Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Caddis, Caddis, and more Caddis

Unseasonably, warm weather is bringing a nice little surprise to anglers on the Mo. Caddis. It's tough to get a photo to do the amount of bugs buzzing around justice but all those little, (and big,) dots are caddis flies. We normally are looking for baetis, midges and some big October caddis at this time of the year but as the water temps come up throughout the day, caddis are loving it and fish are too.

My last trip I took a 68 year-old rookie out and literally, never threw a nymph-rig. If you are new the game yourself or new to the Missouri River, nymph fishing is the bread and butter for guides because it's not overly technical and you can usually get people into fish sooner than later with limited skills. But we said, "hell with that. We're going big dries or die," and we had a blast. 

The day started out with me teaching Paul how to cast and in the process, caught a little brown. He then landed his first fish in about 15 minutes of actual fishing as a nice rainbow gave him a slow roll on the stimi. Five minutes late, an 18 inch brown absolutely crushed the stimi in about a foot of water and Paul learned what fly-fishing on the Mo is all about.

Like I said, we had a blast from start to finish only throwing dry-flies. I can't tell you how much of a treat that is and I'm guessing Paul is now spoiled rotten on fly-fishing. If you want in, the guide season is certainly slowing down so we have plenty of opportunities. Give us a shout at 406-403-8163. With how hot it is, I'd rather be on the river than humping up the hills. 

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Woodcock in Montana

I swear I saw a woodcock the other day. In fact, I thought I saw several of them. So I took a photo for proof. It's not a great photo but I thought I had something.

Last year on The Montana Dream Cast, Scott Hirschi and I debated over whether or not there were woodcock in Montana. I talked to another guy last week that says he hunted them out here and shot several. We did a little research and apparently there were only like two ever sighted in Montana. I swear I've shot them out here, too! We looked it up on the FWP website and there is no season because there are no woodcock according to them. So this is proof right?

Nope. This isn't a woodcock. It's a Wilson's snipe. It's related to the woodcock but it's not a woodcock. There is a season out here for snipe. You can shoot 8 per day but if remember right, they taste like liver. And they are tiny. So have it. There are a ton around right now because they migrate and this is where they've landed until they move on. 

By the way, here are a couple photos courtesy of Wikipedia of a woodcock and a snipe respectively, in case you're wondering.

 And if you're wondering about the archery season for elk, I wasn't able to seal the deal. I had a fantastic season, learning a lot of new country and was into elk just about every day. I saw several different bulls. I saw a bunch of cows and put the sneak on elk a number of times where a step here or there different and my freezer would be full.

So what's next? Well, I still have a few days of guiding left. This October has been really busy and I'm incredibly grateful for that. But I'm also looking forward to a break. Duck season is open as well as upland birds and this weekend is the opener for rifle season. I have big plans for this rifle season.

The first objective is to get Patrick a deer. This is his first year he can hunt under the apprentice hunting program and he is jacked. I'm also pretty stoked to go out with him.

There are other folks that kicked around shooting their first deer this year as well. I may be spending a lot of my time helping out with rookies this year. That would be great.

As for me? I purchased an elk B tag and have permission to hunt a ranch out here on a damage hunt to fill the freezer. I will be chasing elk around the mountains a bit as well but I'm into more for the meat than anything. The one thing I have yet to kill, that I have a tag for, is a big mule deer. I've shot decent mulies but I've never shot one that I'd spend the money on to mount. I've said it before but I really am not a trophy hunter. I do, however, want to get one good representation of each of the animals I've hunted out here. So that's my goal. A big mule deer.

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Big Bulls in October

You're probably thinking you're going to hear a story about getting into bugling bulls out here as I have been out in the mountains a lot this fall. I have run into a few and have definitely screwed up some chances. I thought my archery season had come to a close, with me getting busy on the river again but as luck would have it, I was canceled four days. Four days is pretty significant and I really would like to be on the river making money but I'll take the time and make the best of it. The cows should be going into estrous and the bulls should be chasing. But October brings opportunities for other bulls I didn't really think about until yesterday.

I was able to re-book one of the days canceled with another outfitter. The clients wanted to see the Blackfoot River. As some of you know, the Blackfoot is on the West Side of the Divide; that's bull trout country. 

You can't target bulls on the Blackfoot or any other rivers in Montana with the exception of the South Fork of the Flathead. There is a reason for that. Bull trout were often seen as a nuisance to anglers up until the late 90's. Folks out here thought they were a detriment to the fisheries because they are predators. They eat the other trout. In fact, I talked to a client a few years ago that said they would actually catch bull trout in the streams out here and throw them on the banks just to get rid of them. Another guy told me they would go after them because they were poor and they figured one trout would feed the entire family. They are big fish. 

