Category Archives: Leisure

Believing that a life properly lived includes the deliberate pursuit of recreation and relaxation, here you’ll find a junk drawer mix of comments and thoughts on the things we enjoy in Montana’s Big Sky Country: eating, sightseeing, photography, hiking, backpacking, camping, hunting, fishing, and more.

Please Pass the Fly

Fly fishers, I’ve seen the enemy, and he’s not an anti-conservation whacko or the member of a radical environmental group. The enemy of fly fishing is us.

Royal Coachman copyright Mike L. Raether, 2018

According to the 2015 Special Report on Fishing, although fly fishing is less popular than either freshwater or saltwater fishing, it’s normally the first choice among beginners. Nevertheless, fly fishing is gradually losing participants.


The number one cause is a lack of mentorship.

Almost half of all fly fishers are 45 years of age or older, and the majority of fishers (more than 65%) choose to go fishing with a fellow adult. Only about 7% bother with taking someone fishing under the age of 18. Very sad, in my opinion.

It’s when we’re young that many new things are tried and many stay with us. If you liked riding a bicycle, swimming, or hiking as a kid, you probably still enjoy such things (I love riding a bike, even though I fall off a lot. One time I ran over my wife who’d just fallen off her bike in front of me). The 2015 Special Fishing Report I mentioned above notes, “An early introduction to fishing is critical to participation later in life. More than 85 percent of current participants started as children ages 12 and younger. Participants associate fishing with positive memories, such as being immersed in nature and spending time with friends and family.” Of those who tried fishing as kids, over 85% are still fishing today.

So in the interest of preserving our tribe, consider the following –

  • Take a ride on the mentor train. Take a young person fly fishing. And don’t overlook the ladies – almost half of all those who embrace fishing are female.
  • Make sure they have good equipment. How would you like trying to fly fish with a utility-pole rod and house wire fly line?
  • Take ‘em someplace where they can catch fish. The number one attraction for first-time fishers is catching fish. The number one detraction for first-time fishers is not catching fish.

So – go pass the fly. You might even have more fun teaching someone else to fly fish than fly fishing yourself. And as a bonus, once he or she gets the hang of it, you no longer have fishy-smelling hands.

Perhaps you have some tips to pass along? Maybe you have some advice or an experience you’d like to share? Please do. You can comment by clicking “leave a comment” under the title of this post, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe to my blog.

The Joys of Still Water Fly Fishing

Mention fly fishing to most anglers and a picture comes to mind of a fly fisher standing knee deep in a sparking river while casting a fly line, or perhaps of a fly fisher sitting in a drift boat and working a fly rod while happily sliding downstream on a gentle current.  But this is only half of the story. The other half of the story unfolds on still water.

Little Spar Lake, Montana

Lake fly fishing has some great advantages over moving water fly fishing —

  • You don’t have to mend line to maintain a drag-free drift,
  • Flies can spend more time on or in the water, rather than flying above it (most fish can’t jump high enough to grab a fly whizzing by on false casts 8′ above the water). Flies that spend more time on or in the water than above it equal more fish on the end of the line,
  • The particular piece of water can be worked thoroughly, rather than rue the hole you just missed as you drifted by, and
  • You don’t have to be concerned about spring runoff. Most still water remains fishable throughout the season.

The one big disadvantage with still water fly fishing is that you have to provide the movement; there’s no river current to stimulate action when wanted. But neither is there a current to fight. Provide fish-enticing movement of wet flies and nymphs via stripping, hand twists, or a combination. Vary retrieve type and speed until you find the sweet spot.

A first look at a lake can be puzzling: Where are the fish? On a flowing water you have seams, back eddies, and pools to prospect for trout. But a lake can be a daunting; at least on the surface the water all looks the same. Don’t you believe it. Before you make a cast, study the shoreline topography. A gently-sloping shore usually indicates a gently-sloping bottom. A steep shoreline often means deep water offshore. Also note inlets as they float fresh food to trout, often offering the fish a virtual bug buffet. Of course, you’ll also want to watch for rising fish. One more tip: Research your choice of still water in advance of your adventure. Try You Tube, Google Earth, and if you’re considering Montana where I live check out Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks FishMT for info. Another good resource is Wilderness Adventures Press.

