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Grover Revisited, Kinda

Quickly:

“Grover” – photo copyright by Mike L. Raether

You may remember a couple of months ago that Grover my packgoat hacked my blog with the intention of supposedly “getting even” with me for being such a “meanie.” Other than Grover’s very false accusation, the whole thing may have piqued your interest about using goats as pack animals. If so, I’ve got a treat for you. If not, I’ve still got a treat for you.

A couple of months ago I published an article in Distinctly Montana magazine called, “Don’t Let Them Get Your Goat” in which I discussed goat packing. If you’re interested, here’s the link.

By the way, Distinctly Montana is a very fine, full color glossy magazine which explores all things Montana, from wildlife and wild lands, to outdoor recreation, to people and places, to arts, culture, food, and fun (in my view, all food is fun except for carrots which I totally detest).

Anyway, check out the mag. I think you’ll like it. Mikey does.

Fall Fly Fishing on Montana’s Clark Fork River

I was chatting with another fly fisher in an area fly shop. He was visiting from another state in mid-summer and was looking for some local information. Our conversation turned to the best time of day to fish the nearby Clark Fork River.

I said with a smile, “Normally I’d say first light, but Clark Fork trout are respectable trout. You don’t have to be on the water at dawn. The trout here don’t get up early.”

After the fellow left the shop, owner and fishing guide Joe Cantrell said with a sigh of resignation, “The fish around here always get up early. It’s the fishermen who don’t get up early.”

Joe likes to get out early, and I don’t blame him. Although Montana’s Clark Fork River can put out fish any time of day, first light almost always yields the best fishing. Almost. But not always. Let us consider.

One of the best times for fly fishing the gentle waters of the Clark Fork River is right now. The cool morning temperatures of Indian Summer mean lethargic bugs, but as the chill of the mornings yield to the special warmth of Montana Fall afternoons the table is set, entomologically speaking. Bug activity blooms. There’s lot more busyness in the bug world.

This is a magical time, sandwiched between the nip of winter and the sizzle of summer. And if the bugs don’t get up early, why should a fly fisher? Now is the time of year for a little extra shut-eye and a leisurely brunch before bending a rod. A warm afternoon also means a little warmer water, which in turn means a hardy fly fisher can forgo waders.

And, ah, the scenery. The cottonwoods bordering the river’s banks stand tall and proud wearing suits of yellow-green in anticipation of winter. The needle-like leaves of Western Larch, that oddity among conifers, stand on Northern slopes like guardians of the mountains wearing burnished gold armor as their needles fade to gold.

There is yet another bonus to fall fly fishing on the Clark Fork: The crowds are gone. As a friend once commented, “This is when the real fly fishers go fishing.” I, for one, enjoy the solitude. It’s not that I don’t like people; I like ‘em just fine. I just like ‘em in smaller batches.

Before writing this article, I checked in with my friend Joe Cantrell to pick his brain a bit regarding the hot items bug-wise right now on the Clark Fork. As a fishing guide, Joe spends much more time on the river that I do, and consequently he’s got a superior feel for the daily whims and fancies of the trout that swim here. Old standbys to run down the conveyer belt include #8-12 Chernobyl Ants, #12-18 Purple Haze, and blood-red San Juan Worms in sizes #10-14, with or without the bead.

However, Joe’s favorites right now are #20 Tricos, tiny BWOs, and little #16-20 Adams. Don’t fear using a double-fly rig; a tiny Trico trailing a tiny Adams about 16” behind the Trico will help determine the location of these minuscule trout snacks. Just off the bottom, try a #10 or #12 Pat’s Rubber Legs in brown or black with a caboose of a #14-16 Prince about 16” back from the Pat’s.   

Now, then: How about a little fish story?

