Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bernie the Billionaire's

If you've spent much time on the Missouri River below Craig, MT, you've probably seen this house. Everyone has some kind of reaction to it whether that's; "Oh, cool. Look at that house!" or it's like, "Oh wow, that's a lot of fricken windows. I'm glad I don't have to wash them." Regardless, it is impressive and it comes with some mystery and mystique.
Dave Ames wrote about Bernie the Billionaire in his book, "A Good Life Wasted," and with the help of his accounts of Bernie and the groups he used to guide out of this house, there have been some rumors and speculation about just what kind of a guy Bernie was. Well, I don't really know and I probably never will because he died some 10 or 12 years back but the house he built here on what was his favorite little fishing hole on the Missouri has become one of those landmarks we refer to on almost a daily basis.
The fishing can be stupid in "Bernie's hole" and the duck hunting in "Bernie's channel" has produces some pretty sick memories. Cutter retrieved his first duck at Bernie's and I'm pretty sure Chase retrieved his last there as well. Last week, I had the unique opportunity to build more memories of this iconic place as I was ask to guide for one of Bernie's son's trips out of the house.
While guiding some of Todd's buddies, I did get the chance to ask some questions about the house and what was in it. We even ate lunch in the house on one of the days and it is impressive although we weren't given the tour so we only saw the kitchen and the great room. I learned a little bit about it and gather some assumptions about who Bernie was but as for clearing up any of the mystery; I think I'll leave it out there. It's just more fun.
Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fall Fishing on the Mo

This was the view Saturday on the Missouri River. The sun came out, the wind was manageable, the fishing; well the fishing was stupid good. My guy, Darrin, who's only fly-fished now three days, absolutely lit it up and with views like this, you know he'll be back for more.
Traditionally, September has been the month to fish out here. Psuedo's start to wane and BWO's make an appearance. A fish's metabolism thrusts into "go mode" as the temps drop and they try to bulk up for the winter and everyone is happy. Unfortunately, the past few years; September has been a bust. The reason is the weather.
The past few years, September has been quite hot and our fall patterns have been delayed by almost a month. Although this September started out warm, we have gotten some really good pushes of cold weather with rain and that makes the fish happy and hungry, which also makes us guides happy and full.
This week is suppose to get hot again and we'll see what that does for the fishing. I'm guessing it will slow down a bit but you never know. The water temps are down and fish are eating and with a few days of sun, you might get a good hopper bite going. I know we'll be going back to the big stuff in my boat.
Keep 'em where they live...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Plan B

