Tuesday, October 11, 2016


October means steelhead season, time to make the annual drive to Idaho.  I've been doing this for ten years.  I left a fog shrouded Gallatin Valley, full of hope and anticipation, as usual. After a summer of fishing with a three weight fly rod and minuscule trout flies, it was time for a change. Big rod, bigger flies.  Tippet?  No more screwing around with 6X or 7X.  It's ten pound test Maxima.

It's a simple routine.  Up early, out late, usually.  I perk coffee in the predawn dark.  The little single burner propane stove and lantern soon warm the tent and add cheer.  Caffeinated, I drive to the selected morning spot and wait for the light.  

It usually takes me a week of wading, casting, and occasionally falling in just to catch nothing.  So, first morning, I fish a new run.  It's showery, so I don't sling my camera.  Half way through I get a pull.  Line peels from the reel.  The fish jumps, a big one.  He's going downriver, cartwheeling, taking line, backing. Oh boy, this one's pretty special.  Several minutes into the struggle the line goes dead.  Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.  I try to retrieve line. No go, I can't get any back. What's going on?  I pull back with the rod, get an inch or two of line, grudgingly.  Repeat a few times.  I'm perplexed.  Then I get a foot.  I pull again, something pulls back.  Wow, it's still on.  I realize that the fish has wrapped my line around a rock.  I wade out as far as I dare and see the culprit.  A rectangular rock quartered diagonally, pointing to the opposite bank, river right. I pull, the fish pulls back.  We do this, back and forth, angler and fish in a minutes long stalemate mediated by a rock.  I can't believe that we're still attached to each other.  I pull, and pull, and pull.  Inch, by inch, by inch.  Then the line comes free. The fish goes nuts, jumps.  Line peels from the reel, again.

The battle resumes.

I start backing into shallower water, stepping over and slipping on the rocks.  Soon I'm knee deep, getting back line. Minutes later, I've got most of the Scandi head drawn in, then the leader loop approaches the rod tip.  The fish is opposite me, then I lead him upstream.  I can't believe that this is happening.  I let up and the fish drifts down towards me.  I grab the wrist of his tail, drop the rod in the water.  Just then a jet boat goes by.  I victoriously lift the fish. They wave, I smile.  Hell yes I'm happy. Big red stripe, red gill plate, head as big as my hand and outstretched fingers.   Then I notice the adipose.  Nice.  Gosh, what a fish.  I can die now.  The steelhead of a lifetime, mine anyway.  Of course, as I said, no camera.  Not that I could have handled the fish and snapped a photo.

I think that I should quit for the day.  But, it's still early, as in morning.  And, I quit drinking years ago.  Still, I relish the thought of a good beer.  You can have one for me.  

As I exit the river I notice one wading boot is a little sloppy.  No, it's falling off.  What the heck? One of the wires on my Korkers has been severed.  No fixing this.  I head to Lewiston, find a sporting goods store, and buy a new pair.  The old ones were pretty well worn.  Still, I hadn't planned on getting a replacement while on the road.  The new pair does fit pretty good though.

A few more days on the Clearwater and it's off to the Ronde, for a change of venue.

I'm in the water at first light as usual.  I get a grab within first few casts.  Three or four good pulls, then it's gone.  Disappointed, and fearing that I'd missed what may be my only chance for the day, I get out, step back upstream and resume fishing. Soon I get another pull.  It's a spirited fight, the fish jumps several times.  I carefully back out, trying to step over the big rocks. Eventually the fish is near and I close my hand around its tail.  A pretty hen.  An "A run" hatchery fish. This time I snap a few photos while she rests peacefully.  Then I send her on her way.

Later in the day I get another, bigger one, this a "two salt" fish.  No photo.

