Spectacular! The Great Eclipse of 2017

Midday darkness during totality – with a lit-up horizon all around us.

The fourth time is a charm!

With thousands of others, my wife and I went to Idaho to watch the eclipse. We figured, realistically, that this would probably be our last chance to see this phenomenon.

I’ve had several near misses.

The first time I saw a solar eclipse was June 30, 1954, when the path of the eclipse went right through Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It was a near miss. Our family farm was about 60 miles south of Minneapolis so it was a given that we’d miss the totality. I doubt that taking a drive an hour to the north would have occurred to my parents. Still, I remember getting up early that morning and all of us piling into the car to go out to one of our fields where we’d get an un-obscured look at the celestial event taking place right after sunrise. Frankly, after all these years I don’t remember how much of the actual eclipse we saw, or if we had some sort of eclipse glasses. We probably used photo negatives.

The next eclipse was July 20, 1963. Incidentally, I didn’t have those dates burned into my memory, but that trivia is easily retrieved with an internet search. In Fargo, North Dakota, where we were living, the eclipse wasn’t that close, but I remember being outside with our son, Kevin, then a nine-month old toddler, and seeing images of the eclipse in the multiple pin-hole camera effect from the leaves of a tree in our backyard.

On February 26, 1979, we had another close, but no cigar moment. We were living in Grafton, in northeast North Dakota and the eclipse was just to the north, in Canada. Kevin, then a junior in high school, went with a science class to Winnipeg, Manitoba, at the center of the path of the eclipse. Obviously, this was a simpler time, when going to Canada, and then returning to the U.S., didn’t involve much more than the teacher vouching for the citizenship of his students.

At that time I did a weekly 5-minute live public service program about Social Security on a local radio station, and after I was done I hung on to chat on-air about eclipses with one of the station personalities.

So, with those three near misses, it seemed appropriate to hit the road for Idaho on August 21 to finally see a total eclipse, so I’ll share some of my observations.

First, we knew a lot of people were making an eclipse trip, but the volume of traffic on I-15 at sunrise surprised us, considering it wasn’t even elk season.

We planned to head for the highway rest stop at Dubois, Idaho, figuring other people would be there as well. We weren’t figuring that the rest stop, built large to accommodate lots of big trucks if Monida Pass was blocked by snowstorms, would be Eclipse City. The facility was jammed with motor homes, tents, RVs, cars, trucks and people. We found a parking spot next to a travel trailer from Kalispell. The owners had camped there the previous two nights to make sure they’d have a ringside seat to the eclipse.

Highway rest stop at Dubois ID, aka Eclipse City.

If we thought the rest area was jammed, it was nothing compared to the crush in the rest stop building, where long lines of people waited in line to use the facilities.

As the actual eclipse began and progressed, people settled down to watch, as the moon slowly crossed in front of the sun. As we approached totality we could see the sunlight dimming, and could feel the air temperature dropping. It grew darker and darker, and as the last sliver of sun disappeared behind the moon, people began cheering.

Like many, I was totally blown away by the spectacular sight of the corona around the moon and then the so-called diamond ring effect just at the end of totality. Stunning and spectacular don’t begin to describe it.

Some people say that experiencing a total eclipse is the thrill of a lifetime. I agree and now I regret those near misses.

P.S., I also regret not getting a great photo of the sun in total eclipse, but you’ve probably already seen many of them already.

Late Summer Flyfishing – Tricos and Solitude

A Big Hole River brown trout, caught in the trico hatch.

Remember the month of June? Back when you took a drive along the Big Hole River and you’d see parking lots at Fishing Access Sites full to overflowing? When you could sit on the bank of the river and watch drift boats and rubber rafts floating down the river in an endless parade of anglers, guides, and recreational floaters?

That seems like ancient history right now. The river is mostly deserted, except for the occasional boat floating down river. The crowds are gone.

The crowds may be gone, but the fish are still there and they’re hungry.

Back in June, during high water, floating might be the best way to catch trout on a river. It certainly makes a river a lot more accessible, when wading is all but impossible except along the fringes of the shoreline.

Right now, wading anglers have the advantage, and I count myself as primarily a wade angler, even if I have a small pontoon boat for floating the river.

When wading, we may not be able to work miles of river, but we can work our way up a hundred yards of riffle and cast our flies to actively feeding trout and probably have more action than we’d have in a ten-mile float.

Timing is everything, though.

The major insect hatch right now is tricos, the tiny mayfly that daily emerges by the millions and comes back to the river in clouds of bugs as it completes its life cycle in that final phase of mating and reproduction. It usually happens sometime around 10 a.m. to noon.

On my most recent outing I approached a run on the lower Big Hole River and fish were rising all along the water’s surface. I first thought that it might be mostly whitefish that were causing all the commotion, but on my first cast I hooked a nice brown trout. For the next hour I had continuous action, catching and releasing a dozen fish, about half of which were browns and the rest were whitefish.

Then, after taking a short break to tie a new tippet on my leader, I waded back into the river, but the excitement was over. There were still a few risers but the feeding frenzy was over.

Another great time to be fly-fishing right now is the evening, especially the last hour before sunset.

My favorite fly for evening fly-fishing is the soft-hackle wet fly, an old-fashioned fly brought back to modern favor by an old friend, Sylvester Nemes, the late author of several books on fly-fishing, mostly about soft-hackle flies.

It’s the ultimate in easy fishing. You cast the fly across the current of the river and let it drift downstream, swinging across the current. Strikes can happen at any moment in the drift, including when the fly is straight downstream. The fly is mostly in the surface film of the water and if you’re watching the chances are you’ll see the rise. But, you’ll do just as well looking around and daydreaming; when the trout take the fly they’ll let you know. They hit hard and often go on long runs across the river.

I often recall a riverside conversation I had with a couple that had been fishing in early evening and were quitting because the trout weren’t coming up to their dry flies. I suggested to them that they should try a soft-hackle wet fly, as the action was just about to get hot. They declined the suggestion. “We’re dry-fly purists; we like to see the fish rise.”

I do, as well, though I’ve learned over the years that we have a lot more angling action if we’re open to more options.

