A Montana Freebie You Don’t Want to Miss

I was  minding the store at Joe Cantrell’s Fly Shop one Friday afternoon when two fly fishers from out-of-state stopped in to purchase fishing licenses. I told them I couldn’t sell them licenses because they didn’t need them that weekend.

Kids Fishing” by Virginia State Parks Staff, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Every year Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks offers free fishing on Father’s Day weekend – no license required as long as you abide by the regs. And the great news is you don’t have to be a father to take advantage of the upcoming free fishing weekend June 15-16. You can be a single mom with kids that just need some exposure to the Great Outdoors (better than any video game in my opinion) or just someone from in-state or out-of-state who wants to wet a line. And what a great way to relieve the stress of the high octane world in which we live.

On June 6 in the context of proposed access for sportsmen to more wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries for fishing and hunting, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said, “Hunting and fishing are more than just traditional pastimes . . . [the additional access will] provide incredible opportunities for sportsmen and women and their families across the country to pass on a fishing and hunting heritage to future generations and connect with wildlife.” Like I said, better than any video game.

Recently I had a routine doctor’s appointment. Before seeing the doc, I was chatting with the receptionist. Though the office was air conditioned, she had a small fan feeding fresh air to her. I asked her about it, and she told me the flow of air helped with her anxiety issues. I joked, “There’s a pill for that,”  but she told me she found something better. She said that a few days ago when she was feeling like the walls were closing in, she went and sat beside the river for a while. Her anxiety evaporated like morning mist on the mountains. Taking a outdoor breather won’t cure everything, but it can help.

Oh, and by the way, Montana can’t lay claim to being the only state that offers a free fishing promotion. If you don’t live in Montana, check with your state’s fish and wildlife commision, and see what they offer.

So go fish.

 

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It Just Ain’t Natural

Poor wee man” by Froots is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I was descending a mountain after an unsuccessful elk hunt and on my way back to camp when I came upon another hunter’s camp. I stopped in to say hello to a young man who was hanging around the camp. We chatted about the hunting for a bit, and he confessed that no one in his group had yet been successful. He then looked around suspiciously as if someone might be hiding in the bushes and plotting against us. He lowered his voice to a hush, looked at me sideways under lowered lids and said, “It just ain’t natural. Three days in camp and no game! It just ain’t right.”

Yeah, well, life isn’t fair.

It’s just not fair that that trout snubbed the wonderful fly I just drifted down the conveyer belt, drag free and a brother to the other bugs it’d been eating. It just ain’t right! And so it goes in  many areas of life.

It’s not fair that someone just took the prime parking spot I’d spied right in front of the store. I’d just been aced out of rockstar parking! It just wasn’t right.

It’s not fair that traffic is slow and go, threatening to make me late for an appointment. It just ain’t right.

Recently I was reading the writings of the prophet Isaiah in the Bible. In chapter 40 and verse 27 the Hebrews were complaining about the unfairness of life: “‘. . . [Why is] my way hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God?’” (NASU).

Life isn’t fair. And even for those of us linked up with Jesus, sometimes it seems like even God is unfair! I guess the Hebrews forgot what the Lord had said earlier in chapter 40 and verse 10, that in the end it’ll all be worked out: “Behold, the Lord will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him.” (NASU). No more will be heard the words, “It’s not right! It isn’t fair!”

However, until the return of Christ, things probably won’t go my way. The longer I live, the more I understand that we’re really not in control of our lives, regardless of what we may think. Most of the time, all we do is react to what happens to us. But how we react is completely under our control. I was reminded of this recently when a personal project turned sour.

I live in the country, so I have a well. My well water is great, but as my well is a slow producer I recently installed a water storage tank in the mechanical room of my basement. Basically, the installation involved plumbing in the storage tank between the well and the pressure tank. Simple enough, even for a “mechanically challenged” person like me. The idea was that the water would be pumped into the storage tank until full, then shut off via the use of a float valve. But . . . the float valve malfunctioned (my fault) and the water ran over the top of the storage tank. Luckily, I caught the problem before no more than a couple of gallons spilled over. The problem was that the water partially flooded a guest room, forcing me to remove the carpet and dry it out. But it could have been much worse.

I thanked God that the problem was discovered before the water flooded my whole basement! It didn’t seem fair, and I didn’t much like it, but it turned out for the best. What if I’d been away for the weekend and returned home to find a lake in my basement? There’s not even enough room down there for a decent backcast.

What are your thoughts about dealing with life when it just ain’t fair? Share your thoughts and be an encouragement!

