Friday, December 30, 2011

Fly Fishing: Fly Friday

The annual salmon fly blitz draws fisher folk to Montana (and elsewhere) literally from around the globe. This is nothing new, however, for according to Paul Schullery (Cowboy Trout, an excellent read by the way) Montanans have been fishing the hatch religiously for at least 120 years and counting. But it wasn't until later in the 20th Century things really got rolling thanks to pioneer fly innovators such as Dan Bailey, Pat Barnes, Charlie Brooks, George Grant, Bud Lilly and a few others, somewhat lesser known.

One would think after all these years, all the many trials and tribulations, new Salmon Fly patterns would be a thing of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth as I cannot recall a single season when at least one new hot must-have-pattern has not made its way into the fly shop bins and, while it pains me to admit, most, if not all, have found their way into my box...even though I should be old enough, wise enough at this point to know better but don't. The list is long--Sofa Pillow, Improved Sofa Pillow, Orange Sofa Pillow, Bullet-head Salmonfly, Chernobyl Stone, Bird's Salmonfly, Henry's Fork Salmonfly, MoJoe Salmonfly, MacSalmon, Mystery Meat Salmonfly, Drowned Salmonfly, Salmon Fly Convertible, Norm Woods, Norm Woods Rubber-legs, Chubby Chernobyl, Clark's Stonefly Golden and, believe it or not, I count at least four more whatchamacallits in my box--and note these patterns are all dry.

At one time or another I've probably tied on just about every stone fly nymph pattern known to mankind...Montana Stonefly, Pat's Rubberlegs, Brook's' Montana Stonefly, Brook's Stonefly, AP Stonefly, Girdle Bug, Pepperoni, Bitch Creek, Kaufmann's Stone, Woven Stones and, you guessed it, several whatchamacallits.

I regret never having fished (just too-nifty-to-risk) A.P. Potts or George Grant Woven Hair Patterns (the Feather Back in the center of photo was tied by my friend Tom Harman) or the infamous Bunyan Bug (carved wood and horsehair) but fishin gods willin and the crick don't rise...well hell, you just never know what the future holds, eh?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Fly Fishing: Fly Friday

Ruby River
Hard for me to get the ol' bald noggin' round the idea but no denying 2011 is all but ancient history. Where the year went has me more than a little baffled. But no use bawlin over spilt milk, right, time a move on, so...Of late I started once again workin' on my bucket list--you know the must do stuff afore roastin' in the big fahr...Alas, much like my must-do-chores list it too just keeps getting longer and, knowing me as I so well do, not much hope of ever running out of stuff I could/should do but in all likelihood won't so...no surprise there, eh?

The somewhat doctored up photo above is of course your irresponsible reporter doing what he used to do often--e.g. fool enough to stand all day in ice water waving a stick in hopes of fooling a foolish, half-frozen trout to bite, knowing full well frozen fingers are so far gone removing the hook is a joke and breaking it off...well, as we all know, only works when you least want it too...Anyway, for reasons now escape me, "do more winter fishing" is right up there just below "hunt more birds" and right above, "tie more flies." If I were to guess I'd say two of the three ain't got much chance but then as they say, "dealin' with an addled soul you just never know"...OK I forget who but someone must a said it, right? Right.     

Monday, December 19, 2011

Montana Outdoors: Flat Out Gone In The Blink of An Eye...

Hoar frost turns the ordinary into the extraordinary overnight...
...though nifty as it looks signs a death warrant, the final nail in the coffin for last summer's blooms...
...too bad we can't bottle it, 'cause damn wouldn't it jazz up the ol' xmas tree...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fly Fishing: Fly Friday

Coho salmon

Pink Salmon

Thanks to BC chum, Gary, my bucket list--must do afore roastin' in the big fahr--just got longer...