As a result, bull trout in Montana and most of the West nearly became extinct. (Just another example of us humans screwing things up.) In the 90's and early 2000's, conservationist added bull trout to the list of species they wanted to protect and laws were written. The fact is, these fish are ancient looking and just cool as hell. And when you see one in a stream that's literally as wide as your raft or drift boat that's approaching the 30 inch mark, it's pretty damn impressive and the average angler becomes incredibly thankful that this resource was protected. 
So yesterday I took my folks, Leslee and Jim, on the Blackfoot near Ovando, MT. The river was gorgeous with the fall colors at their pinnacle and the sun out after the fog lifted. The air was crisp and the water temps had dropped to the low 40's. There were a few other boats on the stretch we chose to float but not bad. One of the guys putting in was a guide I had seen on the Mo a number of times. I'm going to be honest. I've had some run-ins with him and I've never really thought of him as much for river etiquette but we said "hi" to each other and went on our way. 

The fishing was a little tough to begin with. We caught a few little guys and then my folks both caught two great cutties. The West slope cutties are amazing this time of the year--all colored up and just beautiful fish. It's one of the reasons I love the Blackfoot. With the second one, we decided it was time for lunch so we pulled over and did our thing. It gave the other guide time to catch up to us and pass us. 

We were seeing some October caddis so after lunch, we went big orange stimies. That action wasn't great but we were diligent. We wanted to see those cutties do their thing, which was smashing big dries. It's what makes freestones so fun. 

We caught up to the other guide-boat within a half hour after lunch. They were working a hole pretty hard so we decided we would just slide past them on the far side of the river and give them space. I actually told my folks to bring their rigs in so we wouldn't disrupt their water as we passed them and like the dick-head moves this guy is known for, he saw us sliding by and started pushing to stay in front of us. So now I have to slow down and pull back or I'm going to be right up his ass. 

Here's the deal; if you're going to park on a run, I'm ok with that. Fish it. Fish it until you've caught every fish in that run for all I care. However, if you're going to do that, you're giving up your position on the river. If you want to be first boat down, don't stop on these runs and ass-pound them. You gotta pick one or the other. That's all I ask.

So the other guide get's in front of us and is fishing the right side of the river and of course, we're coming up on him pretty fast. Leslee comes tight on a little rainbow--we make a huge production out of it. We let the fish go and I tell Jim to throw along a seem to the left. We're about 50 yards back upstream from the other boat. A 12 inch cutty crushes his stimi and Jim comes tight. 

Jim has a habit of losing tension on fish he's hooked unless they do him a favor of running straight away from the boat. He's not alone in this. Many of us have the same challenge of keeping up to trout as they come towards the boat, stripping line in and keeping a bend in the rod. Line management can be made more difficult in a raft when you're sitting down. Jim lost tension on this cutty and it ran to the bottom of the hole and stopped. When Jim came tight on it again, it was like that trout had wrapped itself around a boulder and Jim couldn't move it. He started pulling and tugging as if he was trying to get his line off the obstruction. The thing is, that obstruction started to move. 

"Dude! That's a bull trout!" I yelled. 

The bull came up to the surface about 10 yards behind the other guide boat as all three of us just about crapped our pants. All three of the guys in the other boat looked back in unison to see this nearly 30 inch fish with a 12 inch cutty in its mouth, rolling just under the surface causing boils in the pool as if a small child had just cannon balled into it. 

We fought that fish for about a minute before it broke off. Even though we didn't land it, it was pretty awesome to see and as the other guide boat pulled over to let us finally pass, we recounted the incident in detail with an enthusiasm that could only be matched by the first fish I ever caught when I was three-years-old. Yes, it was pretty awesome but we weren't done yet.

We were literally only a quarter-mile downstream of this first encounter when another small cutthroat grabbed Jim's stimi and again, Jim came tight. The trout went to the bottom and again, we thought it had wrapped up on something. Again, that "something" started to move.

"You have another bull trout!"

We didn't see this bull right away. In fact, it just started slowly heading up stream and with the way Jim's rod was bending, I thought it was going to break the rod. 

"Let 'em go Jim!" I said. "Don't horse him." 

I got on the sticks and started pulling the raft back upstream, chasing the trout until we got over the top of him. He came up and rolled on the surface. Again, we all just about lost it. 