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It’s Okay to Be Average

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve not yet “arrived” as a fly caster. Although I can execute a pretty mean double haul and fling out a roll cast to a respectable distance, I still struggle tying a nail knot. And I’ve been known to slap down a size 22 dry with enough force to start a tsunami. I guess this pretty much makes me an average fly caster. 

The truth of is, whether in fly casting or life in general, most of us are a C or at best, B-average. There are a few Einsteins at one end of the spectrum and those with the intelligence of a floor lamp at the other end, but most of us are in the middle. Most of us are average. So is this messed up?

I vote no. It’s okay. Why do I say this? Because God chose mostly average people to populate His kingdom. As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:26  “. . . consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;” (NASU). Therefore I maintain that if average is good enough for God, it’s good enough for me.

Still, I dream . . . I dream of catching trout that average five pounds each on every cast, dropping a monster bull elk every season, nailing a 10-pound walleye, or bagging a gobbler with a 10” beard. But I usually settle for foot-long trout, 16” walleyes, and just about any old turkey. Why? Because I’m average, and it is in these things that average people find contentment.

And I have a great time being average. If I ever caught two five-pound trout in a row, I’d have to change my pants. If I managed to harvest a monster bull, I’d have to try for a bigger one next season. Same with a 10-pound walleye, or a crafty old gobbler. But because I’m average, I don’t have to worry about such things. Because I’m average, I’m off the hook. I’m not a slave to the pressure of extreme achievement. 

Of course, I want to be the best average person I can be, so I’ll work on my knot tying. And I’ll practice my fly presentation until I can float that 22 dry down to barely kiss the water’s surface.

My question is, if most of us are average, why do we pretend we’re not? In the fly fishing world it’s okay to idolize greats such as Steve Rajeff or Lefty Kreh. If we’re bow hunters, it’s okay to droll over the success of Fred Bear or Eva Shockey. If big ‘eyes put us in a trance, we might look up to a champion professional walleye fisherman like Tommy Skarlis. But such folks aren’t average, poor souls. And so I wonder if they ever reach contentment. There are plenty of stories of high achievers who committed suicide when their arrival at success really didn’t satisfy and they asked themselves, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”

My point: Most of us are average, and that’s just the way it is. So next time you blow a cast, tag a jake instead of a granddaddy tom, or settle for meat in the freezer instead of a wall ornament, remember that it’s okay to be average.

So what do you think? Is it okay to be average? What other advantages do average people have? Leave a comment and let us know!

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No Whining

Photo courtesy Todd Barnard, licensed under CC BY 4.0

Spring has finally sprung in the Rockies, and it happened all of a sudden: Within two weeks much of the snow melted, and the tree swallows, robins, and bluebirds returned. What a change from February and early March, when I was buried in snowstorm after snowstorm. One morning I got up and it was three degrees Fahrenheit. At least it was above zero. But then it got cold. Until recently I plowed snow off my 100 yard driveway an average of three times a week, sometimes every day. Not that I’m complaining about the weather. No way.

But I do have a complaint.

My complaint is that in winter and early spring there just isn’t much happening on the outdoor scene in my remote corner of Montana (except for plowing snow). So I was busy whining to myself, until I got to thinking of all the things available to me this time of year that get ignored at other times of year because I’m too busy fishing, camping, hiking, and hunting to make time for them. But what was once pushed aside, this season now brings to the front of the line. Here’s my list of things I can do right now. All I have to do is get off my butt. 

  • Study animal tracks,
  • Go snowshoeing,
  • Hunt rabbits (open year ‘round here, and no bag limit),
  • Hunt coyotes (also open year ‘round, no bag limit),
  • Practice photography skills,
  • Take inventory of my outdoor stuff, 
  • Study outdoor catalogs (following inventory of outdoor stuff),
  • Practice fly casting,
  • Apply for tags and permits for the upcoming year,
  • Feed the birds. Maybe. That old phrase, “Eat like a bird” is bilge water. Those little suckers can really chow. They once got into me for 25 pounds of seed per month. And once you start winter feeding, you have to keep it up. The little suckers come to depend on you. Too bad there’s no meat on tweeties. 

One more: Now is also the time to study my state’s fish and game regulations. Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (MFWP) has an abundance of resources on its Website, and I’d bet your state does, too, and a lot more than just rules and regs. On the MFWP website I can find information about Hunter Education programs, Montana’s WILD educational program, Montana State Park’s Visitor Centers,  a Montana wildlife field guide, things related to recreational activities such as outdoor ethics and safety, even links to free downloadable resources such as posters featuring Montana wildlife.  

