Thursday, November 18, 2010

Invasive Mussels in Flathead Lake?

FWP is reporting that it may have found the larvae of invasive mussels in the northern end of Flathead Lake. More testing is needed to confirm. Read the full story on FWP's website. Let's hope that this turns out to be a false alarm.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Black Cat Crossed My Path...

I've never been the superstitious type, but I may have to reconsider in light of a recent event. Here's the story:

We were driving back from a hunting and fishing trip at Fort Peck Reservoir. Miles and miles of dirt roads...over 50 miles from our campsite to the nearest pavement. The trip had been fantastic. A week of wall tent camping with daily excursions for mule deer or a short walk down to the water to fish. By the end, our group harvested two mule deer, but the overall amount of wildlife we saw was amazing. The Fort Peck area is home to just about everything that walks or swims in Montana, surrounded by bountiful public lands...truly a sportsman's paradise. I digress, back to the story...

So here we are bumping along down this road in the middle of nowhere, and this black cat trots across in front of us, briefly pausing to ominously glare before running off into the sea of sagebrush. Honestly, at the time, the thought of it being a sign of bad things to come never crossed my mind. My last thought as the cat ran off was wondering why this kitty was roaming so far from the safety of a ranch house. Let's face it, it is a rough neighborhood out there with the likes of coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and eagles around.

Unfortunately, the first of the bad luck was not long in showing up. Although, the wrong turn was really a minor inconvenience, it did cut into our carefully rationed gasoline supply and left us sweating a little as we managed to get into Lewistown. After that, it was smooth sailing all the way through Big Timber and onto I-90 for the cruise home. It was this moment, however, that the evil kitty had portended way back on the open prairie. It came out of the darkness, just a quick flash as it suicidally tried to cross the interstate. And then we collided. A nice '93 White Ford Bronco (O.J. Simpson Edition) with a good size whitetail buck. Needless to say, it turned out worse for the deer than for us. Our radiator was still intact and not leaking, and after some repositioning of the bumper with rope we were able to drive the rest of the way home. With one headlight, naturally.

Damn cat.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Hot-Spotting"

A term describing a media event where an otherwise small and unknown fishery is thrown into the spotlight. The results usually include a flood of new anglers to the area, typically overwhelming and significantly degrading the fishery until the crowd moves on to the next hot spot. Most seasoned writers and fisherman will never succumb to this low behavior, but there are always newcomers to the industry who are willing to sacrifice these spots to help jump start their career. It happens in magazines, newspapers, and in film.

True to form, there is a new show hitting the air this season that has followed this path. Trout TV is a show that evidently has a lot of Montana content, and is giving away some treasured areas to a national audience. To their credit, they have also covered some more acceptable and mainstream fisheries, but some of what they are doing flat out crosses the line.

The reaction in many local angling circles has been disgust, and many fisherman are taking to contacting the shows sponsors (Redington, Rainy’s Flies, and Carharrt) asking them to drop the show. There have been e-mails circulating with this information trying to get as many people as possible to contact their sponsors. It shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out where I stand on the issue...I have already written my letters, and I hope others do as well. There are many fisheries in our state and around the country that can absorb high levels of fishing pressure, and there are those small and out of the way places that just become overwhelmed. The unfortunate consequence of hotspotting is that these fisheries are essentially ruined until the hype wears off eventually allowing fish populations to rebound. Hopefully, by the time an ethical fisherman becomes an outdoor writer, he is aware of this phenomenon and can make a responsible decision about what areas to publicize. The folks over at Trout TV evidently haven’t reached that level of maturity yet.

Great way to start your inaugural season guys.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Follow-up Report: Smoked Brook Trout

In a previous blog post, Eastern Invaders, I alluded to a future attempt at smoking brook trout. Well, before a recent hunting trip, I decided that it would be nice to have some gourmet hors d'oeuvres while hanging out in the wall tent. So I got motivated and soaked a bunch of the little buggers in a simple brine mix of salt, sugar, and water. I dragged my Bradley smoker out of the garage, neatly arranged the fish on the racks, and fired it up. After several hours the fish hit an internal temperature of 140 degrees, and I pulled them out. The results were flavorful and fantastic. After pairing the end product with cream cheese and triscuits, it was rapidly devoured in camp. I, unfortunately, am now out of stock and I am not sure if I will get back out to resupply.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Who's a Sucker?

A few weeks ago, while I was fishing in western Montana, I caught one of my target native fish species the largescale sucker. We have abundant and healthy populations of this chunky fish in our western rivers. The fish is actually native to almost all rivers in the Pacific drainage from the Skeena in B.C. to the Sixes in Oregon. The largescale is one of two suckers found in western Montana, the other species being the longnose. These fish are frequently found together in the same habitat and reportedly can even hybridize. They can get rather large (up to 23" and 6lbs) with the larger fish usually being about 8-11 years old.