However, whether they live in flowing water or still water, all trout need the same things: Chow, cover, and comfort. Paying attention to these three will lead you to the fish. Here’s a quick summary of each:

Chow. Just like you and me, fish like to eat. But fish diets include things we’d rather not have for supper, such as bugs, minnows, worms, leeches and the like. You can learn a ton about the food in a lake by dredging an aquarium net along the shore especially in weedy areas and emptying the contents into a clear plastic bottle containing a few inches of lake water. Check out your “catch” and you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to fly selection.

Cover. Fish have enemies, both the finny kind that swims under the surface and feathery kind that flies above it. They need shelter. This could take the form of a weed bed, a drop-off, or other underwater structure such as logs, boulders, and brush.

Comfort. Just like you and me, trout need certain conditions to be cozy. Water temperature is especially important; trout like their water at 50-60 degrees. Research the lake temp by lowering a stream thermometer down through the depths on a line marked at one-foot intervals to find the right level.

Now go do it, and tell us how you like fishing still water. Perhaps you have some tips to pass along? Maybe you’d like to say something about flowing water fly fishing?

You can comment by clicking “leave a comment” under the title of this post, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe to my blog. 

We Have a Winner!

About a month ago, I ran a contest on my blog. The winner was to receive a 48 piece survival kit by Zombie Tinder. Today I’m pleased to announce the winner of the kit: Kim in Lexington, and Kim is a very happy hiker. Here’s what she had to say about the survival kit–

“The survival kit arrived today and it’s the coolest… my husband was impressed too! Very thoughtfully put together and something we will keep on hand for that unforeseen emergency situation. Thanks again!!”

We LOVE giving stuff away. So much so, in fact, that we decided to run another contest for the month of June.

Zomber Tinder SAR tin. Copyright M.J.C. Raether 2017

Here’s the deal–

Everyone new subscriber to this blog from today through June, 2017 will be entered into a drawing for a SAR (Search and Rescue) Survival Tin. But don’t let the name fool you: the SAR kit isn’t just for search and rescue personnel, but for anyone who might need to start a survival fire. Igniting a life-sustaining fire is Job Number One when in a survival situation.

New subscriber’s names will go into a hat, and one winner will be drawn. No cost, no obligation, no crap. Your prize will be shipped direct to you from the manufacturer, Zombie Tinder. Zombie Tinder is a resource for survivalists and preppers. The company was created by my entrepreneurial son, who shares my name. You may want to check out some of Zombie Tinder’s offerings as well and their YouTube videos.

A few brief contest rules—

  • You must be 18 years of age or older to win
  • Members of my immediate family and employees of Zombie Tinder are ineligible
  • If you win, you’re responsible for any tax assessment
  • The winner must provide name and address in order to receive the prize by mail
  • Winner must agree to having at least his or her first name and city published.

Please email me if you have any questions. But otherwise, just enter. You can’t win if you don’t enter! If you don’t pull the trigger, you can’t hit the target.

Let’s Do This

“It’s a  tough job, but someone has to do it.” This comment usually comes to me with a smile, but he/she has no clue. When you turn your hobby into your job, suddenly your hobby becomes work.

Heart Lake

A couple of years ago, I entered into a contract with Wilderness Adventures Press to write a fly fishing guide to the mountain lakes of Northwest Montana. Basically this boils down to visiting some of our mountain lakes, fishing, and writing about it. Sounds great, right? Hah!

Recently I sat down and took inventory of all the mountain lakes I need to visit this summer and scratched my head. I’d compiled a list of about 60 lakes. Whoa! I thought. I think I might need some company. And maybe a little help.

Maybe this is where you come in. I have a poodle and a pack goat and they’re good listeners but lousy conversationalists. And they’re not much for sharing camp chores. Wanna go? You could even bring a friend if you want.

Most of the mountain lakes on my list are reached via backpacking, although many of the hikes are under five miles. I usually camp overnight. This gives me an evening and a morning in order to get to know each lake. Then it’s on to the next one. I have trips planned for each week beginning in June, so you could plug in for a couple of days, a week, or a month or more. I need someone who can handle a camera and/or wouldn’t mind having his picture in the book. I have all the camera equipment.

Oh, and for the record this isn’t a job offer. But it is an offer to be a backpacking trout bum this summer. As the saying goes, the pay is lousy but the benefits are out of this world.

Send me an e-mail if you’re interested and I’ll share more. Of course, we don’t know each other so if it looks like we click I’d need references from you. And you’d need references from me. Fair’s fair.

Shall we do this?

