all, onward and upward....

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fly Fishing: Highlights...Part 6

Man, what my trusty ol' Water Skeeter might a done for our luck way back when...

A brief stint in the Adirondacks led to an Associate Degree in Forestry and Land Surveying, more importantly led to a sort of advanced degree in the art of casting flies to pond dwelling brookies; prior the only fly fishing I knew (maybe even thought existed) was in moving water. Now separated from the so-called "blue line" which defined trout pond rich 2-million acre Adirondack Park by the Oswegatchie River. At first I didn't know much about the Park but the river was like an old friend, thanks to Ray Bergman's magnum opus, "Trout," which much to mother's dismay, had by then, for me, replaced the "Holy Bible." 

As luck would have it roomy, Larry, and next door neighbor, Lem, did know and, better still, were willing to share not only necessary tactics but lead the way to all their secret spots.

Some ponds were fishable from the bank. But most were better fished off shore--from a canoe or boat would have been ideal but due to severe time restraints--you know attending classes and mandatory study halls 6 days a week--we were forced to travel light and fast. So we built rafts--crude log affairs nailed and/or roped together--and took turns poling as best we could.

Rules of the game were simple--catch a trout, you were then expected to pole like hell to the bank, next guy's turn. OK, not so pretty but we did catch trout. The downside, if you could call it that, was the ponds all had a legendary past of routinely giving up brookies measured in pounds not inches. By the early 60s acid rain had not yet totally devastated the once great fishery but had begun to take its terrible toll. So while all of us dreamed catching monsters the reality size-wise anyway didn't quite measure up...Oh well, who needs big ol' slimy brookies anyway...  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Montana I-161 and High End Chicken Feathers Under Siege....

Kurt Kephart author of the now infamous I-161 initiative which voters approved and resulted in no more outfitter set aside big game licenses now finds his bill under fire by, you guessed it, our Montana legislature who have shown time and time again this session "the hell with what the folks want we know better" and well here we go again. Click below to read the latest from today's Billings Gazette.

On another track I read the other day how the ladies fashion jewelry industry is putting a run on high end chicken feathers aka premium dry fly necks to the tune the fly tying industry from big time operators like Montana Fly Co. down to your basic winter bored fly guy just wanting to spin up a few favorite patterns is getting a bit antsy at the eventual outcome...read shortage. For the uninitiated in the audience premium, i.e. # 1 necks currently go for $60-70 or more...of course you can tie a passable fly with lower grade hackle but then there are those of us so far over the edge...well, hell, perish the thought, eh?