Don't let the name sucker fool you into thinking that these fish are passive eaters. They can be aggressive, and as I experienced will even hit artificial lures. I had a large fish inhale the back end of a Rapala lure, and then take off for the next county. These fish are strong, energetic and a lot of fun to fish for. I am trying something new on this post, and am going to put up a short underwater video of a release. Nothing groundbreaking here, but you can get a sense of the power and quickness these fish.

Suckers are actually an intriguing family of fish. There are about 65 species (and counting) in North America, and suckers are found nowhere else in the world. Except for a few species in eastern Russia. Here in Montana, we have 9 native species of fish from this family. Suckers are clearly a victim of bad perception. Just the word "sucker" has a long legacy of negative connotation in our language...in fact, I can't think of a situation where that word has been used in a positive manner. Don't let the name fool into thinking that they suck up garbage to eat, suckers can easily sort out the edible bits of food from the inedible parts. This also includes an ability to separate a worm from a hook. Suckers have an uncanny ability to detect hooks with their sensitive mouths and detecting a strike can sometimes be very challenging. Obviously, they get their name from how they feed on the bottom, but this behavior is in fact a great survival strategy. Because of this highly effective feeding strategy, suckers may just be one of the most productive in the country. They can create big populations of large fish (2-5lbs average) without even affecting other species.

What most people probably don't realize about suckers is that they really require clean, unpolluted water. The presence of a good population of suckers in a river is a great barometer of the water quality and river health. Suckers are highly adaptable fish, but cannot tolerate pollution or siltation...both of which are unfortunate consequences of modern development and industry.

video

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Good News for Fish in the NW

I may be a bit behind others in reporting this, but good news deserves to be repeated. As reported by many sources, the Obama administration has greatly expanded the critical habitat designation for the threatened bull trout. This decision will greatly benefit not only bull trout, but all fish species by improving overall water quality. Here is a good recap by OregonLive.

Bull Trout may just be my favorite fish. Lots of reasons for this...size, aggression, historically maligned, etc. Hooking into a big bull on the fly can really create an adrenaline rush, especially when you realize just how powerful these fish are. I truly hope that these fish make a strong comeback, and that more areas to fish for them will open up. If we, in the fishing industry, work to change the image of this fish...then it will lead to even stronger conservation efforts. Sportsmen can provide essential means and motivation to help threatened species.

I'm glad that the Bush-era policy has been changed, and that the notorious Julie Mcdonald is no longer at the helm...I wonder sometimes what she is doing for work these days. Maybe she began a new career in the fast-food industry, after all her last name fits the bill. Wherever she is, we can be happy that she is no longer interfering with these types of decisions. The increase in protected habitat is about 5 times greater than before...and includes 3,056 miles of streams and 221,471 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Montana.

Hot Diggety

Monday, October 18, 2010

Good to Be Home

I returned home the other night...promptly turning my house into a disaster zone. Stuff has literally been strewn everywhere, and I have been busy trying to put things away. The trip was a great success. I caught one of the fish of my list, and I shot a bull elk, which provides me with an ample supply of meat for the winter.

I fished in western Montana for a bit, trying hard to get a pikeminnow. I have previously caught these fish in other states, and was surprised that I was having such a hard time catching one. I decided to switch tactics and move locations. I was quickly rewarded with a bite, and I landed a chunky largescale sucker. I fished that spot some more and it turned it out to be swarming with these fish. I caught and released several large fish. Watch for a more detailed post on this native fish, as I hope to be able to provide more information about them.

Next on the trip was elk hunting in Idaho. As light began to fill the sky on opening morning, I was fortunate to find myself watching a herd work along a hillside feeding. I followed and continued to watch, waiting for a opportunity for a shot at a nice bull in the group. Hours later the chance came as the bull worked uphill away from the group, and into a break in the timber. One shot from my .45/70 quickly dropped the animal and ended the hunt. As any hunter knows, this is when the real work began. I made several heavy pack trips up the steep hillside, and then along an old roadbed back to camp. By the time it was over I was completely worn-out and looking forward to a couple of days of just hanging around camp caring for the meat. I returned home on Sunday with coolers full of elk meat, bags of stinky clothes, and a bunch a great memories.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Heading West

I'm on the road again. Heading to the land where the rivers flow to the mighty Pacific. More specifically, I am just going to cross the divide and hang out in western Montana and also Idaho. I have a few goals to attain. The first part of my trip will be dedicated to catching a few of the native fish species from the area. I hope to catch a Northern Pikeminnow (a.k.a. Squawfish), a Peamouth Chub, and maybe even a Largescale Sucker. There may even be some intentional angling for other species such as Northern Pike and Largemouth Bass. I won't have a lot of time to fish, however, as I am also expected to arrive in Idaho for an annual elk hunt.