A few days ago Joe was guiding a fellow on the river, and the water was so clear Joe was able to easily see any fish that approached his fisherman’s dry fly. Joe watched as a typical Clark Fork trout of about 15” examined the fisherman’s offering. But this fish was acting really strange. It would approach the fly but instead of taking it, the fish would turn its’ head as if to take a more intimate look. It would then drift back just a bit. The fish repeated this 2-3 times then finally committed. When the fish was cradled in the net and just as Joe was getting ready to send it back home, he noticed that the trout only had one eye.  It was totally blind on one side, so as it approached the fly it would turn its’ head to its’ good side get a better look!

How about  you? Got any good stories about fall fishing?

Grover Gets Even

By Grover the Pack Goat

I’m beginning to think my owner is just plain mean. To get even with him, I hacked his blog and wrote this post for all the world to see what a jerk he is.

Grover the Hacker

A few days ago my owner took me and that goofy poodle on a hike. I’m not supposed to eat on the trail, but the variety of all those bushes look so tasty that it’s hard to resist grabbing a quick snack along the way. For some reason, my tiny pauses for quick bites of this and that drives my owner mad. What a fun sucker. I’m not to blame, I’m just a victim of my appetite which I often pay for by getting a whack on the nose with a trekking pole. See what I mean about my owner? Mean, just plain mean.

It just isn’t fair. After all, my owner keeps snacks in his backpack. All I want to do is grab a snack for later. It’s not like I’m going to eat it right now; I’m simply stuffing it into my rumen for later when I have time to chew it up properly. I am an eating machine, and the sooner my owner realizes this the better. For me, life consists of eating, sleeping, and hangin’ with the herd. And making goat raisins. I forgot about that part. What goes in one end, must come out the other.

You may have guessed by now that I’m a vegetarian. And I’m proud of it. I can make an enormous amount brush and weeds go away. I especially like blackberry bushes. Gotta love those spines! But I’m not one of those vegetarians who thinks they’re somehow superior to meat-eaters. I understand there’s different strokes for different folks. We don’t all have the same tastes. However, I do have this to say: if you eat meat, you suck.

However, eating a lot of veggies generates in a lot of burps. Too much information, you say? Hah! I found a way to get even with my owner for being such a big meanie. When he comes out in the evening to give me my nightly treat, I point my nose up toward his face which he interprets as an affectionate, “Howdy.” Then I let out a big burp right in his face – the sour odor of have-digested vegetation backs him up about 10 feet, choking and coughing all the way.

Take THAT you big meanie! Remember this the next time you whack me for grabbing a quick snack.

How about you? Got any advice for my mean master?

When the Time Comes

“Time is Running Out” by zamboni.andrea is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

It was a slow day in the fly shop, so I was glad to see a visitor. With deliberate care, he opened the door of the fly shop and softly closed it behind him. He was slightly stooped, and lines of many years etched his face. I guessed his age as the early 80s. After closing the door, he looked toward me and his face radiated a kind smile as his eyes caught mine. He walked slowly to where I stood behind the counter.

“I’ve never been able to drive by a fly shop without stopping,” he said. A visitor from out of state, he asked, “Fishing any good around here?”

“Fishing’s almost always good,” I said, “But the catching varies. However, the catching has been pretty good lately.” I motioned towards a couple of nearby padded chairs reserved for visitors. “Have a seat,” I said, “And we can chat. Unless you have to be some place. I don’t want to keep you off the river. There’s some pretty good wade fishing spots close by.”

He eased himself into a seat. A deep sigh of contentment followed. “Thanks,” he said. “No, I don’t have to be anywhere in particular. But I’m afraid I won’t be going fishing. My balance isn’t what it used to be, and I get tired in a hurry. I’ve had to give up fly fishing. But as I said, I just can’t drive by a fly shop without stopping.”

We burned an hour or so trading fish stories, and then my visitor rose to leave. “Thanks,” he said, “I appreciated your time. You’re a good listener.”

I held the door open for the man, and after closing it behind him I returned to my seat. I had much to think about. What would happen to me if I couldn’t fish any more? How would that be? Would I still hang around fly shops and explore the local rivers and still waters? Or will there come a day when I, too, will be slowed or even benched by physical limitations?

I smiled smugly. Well, that’s never gonna happen to me, I thought. As long as I can string a fly rod, I’ll keep fishing. I’ll never let anything stop me.

