Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spring Has Sprung!

It is spring out here in Montana and it's looking good. The really nice thing, coupled with a decent snowpack throughout most of the state is that we are still staying pretty cool for now and it's looking like the trend will continue for a while. That's the key; good snowpack and not having stretches of 80 degrees early in the spring.

Don't let the cooler temps keep you from enjoying spring fishing. It's going to get rolling pretty good here soon. Water temps are still in the mid-to-upper 30's but with the days getting longer, water temps will gradually warm up and bugs will come. The mid-day midges are a good bet right now and in a couple weeks, we'll be seeing BWO's and even some March browns. This year may even be a "normal" year for the hatches, which might mean BWO's through May. I'm looking forward to it.

Hey, check out The Montana Dream Cast. Scott and I are gearing up for a great season and giving tips on gear; when to skimp and where you should probably drop a little more cash.

Scott Takes a Selfie

Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, March 13, 2017

Public Comment on Rules To Help Contain Zebra Mussels

You ever wonder what the big deal was with zebra mussels? This photo is courtesy of my hometown newspaper, The Brainerd Daily Dispatch. It's a shopping cart that was pulled out of Lake Superior and covered with zebra mussels. Imagine your dock, your boat motor, turbines in get the picture.

Tomorrow, March 14th, FWP will be holding public comment on proposed rules to help prevent the spread of these things in Montana waters. If you want to see what the proposed rules are and how you can voice your opinion, go to the IR link provided:

A couple months ago, a buddy of mine, (who happens to be a guide,) asked me about these things and what we should be doing about it or even if it was a real threat. I kind of poo-pooed it as something that has been found in our waters recently and something that has been a real problem for the Great Lakes Region of the States but I didn't think we had much to worry about. In fact, it was my understanding that we had found evidence of zebra mussels in the Missouri River about ten years ago and they haven't become a problem. Well, I'm not sure where I had gotten that info from but I feel I may have been misinformed and definitely am changing my tune. This is something we should be worrying about and definitely worth revisiting.

I think part of the problem with many of these types of issues is that we are, in general, a pretty complacent bunch until something becomes a pain in the ass. We don't like change and we fight tooth and nail to prevent rules or laws to be implemented because we don't want to screw up the routine. Routine is comfortable and safe. Abiding by new rules is a pain. Right?

Let me just tell you something. Do you really want to see what a pain in the ass these things are? You want to see a real change in your routine? I guarantee you, these little critters will change our lakes and river systems for ever and most likely, it won't be good. Just about all indication from regions that have dealt with this will point to one conclusion and we don't want that. The time to get on-board with a proactive approach to the zebra mussel problem is now. If we start seeing these things in our waters, it's too late and we have seen evidence of them in Tiber and possibly a couple other places.

Now I know, it's hard to imagine the destruction from these little critters and maybe you're thinking I'm being a little dramatic so let me give you some numbers and resources so you can judge for yourself:

David M. Lodge and John D. Rothlisberger of Notre Dame, David C. Finnoff of Wyoming, and Roger M. Cooke of Delft determined that the median estimate of damages is $138 million annually but could be more than $800 million annually in the Great Lakes alone.

Government officials have said the total cost of managing the impacts of zebra mussels in Ontario is estimated to be about $75 to $91 million per year; that includes funding, “education, cleaning, maintenance of equipment, around zebra mussels,” said Colleen Sklar, executive director of the Lake Friendly Project.  “In Canada, the price tag rises to about $7 billion.”

It is likely the overall aggregate level of cost to the Great Lakes region is significantly over $100 million annually.
You want a success story? Here you go:

The success of this community to fight off colonies of zebra mussels was due to thousands of hours of volunteers to actually dive down and hand-remove the mussels. They are still having to dive and survey the mussels and hopefully, prevent new colonies from establishing.

I've only seen one other "success" story as it pertains to zebra mussels. I've written about it in previous blog postings but just to reiterate; the cost of eradicating the mussels in an area about a couple acres on Christmas Lake in Minnesota, cost $70,000. A few months later, mussels were found in other places in the lake and the DNR decided it just wasn't cost effective and too damaging to the ecosystem to continue the treatments.

We are going to have to make some sacrifices. That's the bottom line. Again, you can voice your opinions at the public hearings or write into FWP via the email address provided in the link. Be a part of the solution.