This elk hunt is definitely a tradition. I have been hunting elk in the same place in Idaho for the last 10 years, and the season always begins on the 10th of October. It doesn't matter if the 10th falls on a Wednesday, that will always be opening day. I think I prefer the way Montana does it, making sure that opening day is on a weekend...as it is just more convenient that way. In fact, Montana took the extra step this year and changed the opener to a Saturday instead of Sunday. Amazingly, some common sense exists within our state government. One has to be careful about how many "traditions" to get involved with. Once a trip or hunt becomes a tradition, it has been elevated to a sacred level. That typically means that there is no way you are allowed to not participate on any given year. Well, at some point a guy can get overly committed. The danger really lies in not being able to fulfill all of these commitments. Not being able to attend one of these sacred events will inevitably get you in trouble with some of your friends, while an uncompromising attitude will just get you in trouble at work.

I leave early in the morning and will be away from my blog until the 16th or 17th of the month. I hope some of you will continue to visit, and maybe take this opportunity to visit the archives. I will resume blogging with a trip report that will hopefully contain photos of some new native fish species...and maybe a bull elk. See you soon!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Locals May Stare...

They saw us coming from a ways off, but didn't know what to think just yet. All they knew was that a unknown white pick-up had made the turn into their sleepy Montana town, and was slowing creeping down the unpaved Main Street. Few strangers would make the turn, as the town consisted of only a few run down buildings and a post office...but our quest for a bar after a long, hot day of fishing had brought us here.

There were four of them, stereotypically leaning against an beat-up truck. They all had cowboy hats on, they all had plaid shirts, and all of them were eying us with a uneasy look of suspicion. As we got closer, with our windows down, we could distinctly overhear comments about us. "I don't know him," one said, while another chipped in "Those were the guys parked down by the bridge fishin'. Where do you suppose they're from?" They were held momentarily in suspense as we passed them by, and then you could see them all lean forward as one to get a glimpse at our license plate. They all could clearly read the plate which began with the all-telling number 6. They all knew what that meant, and we could easily hear as they drawled out the word "BOZE-MAN" with a note of contempt.

My buddy and I looked at each other, but he beat me to it by saying "Maybe we should just get a beer back home." I agreed, as the bar was clearly devoid of life anyhow, and we turned the truck around at the other side of town. We drove by the four locals again on our way out, they were still leaning on the truck unabashedly glaring and an instinctual friendly wave that I threw up went unanswered.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Letter to a Missing Net

Dear Brodin Net,

I miss you, please come home. I don’t know how to say it more plainly. At the very least call me and explain why you left me for a riverbank on the Yellowstone River. Ever since you left last week, I have felt alone, lost, and confused…stumbling around familiar rivers struggling to land fish. I even looked for another net at the store, but I just wasn’t ready to move on. We have had too many great memories together for you to just up and leave like this. How could you just walk away from the life we made together? Maybe if we could just take the time to talk it over we could work through our problems. Maybe you could give me another chance.

I have taken the time recently to reflect upon our long relationship. I always felt that we were a great team…you knew just how to hang on my back and were always ready for a quick dip in the water to land a fish. Think of all the fish that we landed together! I know that sometimes I was rough on you…making you work extra hard to land oversize fish. You complained the time I made you land a huge bull trout in Oregon, and you weren’t real happy about that Missouri River rainbow either. You were always up to the task though, and together we never let a big one get away.

I hope that the riverbank you have found has a great view, and lets you rest your weary frame. If you do decide to come home, I promise to give you that refinishing job that you have been asking for. If not, and you decide to make your home with another angler…I hope he treats you well, and appreciates your ability. Just remember that you can return anytime and will always have a place to call home.

- A Forsaken Angler

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Arctic Dreams

Years ago, I read Barry Lopez's book Arctic Dreams, and that began a fascination with the arctic that still persists. It hasn't helped to hear all of the incredible stories from returning fishermen, and to see that look in their eyes as they describe a trip of a lifetime. I hope (know) that someday I will make the journey north, but for now I must be content with the small bits of the arctic I can find here in Montana.

Montana does offer a unique arctic-like angling experience that can be found nowhere else in the lower 48 states. We are home to a native and wild population of fluvial Arctic Grayling. This beautiful salmonid graces some of our rivers and streams, but is unfortunately struggling to survive. The fish should be protected under the ESA, but the USFWS recently released its decision saying that listing is "warranted but precluded." Seems like I've heard that one before. For more information about this check out BHWC Grayling Report. The stronghold for this species in the state is without a doubt the Big Hole River, but it can also be found in the upper Ruby River and it has been stocked into some mountain lakes.

