Friday, August 22, 2014


Insanity defined.  Repeating a task, and expecting a different outcome.  In this case, the error was in my believing the weather forecast.  Duh.  What was I thinking?  Everyone knows what zero chance of rain means. And, a cloudless blue morning sky confirms that zero chance.  Right?

It was nice and sunny when I arrived at the trailhead.  No reason to hurry, so I leisurely went about sorting gear and loading my pack.  This would be my first and maybe only backpack trip of the year.  And, depending on the old back, maybe the last, ever.  Just an overnighter, I'd try to go as light as possible. First I had to decide what was optional. Rain jacket?  Nope, won't need it. Extra socks?  What for?  Underwear?  Nah. My mother wasn't around to make sure that I had a clean pair in case of  an accident.  Breakfast.  Breakfast?  Oops, I forgot to pack it.

Ten minutes up the trail I noticed clouds curling over the mountain.  They ghosted their way downslope and soon engulfed the valley.  The wind that forebodes impending weather kicked in. The lodgepole pines began to sway.  Then, it started to rain.  Hard.  I ducked under a tree, and backed in tight against the trunk, using the tree to fend off the wind and driving rain. I chuckled. Zero chance of rain?  Half an hour later  it ended.  Up the trail I went.  My toes squished in formerly waterproof boots.  Good thing that I had dry socks....back at the car.

It spat rain on and off. But, the wind that blew the storm in, picked up even more and proceeded to blow it back out.  I remained optimistic about the forecast.  Up the ridge.....  Out of the trees, above timber line, exposed further to the elements.  I tightened my cap, leaned into the wind and hastily proceeded up and over the pass.  No time to dally and take photos, I waited until I descended a bit downslope where the wind was somewhat tamer.

I stopped at the uppermost lake and poked around looking for a campsite.  The wind still howled, and as it was pretty exposed, I dropped further into the basin, passing a few potholes along the way.  Not finding anything to my liking, I dropped further yet. I eventually found suitable flat ground and tree cover at a lower lake.  After pitching the tent and inflating the air mattress, I took time for a well earned stretch.

Later, I hiked back to the upper lake to sample the fishing. I picked my moments, casting between the gusts of wind.  Got a half dozen fish.  Nine to ten inchers, they were probably two year olds. How they manage to grow at all in that ice cold water is a miracle. Satisfied, I hiked back down to camp, looking for photos along the way.

Back at camp, I set about the evening chores.  There was water to boil for reconstituting dinner, and firewood needed to be gathered.  That done, I fiddled with my camera tripod and watched the sunlight fade from the basin.  At 9:30 I crawled into the tent. 

Up early the next morning, I waited for the sun to illuminate the surrounding peaks.  It was like waiting for ketchup to come out of a bottle.  I boiled water for another cup of coffee.  And waited.

There. Finally. Sunlight, on Sunlight Peak.  I got a few shots, nothing killer.  Funny thing, photos never do justice to actually being there. 

I broke camp and was on the trail out by nine.  Back at the pass, the wind was still blowing hard, so I passed on the photo ops, and went over the top.  The sun was shining out in the valley.  

It didn't really warm up until the last mile or so of trail.  When I got back to the car, my feet were still wet.  Well, I knew where to find a dry pair of socks.

Friday, August 8, 2014

My Curtis Creek

A hybrid rainbow and cutthroat trout from Montana

Everyone should have one.  A secret place where they can go and get away.  Near or far.  Easy to get to, or hard as hell.  Others may know about it, or maybe no one (although few such places exist anymore.)

My Curtis Creek?  It's a place that I fish infrequently.  It takes a bit of effort making it to the water. There's some hiking involved.  Then there's the blowdown.  Most years, I'm content just knowing that it exists.  Every once in a while though, I get the urge to return.

The first visit, I wet waded.  Even in late August, the water was frigid.  I caught fish, but, what I remember most, was the hours that it took to regain the feeling in my lower legs.

I went back a few years later.  This time I packed waders.  It was a bit too early in the season. The water ran swift.  I didn't want to chance wading.  Good move.

More years passed.  I went back, as in a couple of days ago.  The water was lower.  It still ran fast. Did I mention that there's lots of blowdown?  Just getting to the stream was a #@%! pain in the butt, especially while wearing waders.  Logjams make for dicey wading in some spots.  But, get a fly in the water, and a scrappy trout will be the reward.  Years of intermingling of the native cutthroats and introduced rainbows have produced all manner of hybrids.  Some show more rainbow characteristics, others more cutthroat.  All pretty just the same.