The fish are also open to those different options. One of the fish I caught last weekend during the trico hatch had two flies in its jaw. One, the dry fly I had cast to it, and the other a soft-hackled wet fly that I’d lost the night before when it broke off when I was trying to release it.

End of Summer in Sight

A small eggplant I harvested from my garden.

There is a feeling of fall in the air.

We had a blistering hot July in western Montana, and as a result, and depending on where the wind is coming from, we have various degrees of hazy skies and eye-burning smoke from many Montana wildfires

Still, the last week or so, early mornings have a crisp feel that warn us that the sands in the hourglass of summer will soon be running out.

Our chokecherries are ripe, but there’s not much of a crop and the robins are harvesting what’s there.

Our high country garden looks promising. The tomato plants are full of fruit, and my chile peppers suggest there might be a good bite to the autumn salsa. The green beans finally have pods big enough to pick. Somewhere, below the ground’s surface, root vegetables are gaining bulk, as well.

Still, it’s a race for time, and here in the mountains the starting blocks of a cold spring always put us at a disadvantage. In my home state of Minnesota, people are picking tomatoes and corn. My Hoosier buddy, Charley, lives in Evansville, Indiana, just across the river from Kentucky, and his gardening standard is ripe tomatoes on the Fourth of July.

There are just over two weeks left in the month of August and from then on gardens in Butte are on life support.

We normally go camping over the Labor Day weekend. Fishing is good and the upland bird season opens on the first day of September. It’s a great way to celebrate the end of summer.

On the other hand, I don’t know how many times we’ve come back from the long holiday weekend to find the garden suffering from frostbite. In fact there was one year in the early 1990s when temps on Labor Day morning dropped into the teens and the garden was just plain frozen to death.

The countryside, and yes, that means all of Montana and beyond, is in desperate need of rain and, hopefully some fall rains are on Mother Nature’s agenda, but that also likely translates to high elevation snow. Living at over a mile-high here in Butte, Montana, that means snow right in our backyards.

But, bring it on. We’ll take that late summer rainfall any way we can get it. In the big fire season of 1988 it was a snowstorm, the weekend after Labor Day, that ended the fire season.

We’re now just a couple weeks ago from the opening of the fall hunting seasons. Upland bird seasons open the first day of September. Archery seasons for deer and elk open the first Saturday in September, and that means that archery season opens the day after upland bird season. It’s too early to tell what to expect in early September, though unless we get some meaningful rainfall, the mountains and prairies will be crispy dry when we start taking those walks across the landscape in search of birds or critters.

I have talked to a couple mountain grouse fans that have been doing some scouting and they report that they’re not seeing many birds. That’s not exactly a scientific assessment, but it might be a good indication of what’s happening out there.

But, it’s still summer and that means fishing, and with permission I’m sharing this remarkable story from Mark Daily, a businessman and fly-fishing guide based in Cascade, Montana.

“Today on the Missouri River, my client was landing a good sized brown. I was standing up with the net in hand ready to land the beauty, when out of the corner of my eye, I see an adult eagle with talons exposed coming right at my client. It was that close. It swooped down and took the brown trout right in front of us. My client had the trout and eagle on his fly line in the air, as the big bald eagle started his ascent; the line broke and left the two of us in complete amazement.”

I’m betting he wishes he had someone running a video camera when this happened.

Zinke Gets Failing Grade as SecInt

Many in the so-called conservation community were willing to give Ryan Zinke, our former representative in Congress, some cautious approval when the president nominated him to be Secretary of Interior.

Some were dismayed because Zinke is a hunter, for Pete’s sake. That gave others reason to be encouraged that being a hunter, and from Montana, no less, that at least he might not be totally clueless when it comes to public land and environmental issues.

At the time of his confirmation hearings, Zinke declared himself as a Teddy Roosevelt-type Republican and a protector of public lands, pointing out that he passed on being a delegate to the Republican national convention because the party platform called for transfer of public lands to the states.

Since his appointment, and riding to work on a horse his first day on the job at Interior, Zinke has demonstrated that he may be The Donald’s errand boy, but he’s no friend of the environment or our public lands.

During Zinke’s short tenure as Montana’s lone congressman, he took, according to Ted Williams, writing in Hatch, the online fly-fishing magazine, $300,000 in donations from the oil and gas industry and earned an environmental voting record, as compiled by the League of Conservation voters, of 4 percent. Now, as reported by the Denver Post, he’s trying to turn the Interior’s lands into “profit centers” for the government by accelerating oil and coal development.

As for being a T.R. Republican, we might look at Zinke’s actions regarding national monuments. Following the president’s directive to review the status of national monuments created in the last 20 years, Zinke did announce that he’d recommend that the Missouri Breaks National Monument remain unchanged.

On the other hand, Zinke made a tour of the Bears Ear National Monument in Utah and spent a full day listening to local opponents of the monument, while giving a scant hour of time to the Native American tribes that had been working many years for monument status because of the many antiquities in the area, as well as the unique landscape.

More recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a visit to Glacier National Park to tour the melting ice fields. Before the visit took place, Interior and National Park Service officials sent a directive that the Park’s top research ecologist and the Park superintendent would not participate in Zuckerberg’s tour.

In the last few weeks, some Interior climate scientists have been reassigned to relatively meaningless assignments. An example is Joel Clement, Interior’s top climate policy official, who was reassigned to an Interior agency that tracks royalty payments.

On July 20, Zinke was a speaker at a closed-door meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry organization backed by the Koch Industries and ExxonMobil that advocates for conservative causes. Speeches by some other attendees, such as Newt Gingrich and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were recorded, Zinke’s speech was, according to High Country News, not recorded, nor were any transcripts released.

Zinke’s eagerness to run errands for his boss blew up in his face a couple weeks ago when he called Alaska’s Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to threaten retribution if they didn’t toe the line on the administration’s healthcare bill, including, according to the Washington Post, blocking energy exploration and plans to allow the construction of new roads. Or, as one observer noted, he threatened to, of all things, protect the environment.

Sen. Murkowski, as we know, still voted against the “skinny repeal” bill, not worried about Zinke’s threats.

In the Post’s daily news summary, The Daily 202, the Post commented, “This demonstrated the degree to which Zinke’s ham-handed phone call was political malpractice…Only an amateur would threaten the person who has oversight over his agency! If she wants, Murkowski can make Zinke’s life so unbelievably miserable. He has no idea.”

