Following the dream, one river at a time.

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Fall 2014

It’s pretty sad that the last time I posted on the blog was more than four months ago. However, I attribute this hiatus from posting to my very busy fall. It’s hard to believe that just four months ago I was still working in the prestigious Big Hole Valley of southwestern Montana. It was the greatest summer of my life, full of adventure, playing and working in some of the most beautiful places in the west.

Summer ended quickly but was saved by the coming of elk season, something I had spent months training for. My friend Trevor and I were as ready as we could have been. It was our second elk season and there was no stopping until we had our first elk with a bow. Little did I know I would get my shot at a nice bull on the first day of the season. All I’ll say is that taking the shot was perhaps the greatest moment of my life thus far and finally walking up to the bull was the greatest feeling of accomplishment I have ever felt.

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My 2014 public lands DIY bull.

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My elk season had come to a close in just a few hours but Trevor was still on a mission to kill his bull. We were back at it the next week during what we hoped would be the peak of the rut. The weather was not ideal as we hunted hard for a few days and finally enticed a bull to make a mistake. Trevor put the arrow right where he wanted to and in just five days of hunting, both our elk seasons had come to an end.

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Trevor with his 2014 public lands DIY bull.

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Elk season transitioned into duck season which I took part in just a couple of times. I also took one trip with my good friend Bob to the Big Hole to fish, one trip out east to hunt mule deer, and then transitioned into hunting whitetails from the stand. As I mentioned before, the word busy was an understatement for this fall.

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Season opener for waterfowl in Montana. From left to right, Garret, Dan, Alec, Stan, Trevor, Riley, Cody, and Ken.

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Bob Prince with a beautiful fall brown from the Big Hole River.

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My first whitetail buck, from the stand.

As if things were just not meant to slow down, I was also able to help a few different friends on their late season hunts including a mountain lion hunt which ended with success.

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Zach admiring his 2014 bull elk.

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My time out west ended with a quick trip to northwestern Washington where I spent a day with a few friends on a tributary of the Skagit River swinging for winter steelhead. We didn’t end up landing any fish but it was a great time spent fishing in such a beautiful place that I haven’t seen much of before.

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Fly fishing for steelhead in the cascades of Northwestern Washington.

Time continues to fly by and now that I’m back in new York for about a month, I hope to take some time to relax with friends and family. Ice conditions are not ideal for ice fishing but in time things should lock up.

I’ve been everywhere man

Where did the summer go? This is a question I have been asking myself far too often lately. A good question though, considering the entire summer has gone by in the blink of an eye. The last month and a half has been a blur and it seems like I have been all over the place. My travels have taken me on trips to the Idaho wilderness, far north to Glacier National Park, and even all the way across the country to my homeland in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. I guess time fly’s when you are so busy travelling. Between my trips I have had the privilege of working in one of the most beautiful places in Montana, the remote Big Hole Valley. It’s been a great summer but it hurts to think that it’s almost over. Here are some photos of the last month or so.

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Home on the range

I often find myself wondering what ‘the old days’ were like in the west. Wisdom, Montana is a place that seems to be stuck in time. In the heart of the upper Big Hole valley, this small ranching community boasts a population of less than 100 humans, and a population of 100 billion mosquitoes. The valley is huge, with vast range lands that seem to never end, massive mountains of the Beaverhead, Pintler, and Pioneer ranges, and the beautiful meandering Big Hole River. It has a sense of solitude and beauty that I cannot even begin to describe.

I began my job with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks during the end of May and have since been privileged to work in some amazing country, all while living in the small town of Wisdom. The Big Hole contains the last fluvial population of native Arctic Grayling in the lower 48 and our work thus far has focused mostly on supplementing the wild population by raising Grayling eggs in smaller tributaries.

Getting to know some of the local ranchers has been fun, and exploring new country has been exhilarating. There is enough land around the big hole valley to explore for several lifetimes. It is true big sky country and the pictures I have taken do not do the landscape justice. It’s hard not to get stuck in such an amazing place, and I have enjoyed every second it so far. Here are a few photos from my first few weeks of work and play. Enjoy.   IMG_3457 IMG_3506 IMG_3603 IMG_3625 IMG_3711 IMG_3745 IMG_3759 IMG_3910 IMG_3915 IMG_4023 IMG_4092 IMG_4173

Let the summer begin

School is finally over and the summer is here. This summer will bring new places to explore and fish as I will be working for Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks doing fisheries restoration projects in the Big Hole Valley in South-western Montana. This is an area that I have not spent a lot of time in, but I am excited to learn a new river and live in the heart of Big Sky Country. Specifically, I will be stationed in the small ranching town of Wisdom, Montana, with a population of 98 year round residents.

It seems like I have been all over the place for the past week. I traveled to eastern Washington with Kelsey to visit her family and have also tried to find fish-able water with friends Riley and Garret. The fishing has been good (where you can fish) but runoff is now in full effect and most rivers and streams are not fish-able. Here are some photos from the past week.

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A nice Rainbow from a Clark Fork tributary.

 

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Salmonflies are beginning to hatch.

