Good Fishing Opportunities Close to Home

Silver Bow Creek west of Butte

The George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited held another “State of the Fishery” program on May 12, this time featuring FWP biologists who manage nearby waters west of the Continental Divide. 

 Biologist Caleb Uerling’s bailiwick is the upper Clark Fork River watershed, and he opened his presentation with information about relatively new fishing opportunities that are fairly close to the Butte area.

 The first one he featured was Racetrack Pond, close to I-90 between Anaconda and Deer Lodge. This has actually been open about ten years, but has recently been enlarged, with some added amenities for shore anglers. The pond is stocked with rainbow and westslope cutthroat trout, plus a few brown trout.

 Anglers must use artificial flies or lures and it’s catch and release, though there is an exception for kids under age 18.

Closer to home is the Lower Basin Creek Reservoir, just south of Butte. The reservoir is one of Butte’s major sources of municipal water and has been closed to fishing for many years. It was opened to public fishing last year but closed just a few weeks later because of fire danger. It’s now scheduled to re-open the week of Memorial Day.

The reservoir has a good population of pure westslope cutthroat trout. Uerling noted that anglers can keep one fish daily or in possession, though anglers must use artificial lures or flies. He encourages anglers to keep fish within that one fish a day limit. The average size fish are around 10 inches, so they’re a bit stunted from overcrowding.

 Access to the water is by walking in from the parking lot near the caretaker’s cottage. No boats are allowed.

 In his presentation, Uerling emphasized the importance of personal responsibility in keeping things clean and litter-free, as well as to exercise caution with anything that could spark a fire. Open fires are not permitted, and it’s day use only.

Uerling reported that he’s doing a telemetry study on trout in Silver Bow Creek. For some reason, fish populations are down from about five years ago and he’s hoping that the study might reveal what’s happening with the trout.

He also reported on the upper Clark Fork River. Fish populations continue to be low upstream from Deer Lodge, averaging about 200 trout per mile. Downstream from Deer Lodge, fish populations are slightly better. He also reported that for the first time in many years, a couple bull trout were caught upstream from Deer Lodge.

Brad Liermann, biologist for Georgetown Lake and Rock Creek, reported that the popular Georgetown Lake fishery is doing well. Rainbow trout populations are stable, kokanee salmon are thriving, and eastern brook trout are doing well. He noted that the last couple years some of the stocked rainbow trout are a Gerrard strain, originating from a lake of the same name in British Columbia. He said the Gerrard trout have a reputation for being predatory, and he’s hoping that these trout will prey on small kokanee salmon, which would result in larger salmon as well as larger trout.

 He also reported on a sharp increase in angling pressure that coincided with the Pandemic. For many years, the lake has had around 57,000 angler days annually. In 2020, there were an estimated 90,000 angler days. If you recreate on Georgetown Lake and it seemed that there were significantly more people out there, your perception was correct.

Liermann also reported on Rock Creek, the blue-ribbon stream that flows north to the Clark Fork River. The fishery seems stable, with healthy numbers of westslope cutthroat trout and brown trout. Rainbow trout, which used to be the dominant fish in Rock Creek took a big hit in the mid 1990s, and cutthroat and brown trout expanded to fill that void. Rainbow trout have been increasing somewhat in recent years.

GGTU president, Forrest Jay, reported on chapter activities, including this year’s banquet as the most successful banquet ever, and the numerous projects that the chapter funded. Montana Trout Unlimited recognized the George Grant Chapter as Montana’s Chapter of the Year.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, and The Corner Bookstore, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Fishin’ Season Begins (officially)

The beautiful Big Hole River in the Maiden Rock area.

This Saturday, May 21, is the official beginning of the Montana fishing season.

 To be sure, opening day doesn’t mean much when you consider how many waters are open to fishing all year around. In short, if you can stand to be out, whether hunkered over a hole in the ice, or standing in a river until your toes turn to ice, you can find places to wet a line.

 There are some changes in fishing regulations, especially on some well-known area streams. These changes are an emergency response to declining brown trout populations.