Note: last week, Zinke told the Associated Press that the idea that he threatened Murkowski is “laughable.”

Zinke might be from Montana, but he’s no Teddy Roosevelt. As head of Interior, his first priority should be to keep public lands intact, healthy, and not a profit center.

Spruce Moths & Tricos – Late summer flyfishing bounty

Paul Vang’s Spruce Moth

We spent the last couple weekends of July camping on the Big Hole River, and while walking around the campground I saw little, white moths fluttering around the shrubbery.

Then it hit me. Spruce moths!

As we go through the fishing season we mark the passage of time by insect hatches, tracking time by skwalas, blue wing olives, salmonflies, golden stones, pale morning duns, and now in August we’ll note the new page on the calendar with spruce moths and tricos.

Up until now, most of the fly-fishing action has centered on imitating aquatic insects, such as the various mayflies and stoneflies. With the spruce moth, we have the first major invasion of terrestrial insects on our trout waters, and the fish will be paying attention.

I remember an outing last year when I spent the morning fly-fishing with tiny trico imitations, catching mostly whitefish. Around noon, the trico action petered out, but after a sandwich break I went a short distance upstream and noticed fish rising along a current seam. That caught my attention and I checked it out and trout were rising to the all-you-can-eat buffet of spruce moths drifting helplessly along the water’s surface.

For the next couple hours I had continuous action as I worked that current seam up the river, catching and releasing a number of trout that fell for my fake moth.

The spruce moth is the adult form of the western spruce budworm, an insect that feeds on Douglas firs, spruce and also lodgepole pine. A Forest Service bulletin describes the spruce budworm as a “defoliator,” as the mature budworm larvae feeds on needles or needle buds. Trees that have been damaged by spruce budworms may be more susceptible to other parasites, such as bark beetles.

It’s the adult form of the budworm that gets the attention of trout and trout anglers. The adult moths emerge in late July and August. The moths lay eggs on the underside of conifer needles. The eggs hatch in about ten days, and the young larvae spend the winter in a silken casing called a hibernaculum. They do most of their feeding on host trees in May and June, before morphing into the adult form and repeating the process.

While I started seeing spruce moths in mid-July, I wasn’t seeing them on the water. It seems to take a little while for the explosion of adult moths to reach a critical mass when the moths seemingly start to migrate to water and, inevitably, become fish food.

Bob Jacklin’s Spruce Moth

There are many fly patterns designed to imitate the spruce moth, starting with a basic Elk Hair Caddis. I just tied up several, though with some variation. The spruce moth floating down the river is splayed out, flat on the water’s surface. I tied the fly with the palmered hackle clipped flat on both top and bottom of the hook, and the elk hair wing flattened out. I also tied them on a #14 dry fly hook. Some recipes call for them to be tied on a #12 or even #10 hook and that seems way too big as an imitation. Of course, the ultimate judge is the trout, not the angler.

Now, a note on tricos. Trico is short for Tricorythodes, a tiny mayfly that emerges into adult form starting about now, and going well into September. The bug is small, but they emerge in incredible numbers and return to make egg-laying flights over the water in clouds of bugs. Considering the millions of mayflies in one of those clouds, and the numbers of those trico clouds over the miles of river, the numbers of insects is mind-boggling.

Trico hatch on the Big Hole River.

And, again, the fish take notice. There’s not much protein in the individual bug, but it adds up, and the fish get busy.

Keep in mind; fishing the trico hatch is a morning game during these hot, summer days. The action runs from mid-morning to around noon and then it’s done for another day.

But, you might still get spruce moth action. It’s all good.

Lost & Found!

Wade Fellin retrieving Ron’s bamboo rod.

“Boy, do I have a story for you! It’s a lost and found story, and Wade Fellin is my hero—and if you don’t write the story I’ll find someone who will!

This was from our friend, Ron Hays, while getting out of the car when he and his wife, Nina Norum, came to have dinner with us at our campsite on the upper Big Hole River.

We met Ron and Nina something like 15 years ago at a Trout Unlimited dinner in Butte. Ron was, at one time, a Dean of engineering at Montana Tech, here in Butte. Nina is a R.N., and we made an instant connection when we learned that Nina, like my wife and I, is a graduate of St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

Their home is in Minneapolis, but for years they have maintained an apartment in Butte as a base for fishing the Big Hole River and other trout streams. This past year they moved their Montana base to Missoula to be closer to grandchildren, but we still try to get together when they return to Montana.

They’d timed this trip to be able to go to the Big Hole River Day, the annual fundraising event of the Big Hole River Foundation. They’ve been supporting the Foundation and in appreciation were invited on a float trip with a Foundation board member as their guide, and this year their guide was Wade Fellin, the co-manager of the Big Hole Lodge at Wise River.

They were floating the Maiden Rock Canyon below Divide when Ron and Nina’s flies got tangled. Wade anchored the rubber raft while assisting them in getting untangled. As Ron related, “I handed my rod, or at least thought I did, to Wade. We got untangled, then I asked, ‘Wade, do you have my pole?’”

It turned out he didn’t. In one of those awkward moments, the handoff didn’t connect and Ron’s rod was in the river.

The rod wasn’t just any fly rod. It was a bamboo rod made by Glenn Brackett’s Sweetgrass Rod Company, and a gift from Ron’s family in honor of his 80th birthday.

Here’s where’s Wade Fellin’s story starts. “If you’re going to drop a fly rod in the river, it was a bad place because it was in a really deep stretch—around six feet deep, and there’s just enough silt on the bottom to make it impossible to see anything once it gets stirred up. I tried to figure out where it went but it seemed hopeless.”

The rest of the float to their takeout at Maidenrock Bridge was a sad trip. Ron relates, “I called Glenn Brackett to order a replacement, but he said it would be at least a year before he’d be able to fill the order.”

After finishing the float, Wade called his fellow guides from Big Hole Lodge to come and help find the rod. He then stopped at a Melrose fly shop where the owners annually go snorkeling in the Bahamas in the winter and borrowed some snorkeling gear.