I had caught grayling out of mountain lakes before, but I truly desired to pursue the native fluvial strain in their original range. My frequent fishing companion, Will (111 Degrees West) also had similar ambitions so we set out on a journey to a high mountain valley drainage that still contains native fish. Since my experience with grayling up to this point was only in lakes, I was prepared to cast dry flies and expected near suicidal responses from the fish. As I worked up the stream, however, nothing would rise or flash and you could have almost convinced yourself that there were no fish around. I can honestly say that it was very different than fishing for them in a lake. These wild fish were wary and held tight to in-stream structure. They were not interested in a dry fly, and you had to put a nymph enticingly close to get them to swirl out in a brilliant flash of silver and blue. We slowly began to figure out the nuances of the fishery, and pretty soon we were catching fish out of every hole. Most of the fish were about 12" or so, but I did manage one larger fish of 16" with a striking split dorsal fin. By far my best grayling ever and I was lucky to have the professional camera lens of Will nearby to get some great images of this piece of my arctic dream.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Free Flowing

The Yellowstone River has been a huge part of Montana's history, and still is today. On any given day, you will find people out recreating all along the hundreds of miles of river. From Gardiner down through Yankee Jim Canyon, you can find many enjoying a day of whitewater thrills. From there all the way down to Big Timber, you will primarily see drift boats and rafts full of guides and fisherman. Further downstream, you will begin to see jetboats plying the river maybe looking for a large Smallmouth Bass or a huge Channel Catfish. There are also countless oppurtunites for overnight camping. Many of the fishing access sites offer more developed campsites, while there is camping allowed on the countless islands and below the high water mark. The Yellowstone River, at 692 miles, is the longest free flowing river in the lower 48 states. Here are some statistics for just the portion in Montana.

555 - River Miles in Montana
200 - River Miles of Blue Ribbon Trout Water
47 - Fishing Access Sites
12 - Wildlife Management Areas
2 - State Parks

This mighty river has the ability to produce some amazing peak flows. This year the river (near the mouth) peaked at close to 60,000 cfs. In 2004, after years of drought, that number was only 25,000 cfs. In 1978, in was ripping through at 111,000 cfs. The all-time recorded peak appears to be back in 1952 when it crested at 138,000 cfs. This type of flow could happen any year, since the river has no flood control reservoirs. Something to think about before building that expensive riverside home.

The river is home to almost all fish species native east of the continental divide. Of the species on my list, 22 or 66% occur in this waterway. With the hope of catching another native species on my list, I recently set out for a two-day trip on the river. The stretch I wanted to do had some sections of slower water, so I decided to take the canoe...although I knew there were some sections of fairly rough water. At this time of year, the river is at very low flows and I was hoping to capitalize on this to help me catch a couple of my target species. The first day, the wind was howling and our main focus was controlling the boat. We did stop and fish at some prime looking spots and managed a few trout and whitefish. That evening the wind died and the weather cleared into an amazing evening. I set out some lines hoping to catch the elusive burbot at night. Erica made a great fire of driftwood and we grilled up some venison burgers for dinner. I sat up late that night, drinking some beer and hoping for some nighttime action, but I caught nothing. The next morning as we paddled on, I landed a nice brown trout and some more whitefish...but no new species for my quest. The trip can only be called succesful though. We covered 25 miles of amazing country on this trip. The cottonwoods were turning into their golden fall colors, and the wildlife was abundant. The weather was warm and sunny as we took advantage of these last drops of summer.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The $25 Whitefish

During this last week, a couple of friends visited from back east. Pennsylvania to be precise. While fishing was not the intended purpose of their trip, they eagerly jumped at the idea to extend their trip and spend an afternoon floating down the Yellowstone. We decided on a short float, as we were unable to get on the water until the afternoon. So the stretch we picked was Carter's Bridge down to the 9th St. Bridge in Livingston, which is just about 4 river miles.

The weather turned out to be sunny and warm but the wind really picked up during the afternoon. This is a fairly common occurrence on this river...actually the wind on the Yellowstone is rather notorious. With the upstream wind slowing our drift, we lazily moved down the river casting our flies to the bank. At most of the nicer runs, we would pull over and work the water pretty well. Nick was the first to hook up on a trout, and landed a chunky rainbow that jumped at least 6 times during the fight. John was quick to catch a fish too, but he managed a native whitefish and lost another. Overall, the whitefish dominated our fishing and few trout ended up in the net.