This is a big part of why I hunt. I get to see these views almost every time I go out. It's amazing what happens out in the mountains or the woods in that hour or so, where everyone else is sleeping or scrambling to get the kids ready for school or putting make-up on or whatever our busy lives dictate we do in the mornings. It's nice to hike up to the top of a mountain and breathe. However, I also hunt to fill the freezer so there is some pressure to be successful.
I had four days off this week to try to fill that freezer. Unfortunately, (or fortunately,) I got the call to work two of those days. I say that because I also have to pay bills and at this time of the year and where I'm at on my books, I can't justify taking that much time off. The fishing was good. The clients were great and the money; well what can you say about the money?
So yesterday was the first of two days I have off now to get the job done so I hiked up to my little honey hole as I've done earlier this season with the exact same results. I called in another hunter and there are no elk up there. Bummer. It's time for plan B.
I lived and worked in Boulder, MT about 12 or 13 years ago and spent a lot of time hoofing it around the hills. A couple of these spots seemed to always have elk and were so predictable, I actually brought LaRue down there after not hunting it for 5 or 6 years and told him, "Just park behind that big boulder and glass the other side of this drainage and there should be elk there," and there was.
I was kind of surprised I even found the road I was looking for. It's been so long and things looked quite a bit different after some fires had gone through that area. I remembered a lot of those hunts that ended with elk busting me and although I got into them quite often, I was never able to seal the deal. It brought back a lot of memories of those days working for Alternative Youth Adventures and the people I worked and hunted with. I sat there at the end of the road for a good 20 minutes just taking it all in but eventually it was time to hit it so I started getting my gear together.
While I was closing doors and shoring things up, getting ready for the hike, I accidentally hit the panic button on my fab and the truck alarm went off. There's nothing that attracts elks more than a horn honking out in the middle of the mountains. To say I was frustrated with how this season was going was a little bit of an understatement and this was just the icing. Just ask Jill.
I've only seen elk on one hunt and that was while I was antelope hunting down in the Ruby Valley. I thought about taking the drive down there but it's two hours and just kind of a pain logistically. Plus, you never know if someone else had already pushed those elk out of that drainage so it's a huge crap shoot. My alarm going off was kind of a sign and I actually thought about just packing up and heading home but this morning in my little honey hole I saw good omen; a prairie falcon landed on a branch right above my head and looked at me cocking its head almost as if he was encouraging me to keep on keeping on. Standing outside my truck with my pack on I actually thought about that little falcon and decided to hike.
I was about an hour into it when I crested a hill and busted a few elk off a little bench below. They crashed through the timber and weren't really slowing down. Bummer. I went a couple hundred yards and spotted another elk bedded down in the timber.
"Well, I didn't bust them all out of here," I thought. So I kept sneaking my way through the trees.
I followed some tracks for a ways until I hit a draw I've seen lots of elk in the past. There was so much sign in there I figured they were bedding down in the thick trees during the day and would come out into the parks in the evening. I kept sneaking through the trees and crested the opposite ridge when I looked down and coming up the adjacent draw was another hunter.
Disappointed, I turned and started back the way I came and was going to call it quits. I'm so tired of bumping into people. I started brainstorming areas where next year I'd take a week off and set up camp where I wouldn't run into other hunters ever day.
As I was heading out, I decided to take one quick look up the ridge where the parks started. As I worked my way up, I heard a cow call. I called back and it responded.
All those thoughts and frustration left and I was immediately thrust into go-mode. There are elk within a hundred yards and they're talking. They're not busting out of there. They're calling to me and there's a good chance I'm going to be able to get into them. The wind was right and there was plenty of cover along the bottom of the park. I eased my way up the ridge and made the turn around a ponderosa pine and there it was; a cow elk standing sixty yards from me.
It had pegged me but didn't really know what I was and when the elk moved out from the tree to get a better look, I sent an arrow right into the kill zone. The cow went 80 yards and my elk season was over. Well, I still had to pack it out...
Like I've said before, I'm a meat hunter. I've shot trophies and I'll probably try to shoot more but for right now, I hunt elk for meat. I didn't take a picture of the elk because it's not that impressive and I don't need to show the carnage. It's a good elk to fill some freezer with and that's that.
It is amazing though, how in just a moment things can change. One's attitude can do 160 and you realize that if you keep putting some effort into it and don't give up, things work out. This is 7 elk in 8 years for me with a bow. I'm not shooting trophies but I am filling the freezer and that makes me proud. I do like the idea of being somewhat self-sufficient and also like knowing I now have a plan B.
Keep 'em where they live...

Monday, September 19, 2016

Archery For Antelope

A couple misconceptions so far about antelope hunting this archery season. One, antelope don't just come running to a decoy and two, even at 60 yards; they're still too far to really see them on the GoPro video.

My decoy guy was Patrick for the first hunt. We did actually get to within about 60 yards. That would be the closest we got in three days of hunting. There were plenty of animals in the Ruby Valley but just not a lot of cooperation.

Heading out on the second day of the hunt, early in the morning, I did see a bunch of elk so my focus changed. They were heading up into the hills after an all-nighter of eating alfalfa. Flying solo without having someone to man the goat decoy, I figured it would be a better bet going after those elk--different species, same result.

I waited them out until about sunset when a spike came over the hill and started feeding down the draw I was posted up in. I watched him for about 15 minutes and when nothing else came, I figured he was a loner and I started heading to the truck. As I dropped into the next draw, I looked up the ridge and there they all were. The lead cow busted me and although they didn't spook, she didn't want anything to do with me and wouldn't move down the draw until I was out of there.

