Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Heat is On!

It's actually not supposed to get as hot today but I thought this was interesting. With past couple days of temperatures reaching the low-century mark, folks need to be careful with fires. Wind, low humidity and high temps will increase the danger for what has been a fairly mild fire season for us in Montana. We do have about a dozen fires right now, most of which are in Western Montana but that could all change in a heart-beat. We've been fortunate unlike states like California, Colorado, Arizona, and Idaho.

So what has the heat done for the fishing, you might ask? Well, right before this last heat wave, the fishing was off the charts. Epic trico hatches in the morning were causing fish to look up well past the typical 1pm threshold. That is, up until yesterday. It felt like yesterday was the tipping point where the heat got the best of the fish and they decided to duck for cover. But there could be another reason for that, that goes beyond just the summer heat. Check these charts out.

I don't claim to understand the approach the USGS in coordination with FWP and Northwestern Corporation takes in managing the reservoirs out here in Montana. Like I've said, I think they did as good of job as they could have this spring, although it kind of sucked for the fishing. The up and downs of flows and the early increases really had an impact on dry-fly fishing especially. But at least, one could understand why they were doing it. We had a ton of snow-pack and some really heavy rainfall that had they managed the water more conservatively, folks in Great Falls would have been screwed. There was flooding but it could have been much worse. What I don't understand is 5,000 cfs now.

I know what a lot of you are thinking. "High water in August is great!" Well...

The Missouri River isn't your typical tail-water. A tail-water is essentially just a river that's regulated by a dam. In most tail-waters, the majority of the water comes out of the bottom of the reservoir, keeping the river below the dam at a cold and consistent temperature. Water coming out of the bottom of a deep reservoir could be as cold as the upper 30's or at least lower 40's even into August. That's why those fisheries remain healthy and fish are happy. Bugs are plentiful and life is good. However, the Missouri River is a different beast in that because it's a hydro-electric dam that doesn't really serve that many households, they only need to release around 2,800 cubic feet per second to meet the demand and anything above say, 3,000 cfs comes from the spill-over at the top of the reservoir. In fact, I'm pretty sure the capacity for water flowing out of the bottom of the dam is somewhere in that range. You just can't push anymore water through it.

I did a little research on this and read on the Wikipedia site for Holter Dam, that in 2004, they were only allowing about 3,000 cfs out of the dam. The optimal flow for the health of the river was suggested to be 4,100 cfs. I've seen it as low as 2,900 cfs, I believe in 2014. I tell you what, the fishing was really good that year, even with the low water. I would suggest it was because all of the water supplying the lower river was coming from the bottom third of the reservoir. But what happens in August when the water is relatively high?

When the air-temps reach triple digits for a few days, after being consistently in the 80's for the majority of the last month, the surface water temps on the reservoir have to increase. Now if you remember your geography classes from junior high, you know that water temps remain more consistent than ground temps. As the sun beats down, it has more of an impact on the ground than on the water. What that also means is that as the sun goes down, the ground temps drop more than the water temps. Consequently, as the water temps increase, even with the air temps dropping at night, water retains more of its heat.

Do the math. If you have twenty percent more water coming into the river from the surface of the reservoir that consists of warmer water; water that might be reaching temps into the upper 80's, what do you think that does to the water temps below the dam? If you look at the charts above, you see that as the water levels increase, so too does the water temperature. It might only be a degree on average but that degree has a significant impact on the fishery at 69 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, if the temps reach 70 degrees for a few days straight, FWP will start to impose closures.

So back to the question: Why are they increasing the flows right now? I don't know but I would tend to believe that if they want to do what's right for the fishery, they would bring those flow back down to around 4,000 cfs.

Keep 'em where they live...

Friday, August 3, 2018

Watch It!

Yesterday kicked off my first string of days off in 2 months. I've a had a day here and there to make the Costco runs, spray out the boat, and change the oil on the Titan but this is the first time I've had to relax in a while and it feels amazing! Don't get me wrong. I'm definitely not complaining. More so just appreciating.

I was on the golf course--hole 18 and of course, was hitting out of the trees. This little guy came out to either lend support, which was greatly needed, or he was there to heckle me. Who knows. I finished the 18th with a par anyway and a beer. Life is good.

Keep 'em where they live...

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Rookie of the Year

This is Rick with his first Missouri River brown trout. Yeah, he caught it on a size 20 trico while sipping spinners in the soft stuff. Before three days ago, Rick had never fly fished. This fish was an accumulation of three days, learning and honing skills that will undoubtedly serve him well as he continues to pursue this new-found passion.