Then my thoughts took a sobering turn. When did I stop climbing stairs two at a time? When was the last time I was on my mountain bike? When did I start using a magnifier to tie on a fly? Not too long ago I could tie on a #22 trico without thinking about it. Now I can’t even see a #22 trico. I pride myself on being pretty healthy and in pretty good physical condition for a geezer. But the last time I went backpacking with a friend, a man 35 years my junior, I noticed that I had to stop and rest a lot more than he did. I once was strong, tough, and feared no man. Now I carry a concealed equalizer on my right hip.

No doubt about it, age catches up with all of us. We eventually slow down, no matter how much we strive against it.

How about you? Think about it. Share with us. If you’re an old fart like me (that’s Mr. Old Fart, if you please) how are you adapting? If you’re a young buck, what advice can you offer us old-timers?

In the Good Ol’ Summertime!

Copyright Mike L Raether, 7/2020

Suddenly the season is upon me. So what’s a guy to do? So many choices, so many options. Fly fishing, hiking, backpacking, camping, huckleberry picking, shooting, reloading, cooling off in the Clark Fork River, or – forbid the thought – getting stuff down around the house so I can go fly fishing, hiking, backpacking, camping, huckleberry picking, shooting, reloading, or cooling off in the river. Or I could do some work around the house – or not. I must first consider my Montana options one at a time –

  • Fly Fishing. This is probably my first choice, especially with the nearby Clark Fork River right at hand and producing lots of cooperative trout. Grasshopper season is just about to get into full swing (better known as “hopper/dropper” time). A big, fat, tan Chernobyl Ant might be hard for a fish to resist. If I need up-to-the-minute fishing info, I can call on my friends at Joe Cantrell Outfitting.  A float trip on the Clark Fork is the best way to fish this big river which drains most of Western Montana, but sometimes I prefer wade fishing. A while ago I composed a list of wade fishing areas for some of the local rivers and creeks, and if you shoot me an email I’ll send you a free copy (no spam, and your email address will never, ever be shared. Promise).
  • Hiking, Backpacking, and Camping. When I first relocated to this part of Montana, I was amazed at the myriad of alpine lakes in Northwest Montana that could be reached without wearing off too much boot leather. I even wrote a fly fishing guide book about the mountain lakes which was published in 2018 through Wilderness Adventures Press of Belgrade, Montana. I’m looking forward to revisiting some of the lakes I wrote about, and shooting some video this time around. Should you be interested in my book, you can find it here.
  • Huckleberry Picking. What we call huckleberries here are actually wild blueberries and they’re ripening as I write. Huckleberries are a thing in Western Montana. Huckleberry fiends can get huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry lattes, huckleberry candy, and of course, fresh-picked huckleberries. I see a huckleberry pie in my future.
  • Shooting and Reloading. I think I’ll save this for a rainy day project in my shop. If it ever rains again this summer. Been in the upper 90s the past few days. My wife Katherine asked me recently, “Which do you like more: shooting or reloading?” I thought for a minute and replied, “Reloading. I shoot so I can reload.”

    Copyright Mike L Raether 7/2020
  • Speaking of temps in the upper 90s, I can go cool off in the river. The flow of the lower Clark Fork is gentle for the most part, making it ideal for folks in drift boats, canoes, kayaks and paddle boards (float at your own risk, of course. And ALWAYS wear a life jacket!).

So what am I gonna do? Hmmm . . . What would YOU do?

Backpacking Food to Drool Over!

If you’ve eaten much commercial backpacking food, you may consider the title of this post a contradiction. Not that there isn’t  some really tasty backpacking food out there, but much of it won’t make you drool in anticipation of eating it. I’ve found commercial backpacking food okay for a couple of days and nights in the wilderness, but after that the lack of variety can cause a loss of appetite just when you need nutrition the most. Even trail mix like GORP (Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts) gets old after a while. But because food is my friend, I found a solution to eating boring food in the bush.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a book titled, Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’, now available in an updated third edition. It’s about how to make your own pack food and enjoy eating it. It’s full of recipes for the do-it-yourself backpacker, from pizza to burritos to tuna salad to breakfast bars to BMCS (Bagels, Meat, and Cheese Sandwiches). If you prefer, there’s a companion book titled, Lipsmackin’ Vegetarian Backpackin’ .