This Saturday I went back to my little honey hole near Helena, with some very disappointing developments. Two different camps set up at the bottom on the drainage I hunt and a couple local trucks were parked at the trail-head. I got up into the parks I like to hunt well before shooting hours but there were no elk in there. I'd be willing to bet they've been pushed out. I bugled and the only response I got was from the two-legged sort. With the wind the way it was this weekend, I can't believe the weekend warriors had too much success so maybe all the elk haven't been pushed into the high-country. It's not looking good for the home team though.

I did also do a few days of guiding on the river, which was really good. Back on the water today on a last minute trip and then I'm going to have to figure something out or this bow-season really will be my off season to harvest something.

Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ruby Valley

I had a few days off so instead of sitting around dwelling on it, I decided to chase speed-goats around. My tag is for the Ruby Valley, which does have some public land but also checker-boarded with a lot of private. Some of it is Block Management, which means the landowner has opened it for public hunting but you have to get permission. Sometimes that just means signing in at a sign-in box and some ranchers want hunters to actually come to their house and get a permission slip. After driving around for a little bit on day one, I figured it would be beneficial to get permission to hunt one of these ranches. (All the antelope does were on that ranch, which meant that's where the more active bucks would be.)
I called the rancher, we'll just refer to him as Dan, and set up a time to meet with him. I headed over and introduced myself. We got to talking about where and what I would be hunting and just kind of small talk when I asked him about the irrigation ditches being so full and then more specifically, why there's so much watering going on this time of the year.
I think we need to back up for a minute. I have been kind of defending the ranchers for using the system they were born into and I've been trying to be sympathetic to their way of life but I took clients out on the Boulder River the other day and I have to say, it was more than just a little disappointing. On one quarter-mile stretch of the Boulder, there were three diversion dams drawing at least a third of the water out of the river. Below those diversions, there was barely enough water to reach the cut-banks and only a couple holes had enough water to actually hold fish. It was kind of sad because I fished that river years ago and it was always pretty good and with what the USGS website was showing, it should have had close to normal flows of water in it.
(One thing about the website is that some of the gauges on some of the rivers are new and only have a few years of data so average flows on the site might not accurately represent historic levels. I suspect that's what's happening on the Boulder because I don't ever remember it that low and I had fished it a bunch back in the day; even during drought years.)
Driving down the Boulder a day after fishing it, then the Jefferson and on up the Ruby on my way to Alder, MT to hunt, I couldn't help but notice all the ranchers watering their September?! Are they trying to squeeze out one more cut? At what cost? I'm not going to lie, it really got my blood boiling.
I could feel the anger in my brow as it furrowed and contorted and to myself I was saying, "What the f#$k? Are these ranchers that greedy that they would suck every last drop out of these rivers to make a buck while the rest of us suffer?"
So now I'm sitting across from Dan and I'm asking him for permission to hunt his property and it took all I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn't offend him. But I wanted to know. I wanted to understand what the deal was with all the watering. I really wanted to gain some perspective so I was better at either defending the ranchers or proposing some kind of change to help preserve these fisheries.
So I asked and I'm glad I did.
"Are you a fishing outfitter?" Dan asked after inquiring about the irrigation still going on.
"I am."
He went on to explain.
In 1995, the Ruby River had a major fish kill as a result of dewatering by the ranchers so they got together and developed a water commission. The goal was to reach some kind of balance in order to preserve both, the resource as well as their livelihoods. With the help of scientists and FWP, they developed a plan that makes sure there's always a minimum flow of 20 cubic feet per second, which doesn't seem like a lot but for a river that size, is enough to support the fish and the fishermen.
One of the things they figured out was that by watering in the fall, yet still maintaining the minimum required flow, allowed for water recharge throughout the winter and into the next summer from shallow underground reserves. This isn't necessarily possible in all valleys but the Ruby Valley is the right shape and has a shallow bedrock that ensures that water flows back to the streambed. That recharge also helps to keep the river cooler because it's ground water or springs, which we know is good for trout.