Coho salmon

Apparently August and September salmon swarm the beaches much like trout in our reservoirs do when the ice goes off...The fishing starts off standing on the beach or perhaps knee deep; using a sink tip line the drill is to cast out strip the fly, much like chronomid fishing, only according to Gary the bite is much hotter; like strip, strip, strip, wraaaaaaang goes the reel and just like that you are agonizing over how much backing you don't have left...then its beach the salmon, snap the requisite photo proof, release and...Of course salmon being, well, salmon...might as well keep a couple for the table....

When the tide changes--in out I forget?--you jumps in your waiting skiff and repeat same until night falls, your arms quit working, which ever comes first...how cool, eh?

Aside from sounding like an absolute hoot I also noted the fly du jour just might be right up my alley as well...you know quick and easy...all in all this is one operation seems to me ya just can't hardly beat...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Montana Outdoors: Birding Trails Montana

Cedar waxwing munching Russian olives
One of two Bohemian waxwing flocks we saw yesterday in Birch Creek
As posted a couple days ago I've been hard at work on our upcoming book Birding Trails Montana. And as also posted recently the time outs between key punching sessions have been devoted to Annie's rehab but...Why not kill two birds with one stone? Why not indeed... So instead of loosing Annie any old place there is room to ramble we been checking out spots we might also include in the book.

Yesterday it was Birch Creek. A tributary of the Big Hole born high in the East Pioneers, it flows for several miles through national forest before spilling out into mostly private ranch lands. Years ago a retired professor at then Western Montana College mentioned Birch Creek as one the spots he took his ornithology students. As I recall he said something along the lines, "Birch Creek is not the best but a good spot to find some forest species you don't normally find in the willows/cottonwoods/sagebrush and grass which make up most of my other spots close to town."

And sure enough we found but a handful species though we find discover something we'd heard of but never seen. Two flocks Bohemian waxwings, the small one above and another huge flock of at least 100 birds...For us a first since our biggest flock to date had been a dozen or so showed up in the backyard a couple winters ago.

Cedar waxwings are common backyard visitors all summer long. In fact we had one nest last August in the tree the one above is eating olives. Bohemians show up too in the backyard but usually in singles or small flocks of a 8 or 10. By the way 100 is no where near in record territory I read the other day of a group of birders counting several hundred in one bunch.  Whether Birch Creek will make the cut is still up in the air but we plan to return soon perhaps set a new personal record...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Upland Bird Hunting: Snakebit Annie Update...

It's been more than 7 weeks since Annie's rattler run in at Freezout Lake. And just a few days ago since we declared her severely atrophied leg and foot almost back to normal. The way she has been rambling the past couple afternoons pretty much erases any doubt we might harbor.

A couple days ago obvious she smelled birds but in the howling wind just where who knows? So after much tail wagging and snuffling back and forth over a wide area suddenly she took off. At warp speed, a quarter mile out wheeled around, went a quarter mile the opposite direction; wheeled about came back part way turned into the wind, dropped into a kitty-cat-like moving crouch would make a hunting lioness green with envy and...Pointed. But apparently the birds were on to her, because as soon as she stopped the whole bunch lifted from the sage 50 yards ahead, caught the wind and vamoosed over yonder hill.

Gale yelled, "Looks to me like she's back," to which I gave her assertion a hale and hearty thumbs up, turned and muttered "Good girl,"...Which of course fell on deaf ears, as Annie baby was by then flat out gone over yonder hill in what can only be described as hot pursuit...Hooray!   

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fly Fishing: Fly Friday

Fishing the Big Hole on a beautiful late summer evening... 
...with trout slurping all up and down this wide flat pool it should have been easy. But in the hour or so before sunset and the inevitable evening chill down the upper Big Hole experiences at this season shut down the rise between us we managed only a few takes; alas even fewer hookups.

With the light almost gone a huge brown dropped down to the tail.  In water barely covering its dorsal, waking beaver like, began terrorizing the smaller trout intent on sucking down the last of the spent mayflies.

