Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The First Fifteen

I know that I'm not the only one that feels the seasonal sense of urgency.  All of us who live in northerly climes know it.  The clock is running.  The big W is around the corner.  We can't keep it at bay, but we can sure make the most of the remaining days.  

September?  Glorious.  There's just not enough of it.  Bob Garnier recently posted about it on his great little blog, Trout on Dries.  But then, as an Albertan, he knows about urgency and winter. As a Montanan, I appreciate Alberta.  Heck, they send us weather.

No matter.  Back to September.  It's an embarrassment of riches.  Back when I bowhunted avidly, I'd spend weeks wearing out boot soles by chasing elk in the high country.  Now, other vices have supplanted the pursuit of elk.  

There's birds and dogs to chase, high and low.  Trout to catch that now revel in the cooling water.  Just pick a river to fish.  And, heaven forbid, steelhead, if.....

So far we've spent a day in the high county where the daytime temperature struggled to reach fifty degrees.  It never made it.  But, the bright sun and blue sky made for a perfect day.  There were blue grouse.  The elk were still there too, at least their tracks anyway.  The birds were pretty wild, but the girls, two and four legged, did their jobs admirably.  Grouse for dinner.

Blue grouse hunting

I wrote about the Henry's Fork and it's stubborn rainbows.  A beautiful day on a tremendous piece of water.  I appreciate challenges.  I'll return in order to continue working on the learning curve.

Ruffed grouse.  My favorite.  Tough this early.  The woods are in full leaf.  Six flushes.  Two shots. Two birds.  Good job girls.  Grouse for dinner.

Then to the valley.  It's big country. Hun country.  A big prairie sky. Well, it is the "Big Sky Country.

Release the hounds.  Find those birds.  Miles and hours later, they do.  Again, the girls do their jobs well.  Huns for dinner.

And then, another day to fish.  I'm up early, the Madison calls.  It's a beautiful morning sky.  I wonder, "Why does anyone ever sleep in?"

I hope that the water, now cooled, will stir the trout into feeding actively.  I ask myself "Can the browns come out to play?"  The river is generous.  The fish answer......

Madison River brown trout.

There aren't enough sunrises.  I hope to be present for as many as possible.  How about you?

And, as for the next fifteen days?  Who knows?  Choices, choices.....

"That's the sweetness of September.  It's a month of tomorrows."  
                 Gene Hill, from A Hunter's Fireside Book

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Henry's Fork

It only took forty years, but I finally did it.  I drove to Island Park, Idaho and, instead of just looking at the water, I wet my line in the storied Henry's Fork.  Known for tremendous insect hatches, it's regarded as some of the finest dry fly water in existence.  It's a spring creek, a very big one at that.   A hundred yards wide in many places.  Size wise, it's quite a change from the Paradise Valley spring creeks that I'm accustomed to fishing.

I started off by getting a day pass to access Harriman State Park (available at park headquarters). Then, wanting to fish the middle section of the ranch, I backtracked and parked at the appropriate access point along the highway. From there, a pleasant mile long morning walk along an old ranch road led me to the fabled waters. It was quite a sight.

A trico on the Henry's Fork, Idaho.

Bugs were starting to hatch when I walked up to the stream.  I can't say that it was a huge hatch though.  A few clouds of tricos, some blue-winged olives, a very few mahogany duns, and likely some other stuff that I missed. Unfortunately, the fish were missing in action. So, I broke out my latest toy, a one gallon sized paint strainer that slid handily over my landing net. I got the idea from the boys at Gink and Gasoline.  Other than a few BWO duns, all I got in the screen were some midge pupa.

I hung out for an hour or so before I finally noticed a rise. Then nothing.  Minutes later, another. Then nothing, again. Not exactly a feeding frenzy.

More time passed. Finally, a fish rose a few times.  Funny thing.  It wasn't stationary.  It was feeding while moving gradually upstream.  Then it stopped surfacing.  Frustrating.

I finally found a bank sipper. On hands and knees I crawled closer.  Then, crouched, I tried to make a sidewise presentation.  The fish just turned and swam off.  He came back about ten minutes later.  Again, same results.  As far as I can tell, it must have caught light glinting off of my fly line.  Holy crow.  Talk about tough fish.

I read recently that anglers don't come to the Henry's Fork to catch fish, they come to the Henry's Fork to find out if they're good enough to catch fish.  I couldn't even get my fly in the water.

I was beginning to relegate myself to the "not good enough" category.  Well, at least it was a pretty locale and I could take pictures, instead.

But, I continued to wait patiently for another fish to rise.  Eventually, one did, then another, nearer.  I cast.  The nearer fish took pity and ate the beetle.

So, I could say that I came to the Henry's Fork and found out that, at least, I was lucky enough to catch....a fish.  My net never got wet after that.  The fish quit rising altogether.

Henry's Fork rainbow trout.

So, I spent the afternoon exploring the ranch.  I drove to the parking area at ranch view.  I walked a few trails and checked out the historic buildings at the ranch headquarters where I stretched out in the shade of a big spruce on the lawn.  I then walked up to the "millionaire's pool."  Now, mid-afternoon, the wind had picked up and was blowing steadily upriver, rippling the surface.  If there was a hatch, any rising fish would have been tough to spot.  So, sufficiently barbecued by the bright sunshine, and with my eye's shot from squinting at the surface of the river through sunglasses, I called it good for the day.

I have to admit that it's a very scenic spot.  No wonder so many pictures have appeared in the various fishing magazines.

Bridge over Henry's Fork, Railroad Ranch, Idaho.

Upstream view of Henry's fork from Ranchview.

Next time I go back, I'll be eager to see if I'm good (lucky) enough to catch two fish!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Beehive Basin

Labor day.  What to do?  A hike?  Something short and sweet.  One that didn't involve hours of driving to boot.  I settled on Beehive Basin up near Big Sky.  I've been all over the Spanish Peaks in the last forty years.  But, I've avoided the Big Sky side of the "peaks."  Why?  Hell, there's gobs of people.  But, today I made an exception.

Beehive Basin trail, Spanish Peaks, Montana

It's an easy hike.  A couple of miles each way.  You won't want for company.

It was deliciously cool when I arrived at the trailhead.  Forty-two degrees. The clouds were just starting to lift.  I started hiking at nine.  Late for me, but with such nice conditions, and for a shortie hike, it was early enough.  Most of the many hiking folk would arrive later.

The trail, nice and wide, winds through open timber and meadow.  This late in the season, most of the flowers had withered. But, I can see this as a nice wildflower hike earlier in the summer. 

It is a pretty basin.  Open.  Easy to get around.

I hiked past the lake, which to me is a "pothole."   Several hundred feet above, I stopped, snacked, and took a few photos.   For the record, the "real" Beehive Lake is situated on the Spanish Creek side of the Peaks.  It's at higher elevation and sits above the Spanish Lakes.  It takes a little more effort to get there.

By noon, the day had warmed nicely.  I passed a procession of hikers on my way out.  Given the nice trail, a guy on a mountain bike, dragging a freezer, could make a living selling ice cream to the masses.  Hmmm.      

Beehive Basin lake,  Spanish Peaks, Montana.

The Beehive Basin hike is billed as one of the ten greatest hikes in the world.  I'm not making this up.  You can google it. But then, why stop there.  Go for the whole enchilada.  How about the entire universe? 

Like they've got scenery like this on Mars.

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

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