Because I enjoy preparing food, Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’ is perfect for me. Another bonus is that it extends my enjoyment of backpacking. As I prepare food for my pack, I dream of the trip I’ll be taking and how much I’ll enjoy eating tasty food in the toolies that I prepared myself.

A few caveats –

First, you’ll need a food dehydrator for the preparation of many of the recipes. When some of us think of dehydrated food, we might think first of fruit. But did you know you can dehydrate things like precooked pasta, onions, bell peppers, broccoli, and carrots? Liquids such as spaghetti sauce can also be dehydrated. Even extra lean hamburger can be dehydrated if done properly, and won’t require refrigeration.

Second, as you probably know, dehydrated food weighs more than freeze dried food (but not a lot more per serving), so if you jump into this do-it-yourself project you’ll have to figure on a little more weight in your pack. This is not for those who count every ounce in the pack. But the trade-off is that mealtime will be much more enjoyable.

Third, meal preparation will entail a bit more than just dumping some boiling water in a pouch of  freeze dried goop and telling yourself how good it is.

However, there’s one area where the commercial freeze dried backpack food has it all over the dehydrated stuff, and that area is ice cream. Did you know you can get freeze dried ice cream? Mountain House markets freeze dried ice cream that makes a wonderful desert. Food is my friend, but ice cream is my best friend.

Over the Mountains and Through the Woods

Some time ago I was watching some elk as they scampered up a 45 degree slope. They climbed that mountain as easy as I walk across my living room. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have 4WD like those elk?” Well, we can, or at least we can come close if we pick up a pair of trekking poles and learn to use them.

Copyright Mike L. Raether 2020

Trekking poles, for the uninitiated, are cousins to ski poles. Like ski poles, they’re used in tandem. And again like ski poles, they take strain off essential body parts like knees. I’ve used trekking poles for about 10 years, although I suppose I looked pretty silly in the beginning; back in the day very few people used them. A few of the other hikers I encountered at the time even smiled and asked about my use of “ski poles.” They can laugh if they want, but at 70 years of age I’m still tramping around the outback. And my knees are still holding up. Many are the problems that can afflict aging knees, but some of the relief I’ve experienced, I believe, can be attributed to my use of trekking poles.

I started using trekking poles when I reach The Big 6-0, and my knees were starting to complain. They stopped whining so much when I started using trekking poles. Although my primary purpose was to take some pressure off my aging knees, I’ve found lots of other benefits – 

  • They give me better balance.  I don’t have watch my feet all the time, which allows me to look around and enjoy the scenery (or spot more game if I am hunting).
  • They make ascending and descending slippery steep slopes safer and easier, especially when trekking off-trail. I look at trekking poles as preventative medicine.
  • If the brush is wet, a trekking pole makes a good bush whacker to knock off excess moisture before pressing through (another trick in this regard is to avoid being the first person in line when hiking with others. Let the other nimrod be the first to push through the brush and get soaked).
  • Trekking poles come in handy when crossing streams. When wade fishing, I remove the baskets and attach one of my trekking poles to a retractable tether and clip the tether to my wading belt. Bingo: a wading staff.
  • I’ve used mine on occasion as tent or tarp poles. Why pack extra weight? Comes back to the backpacker’s rallying cry: “Everything must have more than one use.”
  • My pair of carbon fiber trekking poles weighs in at less than 15 ounces. Accessories include rubber feet, mud, and snow baskets. I use the attached carbide tips for extra grip on the trail, but slip on the rubber feet for stealth when hunting. The mud baskets are good for, well, mud, and the snow baskets allow the use of trekking poles for snowshoeing.