The whole deal about a $25 whitefish is that John had to buy a 2-day fishing liscense, which cost him $25. This turned out to be the only fish he landed all day. The overall trip, however, was much more valuable. While John was standing in the river, he had a large black bear come down to the river literally right in front of him. The bear offered much more than just a fleeting glimpse as it worked downstream from us. On top of that, as we came around a brushy island we had a very close encounter with three moose...one of which was a bull. So often, you meet anglers who judge the value of their day on the water only by quantifying the number or size of fish caught. Just a day spent floating down an river, even without fishing, can be a welcome reprieve from daily life. Remember the old saying..."A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work."

Monday, September 20, 2010

The High Country

The weather promised to heat up over the weekend...at least that was what the local news station was advertising. Personally, I wasn't buying it. I had spent most of the day Friday standing waist deep in the Gallatin River and shivering while fishing to a great Baetis hatch. The sky was dark, the wind cold, and it was easy to imagine snowflakes drifting down at any time. By the time I was back home that evening, I had completely written off my weekend plans to backpack miles into the high country for some fishing and bird hunting. The late night news, however, still persisted with their optimistic report...there's no way I thought, and went to bed.

I didn't wake up early the next morning. I lazily strolled into the kitchen, and got my first view up at the mountains. The sky was bright blue, there was no fresh snow up high, and all of a sudden I felt stupid for not believing the local weatherman. Oh well, you can't blame a Montanan for being pessimistic about the weather...but now it was up to me to make up for lost time. As things stood, I wasn't in the best shape to hurry out the door. My gear was all neatly stowed away in scattered places throughout my home...this was going to take a little longer than I hoped. Backpack, check. Headlamp, check. Why didn't I do this last night? Tent, check. Sleeping bag, check. The list slowly grew and eventually my pack stood there ready to go.

Toby finally swings by, we load up, and speed off. Toby can always be counted on for any adventure...but he needs to get previous written permission from his wife. Thankfully, she supported this trip and even let him bring along the family dog Coco for some "bird training." The parking lot at the trailhead was eerily empty as we came grinding in...I guess nobody believed the weather guy. By now, we were down to shorts and t-shirts as we headed into the Spanish Peaks Wilderness. The first miles promised to be a relatively easy warm-up for the final climb up to timberline. We casually chatted, the hiking felt good, but in the back of our heads we knew that pain was soon to come. It soon appeared in the form of 2,000+ feet of vertical gain that we had to overcome before nightfall. A little ways up I had to remind myself..this is fun. By the time we set-up camp that night it took a good portion of our whiskey supply before that phrase was mentioned again.

I can never sleep late while camping, I am always wide awake at first light. Why can't it be that easy to wake-up at home? The morning sunrise washed all fatigue away from my legs...for Toby it took a big mug of Starbucks Via, but we were both anxious to get on the move. These high timberline meadows are the prime habitat for the blue grouse, and we were hoping to find a few before the end of our trip. Coco led the way as we began to spread out and look for birds. Wings flapped, guns fired, and we managed to get a total of four grouse between us. For Coco, bird hunting was a new experience and she learned a lot. We arrived at one meadow and spotted two nice grouse in the grass. Unfortunately, Coco did too and went charging pell-mell after them causing them to flush too far out. Thankfully, blue grouse never fly that far and we were still able to pick up one of those birds.

We arrived back at the trailhead after slogging back through 80 degree heat. Two days ago, the temperature barely reached 50 degrees. Compared to when we arrived, the parking lot was packed to overflowing with vehicles...the word had finally got around that the weather was nice. This trip served to illustrate how tough it can be to make advance plans for camping in Montana. The weather is fickle to say the least, and one has to flexible and ready on short notice. Probably the best method I have found, is to make a list of a variety of trips and to pick an appropriate one depending on the current conditions. I also made a resolution to have my backpack basically pre-packed in the closet, but as I write this I am looking at camping equipment strewn around the floor. I doubt it will all get put away in the same place.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Eastern Invaders

September is a great time of year, as we start to get our first frosts and snow in the mountains. For many, the defining event of the month is the annual elk rut and coinciding archery season. Many Montanans and others from all over are out prowling the mountains listening for the resonating sound of an elk bugle. There is, however, another smaller event happening in the fishing world at the same time...as this is the time of year that brook trout choose to spawn and show of their brilliant colors.

