Saturday, July 30, 2011

What's wrong with this picture?

Don't look too hard, the answer is not in the picture at all.  This is Montana, it's beautiful, and it's summertime.  And if you're a bird hunter the summertime part is the problem seeing as it's neither legal nor very practical.  Right place, wrong time.  It doesn't stop a guy from thinking about how right the right time could be, though.  Driving through the valleys I stared at sheets of grass for miles wondering how many partridge were hiding underneath.  Life is a series of hits and misses.

This is my token post for the month of July. When it's 100 degrees outside, the grass is turning brown and not because it's going dormant, and when even dove season is still too far out to stir over it's a bit of a struggle to write about bird hunting.  There's just not much of it in the here and now and at times such as these it takes a stretch to tie it all together.

I spent last week in Montana (family wedding) and I don't want anyone to think I'm complaining.  It is simply beautiful, almost perfect, and I see why people go out there and never come back.  The reach of the scenery is beyond words.  Even though I couldn't put a dog on the ground and walk fields anchored at the edges by amazing hills I did manage to have an outstanding time.

There was, for a brief stretch of time, the possibility of doing some fishing.  Far better known for its dry fly bonanzas than wingshooting opportunities, Montana offers plenty to summertime anglers.  Except in years like this one.  Anyone who follows any fishing blog knows about the record snowpack out west, the runoff having muted much of the spring fishing season.  Every river we saw was full right up to the lip, not out of its banks but not offering one bit in the way of sand and shoreline.  We took the kids on a float down the Missouri one afternoon, putting in at Wolf Creek bridge and taking out at Craig, apparently a pretty popular stretch for fishers if judged by the number of drift boats in the water and trailers at each end.

I spoke to a few guides at the put in and the consensus was that they were catching a few on nymphs, nothing on dry flies (in spite of having to pull the caddis hatch out of my mouth to have a conversation), and if I really wanted to catch some fish I'd be better off waiting a week or two.  Easy to say if you live there I suppose.

I'm far too value-minded to console myself after shelling out $400 for a skunking by saying things like "Just being outside was worth it" or "It's not about how many fish you catch".  While I tend to agree with both statements when money is removed from the equation I can go sit on the bank for half a day with a line in the water and still have $400 to do something, oh, slightly more fulfilling or even necessary with.  So in the end I drifted past quite a few guys who paid their money for their intangible reward, never seeing a single tight line.

This little devil on the sign at the entrance to Yellowstone was the final bit of irony in a week that was but wasn't...

In the words of Nuke LaLoosh, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains."


  1. I am with you on mitigating the stench of a skunk with silver lining observations. I have said them both when hit with the sad realization that no game will be taken and then to have that amplified by a significant cash disbursement. Ouch.

    I sure would love to see and hunt Montana. When I do I hope it is as pretty as your picture and that luck is with me in picking the right place at the right time!

  2. Believe me, if I have any say in the matter on the next trip it will be sometime in October. Unfortunately I can all but guarantee it won't be this October after looking at the credit card statement.

    The one shining moment for me was a visit to Russell
    Chatham's gallery in Livingston. I'll save the details for another post but the long and short of it is that the gallery is closing in mid-August, so were it not for this otherwise bad timing I would never have made it.

  3. Bad timing, indeed...

    Your credit card statement must look like mine. I don't think I can swing it this year, but I'm shooting for a Montana trip next year. May have to sell a few pints of plasma to do it, but I'm gonna...

    My dad lives in Libby, which isn't classic Montana bird hunting territory but is about as nice a summer place as you'll find, especially when my back porch thermometer hit 109 today and not a drop of rain nor relief in the forecast.

    Something tells me I'm gonna be driving for my birds this year...

  4. That stretch of the Missouri upriver of the bridge at Craig contains some of the best fishing I've ever seen. One year in early July when the river was down, fishing the channels between the islands during a pmd spinner fall was like fishing a spring creek. Pods of big rainbow heads everywhere.

  5. Chad, I don't know a thing about the hunting up near Libby but it's close enough to Kootenai and Glacier that the scenery must be amazing. Hunting or fishing, summer or fall MT's a winner in my book.

    Gil, near as I can tell the town of Craig exists to support the fishing business. I've never seen so many drift boats in one place. Floating through those channels this summer, the water was 3-4' deep where I could see the bottom. Big water, I suppose. Beautiful, beautiful country though. And now I know at least one place to fish when I get back there.

  6. Twenty years ago one of my best friends saw an ad in Rod and Reel wherein a flyshop in Wolf Creek was looking for summer help. His high school aged son applied for the job, and got it. He lived in the tool shed behind the shop and worked there for the summer and learned the river. We used his knowledge of the river to fish it. He eventually guided the river and was hired by Frontier to guide in Argentina during our winter, their summer. Eventually he guided the Ponoi Peninsular in Russia for Atlantics. His next job was running a searun brown trout lodge in Tierra del Fuego. His dad and I lived our lives vicariously through Robert. Eventually Robert left the rivers and now has his nose to the grindstone in real work. It was a fun run while it lasted.

  7. Yeah Gil, you gotta do those things while you can. I quit a pretty good job a few years out of school to move to Colorado and ski for a winter. My dad thought I had lost my mind. Twenty years later I still don't have a single regret. I'd bet Robert feels the same.

  8. I hear you. My entire summer has been about chasing rumors and being skunked or frustrated by wrong river flows, the fishing was good two days ago or the fishing will be good in two weeks.
    My consultation prize...I've seen a lot of beautiful country.
    Great shot though and I'm glad you shared it!