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?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Along the Stream, A Western Scene

Horses, cows too, are an integral part of the western landscape.  So, it's pretty normal to run into them while one is out fishing.  Yesterday, I bumped into these two as they grazed on lush stream side grasses.  I've mentioned before that I'm not much of a horse person.  I do like to see them though.  Montana and horses go together like hot dogs and mustard (sorry, not ketchup).  So, when I crossed over to their side of the stream, they wandered over.  One intently nuzzled the pockets on my fishing vest.  I don't pack oats when I'm out fishing, so he had to settle for an ear scratch and a pat on the neck.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tale Of The Big Brown

brown trout tail in net

A little drive this morning.  Today would be a streamer day.  Browns like 'em.  I use a simple rig.  A short length of straight eight.  Pound test Maxima that is.  No 6X today.  Yay!  Tie on a cone head muddler.  That's it.

I like casting streamers on small streams.  A short cast to this bank or that.  Flip it under an overhanging branch.  No dummy!  Under the branch, not into it!  Oh well, all in a day of fishing.

One thing about small streams.  The fish will show themselves.  Invariably, if they show, and don't grab the fly, they won't come back.  Funny thing about fishing streamers.

Today, the fish were scarce.  Not many follows.  Few takers.  A few made it to the net.  Juicy looking pools that are usually good for a fish or two, yielded none.  

I was about halfway through the morning itinerary of pools.  And, I'd just worked through another, this one also apparently fish-less.  Then, a big splash upstream.

I turned in time to see the disappearing tail of a

 big brown.......


I wasn't the only one fishing today.

And, judging by the slowness of my fishing, he was probably having more luck!

Brown trout, cone head muddler fly

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Yesterday On The Creek

It's quite a change in venue, visiting the creek this time of year.  Especially when compared to the quiet starkness of winter that I'm accustomed to.  June.  Profusion. An explosion of life and color. Pastures green, trees and shrubs leaf and bloom.  Birds sing and chatter incessantly from the streamside vegetation.  A day on this, or any creek for that matter, is a spectacular experience.  And that is a woefully inadequate understatement.

In spite of verdancy, and the activity of myriad critters, one key element is lacking.  Insect life. The vaunted hatches that bring trout to the surface have yet to commence.  Other than a couple of wayward caddis, no bugs.  PMD's are allegedly still days to weeks off.  When they appear, so do the fisherman, expectant and hopeful.

So, in a day filled with hope, but lacking surface feeding trout, I nymphed.  Essentially the same gig as winter.  Dry dropper.  Beetle dropper (which I couldn't see worth a darn).  Finally, I resorted the dreaded "Thingamabobber."  A small one, but at least I could see it.  The fly(s) du jour?  The usual suspects.  Midge pupa, pheasant tail, small bead head whatever.  I think the highlight of the day was being able to repeatedly knot 6X to my fly, usually on the first or second try.  Well, that and getting my waders on.

The first fish of the day was, surprisingly, a cutthroat.  It was a first too in that I'd never caught one on the creek before.  The word is that a few, intent on spawning, run into the creek from the Yellowstone each year.  This one already appeared spent.

DePuy Spring Creek rainbow trout.

I finished the day stripping a streamer. I had a few chases, a couple of half hearted grabs.  The browns were there, but they didn't want to climb on for keeps.  That was ok.

I didn't expect to make it the whole day.  Eight-thirty.  A small victory, my first day out since February.

As the shadows lengthened, the fields filled with feeding deer.  Lots of does, plump with soon to be born fawns.   Meanwhile, last years unspotted fawns playfully chased each other in the high grass.  Carefree, as we should all be.

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