With the help of the guide crew Wade returned to the river and the stretch where the rod went overboard, trying to figure out how far the rod might have drifted with the current. “Mark Thompson called over, ‘I think you’re too far to the left!’ I thought, ‘How would you know. You weren’t there.’ Still, I moved over to the right side of the channel, and darned if I didn’t spot it. The reel had wedged in between rocks, about 200 yards from where it fell in, with the rod pointing downstream.”

There was a happy reunion of rod and Ron at an afternoon social event of donors and Foundation board members, and Ron and Nina were still almost giddy at the rod’s recovery that evening.

As for any heroics in the recovery, Wade shrugs it off, “We give the float trip to our supporters to thank them for their contributions to the Foundation, but we don’t

Rattlesnake Training for Bird Dogs

Kiri, from one of last season’s hunts. Don’t let a rattlesnake spoil one of this year’s hunts.

We’re now past the middle of July. Our days now have 30 minutes less daylight than we had at the Summer Solstice.

Towards the end of June we passed the peak of the spring runoff period and, surprise, surprise, the Big Hole River and other streams dropped like someone pulled the plug in the bathtub. With the hot weather of July, don’t be surprised if we will likely go to “hoot owl” restrictions on local fishing, in spite of the big and prolonged spring runoff period.

On a day trip to eastern Montana, just a week and a half ago, wheat fields were ripening and, in fact, combines were already harvesting the first of the winter wheat crop.

In short, summer, that most fleeting of Montana seasons, is now more than half over—even if it didn’t really start until the end of June, or so it seemed. For better or worse, autumn is now just around the corner.

That means, of course, that the hunting seasons, the best part of the year, are just six or so weeks away. For some people in a couple Facebook groups dedicated to upland bird hunting, the wait between seasons is all but intolerable, even when fly-fishing really isn’t a bad way to kill time.

I got a bit of a head start on the hunting season a few weeks ago when I did a little trap shooting at our Outdoor Writers conference, taking turns at clay pigeons, and exchanging some good-natured razzing and trash talk with Mark Herwig, editor of the Pheasants Forever magazine.

I took another step toward hunting season when I took our two-year-old Labrador retriever, Kiri, to a rattlesnake avoidance training session.

While the training session opportunity was advertised in the local daily, I’ll not mention where it was held or who sponsored it. At the class I asked if I could take some photos, and was told, “Absolutely not. Inevitably, some photos would get on the Internet and PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) would try to shut us down.”

In case you were wondering, what happens in rattlesnake avoidance training is that trainers lead a dog close to a de-fanged rattlesnake, letting it get a good dose of rattler scent, plus a simulation of the snake trying attack the dog, at the same time that the trainer is giving the dog a strong shock on an electronic training collar.

I was allowed to watch at a distance and it seemed clear that Kiri was unhappy about the experience, as she yelped with pain and/or fright.

After it was all over, the trainer said, “Now take her home and keep her quiet for the rest of the day. Give your dog time to digest what happened and to think about it.”

Indeed, Kiri was pretty subdued most of the day, seemingly reflecting on the morning’s trauma and trying to make sense of it.

The goal of the session is that if she picks up the scent of rattlesnake while out on an early autumn hunt, she would quickly back away from a nasty and possibly fatal encounter. I’m also hopeful that she might also alert me to the presence of rattlesnake when we’re walking along a river in late summer.

I recall a fishing outing on the lower Big Hole River with a previous Lab, Candy, who ran ahead of me through the willows and cottonwoods. She ran right by a rattlesnake, arousing the snake that then looked at me with annoyance, rattling its displeasure at being disturbed during its morning hunt for mice or voles.

My general attitude toward rattlesnakes is, “Live and let live.” They are valuable predators on small rodents and if not provoked will live out a peaceful life without nasty encounters with dogs and their people.

The basics of rattlesnake avoidance training have been around many years and it works, and I’m glad Kiri went through it. Still, I’ll be happy if she never has an encounter to demonstrate her new skill.

Macquarrie and Leopold

A Sand County Almanac and Stories of the Old Duck Hunters – a Wisconsin double-header.

“I must be cautious, but it is hard to even think about it without accompanying rhapsody. But maybe it’s not a bad thing to fall in love with a river.”

I’d like to take credit for this quote. I could say it describes how I feel about the Big Hole River, though many could cheerfully say it about many favorite rivers in many places. In this case, however, the author was Gordon Macquarrie, writing about the Brule River of northern Wisconsin.

Gordon Macquarrie was the main feature of a workshop on Learning from the Masters, and famous outdoor writers from the past, at the recent annual conference, in Duluth MN, of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

Unfortunately, Gordon Macquarrie is a name that’s relatively unknown among today’s readers, but, according to Keith Crowley, a Wisconsin writer and photographer, and a biographer of Macquarrie in his book, Gordon Macquarrie: The Story of an Old Duck Hunter, he was one of the most popular and well-read outdoor writers of his time.

Macquarrie, for his entire working life, was a newspaper reporter and editor. In 1936 he was hired to be the outdoor writer and editor for the Milwaukee Journal, and from there, besides his fulltime job at the newspaper, he wrote for all the big name outdoor magazines. Crowley said, “He was right up there with Havilah Babcock and Nash Buckingham, and others, the great writers of what is sometimes called, ‘The Golden Age of Outdoor Writing.’”

Today, he is usually remembered for collections of his stories about the Old Duck Hunters Association, Inc. (for incorrigible), though that barely touches the surface of his work.

Within just a couple weeks of taking over the Journal’s outdoor desk, Macquarrie took a drive to Madison, Wisconsin to interview Aldo Leopold, a naturalist and professor at the University of Wisconsin, the person often credited for developing the science of wildlife management.

Many Wisconsin hunters and anglers considered Leopold’s thoughts on wildlife management revolutionary. Nevertheless, Macquarrie consistently promoted Leopold’s philosophy of scientific wildlife management, come what may, occasionally ranting against the “ignorami” who opposed Leopold’s ideas. Macquarrie was downright angry at times, literally pounding his typewriter as he wrote his columns, sending a lot of business to the Journal’s typewriter repairman.

Macquarrie received an advance copy of Aldo Leopold’s landmark book, A Sand County Almanac, about a year before it was published after Leopold’s death in 1948. Keith Crowley had an opportunity to talk to Macquarrie’s widow and asked if she still had that book. No, she said, in 1954 their daughter gave him a new copy as the original was literally falling apart from being studied so much, and it went in the trash.

