Thursday, August 25, 2016

Start Them Young

I took the opportunity to get Patrick out shooting yesterday. The guiding has been a little slow so I'm enjoying the break. As with everything it seems in archery, the technology for youth bows has sky-rocketed and it's easier and easier to get young kids into the sport quickly and seeing success sooner, which is always good for the little ones.
I made a trade with a buddy of mine to get Patrick into a starter bow. It's a Diamond Atomic with an adjustable draw length from 12-24 inches and a draw weight that goes from 6-29 lbs. There are other "grow bows" with more adjustability but the price was right and without really knowing if he would like it, it's difficult to justify dropping the cash on something more.
The draw weight right now is set at around 12 pounds, which is just tough enough for P to build a little muscle but easy enough for him to hold and aim. When I was kid, we had long bows and recurves and let me tell you, it was tough getting them back to full draw length and then hold for any time on a target. These bows make it pretty easy and quite honestly, more enjoyable for the kid and easier for the adult to teach.
I added sights to the bow as well. I think for me, I always just shot instinctively until I was in my twenties but when I made the switch, it was a little tough to adjust. My anchor point changed and I really had to tell myself to focus on the pin through the peep sight because in the heat of the moment, if I wasn't telling myself that, I would resort back to old habits and it was never good. Shooting sights is just more reliable now (and responsible,) at the distances we are shooting and starting off building those habits and that form is important. I also got a release for him, which he does use but right now, the fingers just work better. Once he builds up some strength, I'm sure the release will come out.
Like I said, there are other beginner bows out there that have a lot more adjustability and I would love to try them out if those companies would like to sponsor it. Like I said, the price was right for this particular bow because my buddy's kid was stepping up his game. The concept is great but I'd love to see what more is out there and potentially, try them out and give my opinions. Until them, enjoy the Diamond Patrick.
Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Big Scare-Proliferative Kidney Disease in the Yellowstone River

As we are all pretty much aware, the Yellowstone was shut down last week indefinitely by FWP because of Proliferative Kidney Disease killing thousands of whitefish and trout. It's a parasitic disease transmitted by spores hosted in freshwater Bryozoan which are aquatic invertebrates more commonly known as moss animals. I'm definitely not a biologist and quite honestly, slept my way through most of my biology courses in high school and college so I'm not going to pretend to know any more of this than I do but what seems to happen, based on the research I've been doing, is the parasite finds a host such as these invertebrates and when conditions are right, spores are released and infect fish in the waters the parasite inhabits.

My understanding is that the spores can survive in the infected fish for a while without the fish showing symptoms. When certain environmental conditions are met that create more stress on the fish such as warmer water temperatures, the fish succumbs to the disease, showing signs of a bloated abdomen as the kidney's swell and the fish dies. I think what's important to note here is that the water temps that were recorded as the most crucial to the morbidity rates that were studied in fish farms were around 54 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit, which to me, doesn't seem that warm.

From what I read, the disease was most concerning for fish farms where close to 100% of the trout in those farms would die from the disease. Hearing that can sound off the alarms if we generalize those rates to our wild fisheries. What we need to understand though, before running off with this "sky is falling" message is that in wild fisheries it appears that the disease is most detrimental to the more vulnerable fish. Again, I'm not a biologist but native species such as mountain whitefish don't seem to be as resilient as the formerly introduced and now wild trout although in many of the journals I read, trout in their first year appeared to be more vulnerable than more mature trout.

I think it's also worth noting that trout surviving the disease can develop an immunity to it. What this means is that some fisheries may have already had the disease and those fish may have developed resistance to it. In 1996, PKD was found in the Madison and had been blamed for whitefish kills as well as the South Fork of the Snake in 2012-2013. Although I don't think we should take the incident on the Yellowstone now lightly, I also would caution any kind of dooms-day reporting. Both the Madison and the South Fork have high trout counts as they have survived their outbreaks.

As for what species of trout are most at risk, I didn't find any evidence that one is more vulnerable than another. There are examples of brown trout being affected in Switzerland as well as rainbows and salmon in other European countries and now, cutthroat in North America as we are seeing some cutties being affected in the Yellowstone. Again however, it would appear that the fish that are being impacted the most tend to be the most vulnerable, which are the whitefish and the younger classes of trout.

I read a ton of articles and journals about the disease and the one thing I didn't find is an explanation of how the parasites are spread from river to river however, it would seem likely that boats or wading shoes or anything else that can pick up the hosts of the parasite could certainly spread it to other waters. If we could take any positives from this is that it's a glaring example of why we need to clean our gear and maybe it brings that point home to all anglers and guides before something even more detrimental is spread.