Out-Fished 22 to One

How could this be happening? I was usually the one with all the luck, but today my fishing rod had about as much life as a stand of last year’s cattails in the dead of winter.  However, my friend Ben’s rod continued to dance as fish after fish climbed aboard as eagerly as kids offered free candy.

Public domain

I rehearsed the events that had led to this situation.

It was a frigid winter’s morning, and Ben and me had elected to do some ice fishing on Montana’s Clark Fork River. The target was rocky mountain whitefish. Sleek, silvery, and averaging perhaps a foot in length, they’re scrappy on the line and hard to beat on the table, especially when smoked. The Montana catch limit is liberal, and if lady luck smiles on a guy he can take home a bucketful of good eating. However, lady luck wasn’t smiling on this particular guy. 

Silvery whitefish flopped all about Ben like water droplets on a hot griddle. One after another Ben pulled them up through the whole he’d chopped in the ice, and he hooked up again almost as quickly as he could freshen his bait and lower his offering to the river bottom.

What was I doing wrong? I was using the same bait as Ben. I was rigged up the way same as Ben. I was fishing six inches off the bottom, just like Ben. My ice fishing hole was only a dozen feet away from Ben’s. I should have been catching fish right along with him. But the fish seemed as excited about my bait as a kid faced with a pile of spinach.

At first I got getting frustrated, but then the thought struck me: this was Ben’s day. I snapped out of my grumbling and started rejoicing with Ben. It was this verse from Scripture that turned me around— “Rejoice always.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

To “rejoice always” is to make a decision to rejoice regardless of the circumstances. Two brief words, four short syllables, but how hard it is to put them to work sometimes!  And yet, as we do we are refreshed with joy as with a cool summer rain after a hot spell. To refuse to rejoice is to admit that our pride is only exceeded by our selfishness.

As I pondered these things on that cold winter’s day, it didn’t matter anymore that Ben was catching all the fish. I began to rejoice with him, and congratulated him on his luck.  After a while the fish stopped biting even for Ben, and we decided to call it a day.  However, just before we left I finally managed to put one whitefish on the ice. In the end, Ben had out-fished me 22 to one. But it didn’t faze me a bit. Not only was I happy for Ben, but I was happy that I didn’t have to clean all those fish.

But wait, there’s more! I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more. You can comment, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe.

Deadly Nature

“WOW! What was THAT?” It was as if the ground had just exploded at our feet.

I did an about-face in the forest trail and looked at my friend. This was his first backpacking trip, and also his first experience with the thunderous flushing of forest grouse. And I’ll have to raise my hand and admit that I’m always startled by the sudden launch of forest rockets from right under foot.

I smiled. “It’s just a bunch of grouse,” I said. “No worries.” To my friend’s credit, he calmed right down and even did a fair immatation of the grouse calling to one another to regroup.

A harmless situation. Just a bunch of stupid birds. Still, my smile faded to a look of sober concern. “We have to be careful here. This is not our home. Nature is about as gracious as a traffic cop.”

If there’s one thing I enjoy more than backpacking, it’s introducing others to backpacking. I can say the same about fishing, hunting, and camping. But whatever the outdoor activity, a healthy dose of respect is needed. Nature can be a dangerous place. Screw up and a pleasant outing can become your worst nightmare. Therefore I always teach my newbie friends the basics of emergency wilderness survival. Some of the basics I press home–

  • Know how to navigate. Carry a map, compass, GPS. Why a map and compass if you have a GPS? Because batteries go dead, and electronics can fail. Kjellstom’s fine book Be Expert with Map and Compass has been around for decades, but it’s still a great resource.
  • Carry a mobile phone. You may not always have a signal, but if you do (and if you carry a GPS and/or know how to locate your position on a map) you can relay your coordinates to rescue personnel.
  • Pack redundant fire starter. I can make fire three different ways. Staying warm in an emergency situation is your first priority. Hypothermia sucks. Especially since it can kill you before you realize it’s killing you.
  • Include a small flashlight and spare batteries. Headlamps are great because they leave both hands free for other stuff. Just like having redundant fire starters, redundancy is a good idea here as well. Keychain flashlights are light and compact and can provide enough light to cheer up a lost or injured hiker.
  • Space blankets (also known as thermal blankets) can provide emergency shelter. Replace them every year, as they can deteriorate with time.