Rick called me a couple months ago, wanting to try fly fishing out. I could tell on the phone, he was a little intimidated by the prospects of taking up the sport. I remember when I got into it years ago where even going into a fly shop and beginning a conversation with someone in the industry was a little scary. I got that from Rick and wound up talking to him for about an hour on all the opportunities we have out here in Montana for fly fishing and how we could develop a plan to help him experience as much as possible in a short time and actually learn enough about it to then decide if it was something he'd like to continue. Rick booked three days with me.

The first day we floated the Mo and spent the first hour or so, working out the casting. Rick was a quick study and I was actually pretty surprised as how fast he learned. He's a golfer as am I and it was easy to find analogies that he could internalize.

There's a lot to fly fishing. Casting is only a fraction of what it takes to be successful. Rick wanted to learn so that's where we started and we did it in a fashion that would actually create a good foundation for success. That's what cool about a guy like Rick. He's ok with putting in the work at the beginning, knowing he might not catch anything for a while.

So many times, people come out wanting to try fly fishing but they only have a day or so. They want to feel successful and they want to feel the tug so they get the abbreviated versions of all the things you need to know to fish a river like the Missouri. They learn how to chuck a nymph rig ten feet out of the boat and mend their line and with a little luck, they get a bunch of opportunities to hook and fight these incredibly tough fish. It's fun and it's what they came out for but how much do they really learn about the sport?

Don't get me wrong. My point isn't bash anyone that just wants to come out to catch a few fish and have fun. That's not what I'm saying at all. What I would like to do however, is to commend those folks like Rick that really want to learn. That's fun for me. I really enjoy that part of what we do and it's something that I believe, get's a little lost.

Like I said, day one was spent on the Mo, working out some of the technical stuff like casting and getting a drift. We did nymph fish because that's what the river was giving us and an angler can learn a ton about fly fishing by nymphing. We shortened it up and lightened the load so Rick could still practice his casting and we caught a number of fish. It was a good introduction.

Day two, we hit some small streams and did a little walk-wading. Another goal of Rick's was to have a true Montana experience. He also wanted to see a variety of fish. We threw dries and only dries this day and caught a bunch of quality cutthroats. Rick even watched as I dorked the biggest cuttie of the day off while heading back to the truck. Humility is a good lesson for us all.

On day three, we wanted to accomplish a couple things. One was to catch a brown. Another was to experience the difference between dry-fly fishing on a freestone, where fish are opportunistic and not all that techy to now fishing tiny bugs to incredibly wary fish in slow moving, flat water.

A couple hours into it and we had boated a bunch of fish but no browns and we had yet to find that nose coming up sipping spinners. With all the bugs coming back to the water, I knew it was just a matter of time. At about 10:00 am, those noses started popping up and it was time to shift gears and throw out one of the biggest challenges an angler can tackle. Tiny bugs. Flat water. Big 'ole browns.

The brown in the picture was the literally in the first little pod of fish we set up on. It wasn't the first cast. It wasn't even the tenth. In fact, at one point I was just about to pull up anchor and move down stream because we had put the imitation I started with over the top of these fish a number of times and even had one eat it but Rick didn't connect. We were to a point where these fish were seeing the cluster pattern coming at them and they were ducking away from it. And then, they kind of just disappeared for a while.

We talked for a minute about trying to find some other fish that weren't educated already when the little pod came back up. "Let's try one more thing," I said.

I tied an ant on and trailed a size 20 CDC trico spinner behind it. Rick made a perfect cast and as this brown sipped, Rick stuck 'em.

When I say an accumulation of three days of learning, you have to understand what it takes to land a fish like this and what it took to get this fish to eat. A perfect cast with a little reach, being able to feed line down to it. Being patient enough to let the fish eat the bug before ripping it out of its mouth. Keeping your cool and getting a firm lift on the hook-set without the bass set as you would for a nymph rig. And then fighting a fish like that in current on a size 20 hook and 5x tippet while also maneuvering through the weeds. All of this has to come together to catch that fish and like I told Rick, he just passed the 500 level class. Congrats.

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Toilet Revenge

We cut the chord a couple weeks ago, getting rid of satellite TV.  We strategically developed our own streaming package using Amazon Prime and Sling. We're saving about $75 a month. Yeah. Not only that, but there so many cool features to streaming TV that satellite or cable can't provide like on-demand TV and starting a show from the beginning half-way through. Satellite and cable better figure this out before everyone decides to snip, snip.