This bull went back to the bottom and continued to work himself upstream and I continued to follow him by pulling the raft against the current. We fought him for about 10 minutes before finally getting him back on the surface. He had grabbed the little cutthroat by the head and inadvertently, got the stimi buried into the corner of his mouth. He was hooked and as long as we didn't break him off, he was going to loose this battle. A lot of times, a bull trout will grab the other trout sideways, much like a musky in the Midwest grabs a crappy or a walleye you're trying to land and they'll hold onto it until they get right to the net and then just let go. Sometime they don't let go and sometimes, like this guy, they find the hook. 

We landed him and quickly got him back into the water. Leslee took photos as I unhooked him and let him go. The regulations say you're not suppose to take the time to take photos of these fish. You are to release them immediately. But a fish that size? No photos? 

The fish was about 25 inches and only the second bull trout I've see landed. The first was about 10 years ago or so that I caught on a streamer. It was only about 19 inches and I don't have a picture. The thing is, there's a reason for the rule. 

We all believe we know how to handle these fish and keep them alive and healthy and we're probably right. But what happens, is pictures are taken and people post them all over Facebook and Instagram. They are impressive. However, it creates a desire to go after these fish to have a photo for yourself. 

Guides do it. Anglers do it. I've even seen outfitters have those pics on their websites and business cards. To me, that's crap because you're creating a demand for something that's off-limits. And it's off-limits for a reason. It's a fragile resource. 

I actually talked to a client this year about an outfitter he hired a while back. The reason he hired the outfitter was because the outfitter had a picture of a bull trout on his website and he knew how rare it was to catch one. He even asked the outfitter if it was possible to get something like that on his trip. The outfitter told him it was but when the client came out, he said they weren't able to fish for them. 

The bottom line is the more photos, the more abuse of this resource so just trust me, this was a pig.

Keep 'em where they live...

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Crunch Time

This was a view from about 4:30 in the afternoon. I walked up into this park to find a couple cows and a bull. It's hard to see but there is one of the cows in the frame just as she was walking off the park. I was 83 yards from one, 100 yards from the other and only about 40 yards from the bull. I actually remembered to turn the GoPro on as I thought this was a done deal. I had cover. I had elk feeding and not really paying much attention. I had wind in my face...that is until it wasn't.

The wind swirled as it often does in the mountains and these elk busted me. But, it was only 4:30 and there were plenty of elk in the area.

Sometimes you gotta play the course. That's what we say in golf when you get a lucky bounce off a sprinkler-head and your ball kicks up onto the green. Or, you smack a tree and you find the fairway. Or, like in Minnesota in April when the courses first open up, there's still ice on the ponds and if you play it right, you can skip a ball off the ponds and hit 400 yard drives. On public lands, when other hunters are out there, sometimes they burn you but sometimes you can use them to your advantage.

About a half-hour before sunset, I was walking down the road--working my way back to the truck, when I heard a huge bugle. I had been looking for that bull so I took off after it. Sometimes you sneak. Sometimes you go charging in. I decided to charge.

I only got about 50 yards or so when I heard some dude bugling at this bull. "Shit!"

I thought for a minute. This bull doesn't want anything to do with another bull. The guys calling are actually pushing this bull further away. If I hustle, I can get in front of the bull and head him off. These guys might push this bull right to me. So I took off. Not on a dead sprint but pretty quick.

I ran up the edge of an old burn down a cow-path. I was moving and listening and the bull kept screaming. I also kept hearing the hunters calling back. I pushed ahead until right on the edge of the old burn, just inside the pecker-poles, (small lodge-poles,) I saw a cow. She had me pegged and only about forty-yards out. There was an opening about 3 yards wide to her left. I drew. She bolted through the opening and I couldn't get a shot.

A lot of elk hunting is just making the right choice at the right time. That doesn't mean there's necessarily a definite right and a wrong choice. One day the choice you make might work and the next it doesn't. Some of it comes down to intuition and experience and a lot comes down to luck. I knew that bull would step out into that opening, following the cow. I was full drawn with my forty-yard pin trained on the spot where I thought he would come out. Something in my head created doubt that he would step out there or that it would be a minute or two so I let the string down. Sure enough, a few seconds after letting it down, that bull stepped out and looked straight at me at 40 yards.

I drew. He saw me. I thought I had time to get off a shot but as I pulled the release, he bolted and I had a clean miss.

I've had a week off to chase elk. That's rare in the guiding world because September is usually pretty busy. But I keep telling folks October is better and my October is looking really good. I'm ok with having time off to chase elk around. It's been a blast but today is my last day before I get really busy again. It's crunch time.

