Montana Outdoors

April 21, 2007

Staying Equipped for the Great Outdoors

Filed under: Fishin' stories, Fishing, Humor, Montana, Nature, Outdoors — montucky @ 9:06 pm

It’s a fact of life these days, and probably soon to be enacted into law, that you must be specifically (and expensively) dressed and equipped for every recreational activity in which you intend to engage, including but not limited to, fly fishing for trout.

The Federal trout fishing dress code regulations have not yet been completed , after spending the last thirty-seven years in the Recreation Sartorial Sub-committee of the House of Representatives before being passed on to the Senate for filibuster, but in the meantime the legislatures of most of the more progressive states have enacted a large number of their own ordinances, having quickly cut through all the red tape after receiving a generous amount of funding from Cabella’s, L.L.Bean, Orvis, Nike, Reebok and eight hundred or so other guardians of our appearance and safety.

Last week when a large truck from Rocky Mountain Motor Express pulled up in my driveway to deliver all four hundred volumes of the Cabella’s Spring/Summer catalog (and I want to publicly thank them for not sending the unabridged edition this time), I was suddenly reminded that it was high time to start on my 2007 fishing budget.

After perusing volumes 237 & 238 titled Fishing Shoes for Early Spring Wet Fly Fishing on the Yaak River, it became glaringly obvious that during the off season, unbeknown to me, China had produced several thousand new and absolutely indispensable products for the properly attired fly fisherman, and if I start right away, by working three jobs between now and the middle of May, I will be just able to afford the bare minimums required by the Montana 2007 statutes and still have time to obtain the required equipment permits in time for opening day.

So far the budget has come along nicely and is almost ready to be submitted to the Chief Financial Officer (my wife‘s official title) for final approval. I’m quite sure it will pass, assuming she somehow doesn’t notice the $700 expenditure surreptitiously tucked into page 12 for a GPS radio collar that will fit a Royal Coachman dry fly, size 16!

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April 17, 2007

Tree fishing

Filed under: Fishin' stories, Fishing, Humor, Montana, Nature, Outdoors — montucky @ 6:41 pm

Most people who aren’t intimately involved with the outdoors have the impression that fishing is done in oceans, lakes, streams, rivers and an occasional pond. Nothing could be further from the truth! As any experienced fly caster can tell you, most fishing is done in trees!

My personal favorite fishing tree here in Montana is the Alder: Thinleaf Alder (Alnus tebuifolia) to be exact. They have been called by other names from time to time, in fact I have observed a large number of very colorful descriptions of them over the years. I guess they’re at the top of my list because I have caught so many of them.

Alnus tebuifolia grows to be around 30 ft high, which is a very convenient height for the fly caster because he frequently uses approximately that length of line for most casts, at least on the smaller streams. There’s usually one stationed near the stream bank adjacent to a good trout hole (I think they have a contract with Mother Nature). When fishing rivers and larger streams, it is considered better form to catch taller trees, such as the pine and fir, but it’s slightly harder to do and they are not nearly as sporting as the Alder.

The exact technique for hooking Alders will vary from angler to angler, depending on their experience and ability. My own style has evolved over many years and is now perfected. I carefully calculate the distance to the exact spot where I have judged a lunker trout to be lurking, unspool the measured amount of line necessary to drop my fly precisely on that spot, go into my back cast and hook the appropriate Alder behind me which is growing at that exact distance, plus or minus a millimeter or two, depending on the wind conditions. This gives me plenty of exercise and gives the lunker an opportunity to escape or sometimes just stay put and laugh. I hate it when they laugh!

On my most recent fishing trip, after several hours on the stream, I met up with my fishing partner:

“Hey, Montucky, how’d you do?”

“Oh, the usual: two small Rainbows, one nice Brown, six Brookies, two pines, one fir and thirty seven Alders. How ‘bout you?”

“About the same. Except the fish. Didn’t get any of those.”

Well, what do you know! He’s a little short on experience, but already he’s becoming a purist!

April 12, 2007

The trump card

Filed under: Fishin' stories, Fishing, Humor, Montana, Outdoors — montucky @ 9:06 pm

Give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a day.

Teach a man to fish and you’ve pretty much ruined his marriage!

As usual in the off season (defined as any time I’m not actually out on a stream fishing) I was tying up another batch of trout flies, when my wife walked in and announced : “If you go fishing one more time this week I’m going to leave you!”

A quick glance at the Fish & Wildlife calendar on my tying table told me this time it was pretty serious: today’s only Thursday. Hmmm, let me think… a new week starts Sunday and…

(By the way, I started out using the masculine gender. I certainly don’t mean to leave out those of the female persuasion. If you are young, attractive and rich, or if you have an exceptional back cast , I may be contacted at….. but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here: there’s two days left on the ultimatum. It‘s still mathematically possible… I could make it.)

“Besides, I don’t understand how you can spend so much time with those slimy, smelly things!”