At first the use of trekking poles might seem a little strange to some folks, but think about it: Hikers and backpackers have a long tradition of picking up a walking stick at a trailhead. In fact, I’ve often seen walking sticks stacked at trailheads as if to say, “Use me then return me here for someone else when you’re done.” Trekking poles are just the next step in the evolution of hiking, backpacking, and hunting aids. The final step is pack goats, but that’s another subject.

Interested? A good pair of carbon fiber trekking poles can be had for under $150. You can find trekking poles for sale online and at many outdoor recreation brick-and-mortar outlets. You can actually get into them pretty inexpensively, but like anything else you get what you pay for. Check out the standbys such as Amazon, Wally World, and REI. In my opinion you don’t need the kind with shock-absorbing springs that are designed to offer cushioning on downhill slopes. I think this feature is a nice touch, but in my view it just adds weight and another mechanical device that can fail.

Trekking poles? Try ‘em. You’ll might like ‘em. Mikey does.

The Best Sourdough Bread Recipe in the World

I am the sourdough king of the world. But as they say, it’s a small world.

My love of outdoor pursuits is almost eclipsed by my love of sourdough. I’ve  made sourdough pizza, sourdough cinnamon rolls, and sourdough pancakes just to name a few. But my all-time favorite sourdough bake is bread. And I’m quite good at it, if I must say so myself (see first sentence, first paragraph). Within this post, I shall share my recipe for the best sourdough bread in the world. Think about it: The best sourdough bread recipe in the world from the sourdough king of the world. Read on.

First off, you’re going to need a sourdough starter. You can buy sourdough starter from various Internet sources such as Sourdough International, a great resource for sourdoughs from around the world. But I prefer to make my own starter by capturing the wild yeast and essential lactic acid bacteria that invisibly share my home. This makes my starter unique from any other starter on earth. There are lots of places on the Web that will guide you through the no-brainer process of making your own sourdough starter, so this is not our subject. I really want to get to the recipe for the World’s Best Sourdough Bread.

But first, a disclosure. I do not knead the dough by hand. I use a bread machine on the dough cycle. THIS IS NOT CHEATING, at least not by much. And it gives me more time to spend outdoors. So win-win.

The World’s Best Sourdough Bread

The following recipe was originally based on a recipe in Classic Sourdoughs: A Home Baker’s Handbook, by Ed Wood, Ten Speed Press (November 30, 2001), p. 177

Ingredients –

About 3-1/2 cups all purpose flour, unbleached and/or organic if prefered. I use a blend of unbleached white flour and whole wheat in a 2:1 ratio: 2 parts white flour to 1 part whole wheat. I think this improves the taste and makes the bread healthier with the addition of whole grains.

About 1-1/8 cups water (247 grams)

1/2 cup active sourdough starter

About 1 Tbsp vital gluten (20 grams)

Time

Instructions –

First, you may have noticed above the reference to grams. This isn’t just a nod to our metric-minded friends; it’s very important to measure  the ingredients precisely. As a friend once told me, “Cooking is an art, but baking is science.” You’ll need a kitchen scale that will weigh in grams.

1. Place 1/2 cup active culture in bread machine pan with 113 grams flour and 99 grams water. Machine-mix on dough cycle for 15 minutes, turn off bread machine, and allow 6-8 hours for mixture to “proof” or rise and get bubbly.

2. Add 113 grams flour and 99 grams water to bread machine pan, mix on dough cycle for 15 minutes, turn off machine, allow 6-8 hours for mixture to “proof” or rise and get bubbly.

3. Mix 1 tsp salt with 49 grams of water, add to pan, mix on dough cycle just long enough to blend, then add 220 grams flour and 20 grams vital gluten. Mix on dough cycle for 15 minutes.

This next part is especially important. The dough must be at the proper consistency. It should be sticky, but not wet. The dough ball should stick slightly to the sides of the bread machine as it’s being kneaded by the paddle or paddles in the bread machine pan. If it appears too dry, add water about 1/2 Tbsp at a time and allow the bread machine enough time to knead in the water. If the dough appears too wet, add flour 1/2 Tbsp at a time and allow the bread machine enough time to knead in the flour. Keep a record, as the relative humidity in your home will affect the consistency of the dough.

