Osprey Outfitters Guide Service and Fly Shop

Osprey Outfitters Guide Service and Fly Shop
Osprey Outfitters Guide Service and Fly Shop

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wolf Wars!

I am going to deviate away from fishing on this post because I want to rant about something that is having a devastating effect on our Montana lifestyle. I think I have cooled down enough now to write about this issue. On August 6, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Malloy reinstated federal protection for the Canadian timber wolf under the Endangered Species Act. The question, however, is how can an animal that is not endemic to the area, be protected under the Endangered Species Act? The recent ruling has many people in Montana up in arms, literally and figuratively.

This large wolf was killed in Salmon, Idaho
A common misconception regarding the wolf issue is that they were "re-introduced". The fact remains that the wolves were introduced! These are Canadian timber wolves, not the native Rocky Mountain wolves. The Canadian timber wolf is 33% larger, on average, than our native wolf and has completely dominated and overrun the natives. Since these wolves are significantly larger, they are having a devastating effect on our elk and moose populations. Simple math will tell you they need 33% more prey to survive. Also, being larger than the natives, they can track down and kill prey easier and in deeper snow. There was a day, in the not to distant past, when I would drive up the Westfork and see at least 3-6 moose at any given time. I have seen a whopping 1 moose in the last 3 years! Furthermore, the elk numbers are so thin in the Westfork, that there is currently a hunting outfitter asking Montana FWP to close the area for hunting; due to the lack of game. You know it is bad when an outfitter, who makes his living on guiding hunters, is asking for FWP to close his area!

Photo of a Black Bear drug out of it's den
and ripped apart by a pack of wolves on
the Westfork drainage
The introduction of the Canadian timber wolf is also having a dramatic and negative effect on other native predators. On July 28, 2010 Soda Butte Campground, in Montana, was the location for one of the worst grizzly bear attacks in recent history. One camper was mauled to death and two others received serious injuries. This attack was totally unprovoked, in the middle of the night and the campers had done everything right as far as food storage and bear preventative measures. Today, August 18th, the AP released a statement that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service concluded that the sow grizzly and her three cubs were starving. The sow was full of parasites and obviously malnourished. In response to the attacks, the sow was killed and the three cubs are serving a life sentence in the Billings zoo. A grizzly bear's primary source for large game in the summer months is moose. In recent years our moose have disappeared due to predation by the exotic Canadian timber wolf. As game numbers continue to plummet, there will be more and more human/bear conflicts, which will increase the death toll for bears. In may be coincidence, but this summer there have been more bears searching for food in places like Missoula, Darby and other urban interfaces. If you need further proof of wolf/bear conflicts, please come see a photo I have in the fly shop. It shows a black bear ripped apart by a pack of wolves up the Westfork drainage. The wolves dug into the bear's den, in the middle of winter, and ripped it to shreds. The only tell tale signs of a bear are its paw in the snow.

Tavy Mason killed this 165 pound wolf just east of Hamilton
Another fallacy regarding wolves is that they only kill the weak, sick, old and the never sport kill. First of all, there is plenty of video evidence showing wolves chasing down and killing healthy, big bull elk. Furthermore, tell the sheep rancher in Dillon, MT that wolves don't sport kill. One morning last August, he went to check on his sheep herd and 93 (YES 93!) of his sheep were slaughtered and left to rot. These are highly intelligent dogs and dogs sport kill. If you are not convinced, I have more proof. Where my family is from, Meeteetse, WY, we HAD two large elk herds. Both herds would enter winter with at least 20-35 cow/calf replacement pairs. Now, we are lucky to have 4-5 cow/calf pair at the start of winter! The Carter Mountain herd circulates from draw to draw passing through some knife edge ridges. The wolves have now figured out how to buffalo jump these animals. Once the herd is half way across a knife edge, the pack charges the heard; pushing 20-30 elk at a time over the edge to their death. Do you think the wolves are utilizing each animal? Oh, I forgot wolves don't sport kill!

Speaking of Wyoming, some people and Judge Malloy are blaming Wyoming for the recent ruling. Judge Malloy stated (and I am paraphrasing here) that since Wyoming is treating the wolves as a predator that they should be protected in Montana and Idaho. Remember, we are talking about an invasive species here, much like the New Zealand zebra mussel, Asian carp, Snakehead fish, etc. What should happen is an all out bounty on the invasive Canadian timber wolf to save what is left of the native wolves. It is true that Wyoming, in true Wyoming fashion (God Bless Wyoming!), took matters into their own hands after the Federal government rammed the wolves down our throats. Being classified as a predator, allows anyone to shoot the wolf on site. Even with this distinction in Wyoming, the wolves are thriving. These are intelligent and highly adaptable animals. I know a lot of people in Wyoming and they have all told me that once they started shooting at them, the wolves have become almost impossible to find. At least Wyoming has the balls to treat this issue as a State's matter.