Emergency kits can become really personal, based on the items needed for a particular area. Because of this, some outdoorsmen like putting their own kit together. But no matter whether you buy one or do-it-yourself, make sure the kit is light and compact or you might be tempted to leave it home – “Just this once.” That could have deadly consequences.

Just my thoughts. What do you think? Advice or comments from your end?

Winning the Wilderness Survival Game

I didn’t know if they were ignorant or just plain stupid. They didn’t look too good. I met them on the trail I was descending after having spent an enjoyable morning fishing the mountain lake at the trail’s end. They were on their way up to the lake. 

Zombie Tinder survival kit. Copyright MJC Raether.

The couple was in their mid-40s. It was a warm summer day and they were both wearing shorts and T-shirts. Each had a bottle of water in hand but carried nothing else. Neither one wore a pack of any kind. Apparently they carried no food, no emergency gear, no bear spray, no survival equipment. The man was about 50 pounds overweight and was sweating so hard he looked like he’d found his own personal rain storm. The gal looked better, but not much.

“How much further to the lake?” the man asked as he wiped his brow with the back of his hand.

“About a mile,” I replied. “Across this meadow, up a quarter mile of switchbacks and you’re there.”

The man nodded his thanks and they squeezed past. I turned and looked back at them. Prepared for an emergency they were not. I’ve never had to spend a night in the woods due to an emergency, but if it comes to it I’m equipped. What about you? Are you ready in case of a wilderness emergency? What if you turn an ankle and can’t walk out? What if you have to wait for rescue?

There’s plenty of stuff online about how to assemble an emergency kit. But surfing the Web takes time, and so does putting together a kit. Let me save you the effort. Enter my contest, and you could win the emergency kit pictured. And just in time for the upcoming hiking/backpacking season.

Here’s the deal—

Everyone who subscribes to this blog from today through May, 2017 will be entered into a drawing for the emergency survival kit. Subscriber’s names will go into a hat, and one winner will be drawn. No cost, no obligation, no crap. Your prize will be shipped direct to you from the manufacturer, Zombie Tinder. Zombie Tinder is a resource for survivalists and preppers. The company was created by my entrepreneurial son, who shares my name. You may want to check out some of Zombie Tinder’s offerings as well and their YouTube videos.

A few brief contest rules—

  • You must be 18 years of age or older to win
  • Members of my immediate family and employees of Zombie Tinder are ineligible
  • If you win, you’re responsible for any tax assessment
  • The winner must provide name and address in order to receive the prize by mail
  • Winner must agree to having at least his or her first name and city published.

Please email me if you have any questions. But otherwise, just enter. You can’t win if you don’t enter! If you don’t pull the trigger, you’ll miss the target.

Hurry, Hurry, Hurry

Siri. Alexa. Cortana. Echo. And then there’s the Staples Easy Button. “Siri, search Internet. Alexa, order pizza. Cortana, turn on the garage lights. Echo, what should I name the baby?” There! That was easy!

Dipper Falls, Ward Creek Trail, Montana. Photo copyright Mike L. Raether

We talk to our digital assistants to save time. But save time for what? So we can jam more stuff to our already over-busy lives? Hurry, hurry, hurry. To where? To what end? That six-foot-deep hole in the ground will be dug soon enough; no reason to rush it.  And yet rush the grave we do.

At the turn of the 20th Century, when a physician treated someone it was most often for the flu or some other physical disease. But no more. Now when physicians see someone, it’s usually for a stress related problem.

Are you stressed out? How to tell: Try sitting for a half hour doing nothing. Can’t stand it? Can’t be idle for just a half hour? Then most likely there’s too much stuff clawing for your attention.

Let’s consider a few options for lowering your stress level. There’s lots on the Net about this, but seeing as how you’re here, let’s consider some stuff quickly – quickly ’cause we’re in a hurry, right?