I still get all the hunting channels. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I do watch a fair bit of these shows while I'm decompressing from a hot day on the river. All the elk bugling and archery kill-shots have gotten my adrenaline flowing and I can't wait for this year's hunting season. Patrick is 10 now and he'll be able to take part in the apprentice hunter program out here in Montana. Those of you that know me, know that this excites me more than me hunting myself. I've shot plenty of deer and elk and although I still enjoy it, I am much more into helping people who have never shot anything. I actually get way more amped up when it's someone else looking through the scope.

There are a lot of things to consider when taking a ten-year-old out hunting. P has been with me and with Jill as we shot big game. He's always showed an interest and said he wanted to hunt when he get's old enough but something happened last year after Jill's hunt. He said he didn't know if he really wanted to shoot a deer.

That kind of threw me for a loop but I try not to force anything on him. All you can really do is present him with opportunities and if he's not into it, he's not into it. But it still kind of bugged me because of the complete 180 after showing so much interest previously.

I had a conversation with P about it. I didn't put pressure on him or show any kind of disappointment but just wanted to understand the change of heart. When we talked, what came out was he was a little afraid of the gun. You know what? That's reasonable. He's watched me shoot and his mom and a high-powered rifle can really put a jolt on a smaller person. Heck, I start to flinch after a few rounds out of my dad's old .30-.06.

I thought about this for a while and started scheming a little to try to get him into feeling confident with bigger guns. He's shot rim-fire guns. He shoots his BB gun. He shoots his bow. He loves to shoot but the big guns just scare him so I figured it's kind of like introducing a dog to a gun. You gotta go slow and work your way up.

We went to Jill's dad's house for Thanksgiving last year. He has a youth size .410 shotgun he uses for varmints and pigeons around the barn. I asked if we could shoot it and asked P if he would want to try it. I've tried to get him to shoot a 20 gauge but he never would. The .410 was perfect. It kicked just enough to let him feel some power. It was fun for him.

Last winter, I remodeled one of our bathrooms. In the process, I broke the toilet. Yeah, I tightened the bolts attaching the tank to the bowl unevenly and pop! So I told P that we were going to destroy that toilet as soon as it warmed up and we could get to the range. He asked if he could be the one to shoot it. This spring, I decided to borrow a .243 from my buddy, John and let P take out some frustration on that shitter. I figured it would be a way for him to get excited about shooting a high-powered rifle.

As you can see in the video above, P was excited and was proud to have blown up the toilet. That was his first shot with that big of a gun. He thought it was cool. He now asks when he can go hunting and shoot his first deer.

There are plenty of things to consider for this new journey for P. Finding the right caliber of gun is just one of them. I've been doing some research and as much as I like the .243 for his first couple years, my fear is that he'll grow out of it pretty quick. I know it will kill deer and even elk if the shot is right but as much as I don't want to scare him off with the recoil, I also want to promote quick and humane kills and responsible hunting. I also don't want to have to pay for another gun in a couple years. I'm thinking the 7mm-08 is the way to go.

I'll be writing more and more about P's journey on this blog. I hope you follow along but don't forget that we're only half-way done with the fishing season! I'm still guiding folks. The water is now a little closer to normal and fish are happy. All during August, you can take care of the "Hopper Dropper Half-Day" special. Just visit the website and email me from there:

Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, July 16, 2018

Revisiting the Bead

It was more than a year ago that Scott and I discussed the "bead rig" on The Montana Dream Cast. I posted our link to the discussion on the blog but I didn't write about what we had discussed. It was kind of a tease, if you will, to get you to go to the podcast. Since then, there has been a lot of discussion about this rig and I see some folks have gone back to that blog post to maybe find out what I think. Unfortunately, they'd have to listen to the pod and I don't think that's happening. So I'm going to give you a little run-down now on what I think.

Here's what the reg's state:  SNAGGING: A technique of angling in which a hook or hooks are cast, trolled or lowered into the water and manipulated to embed the hook or hooks into the body of the fish. You have snagged a fish if: (a) you are fishing in a manner that the fish does not voluntarily take the hook in its mouth, or (b) if you accidentally hook the fish in a part of the body other than the mouth.

So here's the deal. The opposition to the bead rig points out in this definition of snagging, the idea that the fish does not voluntarily take the hook in its mouth. If you look at the rig, you'll see that the fish would eat the bead as an egg pattern and when the hook is set, ripping the egg out, the hook would catch the side of the mouth. Since the fish didn't actually eat the hook, this would constitute snagging.