“Hon, trout aren’t slimy, they’ve got scales. And they don’t smell bad if you take good care of them after they’re caught.”

“I don’t mean the fish! I mean your fishin’ buddies! Compared to a couple of them a fish smells like a basket of peach blossoms. When was the last time one of them had a bath?”

(Well, there was the time when that log gave way and all of us had to swim back to the bank… But I was already losing this contest and didn’t want to bring that up at the moment. Besides, it was the previous summer and probably wouldn’t satisfy her stringent hygiene standards anyway.)

It was now obvious this was the time to play my trump card.

“OK, Hon. You’re right. I’ll leave my tackle where it is, start up the computer and work some more on those fishin’ stories I’ve been writing. Should have a couple of them finished by Sunday if I start right away.”

A period of very loud silence. And I knew I had won!

“I’ll get your waders and fix you a sandwich. If you leave right now you should catch the evening rise. Want me to call some of your friends?”

If I don’t use the trump card too often, this marriage might just last a few more years!

April 6, 2007

A horse of a Different Color and a Fish of a Various Size.

Filed under: Fishing, Humor, Montana, Outdoors — montucky @ 10:07 pm

(I don’t know how a horse got involved in this, but it did make an interesting title, didn’t it?)

I was planning a fishing trip the other day and while filling out the Environmental Impact Statement now required for an outdoor activity causing any conceivable impact on the status of wildlife (and since it was my clear intent to impact the heck out of the status of several nice trout I thought I’d better fill one out), I was reminded that fish come in various sizes, as noted on page 476, paragraph 3, line 6 of said Statement.

Now while that seems clear enough and should be obvious to most people, especially outdoorsmen, what often gets ignored is the fact that any individual fish can also come in various sizes. Following are some examples of this phenomenon.

The fish you set out to catch is always larger than the one you actually end up catching. (Enter this on page 734 under “intended devastation of the fauna“), although at best you can only come up with a rough estimate of its size. It’s best to use the largest estimate you can come up with because that way it’s not as easily construed to be one of an “endangered” variety. (By the way, never mention Bull Trout in any of these statements! That will draw the attention of the EPA, Homeland Security, PETA, your local Synagogue’s Ladies Auxiliary and Basket Weaving Society and several other regulatory agencies you’ve probably never even heard of. If you are a writer, it will increase your readership, but probably not the kind of readership you want to increase!)

The second example is closely related to the first. It’s the fish you tell everyone that you’re going to catch as soon as the season opens, some of the ice has left your favorite stream and most of your fishing tackle has been defrosted. This case doesn’t require filling out THE STATEMENT, but the fish alluded to is always much larger than any you’ve ever caught or you’d ever dream of catching, and varies considerably from the one you eventually will catch.

The third example I want to get off my conscience, er, I mean mention, is that the fish in my creel sometimes vary from the size of the ones designated in the “slot limits”. (For those who aren’t familiar with slot limits, they are regulations which only allow certain sizes of fish to be possessed on a certain stream, usually expressed as “2 under X inches and 1 over Y inches with Z number total allowed if it’s Thursday, otherwise you should have thrown them all back“.) I can explain this variance by using the same reasoning used in the old story that states “politicians always lie, therefore if you are lying, you’re a politician”. From experience I know that to be a true statement, so my statement also has to be true, as follows: “this 18 inch Rainbow I have here can’t be 18 inches because the ‘slot limit’ says it can be no longer than 17 inches, and who are you going to believe, me or the Department of Fish & Wildlife?”.

Finally, concerning fish that have been caught in the past. I’ve noticed that the size of each fish nearly always varies as time passes, sometimes growing as much as a pound a year over the first twelve years or so, slowing down slightly after that, possibly indicating that the story teller has a very fertile memory or a memory full of fertile things, perhaps left by the horse mentioned in the title. (You didn’t think I’d be able to fit him in again, did you?)

March 28, 2007

Howard

Filed under: Fishing, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Reflections, Writing — montucky @ 8:02 pm

Just off the south shoulder of snow-capped Thompson Peak in the Cabinet Mountains of western Montana, an ice cold mountain spring gushes out from among the bright green alders, striking blue lupines and tall spring-time grasses and its water begins a long and tumultuous journey to the Pacific some five hundred miles to the west.

A dozen miles to the south of the spring the little stream meanders through grassy green meadows overflowing with buttercups and dog-tooth violets and winds in and out through the shade of tall yellow pines. White tail deer dance aside as we enter this narrow valley, seeming quite willing to share the beauty, but remaining on high alert, not sure what to make of this Spring’s visitors to their ancestral home.

As we approach the small stream and I gently drop a fly on its surface for close inspection by a fat brook trout, I can see the smile of pleasure on Howard’s face. My old friend and fishing companion of many years just beams with delight as I play a brilliantly colored, spotted trout and finally place it in my creel on a bed of fresh leaves to keep it fresh until the trip back home. It is the first of a dozen this day and Howard thinks of how pleased his wife will be to have this first catch of the new summer for her favorite meal.