But what about you? Let’s share. What do you do along outdoor lines to redeem this time of year? Just don’t tell me about fishing in your shirt sleeves for reds in the tidal creeks of Florida’s Gulf Coast. I might have to WHINE!

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Sometimes You Win, and Sometimes You Lose

“Whitetail Buck Walking Tail Up” by ForestWander (http://www.forestwander.com/), licensed under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 United States

Doesn’t seem to matter whether or not I’m carrying a rifle or a fly rod. Doesn’t seem to matter whether or not I’m hunting a well-used deer trail or sneaking up on a fishy bit of water. It’s the same feeling every time.

It’s the feeling of anticipation. Will I meet up with the deer that left those tracks? Or is there a hungry fish beneath the surface of that water?

I was immersed in anticipation on a whitetail hunt last season as I cut across a patch of mature forest and intersected my favorite deer trail, a funnel along the edge of a thick tangle of replant that followed a logging operation of about 20 years ago. The deer trail roughly skirts a line between the mature forest and the regrowth. Visibility is sometimes limited to 20 feet. Consequently, hunting this trail is done more by sound than sight due to the thickness of the terrain. Although it’s tough hunting, over the years I’ve taken a number of nice bucks here.

So I was anticipating great things as I cut the deer trail and began sneaking along its length. I’d gone maybe 75 yards when I heard the pounding of running hooves on the trail just ahead of me. At this point the trail bends around an exceptionally brushy patch about 20’ away. I readied my rifle. Around the brush came a beautiful rutting buck running full bore just a foot or so behind a hot doe. The pair were on the trail and running straight toward me as I stood on the trail. I had maybe a second to shoot. As doe hunting is off the table in this area, I was forced to find a clear shot at the buck without hitting the doe. A head shot was out of the question, as his head was lowered and his nose was buried you-know-where. The result? I picked a shot and missed, then jumped off the trail before I got run over by a testosterone-fueled buck. Oh well, I thought, I’ve got another week of hunting ahead of me, so I’ve got plenty of time left to fill my tag.

Wrong: I came down with a bad bug the next day and spent the rest of the season sick, sick, sick. The result was I put no venison in my freezer last season.

But I refused to be discouraged. Life happens: Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. We never know what a day will bring, let alone the next hour. No sense wasting time wondering whether or not the thing that just happened to us was good or bad. Doesn’t matter. We don’t have time for that. We might have to accept defeat sometimes, but we don’t have to live at that address.

Your thoughts? I’d welcome your comment. Just tap/click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this blog.

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Get Out There

The fruits: cancer, cirrhosis, heart disease, and suicide just to name a few. But these are just symptoms. The root is chronic stress.

Ward Creek Trail, copyright Mike L. Raether

As Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley noted in her article in the Miami Herald regarding chronic stress, “According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. And more than 75 percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.” (Bold face mine).

Scary, huh? Especially if you’re one of those who’re chronically stressed out. Somebody says, “That’s not me. I’m not stressed.” Really? How do you do in heavy traffic, especially if you’re late for an important meeting? Or perhaps you’ve lost a loved one recently, been divorced, or maybe had to relocate? WebMD has an informative article on the symptoms of stress. Check it out. See yourself there?

Assuming I’ve rang your bell, let’s talk about dealing with chronic stress. Dealing with chronic stress just might help you avoid cancer, cirrhosis, heart disease, suicide, and more. How? The solution is simpler than some might think.

Go fishing. Or hiking. Or hunting. Or camping. Or whatever. Just get out there.

Think about it: When you get out into nature, how do you feel?

  • The pressures of everyday life evaporate.
  • Your appreciation for the beauty of creation is renewed.
  • You have time to think and plan without all the normal distractions.
  • You’re more aware of the value of relationships as you enjoy time with friends.
  • The fog clears from your perspective. Things fall into place. Life makes more sense.

So for the sake of your health, stop making excuses. Get out there. Yeah, I know, you’re busy. So am I. Business is the curse of our age. Make time for some outdoor recreation. Especially if you don’t have time for a heart attack.

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I AM

Mission Mountains above Flathead Lake, Western Montana. Copyright Mike L. Raether

I’m enthusiastic about many outdoor pursuits, but my first passion is fly fishing. For some reason I feel closer to God while working out a fly line and floating down a bit of fluff and feather to kiss the surface of sparkling waters. Of course, I realize that just because I feel closer to God at those special times doesn’t mean He isn’t just as close at other times.