Keep 'em where they live...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Zinke Rolls Back Lead Ban

One of the topics from this week's, The Montana Dream Cast, was the rolling back of an Obama order on his last day that would ban the use of lead for hunting and fishing on Federal Game Refuges. It was Ryan Zinke's first order of business at the Capital and pretty much ended the efforts to ban the use of lead on all federal lands by the year 2022.

I know, your first thought might be, "Sweet! Less regulation, more opportunity for us outdoorsmen and women..."

There is science behind the ban and although I have found myself in the previous camp for years, I have been doing some research and now question that sentiment. Did you know that it only takes 1.27 grains of lead to poison an eagle? You see that .270 cartridge in the photo? That's 130 grains. Less than one percent of that bullet, if ingested by and eagle can kill it. For those upland bird hunters; if you're shooting #7 1/2's at huns or doves or grouse, one pellet from that shell can kill an eagle and a pellet from a BB shotgun shell has seven times that lethal dose.

While doing the research I did also find some opinions from the other side of the argument but I had to stop reading after only a few because it's just not rational and I'm tired of people not looking at the science and using arguments like, "Well, the bald eagle population is healthier than ever so what's the big deal with a few eagles dying?"

It's not just a few eagles, you...(whoops, I was about to offend some people.) It's the fact that it's eagles, hawks, owls, loons, fox, mink, and even all the way up the food chain to bears that could be affected by fragments from lead bullets and pellets from shotgun shells and even sinkers from anglers. Yes, bears. We joked about that on the podcast that a grizzly on a gut pile is probably safe but the reality is, he might not be. Although there hasn't been any evidence of bears dying from lead poisoning from spent ammunition, studies on gut piles do show the potential. And we have the opportunity to do something about it but because we're all so politically polarized and completely against any kind of change, nothing happens and we just go about our business with our heads in the sand regardless of the impact we're having on each other or the environment.

When I was kid, I remember the discussions on non-toxic shot for ducks and I was completely against it because of the price. It's true. Steel shot is more expensive than lead and back then, it was about double and I really didn't want to pay for that. But the price has come down and if you compare apples to apples, meaning you find shot size and loads that are equivalent, steel shot right now is about 25% higher than lead. So if you were spending $7 on a box of 6 shot, high base shells for huns and grouse, now you'd pay about nine bones. The more non-toxic shells that are our there, however, the more that cost will come down.

I know, another argument is the ballistic coefficient of lead versus steel and I have used that argument as an excuse why I didn't knock down that duck or goose a hundred times but then I started actually shooting a little better and to be honest, there's really not that much difference on shots that I should be taking. Will lead reach out a little further than steel? Probably but I've shot ducks at distances I had no business shooting with steel so if the bird is out that far, just let it go. There will be others.

Ok, so my real concern was with rifles and what the difference would be in cost and in ballistics and here's what I found. There are not a lot of options right now for non-toxic bullets but there were a couple. They were copper bullets and one box from HMS was the same price as the lead equivalent, granted, HMS is pretty expensive to begin with but even with the Federal shells, the price was within about $5 per box. The ballistics were almost identical. Again, the more the non-toxic cartridges are produced, the more the cost comes down.

As for the anglers, I am a little more skeptic about the impact of lead fishing gear on the environment but then I again, did a little research and although there might not be as much of an impact, sinkers and lead jig heads have definitely been the culprit, killing off many birds such as common loons and other piscivorous animals feeding on fish that may have broken off an angler's line. These occurrences seem to be a little more localized or regional but it does show an impact. Birds also pick up sinkers and use them in their gullets to help grind their food and there is evidence of ducks and other waterfowl ingesting sinkers as they forage for invertebrates in the mud.

As Scott and I talked about on the podcast, I think there should be a discussion on how far to go to prevent our impact on the environment and what we can do to prevent lead poisoning in wildlife. What is the risk and how much effort do we have to put in to solve the problem? (I certainly am interested in people's perspective on this but PLEASE DO NOT USE THE DEFENSE OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT AS YOUR ARGUMENT!)

When I bring up this question though, it seems a little silly. We have the technology. We have the industry that would love to make a couple more dollars on a box of shells or a pouch of sinkers. Lead poisoning from spent ammo and fishing tackle is 100% controllable so what was the question?