Switching quickly to a bugger, each time he came by in range I took aim and pitched in front...twice he actually hit the fly...no, not a take just a collision...like crashed into...Before it ended I probably had 20 chances...you would a thought he might a snagged hisownself and...OK really did want to get my grubby paws on the bastard, mind you just to see how big...Honest injun...Yes I do know snagging trout is illegal, not at all fair, definitely unethical and probably immoral but c'mon now....Can you really blame me? 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Montana Outdoors--Birds, Bears and More Birds...

Vermillion Flycatcher
I haven't been posting as often of late mostly because I'm heavy into writing a new book...Birding Trails Montana...to be published next year sometime by Sandhill Crane Press, an imprint of Wilderness Adventures Press...which of course is the publisher of three of the four books I've had published. Anyway the list is long and by the time the book hits the streets it will no doubt have grown into yet another pretty fat tome...so be it.

Montana as you may or may not know boasts a pretty long list of birds...400+ actually...Loosely organized into birds that nest here; birds don't nest here but show up with fair regularity on their way to and from someplace else...migrants...and birds such as the two above...which rarely show up and when they do never fail to leave a last impression...To me vagrants or accidentals beg the obvious...like what (or perhaps more to the point, how) the hell you guys doin' way up here when your distribution chart clearly shows a distinct love for fun in the sun and sands of the desert southwest...Well as I say your reporter is no way near wise enough to answer that one; actually I'm hard pressed to even so much as hazard a guess.

But spying the pair on the Montana bird list did pique my interest so I did a little research and while I still wonder what/how the hell I did learn where the pair showed up...The pyrrhuloxia was observed in Billings; the vermillion flycatcher in Victor...Any way you cut it a far piece from home, eh?

On another track I read this morning Pennsylvania hunters killed nearly 4000 bears in the season just ended; no not a record kill but does rank second all time to I think 2005 when just over 4000 bears bit the dust...And we think we got a lot of bears...

On yet another track this one something of personal tragedy...Annie still is not completely healed from her rattler encounter, (October 20). Although at times you would never know it. Except for the now near hairless, obviously atrophied foot and rear leg in the yard and around the house she appears her old self. But turn her loose on the prairie and she soon tires...The good news is she seems to get a little better each day. As such we continue to hope before the season ends we will at least be able to get in a few licks.

Meanwhile Kate's still hanging in there; perhaps no better but no worse either. Then every once in awhile she makes a point of reminding us the eyes might be gone but the nose still works...Daily we take Annie up into the sagebrush either to actually hunt Huns or just practice on sage hens...Anyway the other afternoon we took Kate along. The wind was blowing pretty good and right out the truck obvious she got a snoot full ...Gale could hardly hold the old girl back...Nose to the wind, bound and determined, and not about to be denied she tugged Gale ever onward... The birds left before she could catch up but still...like how nifty is that

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fly Fishing: Fly Friday

English River Keeper, Frank Sawyer designed the Pheasant Tail Nymph to imitate Baetis nymphs aka blue-wing olives or “olives” as we hoity-toity fly chuckers say. Whatever you call it PT is, if not the oldest of modern nymphs tis right up there. When exactly the first PT dropped from Sawyer’s vice is more than I know but when his book Nymphs and the Trout hit the streets in 1958…well the rest as they say is history. In the half century and change since the original version is all but lost, especially amongst the brethren this side the big pond.

Age aside the PT has to be one most fiddled with nymphs ever—you have your Sawyer PT, Peacock Thorax aka American PT, Olive, Yellow, (you name it) PT, Flashback PT, Soft-hackle PT, Bead-head PT, Bead-head Flash-back, Bead-head Soft Hackle PT, Micro-tube PT (ya got me?) Quasimodo PT and on and on; and yes, no doubt, I missed a few.

One reason for all the fiddling is the PT in its many variations imitates way more than the “olives” as originally intended. To me properly-sized (perhaps tweak the color a bit) mimics close enough just about any mayfly nymph and from what the trout tell me not a bad caddis/yellow sally/calibaetis/chronomids or, as I say, you name it. If I were to guess as to its near universal appeal I’d say Sawyer flat out nailed the silhouette…But who knows? Yet another one those imponderables just is and let it go at that, eh?