When God sent Moses to Egypt to lead his people out of Egyptian slavery thousands of years ago, Moses asked God, “Who shall I say is sending me?” God replied, “Tell them I AM WHO I AM has sent you.” This prompted me to do a little Bible study —

I found that “I AM WHO I AM” translates a word in the original text, actually a name, which basically means “I am He who exists, is, and will be.”

In my words God told Moses, “Tell them the eternal, self existent One has sent you.”

If you know the story of Moses in the Biblical book of Exodus, you remember that Moses went to Egypt and led his people out of slavery, but he certainly didn’t have a very easy time of it.

I got to thinking about that phrase, “I AM.” I remembered that God is not just present in the outdoors, but in all the experiences in life.

  • I AM.
  • I am present.
  • I am present in your sickness, and I am present in your health.
  • I am present in your weakness, and I am present in your strength.
  • I am present in your grief, and I am present in your joy.
  • I am present in your groaning, and I am present in your salvation.
  • I am present in your poverty, and I am present in your prosperity.
  • I am present in your defeats, and I am present in your victories.
  • I am present in your tears, and I am present in your laughter.
  • I am present in your fears, and I am present in your faith.
  • I am present in your doubts, and I am present in your confidence.
  • I am present in your play, and I am present in your work.
  • I am present when you sleep, and I am present when you awake.
  • I am present in your past, I am present in your present, and I am present in your future.
  • I am present.
  • I AM.

Care to share your thoughts? If you like, you can leave your views by clicking the “Leave a Comment” button under the title of this blog.

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A Sportsman Looks at Gun Control

I hate to admit I even thought of this – it’s a horrible thought, but it could be true.

“I guess we’ll just go home” by Elipongo, licensed under CC 4.0

Let’s suppose that in order to restrict access to guns, the anti-gunners are willing to consider students and other mass shooting victims as sacrificial lambs. You know, sacrifice the victims in pursuit of what they feel is the greater good: the removal of our constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Every time there’s a school or other mass shooting we get a knee-jerk reaction from some on the left: “We have to have more gun control! We have to outlaw ‘assault weapons!’ We have to make it harder for people to get guns!” And so it goes, on, and on, and on…

Seems ironic – to put it politely – that many progressives would like the Supreme Court to revisit its ruling on the Second Amendment, but certainly NOT its ruling on Roe v. Wade.

I’m old, so I remember when you could buy a gun from a mail-order catalog and have it delivered to your home. The thing I don’t remember is a bunch of mass shootings as a consequence. But then again, like I said I’m old so maybe I don’t remember correctly (but I do remember when the Boy Scouts . . . ).

To me, the bottom line is this: the problem isn’t guns; the problem is sick people.

What if more time, money, and effort was focused on identifying dangerously sick people and finding help for them instead of pushing for more gun control laws? Of course, first we have to make it safe to reveal mental illness struggles, but that’s a whole different issue. More laws are not the answer; some of the places in our country that have the most restrictive gun control laws also have the most gun-related crimes, such as murder.

I’m fortunate to live in Montana, where we have the some of the least restrictive gun laws. For example, I can carry a concealed weapon without a permit anywhere in Montana except for in incorporated cities (and of course, banks, government buildings, bars, and so on).

Got a story for ya. I live in the country and offer an RV site to tourists and others. A man once knocked on my door and asked to pitch his tent overnight. I didn’t really like the looks of the guy, and I noticed California plates on his vehicle (not that I have anything against Californians, per se), so I declined and suggested some free local options for camping. His expression revealed fear. He said, “But people in Montana have guns don’t they?”

Yeah, over 20% of us do, and that’s why a guy doesn’t have to worry much. A person with a gun is just as likely to protect you as herself. And bad guys usually don’t mess with Montanans as they just might be risking their lives by picking on a legit gun owner. In Montana, we can use lethal force against an assailant if we feel our lives are threatened, even if we’re not at home.

These are my thoughts – what about yours? You can leave a comment by clicking/tapping “Comments” under the title.

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Just Launch It

It’s called a boat launch, which might give you an idea of what it’s there for. But rather than talk about what it is, it might be better to talk about what it isn’t.

First off, it’s not a place to park your boat while you rig up your rod. Second, it’s not a place to park your boat while eating a sandwich. Third, it’s not a place to park while you scratch your backside. In short, the launch isn’t your personal parking spot. It’s called a “boat launch” because it’s supposed to be used to launch your boat, not rig your rod, eat your lunch, or scratch your butt.