4. When the dough is at the proper consistency, turn off the bread machine, and with hands dusted with flour remove the dough ball and place on a lightly floured board. Shape dough into an elongated shape to fit a standard 9X5X3” bread pan. Loosely cover with plastic wrap floured on one side or sprayed lightly on one side with non-stick vegetable spray. Place coated side down over bread pan. Allow dough to rise until it reaches about 1-1/2” above the lip of the bread pan. This last rise should only take about 3 hours at room temperature.

5. Place bread in cold oven and set temperature for 375 degrees. Oven temperatures vary, so check yours with an oven temp gauge and adjust the temperature accordingly. The purpose of the cold oven is that in response to the heat increase as the oven heats up, the bread dough will raise another inch or two. This is referred to as, “oven spring.” Set timer for 40 minutes. When time expires, check the internal temperature of the loaf at its’ center with a temperature probe. A temperature of 195 degrees means your creation is done. Less, and it means that your bread needs a little more time in the oven.

Cool, slice, and eat. Yum. And now that you have that starter, think of all the other sourdough goodies you can make: pizza, cinnamon rolls, and pancakes are only the beginning! If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment or shoot me an email and I’ll get back with you real quick!

 

Beating the Coronavirus Blues

“Not for Sale” copyright 2020 Mike L. Raether

I’m trying not to gloat.

As of yesterday, 38 states have issued stay-at-home orders. Montana is one of them. But I’m okay. The stay-at-home orders don’t bother introverts like me. Home is an introvert’s favorite place to be. As much as we love people, people wear us out. What I’m saying is that hermiting doesn’t bother us. Rather, it gives us the perfect excuse to stay home and veg.

However, some of the extroverts I know are having a tough time of it. Extroverts love parties, get-togethers, and other people-gathering events. Why? Because extroverts recharge by being around people. For example, I have a good friend who is an extrovert and married to an introverted wife. When I telephoned my friend a while ago, his wife picked up the call.

“Can I speak to Fred?” I asked.

“No,” she replied, “He’s gone into town visiting to get his daily ‘people fix.’”

However, after a while even introverts get bored with just hanging around the homestead. There’s a big difference with staying home as a choice and being ordered to go home and stay there.

So I thought maybe I’d head to the river and practice some “social distancing.” The powers that be in nearby Washington State have closed all sports fishing until at least April 6. However, our governor Steve Bullock (of who I’m not normally a fan) issued a modified stay-at-home order for Montanans which allows people to leave their homes for “essential activities.” Essential activities are defined as those required for health, safety, and for purchasing necessary consumer items such as groceries (and TP if you can find it). But Bullock’s order allows people to leave their homes for other “essential activities,” which he defined as outdoor-oriented pursuits such as hiking, running, and biking. My interpretation is that fishing is also an essential activity. It is necessary to my health, life, and well-being. If questioned on the riverbank by some nosey snark as to why I’m not staying at home and thereby doing my part to curb the spread of coronavirus, I’ll claim I’m a government official testing the fish for COVID-19. Yeah, that’ll work.

Of course, a guy can’t fish all the time (darn!) so I decided what I really needed was some humor, if not a good belly-laugh, to freshen up my attitude when confined to my home. So I went to YouTube and found some good things with which to amuse myself, and I hope you as well. Here are my suggestions –

The first is, “How Rednecks Prepare for the CORONA VIRUS.” This guy has some really helpful (and unique) ideas about how to protect ourselves from becoming infected.

The second is, “Seems Like The World Is Out Of Toilet Paper.” This vid starts with about a 5-second ad, which you can skip (have you noticed how many ads have suddenly appeared advertising bidets?).

One more:  “A Message From Corona Beer.” No wonder health officials didn’t name it the “Budweiser Virus.”

Oh, I just thought of something else I can do while waiting for this thing to pass: Take a nap. Or naps. Lots of them.