Friday, October 30, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Jamie and I are leaving at dawn tomorrow and hope to be on the water by mid-morning. This will be Jamie's first steelhead trip to Idaho. I hope he knows what he's in for. It should also be interesting/hilarious because he doesn't have a spey rod and plans on slinging some 10' 7wt around all weekend. He'll probably outfish me.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
There is nothing like spending time up in this part of Montana in the fall...the sprawling open country, the small ranching towns, and the abundance of game seem reminiscent of a past era. The place is a hunter's paradise. What people do in Havre the other eight months of the year, however, when you can't shoot stuff, is a mystery to me.
Northeastern Montana had some cold, wet weather this past spring/early summer, and supposedly bird numbers are down because of those storms. Brett as well as some other friends have found tougher than usual hunting in the area so far this season, and FWP reports say upland birds of all species are below average this year in that part of the state. Nonetheless, this is flippin' birdy country, and we found roosters in all the spots we hunted over the weekend...maybe not as many as last year, but they were there, and they were in the right places. Rudy was just as wily as ever, and we probably missed or didn't have shots on more birds than we killed. Pretty par for the course for me...
Brett is a high school biology teacher in town, and he benefits from connections with students' parents and faculty who are landowners in the area. Nothing like private access. He is also a passionate bird hunter, and the guy does his homework (let's just say that every flushed bird is entered in his GPS). We were able to hunt a variety of public and private land over the course of two and a half days, and saw plenty of pheasants, Huns, antelope, whitetails, and mule deer. Even ran in to a rattlesnake one morning that caused us to change our minds regarding a hunt in a particular creek bottom. Usually they would be in their dens by this time of year, but it's been so warm recently that it's obviously still good advice to mind your step.
Speaking of speed goats, after pheasant hunting Saturday morning, we put the sneak on a group of antelope that had several big bucks milling around in it. I didn't have an antelope tag for that unit (they sold out in a matter of hours this summer), but Brett did. We belly-crawled up to the crest of a rise where Brett was able to make a 300 yard shot with his 7mm Mag., dropping this 15 1/2 x 16 1/2 buck in his tracks. We spent the rest of the afternoon getting him cleaned up and considering which part of him to eat first.
Needless to say, breakfast Sunday morning was pan-friend antelope tenderloin. We did a cast-and-blast on a local river that I've been asked to withhold the name of, and had good pheasant hunting...and poor to very poor fishing. Good thing we're keeping it a secret! A handful of trout were farmed on dry flies (mostly on my part, of course), and we saw some massive brown trout push out of a couple of shallow tail-outs. 'Tis the season for those big boys to be fired-up and aggressive, but the quality of the streamer fishing that day didn't show it. It was still a great day: I'll always sign up for new water with good friends.
With a long drive home ahead of me Sunday night, we got off the water reasonably early and hit the road. Another weekend well-spent in good company and great country. I look forward to making it up that direction again in November for some deer hunting and so I can take another crack at some of the roosters I missed.
Photographs by Brett Shelagowski
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I've been staying with my friends recently who have a great place way up the Rattlesnake in Missoula. They have a big yard that backs up to forest, and there are usually lots of whitetails, turkeys, and assorted vermin (skunks, 'coons, etc.) hanging around. This afternoon as I was leaving the house, we spotted this critter eating apples out of the neighbor's tree. With the weather we've been having recently (cold), I'm surprised this guy isn't hibernating yet! It is still October...things are supposed to warm up later this week and conditions look pretty fishy for the weekend...
But, I think I'm headed north to the Hi-Line to hunt birds with my buddy Brett and his great English setters. Bird numbers apparently aren't all that good up that way this year, but I'll never know for myself if I don't go. Besides, if I don't give the steelheading a rest for the week, I may end up strapped to a table in the Orofino insane asylum.
A monument has been erected in front of the First Presbyterian Church, 235 S. Fifth St. W., in Missoula to honor the Reverend John Norman Maclean and architect A. J. Gibson. Via The Missoulian, Oct. 8, 2009.