Much like Wyoming, Montana should treat the introduction of the Canadian timber wolf as a matter of the State. With the current economic hardships, the traditional Montana industries of logging, log homes and construction trades have all but dried up. Here locally in Missoula, the Smurfit paper mill has been closed down, further increasing job losses. The one bright spot in Montana's economy is tourism; namely fishing and hunting guide trips. Montana is rapidly getting a bad reputation from hunters as the place NOT to come. In recent years, hunter harvest numbers have been on a serious decline. Furthermore, Montana FWP is talking about drastically reducing the amount of elk, moose and sheep tags. Their official reason for the decline in game is due to “harsh winter and spring conditions”. Are you kidding me?! The hunters that come to Montana don't just put money and food on the outfitter and guide’s table. When they are here, where do you think they stay, eat, shop and drink? The trickle down effect is mind boggling and worth millions of dollars to local economies.

So, where do we go from here? There is currently a movement by ranchers and sportsman's groups to appeal the ruling. The problem with this is that we are subject to 9th Circuit District, which is very liberal in its decisions. Out "esteemed" Senator Max Baucus is saying he wants the U.S. Congress to intervene. He claims to be adopting legislation that would put the wolves under the control of State of Montana. Given Senator Baucus' track record, we will have to wait and see. Locally, there are whispers of the 3 S's and old Montana justice. However, this has the potential to make criminals out of people who are just trying to protect their way of life from an invasive species. There is no easy solution to this ever growing problem. It is time to take a stand and make our voices heard or we will lose our hunting heritage forever. In the meantime, take a picture of every moose and elk you see because our future generations may not have a chance to know what they look like.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Big Brown Trout in the Bright Sun

I got a call from a client a few weeks ago wanting to fish out of a hard boat.  That was not a problem since I do own a 16' ClackaCraft drift boat (by the way her name is The Minnow).  I was concerned however that I would be relegated to fishing on the lower portion of the Bitterroot River, in late July, with bright sunny conditions.  Now don't get me wrong, the lower river can fish great, but  usually you need some cloud cover for the nice fish to look up.  I have had my ass handed to me on the lower Bitterroot on bright, sunny days.  So, needless to say, I was not very optimistic about our chances on July 27th.

As we slid Minnow in the water at 8:00 a.m., the temperature of the air was already 70 degrees with nary a cloud in sight.  Uh oh!  Our only saving grace was a couple sneaky springs I knew of in this section that could possibly make our day.  As we drifted down the river we had a few little fish looking at our flies.  We did see one VERY large brown trout go completely airborne about 3 feet.  The only thing I could think of is he was ambushing a small fish from below; much like Air Jaws off Seal Island, South Africa.  My client Ray gave a few futile casts to this behemoth.  I figured the odds of that fish eating a dry fly were slim to none, and slim had just left town.  But you just never know.  Unfortunately, this fish didn't even bother looking at Ray's fly.  After floating a couple hours and only seeing some small fish, we pulled over to hunt one of the springs.  I told Ray that these fish are pretty wary and there was little to no current.  We would need to cast to a likely spot, wait for the fish to cruise by and hopefully Ray's fly would grab the fish's attention.  As we walked into the spring there were three VERY large fish cruising and sipping a variety of PMD's (emergers, spinners & duns).  We tried every PMD in my box, which is a lot, for about 45 minutes with no success.  Every time a fish would start cruising toward his fly, something would divert it off course.  In complete frustration, I decided to unmatch the hatch and tied on a size 12 hopper.  I told Ray to cast it in and after it landed, give it a twitch.  Ray made a great cast and as soon as he twitched the hopper, it was too much for a very large brown trout to resist.  The trout opened his mouth and the hopper disappeared in a large swirl.  I didn't see Ray react at all and I yelled, "There he is, there he is!"  Ray came up with his rod and buried the hook into the fish's mouth.  I will never forget what happened next.  Feeling the pressure Ray was putting him, the fish jumped at least two feet out of the water.  It was then that Ray said, "Holy shit!"  I started laughing and said, "Yep, that is the one were were looking for Ray.  Now remember we are on 5x, so take your time."  Ray battled the large trout like a pro and about five minutes later a beautiful 22 inch brown trout was in the net.  After stealing a bit of his sole, we released him back into the spring where he still resides (see the video below).