I must say that it's usually warm and dry, sometimes downright hot when I fish this area in early October.  Pleasant conditions for camping and fishing too.  This year I was not accustomed to, what in my mind, was a "damp" week.  I often woke to the patter of raindrops on the tent fly.  A few drops hitting tight nylon sound like a deluge and can cause paranoia.  Fearing the "reprise of the ark", I'd peer out and see that it was inconsequential.  One morning I woke to a bath tub sized, inch deep puddle outside the tent door.  Try stepping into that at three in the morning.  I did.  Still, fishing under sometimes overcast and drizzly skies was a pleasant respite from heat and bright light, even if the fish didn't cooperate.

And so, the rest of week was slow, productivity wise.  I never touched another fish.  It appears that I'd burned up my luck on the front end of the week.  The remainder of my stay would be devoted to casting practice.  Not a bad thing, except for those moments when my casting went to hell, usually when I got tired.  Still, on average, I think that I did better than in the past, and made more good or at least better casts than poor ones.

On what would be my last day, I drove back over to the Ronde on a surprisingly foggy morning. The drive over Rattlesnake was even slower going, given the near zero visibility.  Halfway down the "other side" it cleared.  

I expected a fish, or at least a pull or two, but got none.  C'est la vie.  It was a beautiful day, damp in the morning but bright for the remainder.  Later, I watched a bald eagle pursue and try to wrestle a fish from an osprey.  That the eagle was nimble enough to chase and stay close was a surprise.

That afternoon, as I drove along the river, I watched a group of anglers, their raft beached, net a fish.  I pulled over and watched as they posed for photographs.  That's the only fish that I saw that day.  Later, I visited with a technician doing creel surveys.  She indicated lots of anglers, little success.  The fish it appears had forgot that it was steelhead season.  At the least, they took the day off.

I had time for one more pass through a favored run and watched as the sun faded from the hills.

So went another year.

And now, it's back to the three weight and 6X or 7X.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Silver Creek Interlude

Spring creeks are singularly beautiful, and Silver Creek in Idaho is no exception. The Silver Creek Preserve is managed by the Nature Conservancy.  It's open to the public for a nominal five dollar daily donation.  While fishing is the main draw, many folks come to bird watch, canoe, walk the trails and take in the scenery.  It's also a photographers dream.

Silver Creek should be on the life list of any spring creek fisher.  And, as a devotee of spring creeks, it's one that I'd wanted to visit.  With a few days off, that fortuitously coincided with a favorable weather window,  I made the drive and was rewarded with a couple of delightful nights of camping.

Daytime temperatures still touched into the eighties and warranted an afternoon break from fishing.  The September nights were most comfortable and capped off with a moonlight serenade of distant bugling elk. A bull moose also included the Hayspur campground in his after dark wanderings.

I only spent two days on Silver Creek.  Let it be said that the fish are constantly harried by some of the best anglers.  I had dues to pay, and they wouldn't be paid in two days.    I wandered, explored and cast to persnickety fish on the first.  I slid the net under a few the next.  A black cdc beetle saved the day.  As a bonus, the "camp water" within the campground was worthy of an hour or two of casting exercise.  Too, those fish were spooky as hell, but I got a few.

Fishing aside, I couldn't get enough of the landscape.  Had I not fished I would have been pleased to wander about with my camera.

Earnest Hemingway was an area resident.  He fished Silver Creek for its trout and hunted ducks too.  Just upstream from Kilpatrick Bridge is this memorial.

Friday, September 2, 2016

First Day Blues


Another year.  Another first day of September.  The traditional opening day of mountain grouse season in Montana.  Older dogs.  Older humans too.  And a pup just to round things out.

Typically, it's warm.  No exception this day. Fortunately a breeze and a few clouds early on  would make for pleasant walking.

Birds?  Not many.  Addie pointed a couple of blue grouse around mid-day.  They gave us the slip.

No shots fired.

For the pup, just another day of adventure........

For the older dogs, another day at the "office".  But it sure beats work!

I later bumped and flushed a single.  A big male blue.  Of course he lit in a tree and peered down at us defiantly.  Treed birds aren't fair game.  When they fly, ok.  He flew.