Gordon Macquarrie died in 1956, at age 56, but leaving a huge legacy of written work and his philosophy of the outdoors, and is also forever linked to Aldo Leopold, the founder of scientific wildlife management.

Fast forwarding to the present, after the conference we visited with our long-time friends, Keith and Josie. Keith is a retired wildlife biologist who keeps a close eye on Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, and he’s saddened by what’s happened to his old agency since Governor Scott Walker took office.

It’s a microcosm of what’s happening at the EPA in many respects, as Walker’s appointees are seemingly methodically eliminating science and environmental education from agency missions, and gagging DNR employees from talking to the public, especially concerning issues such as climate change, pollution, or large capacity wells near vulnerable streams. The department has even made drastic cuts to DNR activities at the state fair, ending a traditional outreach effort that usually reached thousands of citizens in a few days.

Keith’s concerns are documented in stories from the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison, reporting that Walker and the Legislature cut $34 million and 93 positions, because the department was doing “unneeded work on climate change, mine pollution and wildlife management.”

Aldo Leopold and Gordon Macquarrie must be rolling over in their graves.

Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame – Hayward, Wisconsin

World’s largest muskie, centerpiece of Hall of Fame.

Back in 1963 I bought a used Johnson 5 ½ horse outboard motor. We were living in Fargo, North Dakota and in the general area of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, just 40 miles to the east, were lots of lakes and most lakes, it seemed, had a resort of some kind where, for a few dollars, you could rent a boat for the day.

That outboard motor was our summer workhorse for a number of years, reliably taking us around many lakes in search of fish. When we moved to Butte in 1988 we gave it to our son in Minot, North Dakota, figuring he’d have more use for it. Unfortunately, it hasn’t run for a long time as it needs a simple part that hasn’t been available for years.

Memories of that old Johnson Sea Horse motor came flooding back as I poked through rooms full of outboard motors at the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame museum in Hayward, Wisconsin last week.

We took a detour to Hayward after spending a long weekend in Duluth, Minnesota for the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, held June 23 through 26.

Our good friends, Keith and Josie, who were college classmates years ago, live in Rhinelander, Wisconsin and they suggested an outing to Hayward for a fun day before we headed back west.

The Fresh Water Hall of Fame is a major attraction in the tourist-oriented town of Hayward. The grounds of the museum boast the world’s largest muskie, a huge representation of the trophy fish, often called “the fish of a thousand casts.” There are some somewhat smaller reproductions of other fish, such as walleye, salmon, perch, and sunfish.

The heart of the museum is the Hall of Fame, where famous anglers, guides and even outdoor writers are honored with Hall of Fame membership. Honorees include author Ernest Hemingway, baseball player Ted Williams, champion flycaster Joan Wulff, and hundreds of others.

Some of the many fish mounts, this just from the trout/salmon room

The museum maintains records of freshwater fish, and there are mounted fish all over the place, though the muskellunge remains the star attraction. The facility includes examples of thousands of lures, flies, rods, reels and memorabilia. It’s truly America’s, particularly the Midwest’s, fishing attic.

But, it was the two rooms full of outboard engines that really caught my attention. Going back to Ole Evinrude’s first outboard motor that he made in 1909, there are hundreds of various outboard motors demonstrating the development of power boats. Some of them jogged memories, and others needed memories that go back much farther than mine.

That green Johnson outboard is the same as my old motor. It’s circa 1954. Signs refer to the little motors below the Johnson.

There were Johnson, Evinrude, and Mercury, as we might expect. But there were countless brands that exist mainly in long memories, such as Firestone and Goodyear, Scott-Atwater, Scott-McCulloch, Montgomery Ward Sea King, Sears, and Sears Ted Williams, Eska, Hiawatha (sold at Gambles stores), McCulloch, and Clinton. Probably a number of those motors were built by the big name companies, and then sold under private labels at those tire and hardware stores. There was even a Spiegel motor, presumably sold by the old catalog company. There might be a few of those old kickers still in use in some backcountry lakes, but most of them are long-forgotten.

There were battery-powered electric trolling motors going back to the 1930s. Before inventors came up with the battery-powered motor, other people came up with crank or foot pedal-powered trolling devices. In a small shed apart from the main museum was a boat from the early 1900s, with a 1904 inboard gasoline engine.

The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame was the brainchild of local community leaders back in the early 1960s, and has long gotten financial support of whiskey company, Jim Beam.

The Hall of Fame and museum is open April through October and is a great way to spend a couple hours browsing through the history of American fishing. For more information, check their website at www.freshwater-fishing.com.

Of course, we might mention that Hayward is well known as a fishing destination, especially for that iconic fish of a thousand casts, the muskie.

A Farewell to Tom Morgan and to FlyRod & Reel Magazine

The last issues of FlyRod &n Reel magazine.

We’re finally approaching the end of the spring runoff season, marked with torrential rains and flood conditions on the Big Hole River, just when I hoped to get in on the salmonfly hatch. I don’t know how the hatch was. I just knew I didn’t want to be floating or wading the river in those conditions.

With runoff tapering off, I’m looking forward to what I usually consider the best fly-fishing of the year, when insect hatches, which unfortunately includes mosquitoes, will be at their peak and rivers are more peaceful than in June.

As we get into the heart of good fly-fishing, we’ll note a couple sad absences from this summer’s fly-fishing scene.

As has been widely reported, Tom Morgan, one of the masters of fly rod design, died on June 12, after a long illness. He was age 75.

Tom Morgan had a long career in fly-fishing, starting as a teen-aged guide in Ennis. He later became an owner of the R. L. Winston rod company, and with his business partner, Glenn Brackett, moved the business from San Francisco to Twin Bridges, Montana in the 1970s.

Morgan and Brackett sold the business in 1991. In spite of becoming crippled from multiple sclerosis, in 1996 he launched a new rod-building business, Tom Morgan Rodsmiths.

While he could no longer fish or even hold a rod, with the help of his wife, Gerri Carlson, and other craftsmen, he continued to design and supervise the building of what many consider to be the world’s finest fly rods, including bamboo rods that sold for almost $4,000. Though he had recently sold the business, he continued to study the art and science of rod design to the end.

