Tag Archives: fishing

Flyfisher’s Guide to NW Montana’s Mountain Lakes

How about taking your fly rod on a hike into Montana’s  backcountry and catching wild mountain trout? Or maybe you’d prefer  reading about it while relaxing in your recliner? Maybe you want to both read up and plan that self-guided fly fishing trip into the remote mountainous areas of the Last, Best Place?

If you find yourself in one of the above groups, (or somewhere between) you might enjoy my new book, The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes soon to be released in print by Wilderness Adventures Press. The first 40 or so pages contain valuable information for fly fishers from beginners to experts, including tackle info, backcountry navigation, guidance on how to rig up for backpacking, tips for camping in bear country, information about using goats as pack stock, and much more. The remainder of the book is dedicated to individual reports on some of the best mountain lakes of Northwest Montana, including driving directions, trail info, GPS coordinates, and best-in-class maps by Wilderness Adventures Press. You can sample it as an e-book online  at Amazon and Google Play, and purchase it there if you like. Or you can buy a signed print copy here.

The online samples will give you a peek at the first 40 or so pages, but I thought you also might want to see a sample lake report from the book. So with permission from the publisher, here ya go –

Trail Lake

GPS:  

Trailhead: 47.00634, -115.01147

Lake: 47.00603, -115.04137

Summary: Probably the best eastern brook mountain lake in Mineral County, Trail Lake covers about 12 fishy acres.

Location: 17 miles south-southwest of the town of Superior

Maps: USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle Illinois Peak (for reference only—trail to Trail Lake not shown on topo map). USDA Forest Service map Lolo National Forest, Superior Ranger District; DeLorme Montana Atlas and Gazetteer, page 52; Benchmark Montana Road and Recreation Atlas, page 61

Elevations:

Trailhead: 4,723 feet

Lake: 5,740 feet

Round-Trip Hike: 4.4 miles

Hike Difficulty: Moderate

Sometimes you just hit the jackpot, and the jackpot in this case was fat, feisty, eastern brook averaging 10 to 12 inches.

Knowing that mountain trout don’t usually get up early, I didn’t arrive at the trailhead and start my hike on a bright and lovely July morning until 11 a.m. The forecast was for light and variable winds and a sunny afternoon in the low 80s. Nice.

I took my time hiking in, enjoying my time on the trail just as much as the prospect of sampling a new lake. It was two p.m. by the time I arrived at Trail Lake, unpacked, and inflated my little boat. My hiking partner for the day had arrived at the lake before me and was already out on the lake fishing and catching fish. He kept hollering, “Got another one, Mike! Got another one! Hurry up and get out here!”

But I’m never in a hurry when I’m in the mountains. I want to savor every moment. So with my friend still hollering, “Got another one!” I found a comfortable perch on a log, shared a PBJ with my poodle, and had a cool drink.

After lunch, I rigged up double flies on my 3-weight with a size 16 green foam beetle and a size 14 Royal Wulff as the caboose. I walked my boat down to the lake shore and eased it into the lake. Just then a mayfly hatch exploded.

Suddenly there were mayflies everywhere: in the air, on the water, landing on my boat, my shirt, and my dog. I pulled out a fly box and searched for something to imitate the hatch. I found a size 16 Callibaetis (mayfly) spinner with a green thorax. The color wasn’t a match to the hatch, but the size was right on. Remembering that size is more important than color, I hurriedly clipped off the Royal Wulff, replaced it with the mayfly spinner, and shoved off.

My first two casts didn’t produce, but after that it was cheesecake. I had two takes in a row on the mayfly spinner, but I foul-hooked both fish. Thus began a lesson in flyfishing adaptability.

I removed the beetle, replaced it with the spinner for a one-fly setup, and settled my offering a few feet from shore. Trout were rising all around the fly, but they ignored the spinner. Try something different, I thought. I gave the fly line a little tug to sink the fly and started a slow, stripping retrieve. Fish on.

I landed and released the fish and figuring the fly was too slimed up to float, I decided to send it back to work. But after I double-hauled the line back out, the darn bug dried out and floated. No takers. Once again I tugged the line to sink the fly and repeated the slow retrieve. Bam. Fish on.

Okay, you idiots, I thought, you want it wet, I’ll give it to you wet. I retrieved the fly and clipped off the white spinner wings which were drying out and causing the fly to float. I sealed the deal by dousing the fly in sinkum.

