Tag Archives: mountain lakes

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.

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. 

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?

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.

HIIT It

Okay, it’s confession time.

I’m an old man. Some might even call me a fat old man (hey, I’m a recreational eater, okay?).

mountain-goat-1259297-640x480
Courtesy freeimages.com/Josephine Eber

So a few months ago I was at first a little hesitant when I was contacted by Chuck Johnson, the publisher/owner of Wilderness Adventures Press of Belgrade, Montana and asked to consider writing a fly fishing guide for the mountain lakes of Northwest Montana. The conversation went something like this:

  • Chuck: You seem to be pretty knowledgable. How’d you like to write for us?
  • Me: A fly fishing guide? I’d like to, but most of our mountain lakes are pretty brushy around the edge. A guy has to do some wading to be effective. Or be a pretty good roll caster.
  • Chuck: Get a float tube or a backpack boat.
  • Me: That would mean packing it in on my back. And I’m not a young man.
  • Chuck: Get a pack goat.

Well, I signed the book contract and I did get the boat. But I’m the pack goat. I guess this makes me an old goat (okay, a fat old goat).

Even though I’m a fat old goat, I do like to hike and backpack and so I try and stay in reasonably good shape. I’ve even overcome the boredom of the treadmill. But add 50 pounds of boat and gear on my back and hike mile after mile? I knew I was going to have to take my fitness to another level.

So I got on the Internet and for me I found the key: HIIT.

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. The basic idea behind HIIT is to alternate between short, intense training and very brief rest periods. HIIT as a training routine hits your hard. Real hard. However, the beauty of HIIT is that it’s so intense you only have to follow a routine for 10-20 minutes three days a week instead of the usual 30-60 minute workout five days a week. And when it comes to stamina and aerobic benefits, it yields better results for most folks. In this case, less really is more.

A guy can find lots of information on the Internet about HIIT and a superabundance of work out routines. But the problem I found with most of the work out routines is that they’re designed for young bucks, not fat old goats so I had to come up with my own version of HIIT. With all of this in consideration, I’m pleased to present my version of HIIT for old goats, fat or otherwise. My modified HIIT routine also works for young bucks who don’t care to swing a 20 pound kettle ball overhead. My routine uses the lowly treadmill, and is as follows:

  • 4 minutes of warm up:
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 6% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 8% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 10% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 12% incline.
  • Next, alternate for 10 reps each:
  • 1 minute at 3.2 MPH, 12% incline.
  • 1 minute at 2.5 MPH, 12% incline.
  • 3 minutes of cool down:
  • 3 minutes at 2.0 MPH, 0% incline.I programmed the above routine into my treadmill, which makes my HIIT workout a no brainer although still a strainer. Modify as you see fit, of course. I combine my HIIT routine with strength training but that’s another story.

Now for the inevitable disclaimer: always check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine. There. I’ve said it. Now go HIIT it.

Comments, wagers on how soon I’ll croak, etcetera?

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?

Way Out in the Outback

Peak-a-Boo from Trail 173
Peak-a-Boo from Trail 173

Do you R-E-A-L-L-Y want to get away from it all? I mean go way, way back and probably not see another hiker for miles and miles and miles?

Have I got a trail for you!

Trail 173 begins about  1/4 mile before Blacktail Creek Road ends (Forest Service Road 304). To get to Blacktail Creek Road, take the Superior Exit from I-90 (Exit 47).  If you exit from I-90 Westbound, turn left after exiting, continue about 1/4 mile to the stop sign and turn left and proceed under the Interstate. At the “T” turn right and continue about 1/2 mile to Blacktail Creek Road and turn left. If you exit from I-90 Eastbound, turn right off the exit and then right at the “T.”

Once at the trailhead, you’ll notice that the trail immediately jumps up but it gentles out shortly after. For the next half mile the trail meanders and crosses Thompson Creek twice. Shortly after crossing the creek for the second time, the trail turns North-Northwest and follows the course of Blacktail Creek uphill. After another 1/2 mile or so the trail generally traces a Westerly course, and can be followed for about eight miles until it intersects with Trail 152. Hike left (South-Southwest) on Trail 152. Follow Trail 152 about five miles and you’ll come to Trial 151. Trail 151 runs South and intersects with the Stateline National Recreation Trail after about another five miles. From this point, you can hike around eight miles Northwest until the trail intersects with Dry Creek Road (FS Road 342) or hike generally Southeast along the Stateline National Recreation Trail about seven miles to Cascade Pass and the Cedar Creek Road (FS Road 320).