I asked Justin Hawkaluk, District 3 game warden, about this and what he said is that if the intent is to get a fish to take the imitation, which is the bead, and then hook the fish, there's no violation. You are still getting the fish to eat and you are still hooking the fish in the mouth.

Other folks have talked to other game wardens in other districts and have gotten mixed answers on this. This leads to confusion and gives the bead opposition fuel. This has led to spirited debates and threats of calling authorities to turn people in for employing such hedonistic tactics. So much so, that a buddy called me up and asked my opinion. Here's what I think.

The first thing I'd say is that the bead rig isn't any more illegal than an articulated streamer. If you look at the bead, the only reason it's different is that it looks like the hook has more distance from the imitation but the reality is, if you put a couple feathers on the bead or a bunny strip, it would be no different.

Second; you have to discern what the "spirit of the law" is. The reason this law was made was to prevent the act of snagging whereas a person rips a treble hook through a pod of fish, hooking fish in random places other than the mouth. In some instances, this is legal. You can snag paddle fish at certain times of the year. You can also snag salmon in some areas at certain times of the year. What you can't do, is see a pod of trout or knowingly through a large hook into an area where you know there are concentrated numbers of trout and rip that hook through, hoping to snag a fish. That's what the law was intended to prevent.

Some folks would argue that this rig is actually more humane in the sense that they get more hook-ups in the mouth and fewer foul hooks. They also say they are easier to release with the hook in the side of the mouth. I'd have to do more research on that but it's possible. Those folks would also suggest that they get more hook-ups in general because of the nature of what happens with the hook-set when the imitation is pulled out of the fish's mouth. How many times have you set the hook on a fish, knowing it is a fish, and come up empty? It's because the fly came out of the fish's mouth at an angle where the hook doesn't grab anything or it's because the fish had already spit the fly out before you set the hook. If you do that with this rig, the theory is that the hook is more likely to find its home. Does that give the angler an unfair advantage? I guess one could debate that and then it comes down to this long history of trying to either be true to the act of fly fishing, the way the founders intended it to be, versus coming up with new methods that are just more efficient.

The irony here, is that some of the same folks who have a problem with the bead are also folks that take longer than normal leaders with a ton of wait and a wire worm with a hug pheasant tail behind it and rip it through riffles a mach 10, claiming that they aren't flossing fish. I'm not talking about getting your soft hackle to swing in front of rising fish or swinging streamers. I'm talking about ripping over sized flies across riffles where the angler knows fish are staging. The intent isn't to get them to eat at all but to run the line through their mouths before they can get out of the way.

So what is the real issue? I think for a lot of the opposition, it's that they see it's immoral to throw egg patterns period. The assumption is that by using the bead rig, that you are trampling over reds and disrupting the spawning process. That's fair. I think we should leave those fish alone. However, I don't think it's wrong to use an egg pattern to target fish that are staging behind the reds looking for eggs that get dislodged or just throwing egg patterns as another source of food regardless of where you fish them. Food is food and your job as an angler, is to figure out those food sources and present it in a way that a fish eats it. Period. In that sense, the egg pattern itself, is separate from the issue of the conservation effort of not disrupting the reds or the spawning beds. You can fish egg patterns all you want without trampling over reds.

Here's the bottom line for me: Did you get the fish to eat? AND, do you feel like you had to hide your method due to public scorn? Did it make you feel dirty? (BTW, I don't use this rig but it's for other reasons. I think there are drawbacks to it and for me, it just doesn't seem worth the downsides.)

Keep 'em where they live...

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Lunchtime Entertainment

I usually like to fish down on the lower river to get away from the clowns but this sh@t was classic and definitely added some good humor for lunch. 

We were parked across from what it is known as the "pump hole," which is a big eddy where the river bends and pinches together. I've seen rafters get sucked into the hole and not be able to get out but nothing like this. We watched for about 5 minutes while these folks paddled their asses off only to eventually get close enough to shore to drag this poor unicorn down stream and out of the hydraulics. 

Not to worry. The unicorn wouldn't sink and the peeps riding him were not in any danger. Great fun for all!

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Anybody seen my boat?

Just a quick update from a couple weeks ago for the boat wreckage on the number 4 bridge on the Mo. We floated by and didn't see it but thought that maybe the high water had engulfed it, submerging it out of sight. Well, we found it...

This is what's left of the boat. It was about 17 miles downstream on the beach. I think it's safe to say that it's unsalvageable.

Keep 'em where they live...