I do feel bad for those folks in Livingston and Bozeman that are having to deal with the economic impact of the Yellowstone closure. These folks are resilient as well. One advantage they have over some of the rest of us is that they are used to having to travel at other times of the year when the Yellowstone and other rivers are blown out. Having said that, it obviously brings concern to those of us that guide on the Missouri since they very well could bring the parasite to the us if it hasn't been spread to the Mo already. It does warrant some discussion of how we might reduce the spread of such outbreaks.

I realize it's not a very popular topic but there has been discussion over some kind of home-water restrictions for commercial use in the past due to how busy rivers like the Mo and the Horn get during certain times of the year. I'm not waving the banner for this yet but does this situation now bring some credence to the argument? Is this something we should talk more about?

Keep 'em where they live...

Friday, August 19, 2016

Aim Small--Miss Small

I shot this group at 70 yards. Yeah, seventy. I actually had a better grouping at 70 than at 50 or 60 and wondered why that might be. If you look at the target, you'll see the plate I was shooting at and the little pink piece of paper above it. I don't have a 70 yard pin on my sights so I put that little piece of paper about 18 inches high of the bull's eye and held on it. Holding tight to a smaller target, even at that yardage, helped increase my accuracy. At 50 and 60 yards, I was holding my pin on a larger target and thus, a larger grouping. So I should be good for shooting an elk or an antelope at that distance, right?
Let's not get carried away. There are a lot of variables that come into play as you get further and further out. The great thing about having a pass to this outdoor range is that there is a 3D coarse so I can test out some of those variables. On a flat range I was pretty good but once you enter things like terrain, branches and wind into the equation, I definitely need to put some time in before shooting out that far.
A couple things I noticed when on the coarse about shooting that distance is that 1) it's hard to pick a spot 18 inches high on a target without some kind of point to aim at. On and elk, I would figure 18 inches to be just about the top of its back. I'm confident that with the drop, the arrow would find vitals. On anything smaller like a deer or an antelope, I'd be way low so essentially, I'd have to put the pin about 6 inches or even more above the back, which would mean holding my 60 yard pin out in space somewhere. If you think about picking a point to aim small and miss small, space is not great.
The second thing I noticed that has a huge impact on arrow flight is the terrain. They make all these sights that compensate for the angle of the shooter when he/she is in a tree above the animal but I don't see a lot of compensation tools for when the animal is above the shooter. The first thing I did on the coarse was to shoot at a target that was uphill from where I was standing and I was lucky not to lose my arrows. The first shot, I held 18 inches high and the arrow dropped well below the target. Now fortunately, these targets aren't the real 3D targets that simulate an actual animal but more the burlap sack type that are pinned to a carpet bail and are huge so I was at least hitting the bottom of the bail.
"That can't be right," I thought so I held on the same spot and although my grouping was really good, I was way low again.
There is no real good way to compensate for an uphill shot. Yes, there are some really expensive range finders that will do the math for you but for most of us, our gear just isn't that sophisticated. I was 70 yards out and the target was probably ten feet above me and my arrow dropped about three feet from where I was holding. In a real life situation, my arrow would be buried in the grass and I'd be watching and hearing tines clatter through the brush. So basically I'd be kicking myself and I'd be out $21 for the arrow and the tip. (I'm cheap, remember?)
Another thing a shooter has to take into consideration is shooting off side-slopes. I never really thought that much about this until I was at John LaRue's, shooting behind his house in the South Hills of Helena. His entire range is on a side-hill and if you don't think that matters, try it sometime. My sights have a level and because of losing a couple arrows, I now pay attention to it. Trust me, I've never actually looked at the level while shooting at an animal but it does help with form and just being aware of how your body leans into the hill, which will canter your bow away from the hill. Your arrow will be off the direction your bow is cantered. (I'm sitting in my office right now writing this and I'm pretty sure that's how it was working for me but you'd have to try it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.) If you're off an inch at ten yards because of this, you'll be off; well I don't know. I'm not a physicist but you'll be off quite a bit.
I did shoot a few more targets at 70 yards that were either level with me or slightly downhill and I actually shot pretty well but there was no wind or tree limbs. Actually, there was one target that did have a limb about 20 yards out from me and I thought I could sneak an arrow under it. I held on the target 18 inches high, let my arrow go and it actually sailed over the limb and then dropped dead center for a bull's eye. So what that tells me is that the flight of my arrow climbs way higher than I would have ever anticipated before dropping back to center.
The bottom line here is that everyone needs to figure out what distance they are comfortable shooting at and although you might be able to hit a plate at 70 yards when conditions are perfect and you're able to place a pink square 18 inches above the bull's eye to aim at, when you're out in the field in a real life situation, that all changes and you need to know how you and your gear are going to react. I can tell you right now, I have a sixty yard max but I could foresee getting out to 70 before the season starts but only in ideal conditions. Anything more than that and I'd need to upgrade my bow.
As a side note, I was back on the river today and was very impressed. I fished with a gentleman I've guided a number of times now but he was always with other guys who didn't have a lot of experience and weren't all that interested in challenging themselves to throw dries. Bob was by himself today so we, I mean I, put him through a day-long crash course in dry-fly fishing on the Mo. It was good. REAL good.
Keep 'em where they live...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Practice Makes Perfect

