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

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.

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