To avoid the ire of the guy behind you who’s waiting his turn to launch (that cranky guy who just invited you to have a drink of water even though you’re not thirsty), check these tips to get you out of the way of crabby dudes –  

  1. Remove your tie downs, but do have a safety bow line attached.
  2. Have your fenders in place if using.
  3. If your boat uses them, place your oars in their locks.
  4. Have your ice chests, boat bags, rods, anchors, electronics and such on board and already situated on your boat.
  5. Oh, yeah, did you put the plug in?

Now that you know all this (or in case you already knew), you’ve earned the right to pass along this valuable knowledge to the guy in front of you who’s hogging the ramp. Unless, of course, he’s the cranky type who might invite you to have a drink of water even if you’re not thirsty. In which case, just get ready to launch. 

Okay, so I’m a crabby curmudgeon. Got anything to add? Just click “Leave a Comment” under the title of this blog article.

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Montana’s Boulder Lake Yields Fat Cutts

Great fishing prospects sometimes overshadow great fishing prospects. For example, to experience the exceptional fishing for westslope cutthroat trout in northwest Montana’s Upper Boulder Lake (aka Boulder Lake #1), you first have to ignore the Kootenai River’s tempting rainbows as you drive north from Libby, then refrain from rubbernecking the many enticing bays and inlets of Lake Koocanusa. But your rewards for staying the course are Boulder Lake’s high-mountains solitude and cooperative cutthroat that come at the modest price of an easy 2-mile backcountry hike.

Jeff Talbert nets a good one from Boulder Lake #1

I backpacked into Boulder Lake last September with my friend Jeff Talbert, right after a hard frost had made flying trout food scarce. After launching my backpack boat, I hooked, netted, and released fish after fish up to 16 inches long, using a size 12 Royal Wulff, my mountain lake dry fly of choice unless I catch a hatch. Talbert, new to the sport, had packed his new fly rod, and the fast fishing provided the perfect opportunity to get him hooked on fly fishing. I encouraged him to take a turn in the boat and fling a dry fly. He soon found himself attached to trout after trout. Another convert to fly fishing. For variety, we also tried subsurface fishing and enjoyed excellent results using Bigg’s Sheep Creek Specials and brown Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymphs, both in size 12.

I encouraged Talbert to fish to his heart’s content. But I actually started feeling a little guilty about all the trout I’d caught, even though I’d released them. How many fish does a guy need to catch? With a mortality rate of close to 5 percent for trout caught and released, I figured I’d killed two trout. I once met a fly fisher at a mountain lake and asked him about the fishing. He said it was pretty good and smiled as he told me how many trout he’d caught. I asked if he’d kept any to eat. “No,” he said. “I made my peace with trout a long time ago.” So have I, I thought. I’m at peace with eating a couple from a lake so richly populated, and they are a treat, especially cooked over a campground grill.

Given the ease of the hike into Boulder Lake, I expected company. However, only one other fisher made the trek, and he didn’t stay long. It’s a good thing I didn’t run into him later, though, or he might have gotten a snootful of bear spray. Accidentally, of course. While poking along the shoreline, I saw where he’d cleaned his catch and left the guts lying on a fallen log. There are few better ways to attract bears to your camp than leaving fish guts lying around. Northwest Montana is grizzly country, so Talbert and I bagged our food and hung it at night. Maybe I’m just cranky, but I’d rather not have a furry midnight visitor in my camp.

Fly fishing from shore is challenging at Boulder Lake. The shoreline is brushy, which makes anything but a roll cast difficult. In addition, the lake is mesotrophic, which translates to a soft bottom and substantial weed growth far out into the lake. A two-handed 5-weight rod would be an asset here. A better option is to pack in some type of floating device. Once out on the lake in my backpack boat, I found my 3-weight to be ideal.

To reach Boulder Lake #1, follow State Route 37 north from Libby. Continue 54 miles, and cross the bridge spanning Lake Koocanusa. After crossing the bridge, turn north onto Yaak Valley–Libby Dam Road (named Forest Service Road 228 on the USDA Rexford and Fortine Ranger District map) and continue about 3 miles. Turn south on Forest Service Road 337 and drive about 11 miles, then continue about a mile on Forest Service Road 7183 to the trailhead on the right. Forest Service Road 7229 is gated at the trailhead, and is actually part of the trail.

Now: Go do it with a fly!

(This article appeared in the May/June, 2018 issue of Northwest Fly Fishing magazine. If you’re interested in learning more about mountain lake fishing in Montana, you might consider my new book, Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes. The book is also available from Wilderness Adventures Press, Amazon, and Google Play)

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