Obviously, the through-hike route is for seasoned hikers or backpackers and you’ll want to arrange for a ride back to the point of beginning. Although the route isn’t overly steep most of the way (call it “moderate”), it’s a long, long way to its eventual end if you include the other trails in your itinerary.

However, one of the things I really like about Trail 173 is the lack of other hikers. As a bonus, you can go as near or far as you like. But if you’re like me, you just can’t resist another bend in the trail – until you realize it’s many miles back to the truck!

I purposely haven’t revealed everything about this hike; I’ve left some nice surprises for you.

Questions? Comments?  Click the “Comment” button just under the title of this post or email me: mike(at)mikeraether(.com).

Mineral County, Montana: An Outdoorsman’s Overview

I was stunned. It was abundantly more than I could ask or think.

When I arrived in heavily forested Mineral County in far Western Montana, one of the first things I did was spread out a USDA Forest Service map for the Superior Ranger District. As an outdoorsman, I wanted to learn about where I’d landed. What I discovered was an outdoorsman’s jaw dropper.

Bonanza Lake #1. Photo copyright by Mike L. Raether

First off, Mineral County is 87% publicly owned, and these public lands contain hundreds of miles of non motorized recreational trails. My new “back yard” was home to over 50 mountain lakes, most accessible only by trail and many with good to excellent trout fishing. All mine for the hiking.

And then there is the Clark Fork River with its many tributaries. The Clark Fork is big water that drains most of Western Montana. Although the Clark is overshadowed by the abundance of Montana’s blue ribbon trout waters, the Clark yields beautiful fish up to five pounds for those who learn how to fool ’em. The Clark’s tribs are fair to excellent fishing for brookies, cutts, ‘bows and sometimes big bull trout (be sure to check the regs).

Did I mention the hunting? No, not yet, but as some of you were wondering if I’d get there, here we go –

First, I have to deconstruct your thinking.

Montana in general is not the hunter’s paradise some make it out to be. There’s not a big game animal standing behind every tree or game birds flushing from every bush. Still, the hunting is pretty good, and there’s a certain romanticism connected with hunting in Montana. However, for sheer numbers, a hunter would be better off elsewhere.

But  back to Mineral County. I enjoy good hunting here and the proof is mounted on my walls. The hunting pressure is light if a hunter is willing to get back in the bush a quarter mile or so. Still, the mountains of Mineral County have been called “young men’s mountains” as they are steep and heavily forested. But a seasoned hunter knows that elk and deer don’t usually go straight up the mountain; they’re much smarter than that. They make trails. And a hunter who finds the game trails and uses them finds it much easier to get around the mountains. And he saves a lot of sweat and energy in the process.

Rivers, streams, mountains, lakes, trails, wildlife – yeah, I like it here. I also like sharing. By the way, how about sharing with me? What are your favorite things to do in the great outdoors? Or perhaps you have a question or suggestion?

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 –

Great RV Campsite in St. Regis, Montana

Considering a vacation in Montana this year? Looking for a good campsite for your motor home or camp trailer with tons of outdoor opportunities right out the door of your RV?

Your Montana RV Campsite is Waiting for You

We have a single RV site available. Full hookups including power, water, sewer and garbage service, private setting, 360 degree of the mountains, and the best rates in the area! We also offer discounts for weekly and long term camping.

We’re located just 33 miles east of the Montana-Idaho border just off Interstate 90, and three miles north of St. Regis. Free fishing, hiking, backpacking, and hunting information. Mineral County (where we’re privileged to live) is 86 percent publicly owned – virtually all National Forest or State lands. Essentially an outdoor person’s playground! Miles and miles of trails, Forest Service roads, and over 50 mountain lakes to explore. Come and experience the “Overlooked Montana” and get away from the crowds!

Just give us a phone call at 406.649.0649 for all the details. Hope to see ya in Montana!

P.S.: If you just need some free info about area outdoor opportunities, call us! We love to share about our corner of Big Sky Country.

 

Hundreds of Miles of Hiking Trials near St. Regis, Montana are Available to You