Personally, I never met Tom Morgan and I doubt that I could ever justify a four grand bamboo rod. But, I do have a Sweetgrass bamboo rod from Glen Brackett’s shop, and built by a craftsman who had spent part of his apprenticeship under Tom Morgan. I also have a Winston rod, which, even 30 years after Morgan left Winston, has a distinctive, softer action, a characteristic of Morgan’s philosophy of rod design.

Tom Morgan leaves a strong legacy of intelligent design and perfection of craftsmanship to all of us who string up a rod and go fly-fishing.

I also note the demise of FlyRod & Reel magazine, a long-time mainstay of my magazine rack. I started reading the magazine back in the 1980s, when it was still Rod & Reel magazine, and featured a more generalized coverage of fishing.

I looked forward to getting the magazine because of the quality of writing in the magazine. John Gierach, the modern philosopher of fishing, had the back of book column, with his musings on life and fishing, a basis of his many books. Ted Leeson set the standard for equipment reviews. Ted Williams, possibly one of our best living investigative reporters, covered environmental issues. Seth Norman, with whom I spent a week in Alaska a few years back, wrote intelligent and thoughtful book reviews. The most recent editor was Greg Thomas, an outdoor writer based in Missoula.

Some distinguishing features, aside from expected articles about fishing techniques and places to go, were the annual Fly Angler of the Year awards, the annual Robert Traver Writing contest awards, along with, of course, the Gierach stories and Williams’ exposés of abuses to the environment.

One of the first reports of the magazine’s demise that I saw was a Facebook post by Ted Williams, reporting he’d just been notified that his services were no longer needed. Editor Greg Thomas posted an article in late March on Angler’s Tonic, a fishing website, reporting the decision of the publisher, Down East Publications, to discontinue the magazine.

For most subscribers, the first news, aside from not getting a summer issue in the mail, was getting a Shooting Sportsman magazine, with an editor’s note that their FlyRod & Reel subscription was now a Shooting Sportsman subscription.

Nothing lasts forever, I guess, but I’ll miss FlyRod & Reel.

A Festive Family Wedding – Fishing is Involved

Bronwyn Vang and Kyler Held – newlyweds.

“Does it seem like this is one of the crazier attempts at fishing we’ve had?”

That’s what I tried to yell to my son, Kevin, over the roar of the wind and the crash of the waves rolling in.

Kevin will hit age 55 this fall and we’ve fished together, off and on, for over 50 of those years. It has been part of an enduring bond, which has thrived over the years.

We aren’t often able to fish and hunt together because of distance and living in different states. Still, when we are able to get together, going fishing or hunting together seems as normal and customary now as it did when he was a youth and these outings were on an almost weekly basis.

As is the nature of outings in the outdoors, things can go wrong. A prime example is when we were fishing a small reservoir in eastern North Dakota from a canoe. We had paddled up the stream that flows into the lake and Kevin decided to stand up to see what was above the riverbank. That wasn’t a good idea. The canoe tipped and he took an unexpected dive into the river. I was in the back seat and I got dumped, as well. Fortunately, no harm was done other than to our respective dignities.

Still, that outing didn’t seem as foolish as this day on Lake Audubon, part of the Missouri River impoundment created by the Garrison Dam back in the 1950s.

Kevin flailing into the wind!


The plan for the outing was to catch smallmouth bass with fly rods.

Things didn’t go according to plan. Kevin has a powerboat, but the motor needed repairs and the shop was backed up. We considered taking the canoe—the same canoe we tipped some 40 years ago—but the wind was blowing that morning so we left it at his house.

The wind that was blowing when we left his house in Minot, North Dakota, was nothing compared to what it was when we arrived at the lake. The wind was roaring, and the lake was covered with whitecaps, as the surf rolled in towards shore.

We attempted to cast streamers into the waves but if any fish were there they ignored our offerings. We later found a more sheltered spot to fish but to no avail. We finally ate lunch and headed back to Minot and a more pressing appointment.

The overriding reason for this trip to North Dakota wasn’t fishing. The top priority for the weekend was the wedding of Bronwyn, the elder of our two granddaughters, and the afternoon’s appointment was the wedding rehearsal, part of the preparations for the formal wedding on Saturday afternoon.

The wedding of a grandchild is one of those milestones that remind us of the passage of time. It didn’t seem all that long since her parents were married, but a look back confirms that marriage took place almost 29 years ago, and it was 24 years ago, last Christmas, when her parents placed a blanket-wrapped bundle in my lap and her mother said, “Meet your first grandchild.”

There have been other milestones along the way, such as high school graduation and, two years ago, college graduation. Along the way, she and a high school classmate, Kyler, established a relationship, and on June 10, they exchanged vows, cementing that relationship with vows to love each other always.

It’s a wonderful privilege to see children, and then grandchildren, grow up. It’s not something I take for granted. Both of my grandfathers were long gone by the time I came along. One of my grandmothers lived a long, long life—in Norway. My other grandmother died when I was a junior in college. It has been and continues to be a great joy to be a part of our grandchildren’s lives and to help them celebrate these milestones of life.

And if Kevin and I didn’t catch any fish, it all worked out anyway, as deep-fried walleye was the featured entree at the wedding reception buffet dinner.

Withdrawal from Climate Accords Threatens Environment

Kevin Vang casting for trout on Montana’s Madison River; threatened by global warming.


It’s equivalent to a burning of books; blowing out the candles, a repudiation of shared wisdom.

Those are just a couple reactions I’ve run across, referring to Donald Trump’s announcement that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Others have suggested it was equivalent to stealing from our grandchildren.

A majority of the American public disagrees with the president’s decision to back away from the international agreement. A Washington Post-ABC News poll indicates that 59 percent of the American public is opposed to Trump’s move, though the poll also indicates that a majority of Republicans support the president.

President Obama said, optimistically, last September when the United States joined the Paris accords, “Someday we may see this as the moment when we decided to save our planet,” adding, “History will judge today’s effort as pivotal.”

Trump’s decision on the Paris accords is regarded by many as the United States abandoning its role as a global leader in the fight against climate change. In this action, we join two other countries that did not join the accords, Syria and Nicaragua. Note: Nicaragua didn’t join because the Paris deal didn’t go far enough to combat global warning.