Shots fired.  He's probably still flying.  At least Katie got a whiff of bird.

One final mid afternoon walk and we were played out.  Katie found part of a deer leg.  She proudly carried it back to the truck.  In her mind the day was a resounding success.

Who needs birds when you've got a bone?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Another Day

Young, dumb and crazy.  Not me anymore.  I pulled the plug on a fishing venture the other day.  I set out to hike to a mountain lake.  I figured that it should have had a few nice ones just ripe for the catching.  

Most of the hike was uneventful, as most trail hikes are.  But the trail ran out.  It was time to bushwhack.  I made my approach and took the direct route, right up the outlet stream that ran through a defile in the mountain.  It was plugged with a large snowfield. No problem I thought. I'll just cross the creek between patches of snow, go as high as possible.  Surely there will be an opening and I'll  be able to rock hop and squirt on through to the lake.

No go.  It just got steeper.  The rocks got wetter.  Crossing the creek got a little more dicy.  I eyed up the rocks.  If its wet I won't jump.  A couple of feet maybe.  Six feet, no way, even with my long gangly legs.  

I got across again.  There appeared to be a gap between the rock wall and the snowfield.  No sweat.  The summer heat surely had melted a space between the wall and the snow I thought.  I'll just squeeze my way through.  Good idea.  Until I got squeezed out.

I pondered.  Maybe I'll back off a bit and hop up onto the snowfield.  I muscled my way onto the snow.  Twice.  Hmm.  It's packed pretty hard.  Steep too. For a mountaineer, with crampons, no problem.  For a chicken with a pair of trekking poles and a salami sandwich. Uh,uh.  I had visions of climbing a ways, losing my footing and schussing back down.  I'm  sure that I be screaming all the way.  The rocks that were waiting below were big and hard.

For some reason the headline "Old dumb bastard killed while trying to go fishing" just didn't sound right.  The old, dumb bastard part didn't bother me.  The killed part didn't have a melodic ring to it though.   At least the creek would wash away the blood.

Like the saying goes, "You have to know when to say when". 

Fish be damned.  I turned and hiked out.  

I'm pondering another route. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Of Peaks and Pachyderms.....

Today I sat atop a pachyderm of epic proportions.  That being one Elephanthead Mountain, elevation 9,430 feet.

Given the spate of hot weather and hoot owl restrictions, hiking would be the order of the day, sans fishing tackle. I wanted to hit the trail early.  But alas, I dallied and made it to the trailhead by 8:30.  Much later than preferred.  I was still recovering from Saturdays extravaganza, wherein I was up at 2:30 and out the door by three, trying to make it to a trailhead in the Beartooths for a morning hike and to catch a fish or two.

So, todays hike would be hiking for the sake of hiking.  Just a little exercise.  Take in a little scenery along the way.

It's a nice hike, maybe nine miles round trip, with a few thousand feet of vertical thrown in.  The road to the trailhead is a little bumpy.  En route, it passes the historic 63 Ranch.

In spite of the late start, I got lucky, much of the trail was still shaded.  It was still comfortably cool, even walking through the open burned areas.

An old skinny bugger like me can make it to the top and back in around six hours.  That's even after stopping occasionally for photos, water, lunch, etc.  A fit hiker can do it in less.  A fat one? Well, maybe never.  Unless they were being chased by a grizzly.

Monday, July 25, 2016


Summer, hiking season.  Time to head to the high country and a visual drink of mountain scenery.  Recently, a couple of hours of steady uphill hiking brought me to the shore of a lovely alpine lake.  I'd been here before.  It was a check up of sorts, to see how the fish were doing.  Like going to a doctor, but hopefully more fun.

There would be a reprieve from the summer biting bugs.  The wind blew all day.  Just enough to keep the little blood sucking bastards at bay.  I never saw a mosquito.  The flies didn't have it in them to harass me either.  So, the DEET stayed in the pack.