Logjam on a Montana Creek

It may be a couple of years before I go back, or maybe never.  I'll always remember the fish, and the blowdown timber, and how smart I thought I was to pack waders.

So, in praise of small out of the way streams,  I'll end with this quote from Sheridan Anderson and his fine primer on fly fishing,  The Curtis Creek Manifesto:

"Is there really a Curtis Creek?  ........ Possibly, my darlings, quite possibly: but I will say no more because that is your final lesson:  to go forth and seek you own Curtis Creek - a delightful, unspoiled stretch of water that you will cherish above all others... there are few Curtis Creeks in this life, so when you find it, keep its secret well........"

Friday, August 1, 2014

Pine Creek Dayhike

Story lines. How to present the days happenings?   I sorted through images from the other day to see where they might lead.

The underlying theme for the day was one of sheer beauty.  What a day.  It was another day for a high country hike.  I stretched the distance.  Now up to five miles.  This one, about 3400 feet elevation gain too.  Its not the longest hike, but with the vertical involved, its not a casual stroll.

First up, Pine Creek Falls.  It was quiet this early.  Later, it gets busy with day hikers wanting for a photo.  Not surprisingly, I was the first one on the trail.  Then again, not too many folks are up at three.

Pine Creek Falls, Montana

The Pine Creek area burned in 2012.  The fire took out a goodly amount of timber in the drainage, leaving charred tree skeletons.   A dense undergrowth of vegetation carpeted the formerly vacant  forest floor. Remove the tree canopy, let the light in, and stuff grows.  Bedstraw, arnica and spirea flowered profusely.  Their white or yellow flowers contrasted sharply against the blackened timber.

I walked in on a shaded trail. It was a steady, sweat free grind.  Reaching the lake, I was greeted by the sun and the slight, comfortable breeze that welcomes in summer mornings.  Occasionally, the lake surface would still.  Fish were rising.

How lucky can one be?

More impressions from the day.  Blue sky.  Mountain peaks. Remnant snow. Wildflowers. Reflections.  Serene scenes.

Pine Creek Lake, Montana

A little inspiration.......from "Rocky Mountain Suite - Cold Nights in Canada" by John Denver:
"Clear waters are laughing
they sing to the sky
the Rockies are living
they never will die"
At least I hope not.  A world without mountain grandeur would be a sad place indeed.

And  The fish? Yellowstone cutthroats. Not the biggest, but scrappy.  And pretty. Now three years old, they arrived via airplane as two inch fingerlings.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout, Pine Creek Lake, Montana.

After catching enough, it was time to recline.  Engage in contemplation....

Taking a nap a Pine Creek Lake, Montana

The hike out.  Down, down, down.  The trail winds through rock and meadow and burned timber. I've always thought that the hike out took a lot longer than the walk in.  Then again, hiking out in mid afternoon, through open burned timber, on a west facing slope can get pretty toasty.  Its important to stop at the various springs and filter water.  Drink up.

Tree skeletons along the Pine Creek trail near Livingston, Montana.

There was one more stop to  complete the day.  Marks In and Out in Livingston.  I hadn't been there in a year.  I had a powerful hankering. Burger, fries and chocolate shake.  You know, the requisite fortifications for a trail weary hiker. I finished eating, tossed the food wrappers, got into my car and was smugly thinking "what a great day!"

Then the car wouldn't start.

Huh?  I pondered my fate.  How was I going to get home?  After twenty minutes it turned over. As it turned out, some internal computer needed to be reset (I figured it out when I got home.)

I can still say, "what a great day!"

Arctic gentian.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Crazy Mountain Interlude

West slope of Crazy Mountains, Montana

Yesterday was hike day.  The destination:  Cottonwood Lake in the Crazy Mountains.  The "Crazies"  are an isolated "island" mountain range in south central Montana.  A few widely dispersed dusty dirt roads provide access to the a limited number of trailheads.  

The trail starts as an old roadbed.  After a couple of miles, it morphs into a standard hiking trail as it climbs its way into the high country.  Since its a scenic drainage, and not too far from Bozeman, its predictably popular with hikers. 

After a couple of hours of hiking and admiring the views, I made it to the lake . I noted no fish activity, even though it was reportedly stocked a couple of years ago (I have caught fish here in the past).  I walked around the lake but didn't see any cruising fish. No matter. 

Still feeling good after a short break, I pondered my next move.  Rig the rod or hike further?  I decided that it was time to exorcise an old demon by attempting another scramble up to Grasshopper glacier.