I sent the fly back on the job with a smug smile. This time it sank. I repeated the retrieve. This time no fish. Another cast. No fish. Hmmm. I retrieved the line.

I sat in the boat thinking for a moment as a gentle breeze nudged me along the shore. What had I learned so far?

1. They want it wet.
2. They want the white.

I had one of those “light-bulb-over-the-head” moments.

I clipped off the mutilated fly and tied on another identical to the first. After a good soak in sinkum, I sent the fly on mission. Bam. Fish. Bam. Fish. Bam. Fish. And so it went as long as the mayfly hatch lasted. Ahh…. Sometimes you just hit the jackpot.

Getting There

From Interstate 90 at the town of Superior, take Exit 47, travel east on FR 250, which is also named Diamond Match Road and later becomes Trout Creek Road. Continue about 17 miles from Superior to FR 7813 and turn right (north). At 1.9 miles, turn south (left) on FR 388. Follow FR 388 about 1 mile to the trailhead for Trail 256. The trailhead is not signed, but it starts just before you cross the bridge over the North Fork of Trout Creek.

Caution: That last mile on FR 388 is kind of nasty. You won’t need four-wheel drive, but forget it if you’re driving a Corvette.

The Hike

For the most part, the trail follows the course of an old mining road. In fact, as I started the hike I asked myself, What’s a nice trail like you doing in a place like this? The trail ascended gradually until it crossed the North Fork of Trout Creek and then the switchbacks began. When I came to the switchbacks I asked myself, What’s a nice fisherman like you doing on a trail like this? However, the switchbacks marked the final ascent and only climbed about 0.25 mile to the lake.

Camping

There are a few very nice but primitive campsites at the lake.

Picture Perfect

A Nice Clark Fork River Cutthroat, copyright 2018 Mike L. Raether

So you caught a monster fish, were inspired by great views, and had a wonderful trip. Can you capture the memory? Well, no, not exactly. Feelings can’t be recorded on photos. But this doesn’t mean you can’t share the memories.

However, poor photography is lifeless and boring. How can we make our photos exciting? How can we tell the story? How can we make them shine?

I’m still learning the “how” of this, even though I supplied all but one of the photos in my book, Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes, due to release next month by Wilderness Adventures PressHowever, I’d like to pass along a few of the things I’ve learned to my photographically-inclined friends.

First off, if you’re serious get serious equipment. Forget about using the camera on your smartphone. It’s okay for grabbing quick pics and sticking them under the noses of your victims, but not if you’re serious. Get a good DSLR and a compliment of lenses, such as a micro lens for close-ups, a mid-range zoom such as 18-70 mm for wide angle to standard stuff, and about a 70-300 mm telephoto zoom lens. Zoom lenses are sometimes snubbed by snobby photographers, but the newer zoom lenses take some pretty good stuff, even good enough for publication. You’re also going to need a good tripod, especially for low light conditions and telephoto work. I’ve bought much of my equipment from B&H and have been very happy with them.

Second, learn how to use the various custom settings of your DSRL, such as aperture, shutter, and manual settings. Once you learn how to use the “professional” settings, you won’t go back to the “auto” setting. Commercial photographer Bryan Peterson has some great resources to help with this. Like it or not, you’re going to have to study.

Third, practice. Take a lot of photos. Learn about the varying qualities of light. Learn how to see creatively. One of the beauties of digital photography is that you have access to almost instant editing. If you don’t like some of the stuff you snapped, delete. Delete. DELETE.

Fourth, and this is where fishing comes in, whether of people or fish or both, unless you’re doing a panoramic get close. Fill the frame.

Last for now, if you’re trying for close-ups of live fish, keep your hands out of the way. Remember, your subject is the fish, not your thumbs. Cradle live fish, and include a background of water and/or net. Personally, I think dead fish pictures suck, with the exception of photos of fish on the Bar-B. Or perhaps a piece of BBQ’d fish on a fork on its way to your very eager and wide open mouth. Again, get creative.

Well, that’s enough from me. But maybe you’d like to pass along some tips? 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.

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.

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.

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?

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?

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.

Do It On the Fly

My raft was floating high as we drifted downriver, but my hopes were about sunk. We were near the end of a five mile float trip down Montana’s Lower Clark Fork River and my grandson and my daughter’s boyfriend Jeff had not had one hit. They had tossed lures and bait from one side of the river to the other in an effort to nail one of the Clark’s hefty trout but with no success. I had my fly rod aboard, but I’d stayed on the oars the whole time in order to give them the best shot as they had come from out of state. But then it happened.

