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