Keep 'em where they live...

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Fish of the Year

Well, it is the best fish we've caught so far this year but to be fair, I've only had the boat on the water one day...yesterday and it was only March 4th. This is Scott Hirschi; on-air personality for the Mighty Mo, podcast collaborator on The Montana Dream Cast, and fly fishing enthusiast with his fish of the day.
So how was the fishing? In one word I'd say, solid. We only fished for about 4 1/2 hours and landed about 15 fish.
I hate when people put numbers out there so let me just explain. Everyone's definition of a good day is different. Some folks would be happy with just one fish like this and some of us might have a little higher expectations; at least for the number of fish caught although, that's a really good brown and something anyone would be proud of. It is March and the water is very cold and you can be assured that fish are still going to be pretty lethargic so 15 fish in 4 1/2 hours is pretty good and is a good place to set the bar. And the reality is, is we weren't really trying that hard. We didn't recycle or sit on runs when we found fish. We did try different bugs at times just to see if we could get them to eat something different and we still did pretty well. AND, I fished left handed for the last half hour and still landed a few...(I also accidentally punched John LaRue, who was rowing at the time, in the back of the head while stripping in line, landing a fish. It's very awkward and I must have gotten a little lose. Sorry John.)
So what were they eating? The same stuff they always seem to eat this time of year on the Mo. Pink. We caught most of the fish on a rainbow Czech (which has a pink collar,) and a few on a fire-bead sow. Oh yeah, and I have to regrettably report that the brown was on a pink lightening bug...I don't think I own a pink lightening bug anymore so it wasn't my idea. We did see some midges and a few sporadic fish coming up on them but not enough to really target. We didn't throw streamers because we wimped out and didn't want to get our hands cold. When I say we I mean one of us...but again, nobody really wanted to work that hard and we had fun doing what we were doing, which was giving each other a good dose of crap, drinking a couple beers, and catching a few fish.
Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Definitive Answer on the Bead

If you want to know if the bead rig is legal, check out the podcast by clicking the link below. We got some definitions from the local game warden on what is or isn't considered snagging.

The Definitive Answer on the Bead

Ok, if you don't have the time to listen to the podcast, just know; you're missing out but I will tell you anyway. According to the game warden I talked to, the bead rig is totally legal and one could keep a fish using the bead rig as long as it was hooked in the mouth. However, a foul hooked fish, regardless of using this rig or any other rig, is not legal to keep. Now, I don't use the rig myself and we all have what we consider is ethical concerns about the rig or maybe not. Legally however, you're fine. Personally, I couldn't care less as long as you're not standing on reds while fishing it. (If you don't know what the rig is, look at the previous blog post.)

I posted the picture above to give you an idea of the size difference between a calf elk and an adult deer. This was taken in early August. By hunting season, that calf would be even bigger. Why is this important? Again, on the podcast, Scott and I discussed passing on calf elk as we both have. However, sometimes we all make mistakes and sometimes calves are difficult to discern from a year-and-a-half old cow when they are standing alone. That is of course, provided they don't have spots.

Keep 'em where they live...

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Bead Rig--Legal?

The Bead Rig--Legal?

Check out The Montana Dream Cast and follow the discussion as Scott and I debate whether or not this rig is legal in Montana.

We also talk about the gym, beer, music, new news on zebra muscles, and other things we like to talk about out here in Montana.

Also, check out this link if you're interested in joining the debate over provisions FWP may be enforcing in their efforts to prevent the spread of zebra muscles and other invasive species and parasites.

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How Big was Your First Deer?

I spent a good part of the last couple Springs trying to get Cutter, my pooch, to find sheds. People make quite a bit of moola on sheds out here. Even if you only find a few, it's worth it. You get to spend time in the mountains, get some exercise and maybe make a few bucks. This was Cutter's first legitimate find. We were snowshoeing the other day and he came back with it hanging out of his mouth. It was a bit random and unexpected but it is a shed. It took a couple years and it's not very big but it's a start. What was your first buck?
FYI, Fish, Wildlife and Parks recommends giving the shed-hunting a rest until some of the snow melts in order to not put too much stress on the animals and the reality is, I doubt many of the bulls have dropped their antlers. This was obviously a young deer, which was probably a little premature.
Keep 'em where they live...