There were a few fish rising when I arrived at the lake.   I promptly took a couple on a bead head prince that I twitched back slowly.  What the fish think it represents is beyond me.  A free swimming caddis with a shiny head perhaps.  Regardless, they eat it readily.

Most of the fish appeared to be two year olds.  Quite healthy.  Fat.  Colorful. Scrappy.  West slope cutthroats with a bright red band on the belly.  Simply exquisite.

But, I hoped to encounter survivors of earlier plants.  Four, maybe six year old fish.  There likely would not be many left.  But, those that remained would be notable.

I fished, watched, hoped for a sign.  Then, one swam by.  It's like the old saying, you know when the right one comes along......

Oh my, I'd like to catch that one I thought.

I caught a few more little ones, and wondered how long it would take "the fish" to do a lap around the lake.  Then I lost my prized fly.

What now?  I sat on a rock and rummaged though my fly box. A small black leech with a cone head looked good.  And then I did something I've never done while fishing a mountain lake.  I tied on a dropper, a small prince, no bead, about a foot behind the leech.

Back to fishing.  Cast, let it sink, twitch it back.  There was a steady pull.

Oh my, on the first cast.  There's no mistaking the better fish from the little ones.  When I pulled, it pulled back, with an equal and opposable force.

The fish streaked by.  I noticed a profusion of red.  This one I wanted, if for no reason than to get a closer look.

I'd always thought that char were the prettiest of "trout".  But a west slope cutthroat in full color is a serious rival.  I netted the fish and marveled at its color, shape and overall condition.  The little ones were splendid.  This one, perfect.   If I quit now, I'd be happy, the day consummated with the catch of a perfect fish.  The sundae had been topped with the proverbial cherry.

But I fished my way around the lake.
Mounds of heather (aka mountain heath) bloomed profusely and tinged the landscape with patches of pink.  I stopped often to snap pictures of the ever changing scenery. 

In making the circuit I caught several more fish, some were "nice ones".

Interestingly, roughly half ate the bugger.  You can do the math as regards the prince.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Mr. Foster

I started this post this winter, while sitting and listening to the pop and crackle of a wood stove.  I was leafing through some magazines, occasionally looking out at the mountains, waiting out the wind. While thumbing through one issue, I paused and took note of the editors piece.  I remembered some old correspondence with this particular magazine editor.  Sometimes a brief distant collaboration will leave a lasting memory. His did.

Now, most folks tend to ignore the editors piece, but it's the first thing that I've always read when a new issue comes to print. Some years back I'd established a relationship of sorts with a few magazine editors.  That was back when they all required film.  I was just starting to get a handle on the medium, and was beginning to get a feel for what they wanted as regards photocopy.  But I digress.  David Foster, then editor of Gray's Sporting Journal and I had exchanged a few emails. I'd sent a few basic timid inquiries as to any interest on his part on a photoessay that I'd submitted.  He'd been known to be rather difficult and abrasive at times, other times incredibly warm and sensitive.  I must have caught him at his warmest because he was always cordial in his replies.  Once, he responded at great length about dogs and horses and his family.  At the time, I didn't realize that he was dying from renal cancer.  I was just thrilled that he took the time to answer. I wish that I'd saved that email.

Foster was a dog person.  And recently, the proud owner of a Brittany.  He also had a fondness for Montana.  Being that I'd sent photos of a Brittany, was myself from Montana and whose wife also happened to be hunting in Montana with said Brittany, he took interest in the piece and found it in his heart to publish it.  A year later he accepted and published another wingshooting piece.  Then he was gone, as are the dogs featured in those pieces.  

Time passes, but memories and images last.  Thanks to David Foster, I can still open one of those old issues of Gray's and relive those moments.  Lucy is still pointing blue grouse in some high mountain meadow.  Meanwhile, Zach  is pointing shadows in a willow patch in the Aleutians. 

He gave me a chance to at least briefly believe that I was a photographer who could produce something of value that would be worthy of gracing the pages of a respected magazine.

So here's to old dogs and Mr. Foster, and thanks....

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...