It's that time...mid-August and the itch to get out after elk is definitely getting to a feverous pitch. I've been out quite a bit, practicing on the range and I'm feeling good. Practice does a few things outside of groupings like this at 30 yards. It's incredibly important and it's something I don't think a lot of folks take very seriously. I was one of those guys for the past couple decades but I'm getting back into the science and the art of bow-hunting more and more every year.
When I was about 14, I never shot with sights. In fact, we shot recurves and could still group arrows like this at 30 yards. We shot every day, all summer long. We actually would make up games to keep ourselves interested and the pay-off was being crazy accurate. (Most of the time we were shooting at chew tins and couldn't end a session until we fit every arrow inside the tin. Eventually we progressed to trying to shoot each other's arrows until that got too expensive.) It's too bad we sucked at the hunting part. I didn't harvest my first deer with a bow until I was 23.
It's crazy how technology has changed throughout the years. I got my first compound bow in 1985. It was one of the first to tout the teardrop shaped speed cams. It was called a York Tracker. I actually still have it and use it for carp shooting. I didn't have sights on it either though but I could still outshoot just about anybody I shot with within that 30 yard limit.
I was about 23 when I started upgrading my gear and learning about archery and taking it a bit more seriously. I didn't have the time to practice as much so I eventually put sights on my new XI Legend to improve my efficiency in getting back into shooting. At that time, it was one of the fastest bows on the market at around 240 feet per second. I shot my first deer with it and would eventually shoot my first three elk with it as well but it obviously became outdated quickly and within a few years, I saw my gear fall further and further behind the industry standards. I just never really had time to keep up with the technology and quite honestly, I was too busy during the bow season out here in Montana to justify spending money on new gear.
So now I am practicing more and I have upgraded my bow to a Hoyt Alpha Max, which is now also outdated but the thing shoots so well I'm not going to trade it in yet. In fact, what I was doing at 30 yards, I now can do at 40 and 50. It's pretty crazy. At around 315 fps, I can even feel confident in getting the job done at 60 yards and I'm even pushing out to 70. But that all takes practice, which is what I'm going to talk about.
Accuracy is obviously the name of the game but there are a lot of variables that can affect whether a shot hits home outside of just having your bow sighted in. I think that's kind of the misnomer with all this new technology and $220 sights with levels and angle compensation and sight tapes and dial-up range adjusters and bla, bla, still have to hold the bow on target and you have to take into account variables.
Part of the reason I practice as much as I do now is because I want to build up my shoulders to prevent fatigue. When you're fatigued, your arms will shake and you can't hold tight on a target when you're moving and it doesn't take much to miss a shot when you start getting out to 50 or 60 yards. When you think about it; if you're off a few inches at 20 yards, that gets multiplied for each 10 yards of distance increased so 6 inches at 20 yards could be a foot and a half at 60.
Now, non of us hold exactly still on target. We have what is called drift and the more fatigued we are, the more drift there is. There's like a circle that we drift around and as that circle gets larger and larger, we work harder and harder to pull the bow back to center. As we pull back to center, we swing or drift through the target and have to drift back, exasperating the problem.
Fatigue will also cause your bow arm to collapse in the shot and push the arrow anywhere but on center. There is a great article in Field and Stream about form and how important form is. When your arms get tired, your form is off. It's that simple and the only way to build up those muscles is to practice.
I know, when you're hunting you get one shot, right? So how much do have to build up to hold for one shot? Well, a lot of things can happen to sap the strength out of your shot. One thing is just chasing an elk for a mile or so before getting that shot. If you don't think humping around the mountains for a couple hours can't affect how well you hold on a shot, you better think again.
Adrenaline can also have an adverse affect on strength. I know, most of us think adrenaline can make he-men or she-women out of us but I've seen guys not be able to draw their bows back at crunch time because they are so jacked up. It happens.
And lastly, I know we've all had that bull or buck stop just before it cleared a tree or it looks right up at you before you can get a shot and you're full drawn and can't move. How long can you hold that string before you have to let it down? And then once the animal puts its head down, can you hold tight on him after being full drawn for 30 seconds or even a minute?
Last year I wrote a series on the process of shooting my elk and I plan to do it again this year. I have the time right now to practice quite a bit and to do some experimenting with gear and I'm going to share those results. There is a lot more to practicing that I'll touch on as well so I hope you'll all follow along and maybe even get something out of it.
Keep 'em where they live...
BTW, Patrick is getting into the shooting aspect of bow hunting right now as well. I'll be sharing his journey too.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Red Ants Pants