Perhaps we could complain that the Paris accords were not terribly ambitious with a goal of holding climate warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Countries would set their own targets for doing their part towards the global efforts. The United States’ goal was to cut greenhouse gasses to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels.

I was in my car listening to National Public Radio’s coverage of Trump’s announcement. In the analysis, NPR replayed a clip from Trump’s remarks in which he said maybe we’d re-join the agreements if he could get a better deal. The NPR commentator pointed out, “The measures are voluntary and can be withdrawn. I don’t think he can get a better deal than that.”

Former Secretary of State John Kerry commented that Trump’s promise to negotiate a better deal was like O.J. Simpson pledging to find out who murdered his wife.

In the aftermath of the announcement, the press tried to get White House spokespersons to say whether or not the president accepts that we do have a warming climate. They were unsuccessful, though U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley made an announcement, “President Trump believes the climate is changing, and pollutants are part of that equation,” though most observers figured she was speaking more for herself than the president.

So, why should we care whether our country is participating in the Paris accords?

Certainly, there are some costs involved in moving towards an economy less dependent on resources that produce greenhouse gases, and there is no question that it’s going to use energy more expensive than burning coal. But, let’s not forget that in the last few years the decline in coal is because natural gas has been eating coal’s lunch, so to speak.

But, to say that ignoring climate change will save money is to ignore other costs, such as the need to build new highways along our ocean coasts, and huge investments to save coastal cities from rising seas.

Okay, here in high elevation western Montana, we may not have to worry about rising sea levels. There are advantages to living in a mile-high area.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about climate change. In a warming climate there are winners and losers. Trout will be losers. Moose and elk will be losers, while white-tailed deer and wild turkeys will be winners.

Ranchers, hunters, and anglers will be losers, as a warming climate dries up our already limited water resources. We may still have cold, snowy winters, but as is already the case, spring snowmelt and runoff begins earlier than historic averages. Low streamflows and late summer fishing closures are almost an annual event.

It will take four years to complete our withdrawal from the Paris accords. The 2020 elections will be the people’s opportunity to repudiate Trump’s impulsive decision.

Salmonflies! Coming soon to a stream near you (if you live in western Montana)

A freshly emerged adult salmonfly. Trout say, “It’s what’s for dinner.”

It’s about time for the big bugs, yes, the bugs with a scientific name that makes people think more of dinosaurs than aquatic insects.

Yes, it’s salmonfly time on the Big Hole River, or if it isn’t, it will be in the next few days. Because of press deadlines, I have to write this column a week ahead of time, so if my crystal ball occasionally seems a bit fuzzy, that’s the reason why. Still, if salmonflies aren’t yet active on the Big Hole, they are on some other streams—somewhere in western Montana.

The salmonfly, or giant stonefly, or Pteronarcys californica, is the aquatic insect that gets anglers excited across much of the Rocky Mountain west. Our rivers have a lot of aquatic insects and stoneflies are one of the Big 3 of aquatic insects, the others being mayflies and caddisflies.

Stoneflies, of the order Plecoptera, come in a great variety of sizes, colors, and individual species. There are over 3,500 known stonefly species in the world and there are still more being identified. They’ve been around for a long time. One website (flycraftangling.com) suggested that if we could somehow time-travel back 250 million years and take a close look at a prehistoric stream we’d find stoneflies, and looking pretty much the same as they do today. In fact, stoneflies are related to another prehistoric survivor, the cockroach.

Like most aquatic insects, stoneflies spend most of their life as nymphs, crawling around on and in the bottom of rivers and streams, though there are also some lake-dwelling species. Some species are carnivores and prey on other aquatic organisms. The salmonfly, however, is a “detritivore,” meaning it eats vegetative stream debris on the bottom of the stream.

While fish feed on stonefly nymphs all year around, stoneflies come to our attention when they become a flying, winged adult insect. We call them as something as ordinary as golden stone, or whimsical, such as yellow sally or skwala, or the big bugs, salmonflies.

That final phase of life is an amazing process. The nymphs begin to migrate to the shorelines of their native river, then crawl out of the water, usually at night, often climbing up shoreline vegetation such as grasses or willows, where they crawl out of their exoskeleton and emerge as a flying, winged insect. An angler walking along the edge of a river might first notice salmonflies clinging to a willow branch, where they stay mostly motionless as their wings dry.

Still, as living creatures always do, the salmonflies sort things out and find a consenting adult of the opposite sex. We humans won’t notice, but stonefly males produce a drumming sound using their abdomens, attracting females, and nature takes its course.

The females return to the water to deposit their eggs, fluttering above or on the water and releasing eggs.

Fish take note of that fluttering stonefly and it’s an easy bite of protein.

Meanwhile, the eggs settle to the bottom of the stream and eventually stonefly nymphs hatch, starting the process all over again, as another generation of giant stoneflies grows and matures for the next three years until, finally, they also crawl out to become a flying insect, ready to perpetuate the species.

We anglers look to that last, glorious phase of the stonefly’s life, casting various imitations of an adult salmonfly onto the surface of rivers in hopes of attracting the interest of large trout in search of an easy meal.

I’ve been one of those optimistic, though often frustrated, anglers over the last 30 years. I can’t say that I’ve ever had a day on the river when big fish threw all caution to the winds and repeatedly attacked my humble imitations, though it happens often enough that I find it addictive, even when the trout end up refusing to take the bug. That explosive, attacking rise is the stuff of heart attacks.

And on that note of optimism, I think I’d better retreat to my fly-tying table and create a couple new fake stoneflies.

Montana Gets Serious About Aquatic Invasive Species

Invasive mussels along a southern Minnesota river.

Back in February I bought my fishing license for the 2017 license year. It was a pretty good deal. For a grand total of $41.01, along with some geezer discounts, I was licensed for fishing and upland bird hunting for the year.

As of a week ago, and before a long holiday weekend of daily fishing, I’d been out on Montana trout waters a dozen times, so the average daily cost for my license fees amortized out to $3.41 per outing. By next January, when the duck season closes, those fees will likely work out to …well, pocket change per trip.