My wife and I had camped at the lake many years ago.  On that trip, we tried to make it to the the glacier, but our scramble was cut short when a sizable rock slid onto my leg.  I was able to extricate said limb without incident, but that scare plus a multitude of encounters with tippy boulders, along with a rapidly building summer storm, convinced us to vamoose.  In short, we got the hell off of that rock pile in a hurry.

The boulders were every bit as tippy this trip, but I was determined to see the glacier, if for no other reason than to see and prove to myself that it really existed.  It's not visible from below, so there's no way to tell.  Well, I made it.  And yes, it really did exist.  It sits in a deep bowl, hidden from view behind a jumble of moraine.  But, someone, proverbially, was pulling our leg.  Alas, there were no hoppers.  I did see some moths and beetles plastered into the surface of the glacier though.  I scooped up a handful of snow to quench my thirst and took a few photos. Satisfied, I picked a different route down.  The old back was protesting mildly, but I was happy to be out hiking.  I chalked it up as just another good day, even though the fly rod stayed in its sack.

View from Grasshopper Glacier, Crazy Mountains, Montana

Cottonwood Lake, Crazy Mountains, Montana

Grasshopper Glacier, Crazy Mountains, Montana

Bluebells near Cottonwood Lake, Crazy Mountains, Montana

Paintbrush, Crazy Mountains, Montana

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Beating the Heat

A couple of weeks ago everyone was lamenting the cool rainy weather.  Would it ever end?  Hell, yes.  It always does.  And, it did.  The heat got turned on.  Temperatures promptly achieved their rightful place in the nineties.

Those same few weeks ago the mountains were still locked in snow.  It doesn't take much sun and warmth to drive it off. Once a few rocks get exposed, away it goes.

The fourth of July is a pretty traditional date to shoot for as regards getting into some alpine trout fishing.  Some years its still too early.

Yesterday was a good day for a walk.  I always try to start the day early and take advantage of hiking on a shady trail. Above 9000 feet, the snow was retreating rapidly.  There were still a few snowbanks. The lakes had thawed but I don't think that the ice had been off for long.

Best of all, the fish were in good shape.  Nice and fat, a surprise for so early in the season.

Friday, July 11, 2014


I wrote this one off years ago as just another fishless puddle.  Alders crowd the lakeshore. Casting options are limited.  I walked around the lake, stumbling over blowdown, cussing the aforementioned alders. That first visit, no fish rose.  I didn't bother to rig up,  It was a tactical error.  First impressions can be misleading. There were some impressive piles of bear poop though.

A few years later I decided to take another look.  Same scenario.  No riseforms.  No sign of fish. This time I strung my rod.  Casting fruitlessly from a precarious perch, I was ready to give up. Then I saw the shadow.  At least I thought I saw something.  More casts.  The shadow reappeared.  Jaws junior  came back and decided that it was time to eat.

Once a year we go back.  Just to check on the fish.  There aren't many.

We went back over the weekend.  The fish were still there.  Like us, a year older.

We saw a pine marten.  Mosquitos.  No grizzlies.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


I'm going through a phase of Alaska withdrawal. It's been a few years since I've cast a fly in one of her waters.  I need to go back.

The above fish photo is of a pink salmon caught while on a float trip down the Talachulitna River (remember this one Larry?).  No, it's not an ad for Simms or Loop, although they do make good stuff.


Pink salmon are another underrated fish.  Where else but in Alaska could you catch a bunch of four to six pound fish and be disappointed.  Heck, guides floating the Madison would wet their pants if they could get their clients into a boatload of four to six pounders.

Pinks have the shortest life cycle of Pacific salmon, completing it in two years.  Interestingly, unlike other anadromous salmonids which may spend up to a year or two in fresh water before smolting, pink salmon fry make a run for the ocean soon after hatching.  Also, even numbered years tend to see huge runs of returning fish, while odd numbered years will show few returnees.  More info about pink salmon life history can be found at the Alaska Fish and Game website here. They are fished for commercially.  In fact most of the canned salmon found in grocery stores are pink salmon from Alaska (see Seafood Health Facts).

As for the fishing, it's not complicated.  Got a six or eight weight fly rod?  Fine.  Add a piece of leader.  Attach a nice colorful fly.  Marabou is good (remember Phyllis Diller?).  Go get 'em.

Also known as humpback salmon or humpies, they have a namesake bar in Anchorage (see Humpy's Alehouse). If you're in Alaska, make sure to stop in.  They offer great food and an impressive selection of micro brews.  Heck, any establishment named after a fish has to be good, right?

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