  • Have a talk with God, otherwise known as prayer. God likes to hear from us, and I’m convinced we can talk to Him friend to friend. I don’t advocate being disrespectful, such as addressing God like, “Yo, Pop, wassup?” But you don’t need to be formal. Just talk to Him conversationally.
  • Sit down to dinner with the fam, or share a meal with a friend. Shut off the tube, close the laptop, trash the newspaper. Use your mouth for something other than chewing food: Talk.
  • Build a network of friends. I’m an introvert, so I know how hard it is to make new friends. Still, I look for ways to relate. Here’s some advice from Arnold Bennett: “You will make more friends in a week by getting yourself interested in other people than you can in a year by trying to get other people interested in you.”
  • Breathe. I mean it. Breathe. You might say, “I AM breathing! If I wasn’t, I’d be DEAD!” What I mean is, sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and slowly draw a deep breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth (to do this properly, you’ll need to know how to belly breathe). Repeat for five minutes. Don’t know how long five minutes is with your eyes closed? Tell your friendly but impersonal digital assistant to set a timer for five minutes. And don’t peak to see how much time is left.
  • Laugh. Out loud. Hard. Repeat. Of course, first you have to find something to laugh AT. How about laughing at yourself? Most of us take ourselves way to seriously.
  • Get some exercise. Hike, walk, run, whatever. It’s been proven that exercise relieves stress. Also helps your bowels move. And increases your sex drive. Hey, jus’ sayin.’

I think I’ll go hiking. Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Echo are gonna hafta figure out life without me . I’m gonna slow down and live.

Now it’s your turn, if you have the time. You can comment here, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe.

The Gift

It didn’t come from under a Christmas tree. It didn’t come wrapped in colorful paper. It wasn’t even a tangible gift, although it was just as real and wonderful and exciting as the dawn of a new day. The gift was given to me by my father, back in the carefree days of my youth. His gift was a love of the outdoors.

Copyright Mike L. Raether

Some of my best childhood memories are of times spent camping with my family next to a whispering stream, and waking up on crisp mountain mornings to the smell of frying bacon rising from a cast iron pan strategically placed over a cheerful campfire. And then there were those times Dad would wake my little brother and me in the middle of the night for a long drive in the dark to arrive at first light at a trout lake. There we would slide a homemade rowboat from the top of the family bus and into the lake, and push off into the morning mist just as the sun winked above the tops of clean-scented evergreens. Most mornings we would fill stringers with pan-sized trout, gleaming trophies for a kid to take home and proudly share with the rest of the family.

The gift of the love of the outdoors is not something meant to be kept to yourself. It’s meant to be passed on, and it isn’t reduced by the sharing; it multiplies and brings joy to others. I’ve passed the gift along to my children, and they in turn are passing it on to theirs. In all of this the gift has come full circle and returned to me, bringing fresh joy to my life, like wildflowers suddenly encountered along a mountain trail.             

As Priscilla Wayne once noted, “…appreciation is the food of the soul.” What is it about the outdoors you appreciate?

You can comment here, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe.

In Praise of Cast Iron

I  respect copper, I appreciate Teflon, but I LOVE my cast iron cookware!

Copyright Mike L Raether

Check out the advantages –

  • Lasts virtually forever
  • Retains heat
  • Adds a small amount of iron to your diet
  • Can be placed in a hot oven, even used for cooking one dish meals
  • Once properly seasoned, cast iron has a non stick surface

The rub is that last bullet point. How do you properly season cast iron to get that famous non stick surface? And once having obtained that non stick surface, how do you retain it?

How to properly season cast iron –

Start by washing inside and out with warm water and a mild detergent. Dry thoroughly. It’s a good idea to place the cookware on a stove top  burner set to low for a few minutes to make sure all moisture is driven off. Next, using a paper towel rub a small amount of cooking oil (less is more) on the inside and outside of the pan. What kind of cooking oil? Vegetable, olive, and melted shortening all work equally well. Lastly, place the pan on the center shelf of a cold oven and  heat to 375 degrees – give or take. Set a timer for about an hour, and turn off the oven when the time is elapsed. Let the oven cool with the cookware still inside. Remove the cookware when cooled.

How to retain the seasoning –

Most important: Do not wash! Even mild soap and water can degrade the non stick surface. Simply wipe clean with a paper towel. Isn’t this a little unsanitary? Perhaps. But what’s gonna live on a hot cast iron surface? If food sticks, use a scrapper such as the one made by Pampered Chef (no, I don’t own stock or get a kickback).

Lastly: You may have to repeat the seasoning steps to improve the non stick surface.

Oops. One more lastliest thing. They don’t make cast iron cookware like they used to. Your best bet for obtaining quality cast iron is garage sales, flea markets, swap meets and so on. Most important thing to look for (other than a sweet deal) is a smooth cooking surface. Some of today’s cast iron cookware has a pebbly cooking surface with just about defeats the non stick advantage.

So what do you think of cast iron cookware? Got any good tips or tricks? You can leave a comment here or even subscribe.