 

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Riley fighting the largest cutthroat we have ever seen.

 

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Cutthroat reflection

 

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Garret with a native and non native trout.

 

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Smith River 2014

About a month ago I got the news that I had drawn a permit to float on one of Montana’s most scenic and pristine rivers; the Smith River. The news came as no surprise due to the fact that floating the Smith in April was a trek that requires lots of warm clothes, firewood, and the determination to fight through a blizzard if one were to happen. Planning continued for weeks even though I had many people laugh at the notion of floating the Smith River in early April. I heard a fair share of negative responses such as “Oh man, you’re going then? That’ll be interesting” or even the more extreme, “Holy shit, you guys are going to freeze!”…

I tended to think about the more positive stories I heard about early season floats on the Smith, the ones about hitting the weather perfect and having some amazing fishing. One major concern we all had was that the flows would be too low. I spent some time talking to my friend Matt who floated the smith a couple years ago at 120 cfs, barely float-able at that level. We decided to make our cutoff for flows at 150 cfs. Anything below that level and we would call it quits.

As the weeks went by we began to assemble the crew and our gear. After many complications such as people dropping out or not being able to find an even number of people to fill the two seats per boat, we were finally left with eight of us. Along for the trip was the same old group of friends, Trevor, Garret, Cody, Chris and myself. Also our friend Paul and new friends Ben and Ian. It was a great group and we all knew our trip would run smoothly.

As the day of our float approached and school was finally put on a temporary hiatus for spring break, we lucked out with the flows as they rose to around 180 cfs as if our trip was meant to happen. We spent the weekend making our final preparations for food, gear, and enough clothing to stay warm, all the while thinking about the great adventure we were all about to embark on. On March 31st, we headed for our launch site at Camp Baker.

The drive as we got closer to the Smith was beautiful. Living in western Montana makes you appreciate the different kind of beauty that eastern Montana conveys. Vast plains and range lands made us all feel as though we were truly in Big Sky Country.

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Big Sky Country

Upon arriving in Camp Baker we discovered the Smith to be fairly small and off colored. We enjoyed much of the evening playing wiffle ball and being the only ones at the campground until dark when a few other brave souls showed up including one guy with a canoe.

I woke up to the sound of sandhill cranes and a very frosty rain fly covering my tent. It was a very cold night and it made me think of how cold it was going to be in the deep canyon section of Smith. We began loading the boats quickly because we had a long 15 mile float ahead of us. The first section of the float was through rolling range land and the fishing was not very good. Each boat landed a couple of fish and as we entered more canyon like stretches the fishing got better. I was able to land a solid brown of about 19 inches which was one of many fish that Trevor and I landed in the last couple hours of fishing. We were pretty impressed with how many quality fish between 14-17 inches there were.

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A cold morning to start our Smith River float

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The first good fish of the trip

It was a surprisingly warm night at our first camp. Everyone seemed to have landed some quality fish. Now the only thing that was lacking was the huge limestone cliffs and epic looking scenery of the Smith. We would soon have our first glimpse of the canyon the next morning.

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The canyon wasn’t far downstream and we soon found ourselves floating on the Smith we had dreamed of for the last few months. The fishing was great later in the day and I landed my best fish of the trip, a brown that tapped a little over the 20 inch mark.

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If there was one thing we really did right on the trip, it was the food. We enjoyed our top sirloin, potatoes, and green beans for dinner. Living like kings was turning out to be really nice.

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On day three we continued our way down the canyon section of the river. So far we had lucked out with the weather and we hoped it would hold the whole trip. The scenery remained epic and the fishing really good.

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Ian with a decent Brown

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River Cave

On day four the fishing remained pretty good. Nymphing was still the most productive. However, we soon decided to follow a trail to some Native American pictographs. We had heard from several people about the pictographs on the Smith. Little did we know that we’d have to work hard to get to them. After following a steep winding trail up a few sets of cliffs we finally dropped over the other side and made our way up to the entrance of a massive cave. It wasn’t until we were inside when we saw many ancient paintings done by Native Americans long ago. Humans, animals, and symbols that nobody could understand were scattered all over the wall. I later read that many archaeologists had visited the site and estimated the paintings had been done anywhere from 100-1100 A.D. To think that the paintings have been there for more than a thousand years is absolutely amazing. It was by far one of the coolest things I have seen in my life and I’m sure the other guys felt the same way. We all admired the paintings and the Smith far below for a few more minutes before heading back to the boats.

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When we got to our final camp that evening we knew that our trip in terms of the fishing, was nearly over. We had a long float for our final day and the lower Smith is very flat and mostly shallow. It had been an amazing trip and everyone agreed that it may have been the best trip of our lives. The last thing to do was to burn all the firewood and enjoy homemade chili and hot dogs.

The last 15 miles turned out to be a tough 15 miles. Chris and Paul, who had brought a NRS drifter, had done fine with it all trip. Unfortunately only a few miles into our last day they hit a rock and put a hole in the floor. We took some time to patch it and then moved on. It seemed to take forever to get down to the takeout especially with the wind blowing directly upstream for a good portion of the float. Eventually we made it to Eden bridge where Cody and Trevor’s trucks were.