The Reverend John Norman Maclean
Monday, October 12, 2009
I just returned from three days in Idaho where the Clearwater River and I elected to continue our love/hate relationship. I love that river...and it hates me. True, it is one of the more notorious rivers in the PNW when it comes to finding steelhead willing to take a swung fly. Finnicky. Tempermental. Call it what you will, but Clearwater steelhead love to kick ass and take names, especially when it comes to us fly-pole-swingin' hippies from over the pass. What haunts me about the Clearwater is that those fish will take a swung fly (I've seen 'em do it), and a lot of them are BIG. It's just that they choose to eat said flies with maddeningly unpredictable infrequency. With cool fall weather in place, low, clear water conditions, and fish counts over Lower Granite Dam through the roof, conditions this past weekend seemed ideal for hanging in to one of those big B-runs...
And yet, after two full days of flogging the water with everything from skaters and little traditionals on dry lines to egg-sucking string leeches on heavy tips, Karl and I had yet to have a confirmed encounter with a Clearwater steelhead. Hadn't even talked to any other fly fishermen who had touched a fish either. By the morning of day three, we were hungry and pulled out all the stops.
We launched the spam-can at Ahsahka at dawn and immediately pushed downstream to nymph the outlet pipe of Dworshak Hatchery. Classy, I know, but when you're itching to connect with some Clearwater steel of any sort there are few better bets than dead-drifting egg patterns through the outlet of the largest steelhead hatchery in the country. It's worked before. This trip, however, it was not to be.
In search of greener pastures, we moved downstream and swung flies through a historically productive run. Karl has caught several fish in this water, and made good swings through the deke...to no avail. There ain't no steelhead in this river.
To ease the unending monotony of not catching anything, I broke out the stove and cooked up some bacon and eggs on the bow of the boat for breakfast. Certainly a highlight of the weekend, so far!
Well-fed and full of foolish optimism, we moved on to Plan C and set the plug rods out. Utilizing Karl's expertise following several seasons of guiding fly and tackle anglers on this river, we pulled his favorite plugs through some of his favorite water. Nope. Ain't gonna happen.
After going through the motions of fruitlessly swinging flies through yet another beautiful, "historically productive run," all the while listening to bait chucking locals whoop and holler fighting yet another fish from the next run downstream, we'd had it.
Out came the side-drifting rods and cured eggs. We aren't purists, we're fishermen. And when all you've caught after the better part of three days fishing with more noble tactics is a sucker, a squawfish, a small jack salmon, and one trophy whitefish, all bets are off. We threaded the needle between two big jet-sleds full of Real-Tree clad enthusiasts and moved in to the next run. Drifting our tasty egg morsels in to the bucket, the rod tip registered an unmistakable tug and...wait for it...low and behold, a steelhead miraculously manifested itself on the end of my line. No shit. A short, but heated five minutes later and a 12-pound hatchery hen was on the beach. It felt pretty good just to grab one by the tail.
When you've found a biting steelhead, chances are that fish has friends. Rowing back upstream to make a second pass, we pushed in to the run and started another drift. About fifty yards below where we had caught the first fish, the rod tip once again responded; this time, there was no tugging...it was a yank. Actually it was several yanks, and after a solid hookset and 100-yard run upstream, a big buck went airborne, cartwheeled over the river, and streaked downstream. This fish was pissed-off and had no interest in remaining in the county, much less the run we had hooked him in. Karl pushed the boat downstream after the big boy, and after a couple more heart-stopping jumps and having to manipulate the fish through a fast, boulder-strewn riffle, we slid him in to calm water and put the net under him. A solid, 18-pound hatchery buck swimming in the net is a welcome sight for two battle-weary anglers on the brink of mental instability.
We may have had to resort to less-than-ideal tactics, but putting two big steelhead in the boat back-to-back at the end of the trip sure made the four-hour drive home back over the pass a little easier to swallow. Next trip might have to be to the Salmon, where the steelhead have been known to actually eat flies...
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Pesca making a great retrieve on a not-so-great bird
Karl and Pesca peering out from the frozen bush
Looking north over the decoys
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. The final "obstacle" for steelhead and salmon returning to the upper Snake, Clearwater, Salmon, and Grande Ronde rivers, among many others. Breach 'em all.