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Covered Up in Elk

Wow. A couple things about this picture. One, those antlers look a lot bigger than they are...it pays to learn how to take a good photo and two, I need some sleep. That is one puffy face.

But it's elk season and I only have a couple more days to get the job done. I've had opportunities. I actually passed on a couple shots now because I didn't feel good about the shot or I wasn't desperate enough to take a chance. 

The other night I was covered up in bugling elk. I hiked 7 1/2 miles and finally, started hearing bulls about an hour before sunset. One bull turned into two and then three and I swear by dark, there were 8 to 10 bulls lighting it up. The mountains were echoing but I ran out of light and needed to head out. I was a couple miles back and with bears and boulders and cliffs to negotiate, hiking out in the dark is a little unnerving.

I spent the night in the back country again. The plan was to get back into where these elk were early before they bedded down. I was so sure I was going to seal the deal that I brought my pack frame in with me. As hunting goes, those elk had partied all night and I was too late to catch them before bedding down. I heard a couple bugles in the distance but no opportunities. Maybe today is the day. It's Tuesday and I go back to work on Friday.

Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, September 24, 2018

Grousing About at Elk Camp

John LaRue and I set up elk camp this last week in a place I've only hunted once before this year and that was 14 years ago. We didn't shoot an elk but we did get some grouse. Well, I only got one but John limited out with his bow. Check out the video for some of the cool shots. 

As for the elk hunting, it was fun. It was tough. We had success in the sense that we were into elk and talking to them but we didn't get a shot off. We did have a couple really close calls but that's what happens when elk hunting with a bow. There can be a big separation between close calls and finishing the deal. 

Elk were talking but they weren't all that rutty yet. The bulls that had cows would rather take what they got and run versus challenging anyone that was stepping on their turf. The bulls that were by themselves seemed like they were content being alone. That might all change in a couple days. I still have some time off so it's back the the hills.

Keep 'em where they live...

Sunday, September 9, 2018

2018 On the Hunt--Broken Down

Do you see it? In the park to the left of center. There's a bull standing in there. Yeah I know. There's no way you can see it because it's like, two miles away. But I know he's there now and I've seen him come out on that park twice in the evening so I need to make a plan for tomorrow. The problem with hunting and plans is that they involve animals that don't necessarily follow the plan and other variables that are often out of our control.

This happened to me a couple years ago, where I watched a bull go into timber off of a park a few times and I decided to post up in some trees off the edge of the park and wait him out. It worked on that day and although it wasn't a huge bull, it was definitely a rewarding hunt. You can check out the details here: http://themontanadream.blogspot.com/2015/09/done-and-done.html

So when things work out, it not only affirms some feeling like you might know what you're doing, but it also contributes to an expectation that things will work out and then frustration when they don't.

I stayed the night in this drainage with the idea of going after that bull the next day. I actually got a bull to bugle within a few hundred yards of taking that photo and went after him but the bulls are just talking right now and they don't really want to engage. The bull I glassed from across the drainage was pretty predictable and I felt like I could head him off the next evening as he came back to feed. It's a good plan if nothing screws it up...

A few days ago, I noticed a noise coming out of the wheels on my truck. I brought it in and had a mechanic take a look. He thought it was the front rotors so they did a full-on break job for about $400. I left feeling confident that they had indeed fixed the problem but they didn't. I noticed that noise again as I was driving through the mountains. I figured I'd just wait until I was out to have them look at it again but I woke up the next morning, jumped in the truck and drove around to see another vantage-point to glass and realized that this was something serious. Not only did the noise get louder, there was also now a grinding sensation. Not good.

The grinding and the squealing coming from my wheel was so loud, I'm guessing every animal in the mountains for miles around was covering their ears and heading for cover. It wasn't the rotors, although now my breaks were locked up and grinding the rotor to a pulp. It was the bearings and I'm 15 miles from nowhere and worried about getting out. The bull would have to wait.

It wasn't an epic ordeal getting out. I left the truck in 1st and 2nd gear and only touched the breaks when I absolutely had to. I rolled up the windows and turned up the radio and prayed I didn't start a fire. It worked out. I nursed it all the back to Helena but now I'm waiting for bearing to be shipped. Bummer. But I do know there are elk in those woods and I will be going after them again.

Keep 'em where they live...

P.S. I took my winter bag this time and was actually able to get some sleep. However, in the middle of the night, I heard this whooping sound that woke me up. Sasquatch?