Now, I have to admit that I am big fan of brook trout. The history of fly-fishing in America really revolves around this little fish, and I would be hard pressed to think of a more gorgeous fish. With that said, I can now say that I wish that they weren't in Montana. This fish has flourished in our cold, clear headwater streams and successfully out-competed the native cutthroats that were there originally. The brook trout can reproduce swiftly and in many streams they will over-populate and stunted growth results. The issue gets even more complicated in western Montana where brook trout overlap with populations of our native bull trout. These two fish are closely related and can readily hybridize producing sterile offspring. Bull Trout caught with vermiculations on their back are the classic example of this. Unfortunately, the brook trout has caused a serious headache in Montana and now the taxpayer must help fund the resulting eradication efforts. This was the case here locally when government agencies decided to poison these trout (and others) out of Cherry Creek. This creek flows mainly through Ted Turner's Flying D ranch, and so Ted was willing to foot a large portion of the bill. Without going into to much detail about the controversy, I would just like to applaud the effort to help restore native cutthroats...especially when private parties are involved financially. Brilliant. Projects like these are what will help to keep the Westslope Cutthroat off of the endangered species list, and keep federal wildlife management out of the state.

For the average angler, perhaps the best contribution we can make is to knock a few of these eastern invaders on the head. There are several great reasons:

1. Brook trout are very tasty
2. Brook trout are just the right size for the average frying pan
3. Getting the occasional meal helps out with the cost of a license
4. You are being conservation-minded
5. There is a liberal 20-fish limit on "brookies"

Your contribution may seem insignificant, but if it catches on we may have a real impact. The Teton River in Idaho/Wyoming is a great example of anglers seriously diminishing brook trout populations. I know that I will be prowling some mountain streams looking to put a few in the freezer for the winter. Hmmmm...Maybe I should trying smoking them this year.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trip Report: Yellowstone River 9/12/2010

Cold, wet weather has been hanging around SW Montana for the last week, gently but firmly reminding us that winter weather is not all that far away. The cold weather finally broke this last weeked, changing to blues skies and warmer temperatures. With the rising barometer, I was fortunate enough to find myself invited along for a day of floating and fishing on the Yellowstone River. Sunday morning, Toby, Scott, and I all met up for the drive to Grey Owl FAS. Toby is a great friend and frequent fishing buddy, who is also a Native Fish representative. Scott Bohr is a seasoned angler, and a top-notch local guide that can be requested through shops like the River's Edge. Scott has fished and guided for many years on waters such as the South Fork of the Sanke, Henry's Fork, and the Yellowstone. His reputation precedes him and he has guided such notables as former VP Dick Cheney.

Today, however, was a casual fishing adventure. We began floating fairly early in the day, and not surprisingly most of the first fish we caught were on nymphs. As the day progressed and warmed up, we began to see fish rising to a swarming hatch of tricos. After this, we promptly switched to the dry fly and stuck with it for the remainder of the float. The fishing really picked up in the afternoon, with fish constantly hitting a well-presented fly. If our hook-sets had been as good as our casting, we would have boated a lot more fish. As it was, we still managed a good number of fish...mostly rainbows and cutthroats. I was happy to see such large, healthy cutthroats in the river. I enjoyed watching the slow and deliberate rise of these fish from the boat. The browns never made much of an appearance, and I can only remember bringing one to the boat. The whitefish, of course, were around and willing to hit a nymph or dry. As we got close to our take-out, Toby hooked and landed the big fish of the day...a gorgeous 17" rainbow with plenty of heft and color. It turned out to be a great note to end on.

The day was a great float, and maybe a final summer send-off as we now begin our transition to autumn. It is hard to imagine finding better company than Scott and Toby to spend all day in a boat with. I'm sure that our constant laughter was heard echoing all along the Yellowstone River, from Grey Owl to Mallards.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

FFF Conclave 2010

I was fortunate enough to find myself attending this years FFF Conclave in West Yellowstone, MT. I was helping to staff the booth of Montana Sporting Journal during the event. I was also able to sell my Montana Native T-shirts as well. Having attended and participated in industry shows in the past, I can honestly say that this show was one of the most educational. Fly tyers from around the nation and world converged on this small Montana town to demonstrate tying many unique patterns. I wish I would have been able to sit down and learn from each one.

I did manage to sit in on a few lessons and meet some fly fishing personalities. One tyer I met was Whiting Pro Staff member "Rusty" Dunn. He was an exceptionally friendly guy, and I learned a great new small streamer pattern that he calls "No Name Minnow." Not a real creative name, but I really like the looks of the pattern and can't wait to try it out. Rusty and his friends had just recently completed the Wyoming Cutt-Slam and were on a mission to locate a native Montana grayling. I couldn't help but to point him in the right direction. Another pattern that caught my attention is a classic fly named the "Tellico Nymph" that has been around for ages, but is not used much anymore. I have to confess that I am intrigued by this fly and the potential of several color variations. Hopefully this old pattern is still effective. I was really impressed with the patterns and tying demonstration given by Nate Brumley of Dry Fly Innovations. He very clearly and effectively showed how to do an extremely difficult skill in tying. This is the single upright quill wing for mayfly patterns. This is a very realistic and dynamic fly, but learning to tye the wing correctly is tough.