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The Lower Smith River

High fives went all around as we realized we had made it all in one piece. We knew we had lucked out with everything. The flows, the weather, the fishing, the right amount of food, gear, and a great group of friends. It was a trip that I will never forget and one of the best I’ve ever been on. Until next time, goodbye Smith River.

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The crew from left to right, Cody, Ian, Ben, Garret, Chris, Alec, Paul, and Trevor.

Spring has Sprung

It’s been a while since my last blog post and a lot has gone on in the past few weeks. Missoula received a huge blizzard that caused terrible road conditions, freezing temperatures, and an Avalanche only blocks away from our house on the slopes of Mount Jumbo that destroyed a home and claimed one life. The storm put five foot snow drifts in our front yard and even caused the first snow day for the University in decades. Needless to say, fishing was not an option.

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A drift boat and car under the snow at our neighbors house

Life was busy for a few weeks with several exams and our Westslope Chapter Trout Unlimited annual banquet. I was able to have a few of my photos framed for the silent auction and I was happy to help make our local TU chapter some money. We even had Montana Senator Jon Walsh make an appearance to show support for our chapter. Good to see a political figure supporting a great organization.

From left to right, WCTU President Carey Schmidt, board member Mark Kuipers, Senator Jon Walsh, Janet Walsh, board members Bill Ritchie and myself.

From left to right, WCTU President Carey Schmidt, board member Mark Kuipers, Senator Jon Walsh, Janet Walsh, board members Bill Ritchie and myself.

One of my photos accompanied with flies from George Kesel.

One of my photos accompanied with flies from George Kesel.

After the snow finally began to melt and the temperatures got up into the 40’s, we headed to the Beaverhead to fish for a couple days. We found success and a good time was had by all. 

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The early morning drive

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Our Favorite fish

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The typical Beaverhead brown.

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Riley releases a nice Brown

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Chris and Riley on the tracks

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Trevor and Riley along the cliffs of the Beaverhead

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We also drew a permit to float one of the most pristine and beautiful rivers in Montana, the Smith. We are planning on using most of our spring break to have the adventure of a lifetime. Hopefully the flows stay high enough but the clarity remains. Either way, come April 1st we will be embarking on another awesome adventure.

It seems as though the warm weather is mostly here to stay. It has caused some of the rivers to temporarily blow out but the flows are now on their way down again. With a forecast above 60 degrees on Sunday, it won’t be long until the fish begin to look up for those emerging skwala stoneflies, the first major hatch of the year.

The Mo: A Presidents’ Day Tradition

Three Presidents Days ago in 2012, a few separate groups of fly fisherman from Missoula converged in Craig, Montana to fish the Missouri River. Neither the frigid cold or high winds would repel their desires to land dozens of beautiful wild trout. Little did the groups know that with the help of some whiskey and the commonality of all being college students attending the University of Montana, a tradition would be formed for years to come. 

This year we planned our third annual trip to the Mo. A total of 12 of us made the trip over the divide on Friday evening. Zach came in style with a wall tent and stove which we all appreciated greatly. Having a place to cook and stay warm was something that we had never previously had for our annual trip.

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The luxurious wall tent

 

Our first day of fishing was great. Kelsey landed some nice fish right from the start and everyone else seemed to be landing some great fish also. About half way through the day, Kelsey joined Abby and Hope to form a girls boat. Trevor and I had a hell of an afternoon and landed about a dozen fish each in the last two hours.

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Kelsey with a beautiful rainbow

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Garret lunges with the net as Abby fights a big Missouri bow.

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How’s that for scenery?

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Zach and Hope after a long fight with a mean looking rainbow.

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Trevor with the release.

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Trevor with an outrageously fat rainbow.

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My fish of the trip.

 

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Bobby Prince with a Missouri River cutty-rain-steelhead.

 

Although the winds were not bad during the day, the night turned into a windstorm. We were able to have a fire outside for a while until the winds became too fast. It was a fun night up until that point and everyone went to bed hoping that the winds would die down. Needless to say, nobody got any sleep with the gusts of 40-50 mph.

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Before the winds…

We woke to the sounds of high winds and some honking geese. Not quite the first thing you’d like to hear in the morning. Amazingly, nobody was blown into the river by the winds. Without much debate, we all decided that we would do a short float and pack up our gear because the forecast called for even higher winds the next day.

We ended up having a good start to the day and each boat landed some decent fish. As time went on, the winds picked up even more and it was very difficult for each rower to keep nice lines for whoever was fishing. We did still catch some fish though including a couple browns and of course Kelsey landed her favorite fish, the Whitefish. 

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Hope fights a nice fish like a pro as Zach goes for it with the net.

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Winter Brown

 

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Disgrace.

 

It was a quick end to the day as the winds basically blew us down river. After pulling the boats we all re-grouped in Craig and then headed for home. Our 3rd annual Presidents Day Mo trip was over. Between the awesome luxury of a wall tent and the many fish that everyone caught, the trip was a great success. Thanks to everyone who came along.

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The road home.