Saturday, January 3, 2015

Sun Gods and Tobacco Roots

Alpine sunflower, Tobacco Root Mountains, Montana

This photo brings color and cheer on a cold and snowy Montana morning.  It is my favorite photo from 2014.  No fish.  No grip and grin.  Just a pretty little flower and gorgeous mountain scenery.

The yellow bloom is an alpine sunflower (Hymenoxys grandiflora).  Also known as "Sun God", the large blooms were said to absorb sunshine from the rarified air and while taking on the color of the sun. In A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Flowers (Craighead, Craighead and Davis)  it was pointed out that:

 "Compass flower might be a more appropriate name for they do not follow the sun around but continue facing east.  The direction that any large number face is a far better indication of east than moss on a tree as an indication of north."

Now that I think back on it, these little guys were indeed facing east.  Granted, it was a small sample size.

Most importantly, the fact that I was able to hike to the high country pleased me to no end. Hopefully more good days to come for us all!  

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Been A While......

It's been a while since I've written. I apologize.  I've shirked my duties as a blogger.  

It's been a while too since we've had occasion to use a hopper.  This one, patterned after Mike Lawson's Henry's Fork hopper, was tied with the intention of floating it in the Blackfoot.  Why the Blackfoot?  Beats me.   I just thought it was a good idea. 

Well, years passed.  The hoppers never saw the Blackfoot.  One day, this past summer, I found the forlorn hoppers in a fly box next to my tying bench. Their time had come.  I packed them off to the Madison. 

I've always liked the look of elk hair hoppers.  This pattern looks good on the water.  It floats like the cliched cork.  And, it's not too tough to tie.  

And, pray tell, how did they work that day on the Madison?  Well, pretty darned good.  There were no sippers that day.  The takes were pretty explosive. 

To quote Dan Holland from the Fly Fisherman's Bible:

A trout feels about a grasshopper the way I feel about apple pie:
 it should be eaten promptly.

I can relate to trout and their fondness for hoppers.  I love apple pie!  How about you?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Salmon River Sojourn

Angler spey casting, Salmon River, Idaho

The Salmon, it's our home river.  At least it's the nearest with sea run fish.  By the time they make it to Salmon, Idaho, they've come some six hundred miles.  And that's not the end of the line. Some sockeye salmon make it as far as Redfish Lake, a distance of over nine hundred miles and nearly a seven thousand foot gain in elevation.  The Salmon River also supports the longest steelhead run in North America, with fish making it as far as Stanley, Idaho.

Friday would be our day for a long road trip.  We got up early and hit the road for the two hundred some mile long drive.  It pushes the limits distance wise for a reasonable day trip.  As regards comfort, it's about as much sitting as a person can take.

Along the way, we crossed the Continental Divide several times.  It's a scenic drive up through the Big Hole valley.  Then, over Lost Trail Pass and down the "hill" along the North Fork to its confluence with the Salmon.   Here, the Salmon is a "real river."  Why?  Well, real rivers have runs of salmon and steelhead.

This was our first, last and only chance of the year to try to get in a little spey casting.  Jo cast her Sage rod with Skagit type heads.  She covered the water pretty well.  I soon found that a "scandi" head doesn't move a tungsten cone-head leech very well.

We fished a few runs with nary a bump.  Midday, we found a sunny spot along the road which made for a nice lunch stop.  Later, we waded into another shaded run, only to be "low holed" by some folks in a drift boat.  No matter, they didn't dredge up any fish.

Even though the day was comfortably warm, it was cold wading. By mid afternoon, Jo took a break to warm her knees and went back to the car.  She kindly left her rod, and I went about lobbing casts with the Skagit setup.  I fished through another run further downstream.  No bumps other than bottom.  I'd reached what I thought to be the end of the line and made the proverbial last cast of the day.  Then the line came tight.  A fish rolled, its tail slapped the surface and I was fast to a fish that was racing downstream.

Isn't it amazing how a seemingly empty stream can suddenly come to life when you're attached to a steelhead?

The hook held its bite as I coaxed the fish upstream.  Once the fish was even with me, I was able to work him to shore rather easily.  A pretty fish, its clipped adipose indicated it a hatchery fish.  A torn gill plate further indicated a tough journey home.

I bonked him.  He finished his journey with a car ride over the divide.