Perhaps the highlight of the show for me, however, was being able to sit and watch Montana legend Craig Mathews demonstrate tying some of his effective patterns. Craig is the owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, and the creator of some legendary patterns such as the Iris Caddis, Sparkle Dun, and the Zelon Midge. Today he was tying his Improved Sparkle Dun and watching him really helped simplify the fly. Overall, the show was outstanding and had many outstanding fisherman and tyers in attendance. I know I saw Rene Harrop, Tom Morgan, Craig Mathews, Scott Sanchez, Bob Jacklin, Kelly Galloup, and I also met many others. Just the small amount of time I had to sit and learn from some of these masters was enough to put my brain into overload. A guy would have to bring a large notebook, camera, and the mental preparation to learn the equivalent of a doctorate in fly tying in 3 days. I hope the conclave is nearby next year, and that I am able to be there again.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Remember the Little Guys

I have been talking a lot lately about our native trout species, so I wanted to switch it up and talk about something different. Part of my quest to catch all of these native fish includes catching some of the little guys. Although I omitted the tiny minnow species from the list, there are still some that just never get large. Like the Stonecat (Noturus flavus), which happens to be the smallest catfish species in Montana.

Here are a couple of interesting notes about the Stonecat in Montana. The fish is widespread through out the Missouri River drainage even into the upper reaches as far as the headwaters of the Ruby River. The mystery is "how did it manage to get over the great falls?" This natural barrier has blocked all other species from working up the Missouri, but not the Stonecat. Also, I found a mention that the first Stonecat to be caught in the state (and recorded) was at Craig in the summer of 1892...at night.

For many anglers in Montana, the stonecat is called a variety of names such as bait-robber, bait-pecker, and a mix of others with the same theme. These obviously reference the ability and frequency with which these fish can find your bait. I admit, having experienced it, that these fish can turn into pests. I remember fishing on the Missouri this spring at a great looking spot, and catching nothing but Stonecats which seemed to find my bait the second it hit the bottom. I just had to move on, as I couldn't catch anything else. I find it amazing that these little fish can swallow such a large hook. You would think that they would realize that something was wrong, but they don't seem to mind large metal objects in their food. The other fact about these fish that tends to annoy fisherman is that they have venomous spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins. These spines are capable of inflicting a painful sting about like a bee's. Handled carefully, however, the odds of feeling this is very small. Just be sure to hold the fish behind its fins.

It is important to remember that many of our native species are rather small, but that doesn't make them unimportant. Stonecats are food for other species in the river...like Sauger and even Freshwater Drum. I remember catching a nice sauger that had a large stonecat in it's stomach and still had the tail sticking out. So, if you happen to catch one of these little guys remember to handle with care (for your sake) and throw 'em back. You might consider throwing 'em back with a hook as bait...you might catch a big sauger.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In Praise of the Golden Stone...

Few items in any trout's diet is as big and meaty as a stonefly. Most of the attention, however, is given to the undisputed heavyweight...the Salmonfly (Pteronarcys californica). This insect is huge with nymphs and adults commonly over 2 inches long. The large black nymphs represent an important food source, and almost every angler's fly box has an imitation or two.

Yet as common and important as the salmonfly is, there is also another stonefly around that is truly important to anglers...the Golden Stonefly. What we refer to as Golden Stoneflies, are actually comprised of two different species. The largest of these is Hesperoperla pacifica while there is another smaller species Calineuria californica. Most fisherman are acutely aware of the golden stone hatch each year. These large insects flutter around the river like b-52 bombers, and the trout can really key in on them. Not as many anglers, however, use the nymph imitations of a golden stone, choosing instead to go with the large black nymphs of the salmonfly. What they don't realize is that golden stone nymphs are significantly more abundant and widespread in many freestone rivers. Don't believe me? Well, then start turning over rocks in the river and count stonefly nymphs. I predict that you will find more golden stones to salmonflies by a ratio of at least 6:1.

With this in mind, I set out this summer to try and capitalize on this knowledge. I have tried many stonefly nymph patterns, but I have come up with one that I have found to be consistently more effective than most. I call it the "Black & Tan" and it is an easy fly to tie. I attribute it's effectiveness to the the black/tan color and matching hackle and to the inherent action of a soft-hackle fly. Tie up a couple and try them...and then let me know what you think.