I would like to say that the day only got better from there, but it didn't.  We walked into another spring but with no success.  By the afternoon, it was really hot.  I happened to look to the east around 2:30 and it looked like someone had dropped a nuclear bomb in the Sapphire Mountains.  It was the start of the Dominic Point fire.  This fire looked like it was going to be with us until the snow flew.  However, we have been having some unseasonably cool and wet weather, which has aided in getting that fire 90% contained.  We spent most of the afternoon finding good swimming holes to cool off and catching a few more small trout. It really is amazing though how one fish can save and/or change the face of a bad day of fishing.  Actually, there are no bad days of fishing only bad days of catching.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Fishing on X Creek

A week, or so, ago a guide buddy (Emmett) and I decided to get out of the Bitterroot for the day. He suggested we go try a piece of water (X Creek), which is a few hours away, more or less. Yes, I am being a little cryptic here. Please don't even bother to ask me where this place is because I am sworn to secrecy by the penalty of death. I had never been to X Creek, but I have heard stories from Emmett who had fished it a couple years ago. The only clue I will give you is that it has cold water, big fish and it is a few hours from here. That's it, no more clues!

After arriving at X Creek, we rigged up our rods and headed down to the water. Not only were we greeted by a plague of hoppers, it was obvious that the mosquitoes had not seen anybody in a LONG time. From the 100, or so, yards from the truck to the creek, I think I was drained of at least a pint of blood. The only saving grace was that I was wearing waders and a long sleeve shirt. You might by scratching your head right now at the wader aspect. If you know me, you know that I cannot stand waders. However, even though it was the later part of July and the forecast was for 90+ degrees, the water in X Creek is COLD. Another factor is the rock structure on X Creek is very jagged and slippery. This is no place for my typical bush hippie bare feet!

The fishing on X Creek can best be described as a long stretches between good holding lanes. We covered probably 3 miles of creek that day. Although we did catch some fish in the shallow banks, all our nicest fish came in deep, long runs. In the first run, it just so happened, that I was on the best side. I was fishing a #12 hopper and on my first cast and nice 15 inch rainbow sucked it down as soon as it touched the water. Emmett said, "That's nice but if you a good one one, you better be prepared to run downstream as it runs". These fish, I later found out, are so wild that they are not used to being fooled by an artificial. Once these fish get hooked, they absolutely explode and make some reel smoking runs. They receive very little, if any, pressure. As a matter fact the only footprints I saw the entire day were Emmett's. However, there were signs of four-legged critters. At one point, I looked down to see a very fresh pile of bear scat. This area is known to have some big grizzly bears and at least one had been there recently. We did not see any bruins that day, but we sure made a lot of noise as we headed up the creek. Anyway, back to fishing. After a few more casts in the same run with no success, I decided to try a local Bitterroot pattern tied by John Foust; the infamous Freddy. On the first cast into the run with Freddy, a very large brown trout absolutely crushed Freddy. Unfortunately, I didn't get the hook buried properly in its' mouth and it took just one head shake to spit the fly. The next fish ate Freddy as it was swinging at my feet. This was a beautiful 18 inch rainbow that took off straight downstream after I set the hook. I tried to land him like I would on the Bitterroot River, by swinging it to the bank. However, I forgot where I was and what I was dealing with and I should have run downstream with the fish. A few moments later the fish shook the hook. After getting my ass handed to me by two large fish, I suggested to Emmett that he take point on the next couple of runs.

As the morning turned to afternoon, the fishing just kept getting better and better. When I caught up Emmett he had just landed a 15 inch and a 17 inch brown trout. He then suggested that I fish the next deep run. After a few unsuccessful upstream casts, I walked upstream and let Freddy float downstream. I gave Freddy a little twitch and the water erupted. As my rod doubled over, I knew I had a really nice brown trout. He tried first to wrap me around a log and then he took off downstream full of piss and vinegar. I got really lucky in coaxing him around several large boulders, which I thought were sure to shear my line. I must have run downstream at least 50 yards before gingerly easing the fish to the bank. The fish measured 21 inches and weighed at least 3 1/2 pounds; a bruiser for sure. After seeing the success I was having, Emmett asked if I had anymore Freddy's. It just so happened that I did have one more. However, the funny thing was that Emmett does not fish Fred. He is not purist A-hole by any means but is not a true believer of Fred, until now. Just a small side bar, Emmett came by the other day and got a couple of Fred's from me to fish on the Bitterroot; another convert. We both landed a few more nice fish the rest of the day but my brown was definitely the fish of the day; makes me wonder how big the first one was! I did land another 19 inch brown that slammed Freddy on the tail end of a float as he was skating across the water. Go figure!

We both decided halfway through our day that we would walk all the way up this certain section of X Creek and get on the road to walk back to the truck. We knew it would be akin to the Bataan Death March. However, before we hit the highway, I shed my waders, took a long swim in X Creek and made sure my clothes and hat were soaking wet. This made the first half hour okay, but the rest off the walk was brutal. I even resorted to hitchhiking while waving a $20 bill to entice a ride. However, my efforts proved to be futile. Much to my amazement, a guy drove by with Montana trout plates and didn't even stop. That was probably good thing because I wouldn't have wanted to talk about where we just fished! I know a lot of people have their own X Creek, which is a good thing. Everyone needs a place to go where they can feel like they are one of a very few, if any, people to fish that specific water. There are still places like X Creek left, all you have to do is find yours.