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Do the Clark

The Big Hole. The Madison. The Gallatin. The Jefferson. The lower Clark Fork. Their names fall from a trout fisherman’s lips with awe and reverence. But wait – the lower Clark Fork? What’s THAT name doing in the company of this short list of the exalted “blue ribbon” trout streams of Montana? I’m glad you asked me that question!

Oh, yeah!

At first glance, the section of the lower Clark Fork from the about the town of Superior to the Ferry Landing boat launch about 12 miles downstream from St. Regis on MT 135 can be intimidating. The river is big and broad, draining as it does most of Western Montana. But when you take a closer look, you’ll notice the typical back eddies, seams, riffles, and pocket water that make trout fishermen drool. Combine these with trout that will stretch a tape from 12- to 18-inches on the average, and you have the stuff that legendary trout rivers are made of. 

But the trout here aren’t pushovers. A seam that looks promising may not host any fish, but the next seam might be alive with rises. This is what makes this section of the Clark Fork not only challenging, but downright fun. It’s more like hunting than fishing, as the fish tend to hang out in pods rather than swim more or less evenly distributed throughout the river. 

This portion of the Lower Clark Fork is a drift-boater’s dream, as there are no rapids to speak of. A little faster water, but no rapids. Shore access is good from about Mile Post 3 on Montana’s scenic Highway 135 most of the way to the Ferry Landing boat launch and even beyond. 

Best of all (I think) the lower Clark Fork is a river where flies out-fish hardware and bait many times over (see my post Do it on the Fly). Recommendation dries start with March Browns early in the season, Green Drakes, Blue Wing Olives, caddis, Adams, then hoppers (!), and finishing off the season with Mahogany Duns. If nothing’s happening on top, hang on an indicator and go below with nymphs such as the Prince and Pheasent Tail.

If you decide to give the lower Clark Fork a chance, you might want to stop by Joe Cantrell Outfitting for the latest fishing info or to schedule a guided float trip or shuttle. From the town of Superior on down, boat launches with concrete ramps include Big Eddy, Dry Creek, St. Regis, and Ferry Landing. For detailed info regarding these launches, log onto Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. If you’d rather try the area’s mountain lakes, you might be interested in my book, The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes.

Now go do the fly thing.

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.

Why?

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. 

Getting Old Doesn’t Always Suck

“You’re going to have to start respecting your age.”

“Never let an old man in your body.”

Two different responses from two different people when they looked at the cast on my right arm and asked what had happened.

No, it ain’t me – at least not yet!

I’d hiked into one of our mountain lakes looking forward to a couple of hours of fly fishing and relaxation. I’d been hopping from log to log along the shoreline like a man in his 30s, not his 60s, seeking a little extra casting room. Suddenly one of the logs rolled out from under me. As I fell, I stuck out my right hand to break my fall. My glasses went in the drink along with my hat and cell phone. I broke my right wrist, but at least I didn’t break my $500 fly rod, which I held high above my head in my left hand. The water was only a foot or so deep next to shore, so it was easy to retrieve my glasses and cell phone. I used the tip of the fly rod to hook my hat, which was merrily drifting away. So much for a couple of hours of fly fishing and relaxation.

The end game was a hike back to my truck, and a trip to the doctor to get an X-ray which confirmed the break. But this post isn’t really about a broken wrist. This post is about the joys of being old.

I’d been kind of moaning about getting older and not able to do some of the things I used to do, such as hopping from log to log. But rather than feel sorry for myself, I decided to focus on the benefits of getting old, of which there are many. Here are a few—

  • Most days I don’t have to set an alarm clock,
  • I can sleep when I’m tired,
  • I can eat when I’m hungry,
  • I can go fishing during the week when everyone else is working,
  • And speaking of working, I work part time because I want to not because I have to,
  • I can have an extra cookie and nobody says a word, ‘cause I’m old and fat anyway.
  • Senior discounts!

On the downside, I’m slower on the trail than I used to be. But if the day comes when I can’t hike anymore, I’ll find something else to do like climb aboard a drift boat. It’s called “adapting”. And that broken wrist? It sure didn’t keep me from fly fishing, and it had a good side. The cast on my right arm held my wrist stiff, so I stopped flexing my wrist when fly casting.

What about you? Can you think of any benefits of getting old?

 But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). 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.

If You’re Not Like Me, You Suck – Revisited

About a year ago I posted a blog under the title, “If You’re Not Like Me, You Suck.” In that post I lamented that our country is so divided – those on the left don’t like the those on the right, and those on the right don’t like those on the left. It seemed to me that many had the opinion that the world would be a better place if everyone was like just like them.

“Angry Face” by Graeme Maclean, licensed under CC BY 2.0

I concluded the post by encouraging readers to risk engagement with others who may be different socially, politically, culturally, or economically. I don’t know if anyone took my advice, but one thing I do know: attitudes in America are getting worse.

Last week Joy Behar, panelist on the liberal ABC television program The View was a guest on the MSNBC morning talk show Morning Joe. Ms. Behar shared her disdain for Trump voters, as reported on the website Real Clear Politics November 24. During the interview Ms. Behare proclaimed that she could never go to dinner with a Trump supporter. When she was asked why by host Joe Scarborough, Ms. Behar replied:

“Because if you are a Trump supporter, there’s something going on with you that I can’t abide. That means that you don’t care about the environment. It means that you don’t care about women’s issues. It means you don’t care about the fact that he provokes that nutcase in North Korea. I’m worried about the country.”

I’m worried about the country too. Especially when a leftist like Ms. Behar expresses such divisive opinions. But those on the right don’t get a pass. I also don’t care for it when righties express divisive opinions of lefties. How childish.

To set the record straight, I voted for Trump and I’m glad he got elected. But I can’t really say I like the guy. He appears to me to be a bit of a buffoon. But like or not, he is the president, so I respect the office he holds as POTUS, even if I don’t respect the office holder.

The challenge I gave in that earlier post still stands. Risk engagement with someone different than you. Maybe even have dinner with them. You don’t have to talk politics. You can just agree to disagree about politics and talk about something else. You may find that you have more in common with the person than you originally thought.

Maybe the world won’t be a better because you reached out. But you’ll be a better person. 

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. 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.