What does this have to do with the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulfur Springs, MT? Nothing. But I was getting to the FAS in Cascade two days ago and these things were flying all over the place and fish were absolutely crushing them so I thought about the festival and wondered how closely this flying ant hatch and the festival coincided. It's about two weeks off. The festival was at the end of July. Of course, these little guys are completely unpredictable and I've only seen a hatch like that a couple of times in my ten years of guiding but when you do, it's pretty sick.
It was seven years ago when I saw the first really good one. I was guiding with Mike Kuhnert and I have to be honest, was getting my ass kicked in the morning. Yeah, we were catching fish but every time I looked at Mike's boat, his clients were hooked up. It was pretty ridiculous. I figured in order to give us an excuse as to why we weren't catching as many fish, I'd put my clients on hoppers and try to pull something huge. At least then they could brag about a two-footer while their buddies were pounding the cookie-cutters.
We did get some nice fish to come up and landed a couple. Some were on the hoppers and some on an ant dropper. We decided to do lunch at the Craig FAS and discussed the afternoon plan. Both boats decided they wanted to throw the hopper/dropper just to see if we could coax a few pigs to the surface. We didn't see the ants right away.
We didn't get a hundred yards from our lunch spot and we knew something crazy was up. Anytime the ant hit the water even ten feet off the boat it was getting crushed. It didn't matter if it was drifting or swinging; it was going to get eaten. We took out about 3 miles downstream and about 4 hours later and literally had over a hundred eats on the ants. It was insane. (We didn't land a hundred fish...)
So now seeing these ants at the take-out in Cascade, I was a little bummed because our day was done just as it was getting good. As I went an got my truck, more and more fish started coming up across the entire river. I backed my truck in and was about to load the boat but I couldn't stand it anymore.
"You guys want to put a little more time into this?" I asked. "You might not ever see anything like this again."
"I came to fish," Jim said.
So we parked the truck and I rowed them back up stream a little bit and got them out on a riffle to throw ants for a while. We put about another hour or so into what was already a pretty long day but we did get some on dries and it was definitely worth the effort. It was short lived though, as the ants disappeared and the fish started getting back to being their weary stubborn selves.  
Flying ant hatches are totally unpredictable but if you get into them, it's pretty awesome. As a guide, you just hope you have folks in the boat that can get it done when it does happen. However, if you have beginners, it's also a great way to introduce them to a discipline that can be incredibly technical at times but pretty doable in these types of situations. Be careful though. It's easy to get spoiled.
Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


That's right. If you can find this fly for me, I'll give you half off on a guided trip. You have to be the first one to show me the link to where I can find them. I'm not kidding.
Here's the deal. I was fishing with a client a week ago and the fish were not eating the hopper. I went through the normal progression of pink, then gold, then tan and then I tried a couple different sizes and nothing. I was looking through my box and noticed this little guy and figured I'd try it. I didn't have any kind of epiphany or anything but I did notice some splashy rises and there were a bunch of blue damsel flies so figure, what the heck. Trout wouldn't leave it alone.
I only had four of these in my box and the first day my guy broke two of them off on big fish. The second day we literally only threw this fly for about a half hour because my clients broke the last two off on fish almost immediately. I have looked at most of the shops in the area and nobody has them. I looked all over the internet to no avail. I don't know where I got them or even what they are called BUT I WANT THEM! So if you know what they are and would like to share, for a reward of course, please give me a shout.
Could I tie them? Maybe. I've been trying but I'm not very good at it and all I have is a picture. I took the pic of the last one I had before tying it on my guy's line. It literally took him three casts! Yeah, three casts and he broke it off! I've been trying but my version looks like crap.
Keep 'em where they live... 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016