A Fat Clark Fork Cutthroat
A Fat Clark Fork Cutthroat

Jeff pointed toward the opposite bank. “Look at THAT!” he said.

“That” was a series of trout rises just downstream from a small, rocky point that jutted out into the river and stalled the current.

“That” was what I was waiting for.

I had them both real up and put their spinning rods away as I rowed across to the rocky point and dropped the anchor. After squinting toward the rises and determining that the trout were feeding on a hatch of PMDs (Pale Morning Duns), I tied a #14 PMD dry fly to the end of the leader. I made a few false casts to work out some fly line and dropped the fly just downstream from the point so it would float down the edge of the broken current and meet the feeding trout.

Fish on! I soon boated a fat rainbow of about 15.” I dried out the fly, dabbed on a little dry fly floatant and worked the fly back out to the feeding trout.

Fish on! I handed the bobbing fly rod to my grandson. The fish made a few determined runs, then came unbuttoned. By now the fly looked a bit bedraggled, so I tied on a fresh offering and once again dropped the fly just upstream from the feeding trout.

Fish on! This time the fly rod went to Jeff, and immediately the trout made a smoking run downstream. Jeff managed to turn the fish before it got into the backing, and it responded by stubbornly sulking on the river bottom. Jeff and the fish played a game of tug a war for a few minutes until the Jeff won. Another chubby ‘bow of about 15” came to the net.

This last effort put the trout down and they stopped feeding. I rowed the raft down to our takeout. Jeff shook his head as the raft bumped the shore. “Man,” he said, “I gotta learn to fly fish!”

How about you? If you’re a fly fisher, you’re nodding your knowledgable head in appreciation. There’s few things more exciting than catching trout on a dry fly. 

However, if you’re not a fly fisher you don’t have to lose out on the experience of doing it on the fly. You can get with a local outfitter and fishing guide such as Joe Cantrell who just about has every trout named in every hole. Joe can arrange a guided float trip for you on the Lower Clark Fork River. Included in his reasonably-priced package is all the tackle and flies, free casting lessons if you need them, and a hungry-man shore lunch. Joe also owns a lodge on the banks of the Clark Fork and can put you up for a fair price.

So, how about it, fishers? Do you do it on the fly? Or would you like to learn more about it? Tell me!

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

Necessity is the Mother of Pancakes

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached our camping spot near the shores of the mountain lake. As soon as we had camp set up, my backpacking buddy reached into his pack and pulled out a bag of white powder.

“Look what I brought!” he said. My friend Russ doesn’t do drugs, so without reservation I asked what was in the bag.

Russ smiled triumphantly. “Pancake mix!”

Russ and I both love pancakes so I smiled back. But I had to ask:

“Did you bring any butter?”

“No.”Pancakes

“Syrup?”

“No. But look at all the ripe huckleberries around here! We can add them to the batter and our pancakes will be awesome!”

“Hmm.” I said. “I love huckleberries but they’re rather tart. But I have an idea.”

I reached in my pack and pulled out a package of instant oatmeal, cinnamon and spice flavor. “In the morning, let’s try adding this to the batter and the huckleberry mixture. It should sweeten up the mix. Either we’ll have a new taste sensation or a blowout.”

The pancakes were awesome! So awesome, in fact, that I have to share the recipe with you. Pancake mix doesn’t weigh much, and neither does flavored instant oatmeal so they’re both light in the pack. If you don’t have ripe huckleberries available, you can bring along a little dried fruit, chop up it  and rehydrate it some before making your mix. Now then:

  • 1/2 c. huckleberries or rehydrated fruit of your choice.
  • 1 pkg. instant oatmeal, your choice of flavor.
  • About a c. of pancake mix.
  • Enough water to make a thick batter. You want it a little lumpy. Too thin? Add more pancake mix. Too thick? Add more water. Cook ’em up and enjoy. I ate mine with my fingers.

The result is like fruit scones. The instant oatmeal adds just enough sweetness and Russ noted that he didn’t experience the sugar rush/crash that he gets when he uses syrup.

A few days ago I made these at home for breakfast. I didn’t have a mountain lake nearby, but the pancakes tasted just as good!

Comments? Questions?