Another thing the Ruby has going for it is that about 95% of the landowners are on board with the plan and they've never really had to legislate anything or appoint a water commissioner. They just call each other up and discuss the flow and if it gets too low, the ranchers decide together, how much water they should cut back. If everyone gives up 5%, that's usually enough to bring the flows back to where they need to be. No one ranch takes the brunt of a water shut-down and the fish are happy.
Again, the Ruby is a unique system and benefits from a few variables that other systems don't have. Back in the 1930's, the State Water Conservation Board; now the State Water Projects Bureau, proposed the building of the Ruby Dam and subsequent reservoir. The water in that reservoir is marketed to local landowners and other water users. One of those such users is Kennedy's Ruby Valley Ranch located on the lower part of the Ruby River. According to Dan, when the river get's lower than what they would like to see, they spend down their water shares, releasing water out of the reservoir but they don't draw it out of the river for irrigation. Other local landowners also have shares of that water they use in emergency situations but it's always done to maintain that minimum water flow in the river.
Now if you remember, the Kennedy's were the one's that tried to get their bridge access shut down to recreational users of the river. They have spent tons of money on litigation in order to keep their little piece of paradise exclusive to their guests. It hasn't worked yet but I've heard they are going to keep fighting so let's not give them too much credit for their ultraistic conservation efforts. In fact, if you go to the Ruby River, you'll notice that there is pretty good access to the river via the numerous leases the State has with many of the other land owners including the ranch Dan manages. This shows these ranchers do care about conservation and access for all. It also shows support for our industry; tourism and travel.
Don't get me wrong, the ranchers aren't going to just give up their rights and they are getting paid for the leases for access sites. They need to make a living too but I think this shows where we have opportunities for not just coexisting but actually collaborating on projects where both industries benefit and they can participate in our industry as well. And that's the point; where we can present opportunities for landowners to prosper as participants in the industry, we have a lot better chance of getting them on board for finding solutions to many of the issues we're facing concerning the health of our rivers.
On my drive I wondered about the chance that reservoirs could be built in watersheds such as the Boulder River. I've done a little research and have learned that when the Ruby Dam was built, 21 other dams were also built across the state in order to address water issues. That was in 1938. When I think about building such a huge project, it seems a little overwhelming but it shows that it can be done. And now with bigger and better equipment, and what we've learned about the watersheds and these ecosystems, I wonder what it would take to build more reservoirs for the sake of preserving the health of the rivers? It seems like we are blaming and pointing fingers and want people to give up something, which we probably do need some giving by the landowners but I wonder if we could use the Ruby as an example of how we might address these water issues without having one side have to give up everything? It's just a thought.
Keep 'em where they live...
P.S. I did hunt down in the Ruby Valley. I'll have to talk about that next time.

Friday, September 9, 2016


I had an early off yesterday, which was good because the wind was crushing me. I headed up to my honey hole and there's still nothing happening. It was still windy as all get out so hearing anything was pretty tough. I did see these gals standing next to the Recreation Road at Hardy Creek though. The sheep are really making a come-back in the area.
I have a few days off again and still have an antelope tag for the Ruby River Valley area, which is a good tag to have. Instead of fighting traffic in the mountains this weekend, I think I'm going to chase speed-goats. It's only my second season of hunting those speedy little critters and I've never shot one with a bow. I'll be trying the decoy method this year instead of trying to sneak up on them. We shall see.
Keep 'em where they live...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fall Weather Makes for Happy Fish

Labor Day brought some rainy, cool conditions to the Missouri. I had the great fortune of taking out a couple of Ed Lawrence's long-time clients, Mark and Jill Littlejohn for the day and we had an absolute blast.

The fishing can be very techy this time of the year as the pseudos can bring a lot of up but without clouds, they can be tough. With the right conditions however, life is good. If the cool temps remain, we should see BWO's pretty soon.

Check out the podcast for more info on what to use if you're heading to the Mo.
Big Jim is Back...Again

Keep 'em where they live...