We greatly enjoy today, relishing once again the beauty of this wild place and feeling the joy of sharing it in friendship as we have done each spring for the past dozen years. But in recent years he has not fished, himself, being content just to watch over my shoulder and once again be my fishing companion.

For you see, some five years ago one of Howard’s daughters knelt on the grassy edge of a knoll overlooking our beautiful valley, removed from his old fishing creel an urn containing his ashes and gently laid them in their final place of rest. He is gone for now, but those of us who loved him will always feel the presence of our kind and gentle friend.

March 17, 2007

The birth of a fisherman

Filed under: Fishing, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Reflections, Writing — montucky @ 10:55 pm

I should know better than to write another fishing story, since as I recall, that was the activity which caused my banishment from polite society in the first place many years ago. Oh well, old dogs may not learn new tricks, but they remember all their bad habits very well! So, here goes…

One Saturday morning near the end of May, a small boy, four years of age, stood just behind his father in the bright green grasses of spring on the bank of an icy trout stream which was swollen by the melting snow; the west fork of the Bitterroot River. Despite the heavy run-off that year, the water was still pure and crystal clear. Behind and above them, six thousand feet closer to the sky, sunlight glittered on deep snow which sat like an ermine crown on the top of Trapper’s Peak.

Miles up stream, on the green, heavily forested slopes just below the snow line, new bear cubs had emerged from their winter dens and their mothers were already beginning to teach them the rules of living in the wild country; what to eat, where to find it and all the who‘s to be sure to stay well away from.

It was learning time in western Montana.

The father was not a large man, but he was wiry and tough from a lifetime of earning a living outdoors. He wore a heavy green jacket over his usual bibbed overalls, and a wicker creel which was heavy with trout and the new green leaves and grasses that kept them fresh hung from his left shoulder. His fly rod was old and made of split bamboo, but in good repair; a cherished veteran of innumerable trout battles, spring after spring and summer after summer.

There had already been many lessons on the ways of trout in the four hours since day-break in the canyon. The boy had been a rapid learner, he was quickly becoming skillful at landing the hard-fighting trout that rose to take his father‘s fly, and the fly rod already felt comfortable in his small hand. It was a pleasant experience and he was thoroughly enjoying the challenge. During the previous summer he had been just too little, but this year it was different. He was finally big enough now and it was time to begin learning the love of a sport that he would enjoy for the rest of his years. There was another lesson as well.

America was still at war. Battles were raging in various parts of the world and there were family members and friends who had answered their calls to duty and were still in harm‘s way. In such times it is a good thing to know a way, for however short the time, to achieve a break from all the stress and concern; a brief diversion of one’s thoughts from distress to pleasantness, to catch a deep breath and have a time of soul’s rest before returning to the cares of the world. The boy knew little of what all this meant, but he was learning a lesson none-the-less. He would understand it all and how to use it later, and it would never be forgotten.

So far the fish had all been small, judged by the standards of those now distant years, around a pound apiece, but colorful and full of fight; an excellent beginning.

A few hundred yards upstream from where they stood was a sharp bend in the stream, and along the shore on the outside of the curve there was a large pile of logs that had been deposited there years before during high water times. Far into the bank beneath the logs the water had scoured out a hole some thirty feet deep and twenty yards long, and the man already knew that it would be the exclusive domain of a large trout. And that it was.

They approached the hole and he began casting, sending loop after loop of line out toward the far bank, floating temptation down into precisely the right place, and when the line was extended perfectly straight over the water, let the fly drop lightly like the feather it was, mere inches from the edge of the log jam. Immediately there was a flash of silver, crimson and green as five pounds of Rainbow broke the surface of the water; a carefully cultivated reflex, a lightning-quick movement of the man’s wrist, and the battle began.

As soon as he knew the hook was well set, the father handed the rod to his son, saying, “He’s all yours now”, and assumed the role of a coach, watching carefully and giving instructions as needed.

“Keep the line tight, but not too tight.”

“Let him run, the water’s open! He‘ll take some line now.”

“Come, move downstream with him. You can’t hold him in that swift water!”

“Snub him up a bit, he’s heading for that underwater log. See it? Good move!”

For over thirty minutes the battle went on and the boy’s arms ached, but he was still game for the fight, and still responded immediately to the commands. Finally, several hundred yards down stream, the big trout began to tire.

“Keep the line snug and bring him over to the bank.” The stream there was a little slower, forming a deep riffle: a good place for the landing. As the boy fought the fish toward the bank, his father could see the hook was beginning to loosen: the trout would not be on much longer.

Acting quickly, he entered the stream below all the action and came up behind the tired fish. Chest deep in the icy water, he slid both arms under the trout and scooped it up on the bank where the boy dived on it as a good lineman would dive on a loose ball and held on until his father scrambled up to him and subdued the still struggling fish.

Then the final words: “You did it, Son! Good job!”

The grin on the boy’s face was visible for miles! A fisherman had just been born.

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