Then I went online and spent another two bucks for an addition to the basic fishing license for an “Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Pass.”

That “Prevention Pass” is the result of new legislation, with the little quirk of the law being retroactive to the beginning of the license year.

I did it online for convenience though it made that $2 fee cost $3.33, with the state’s surcharge for a credit card purchase. That Prevention Pass means my license fee per outing will be a few cents more, but if it helps prevent further spread of invasive mussels it’ll be worth it.

In case you’ve been sleeping the last six months or so, invasive mussels were detected in Canyon Ferry Reservoir and Tiber Reservoir last October. This set off alarms all around Montana’s fishing and boating community, as invasive mussels are virtually impossible to get rid of. In other words, Canyon Ferry and Tiber Reservoir will have invasive mussels forever and will possibly spread throughout the Missouri River system. The mussels can choke off irrigation systems, clog drinking water and hydropower facilities, and seriously damage our state’s fisheries.

The major challenge is to prevent further spread and it won’t be easy.

One of the main ways that invasive mussels spread is by hitchhiking along on boats, as well as waders, wading boots, landing nets and the like. Fire-fighting equipment or irrigation pumps and equipment can also spread mussels.

Several years ago, I floated a southern Minnesota river for smallmouth bass. We found smallies, but we also found mussels. There had been high water during the spring and when the waters went down there were mussels attached to things such as a lawn chair that had washed down the river. It was pretty impressive.

Invasive mussels latch onto everything, and suck all the nutrients out of the waters.

The primary battleground against invasive water species will be on boats.

First, all boats coming from out-of-state must be inspected at an official inspection station. An inspection station stop will be fairly brief, will include a brief interview, and if necessary boats will be decontaminated with hot water to kill invasive mussels and other aquatic invasives. FWP is setting up a network of inspection stations at state borders and other locations, including roving inspection stations.

Under the new law, all motorists hauling watercraft, including powered boats, rafts, drift boats, canoes or kayaks, must stop at inspection stations—even if they have previously been inspected. In addition, any boats taken across the Continental Divide into the Columbia River Basin must be inspected prior to any launch.

“Clean, Drain, Dry” will be the watchwords for all boaters. When leaving a body of water, boaters need to wipe off the boat to remove mud and vegetation. Remove all drain plugs and drain the boat. Open and dry all compartments and live wells. Drain coolant water from boat motors and engines.

Felt-soled wading boots may be a problem. Some states have already banned felt-soled boots because felt soles make it difficult to get rid of hitchhikers. Certainly, if you wade-fish on Canyon Ferry or Tiber Reservoirs, don’t use those felt-soled wading boots you’d use on other waters. Also, at the end of a trip, put your boots and waders out in the hot sun to dry.

Preventing further spread of invasive mussels is going to be difficult, considering that Canyon Ferry is a Missouri River impoundment and Tiber is on a Missouri tributary. But, it’s essential that we do our best to protect our waters.

Our Greatest Generation and This Year’s Memorial Day

Butte, Montana’s WWII memorial, with Korean and Vietnam memorials in background.

This weekend our nation puts ephemeral concerns aside as we observe Memorial Day, the holiday established to honor the Union’s Civil War dead, and has since expanded to include continuing military deaths.

While the U.S. has not been in major conflicts the last couple years, there were still, according to Military Times, 24 deaths in action in 2016 and 11 so far in 2017.

This year, military personnel killed in action include people who lost their lives in places such as Mogadishu, Somalia, Mosul, Iraq, and various actions in Afghanistan and Syria.

In recent years I’ve been tracking, at Memorial Day, the declining ranks of the Greatest Generation, our World War II veterans.

Over 16 million people served in U.S. military forces during World War II, from 1939 through 1945. Of those 16 million around 400,000 people died either in battle or through non-theater deaths.

The number of WWII veterans still living is kind of a moving target. A recent release from the Department of Veterans Affairs there are still 1,711,000 living veterans. On the other hand, the National WWII Museum in New Orleans estimates that the surviving numbers of WWII veterans is currently around 500,000, and we continue to lose these veterans at the rate of about 372 per day. It is expected that the last of the 16 million people to serve during WWII will die sometime around 2035 at the age of around 110.

Some notable WWII veterans died this past year, including one of our country’s great heroes, John Glenn, a Marine aviator during both WWII and Korean wars. He then went on to be a test pilot and an astronaut, and the first astronaut to orbit Earth. Glenn retired from the Marine Corps and after a short career in business was elected to the U.S. Senate. In 1998, at age 77, he went on a nine-day mission on the space shuttle, the oldest person to go into space. He died December 8, 2016 at age 95 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Another WWII Marine was actor Hugh O’Brian, who became famous as TV’s Wyatt Earp. O’Brian (born Hugh Krampe) dropped out of the University of Cincinnati in 1943 to enlist and at age 17 became the youngest drill instructor in the Marine Corps. A lasting achievement was to found the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation, a non-profit youth leadership program for high school students. O’Brian died last September at age 91.

Another actor was James Noble who served in the Navy during WWII, primarily on a destroyer that specialized in locating and sinking Japanese submarines. Noble had a long acting career on Broadway and movies, though his best-known acting role was as a somewhat scatter-brained governor in the TV series “Benson.”

Still another veteran who went on to an acting career was George Kennedy, who had a long career as a character actor, earning an Oscar in the movie “Cool Hand Luke.” Kennedy enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age 18 in 1943. He had some difficulties finding his military niche. At 6’ 4” and 210 pounds he was considered too big for flight duty. A sergeant told him, “We can either put you in an airplane or a 200-pound bomb in an airplane. We’d rather put the bomb in the airplane.” Nevertheless, he went on to a 16-year career in the Air Force, rising to captain before a back injury ended his military career. Kennedy died in February 2016 in Middleton, Idaho.

From the perspective of a long memory, I still recall the death of the last Union Civil War veteran in the mid-1950s, and, marching in my high school band every Memorial Day, when there were still Spanish-American War veterans as the honored old-timers. One of my first bosses was a World War I veteran, and the WWII vets were the heroes of my youth.

Finally, don’t forget to vote in tomorrow’s special Congressional election. All those people we honor this week served and sacrificed to ensure our rights as citizens. Don’t fritter it away.