Tail and Antennae: Brown Biots
Body: Black/Tan Variegated Chenille w/Gold Wire
Thorax: Black/Tan Chenille
Soft Hackle: Matching black/tan feather from flank of Ruffed Grouse wrapped in wide wraps over chenille thorax.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wilderness Cutthroats

Perhaps no other native fish species gets as much attention in Montana as cutthroat trout. I guess the reasons are fairly obvious...fisherman, especially fly fisherman, love trout. This has really been illustrated when I sell my "Native Fish" t-shirts. I offer four species, and the two cutthroat trout shirts are by far the most popular. I have an arctic grayling shirt available, but many times customers have never heard of them. I'm not complaining, as I love cutthroats as much as anyone and I believe that any attention given to native species is a good thing. I even saw a show on Montana PBS recently about cutthroat trout called "Rising From the Shadows." Which was a great program by the way.

With large cutthroats and other trout on my mind, I set out last Friday to explore a wilderness stretch of river north of Yellowstone Park. We left Bozeman early, and after a quick stop at Dan Bailey's in Livingston, we made great time to the trailhead. After strapping on our backpacks and bear spray we hoofed it several miles to our target destination. Weather in Montana is always volatile and unpredictable. I have seen it snow just about every month of the year, and temperatures can quickly drop when cold Canadian air works it's way down the continental divide. Unfortunately for us, this was exactly the situation we found ourselves in. Here it was early August, and it was cold, wet, and raining continuously. Not to be deterred and with our hoods up, we stubbornly fished our hopper patterns and were rewarded with several nice brown trout early on. The browns later switched to caddis emergers, and my friend was having a field day sight fishing with a Lafontaine sparkle pupa. While he was working the risers, I headed up river in search of yellowstone cutthroats. I probably hiked up another mile before I found some great looking pools for fishing. I was soon rewarded, as a beautiful cutt hit my fly on the first drift. The fish was gorgeous and it's belly was a fiery red. I continued fishing and landed another half-dozen beautiful cutts and two rainbow trout.

This is not a big river, in fact it could probably be referred to as a creek. However, this river is really an amazing fishery, producing an average size of fish that is greater than many other waters. I saw five different species of fish on my trip...Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Mountain Whitefish, and some Longnose Suckers. On an interesting side note, on a trip to this river two years ago I landed a large cutthroat that had every appearance of being a westslope. (see photo)










The fish are distributed in a classic pattern with the brown trout further down river and in slower water and the cutthroats further upriver. I am always saddened to see rainbow trout mixed in with the cutts, and I definitely caught some obvious hybrids. (See Photo) This river does have a natural barrier falls, but I know that there are currently rainbows above these falls. Since this barrier already exists, however, I believe that this river would be an outstanding candidate for restoration work.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Incidental Catches

One of the greatest feelings in fishing is that moment when you set the hook and get that first sensation of a fish at the end of your line. In that moment, we begin to mentally assess many things...most notably the size and the species. In areas with a rich diversity of fish species, we may never figure out just what we have on until we manage to bring it to the surface. This unknown is one allure of fishing...we just don't know what may be down there, and what we might catch.

Around my homewaters, however, there just really isn't a rich diversity of species. If I go out fly fishing on the Gallatin River, I can pretty much be assured of catching a brown trout, a rainbow trout, and a mountain whitefish. On rare occasions, I might pick up an errant cutthroat or brook trout. I feel that I can differentiate between the three major species just by the feel on the line. A rainbow gives a frantic, jerky fight and frequently jumps, a brown gives a more determined battle frequently with long runs. A whitefish, well they tend to be spastic and irregular...but they all have this twitching problem.

The other day, I was nymphing a run on the lower Gallatin that I have fished many, many times before. The evening was already going well, and I had landed several nice trout. As I watched, my indicator dipped and I set the hook into a large, heavy fish. I noticed right of the bat that this fight felt really different. The fish was very strong, but it made slow and determined pulls trying to stay put on the bottom. The fish only showed me a couple of flashes, but instead of silver there was a strange bluish hue that seemed almost luminescent. I landed the fish and it turned out to be a longnose sucker...my first on a fly rod, and the first I have ever seen or heard of being caught in the Gallatin River.

Catching something new in my homewaters was a thrill for me, as I love catching a variety of species. For many, however, incidental catches such as this are viewed with disgust. Who wants to catch a sucker? (Besides me) Suckers and whitefish have both been historically labeled as trash fish, and this legacy persists today. As my friend pointed out, "That sucker is sure lucky that you were the one who caught it." He was right, as another fisherman probably would have ignorantly thrown this native fish up on the bank to die. Incidental catches will always happen...whether it is a bull trout out of the Blackfoot, or a sucker out of the Gallatin. It is just part of fishing, and I believe that it is our responsibility as anglers to correctly identify and safely release native species. This simple, ethical act goes a long ways towards conservation.