Steelhead from the Salmon River in Idaho.  Caught while spey casting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Midge Morning

Get out early.  Beat the wind.  Fish midges.  That was the mantra yesterday.  I left home in the dark, driving eastward over the pass.  Outside of Livingston the temp was sixty-two.  A few miles to the south, forty-one.

I stopped along the Yellowstone and snapped a few photos before heading up to the creek. The morning sky was just starting to brighten.

I wondered...any midges this morning?

My question answered when I took a deep breath and sucked one in.  I wasn't the only one feeding on bugs.  Trout were rising too.

It was still calm when I waded into the creek.  Fish were rising actively.  I caught several right off. A few took a fuzzy CDC pattern that imitated a midge cluster.  I soon tired of trying to keep it afloat and switched to a nondescript midge pupa.  A few fish ate that too, then the action slowed, even though the fish continued to rise.

I moved downstream, found a few more rising fish and bided my time by trying to cast between gusts.  By now the fish had become quite finicky.  I switched to a serendipity like pattern.  It got a few grabs, but the hook didn't stick.  Then a nice brown took the fly, jumped, and snapped the leader. 

The legs of my waders were covered with small adult midges.  Even when clustered, they were small.     I suspect that the fish were picking off emerging midges.  Unfortunately they were much smaller than anything that I had in my fly box. 

I then tried a Griffith's gnat. A fish rose, nose right under the fly. It was counting hackle fibers, no doubt plugging the number into some algorithm that helped determine "eat" or "no eat".  It turned its nose downward.  "No eat."

Back to the serendipity.  I worked pretty hard for the next couple of fish.  By noon the the wind was blowing steadily with some major gusts. The trees were shedding leaves rapidly.

Fishing became pretty much impossible, especially as I was casting all leader and only a couple of feet of fly line.  I quit at noon, satisfied to have caught some nice fat rainbows on midges.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wild Ones

Bird dogs, hunter, prairie

Anyone who takes up bird hunting believing that it's easier and more productive that hunting big game must be supremely mistaken.  Let me tell you, there might have been a time, many decades ago when that was the case. Here in Montana, big game has always been king. Birds? Well, they were an after thought for most folks.  Almost no one hunted them deliberately. Nowadays, there are quite a few avid bird hunters, both in staters and out.  Many have great dogs and hunt hard.  As for the birds, any that survive the opening day "baptism by fire"  dummy up quickly.  After a few weeks of pressure they get wild as hell.  Just getting within gun range is a major accomplishment.

Take for example our recent sojourn for sharp-tailed grouse.  We spent two days covering a lot of country on foot, trying to locate birds and get within shooting range.  When we eventually found some, they invariably flushed a hundred or more yards  out.  Often, they flushed nowhere near the dogs.  Whether they saw or heard us is beyond me.  Sure, Addie sounds like a combination of Miss Piggy and the Tasmanian Devil when she's out snuffling about while trying to pick up bird scent, but its not as if the birds have gone out and ordered up a bunch or miracle ears.  Or maybe....  

Noncompliant birds not withstanding, we had a good couple of days.  It was comfortably cool. We got a lot of exercise without ever breaking a sweat. We got to see the lunar eclipse.  There were a couple of glorious sunrises.  The prairie was green, and the grasses still growing, most unusual for autumn.  The dogs?  They did their best.  After two days they were ready for a few days off.  There's lots of cactus out there, and it's mighty tough on a dogs feet.

To the west, a full post-eclipse moon.  To the east, a brightening morning sky.
 Both images taken moments apart......

Brittany on point

The total bag for two days of hunting was one cripple with a broken wing that the dogs picked off when it was trying to catch up to its departing friends.  We were lucky to get that one, even if we didn't fire a shot at it.

Prickly pear cactus

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Something Missing?

Whats wrong with this picture?  Well, dumb ass  here forgot one important piece, no, make that two important necessary pieces of equipment for safe navigation on a river float.  Sure, I've got a check list, but unlike Santa Claus who checks his list twice, I failed to check mine, once.  Duh.

We dropped off my car at the takeout, drove back to the put-in, and just as we were inflating the raft I found the minor oversight.  My wife, bless her soul, was kind enough to drive home and all the way back to the river with the oars and footrest.

The only saving grace?  Well, the temperature was above freezing when she got back with the oars.  

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

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