 On the Beaverhead River, in the Dillon area, the entire river is catch and release for brown trout, though anglers can have one rainbow trout daily and in possession. As before, the river from Clark Canyon Dam to Pipe Organ Bridge is closed November to the third Saturday in May

 The entire river is limited to artificial lures and single-pointed hooks. No lures can have treble or double hooks. This doesn’t exclude fly-fishing with two flies, such as a “hopper and dropper” combination. Also, this doesn’t exclude using a multi-hook lure, such as a Rapala. However, if a lure comes with treble hooks, you have a choice to clip off hook points, or replace that treble hook with a single hook.

 On the Big Hole River, from Dickie Bridge, about ten miles west of Wise River, downstream to the confluence with the Beaverhead, brown trout are catch and release only.

 Rainbow trout may be kept on Big Hole downstream from Dickie Bridge, from the third Saturday in May through November 30.

The Big Hole is closed to all fishing October through March from the BLM Maiden Rock access to the Browne’s Bridge access. I’ll note that there are two Maiden Rock access points. BLM Maiden Rock is also known as Maiden Rock Bridge. Then there’s the FWP Maiden Rock fishing access a couple mile further downstream on the west side of the river. To get there you have to cross the river at Melrose and drive north and then back east, and be aware that the road that takes you down to the river may be tricky if it has rained.

From the Browne’s Bridge access to the confluence with the Beaverhead River, it’s catch and release for rainbow trout from December 1 to the third Saturday in May. Brown trout are catch and release only.

 On all those sections, from Dickie Bridge to the confluence with the Beaverhead, the same rules for the Beaverhead for artificial lures and single-pointed hooks apply on the Big Hole as well.

At the meeting of the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited in April, those rules for single-pointed hooks were the topic of some discussion. One person in the audience lamented, “Gee, that means my kids won’t be able to catch fish, anymore.” Presumably, he meant that his kids were using spinning rods with spinners or lures.

 I submit that a Mepps spinner, for example, with a single hook, whether through replacement of the treble hook or with a wire cutter, will still catch fish. If a fly angler can catch trout with a size 18 fly with a barbless hook, a lure chucker can catch trout with a spinner or a Rapala with single-point hooks.

 Upstream from Dickie Bridge, regular rules for tackle, with a daily and possession limit of five trout apply. As always, Arctic grayling are catch and release on the entire river.

 If the rules seem confusing, especially on the Big Hole River, you’re correct. Unfortunately, the crisis with trout, especially brown trout, is why these rules have been put in effect. I urge all anglers to pick up a copy of the 2022 Fishing Regulations from any license vendor or from FWP and have it along when you go fishing. If you’re fishing a stream you’re not familiar with, it’s always a good idea to check the regs to see if there are any special rules that apply.

 In any event, go fishing and have fun on Montana’s world class waters.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, and The Corner Bookstore, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Southwest Montana Fishery Updates

Illustration of Montana fishery master plan indicators.

Last year, when the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited of Butte held its annual state of the fishery program, featuring local FWP fisheries biologists, we heard the news that our southwest Montana world-famous fisheries were in trouble. Trout numbers on the Big Hole River (and others) were far down from what they were just a few years earlier, especially brown trout.

 As the season progressed, with extreme drought and warming waters, Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks adopted emergency regulations on several Montana rivers.

When Trout Unlimited held this year’s state of the fishery program, I suspect some people were hoping that last year’s low trout numbers were all a mistake and happy days are here again.

FWP biologists Matt Jaeger, who manages the Beaverhead and Ruby River, and Jim Olsen, who manages the Big Hole River and its watershed, presented their observations.

First, not all news is bad. Jaeger characterized the upper Beaverhead River, from below the Clark Canyon Reservoir to Pipe Organ Bridge as a “bright spot,” in the state, with good populations of trout, both brown and rainbow, noting that almost all the Beaverhead’s rainbow population is in that upper stretch.

On the flip side, 2022 is anticipated to be another dry year, with irrigators getting reduced water allocations for the growing season, and water releases from the dam to reduce to 25 cubic feet per second (CFS) in mid-September.

 This will be another tough year for the Ruby River, with a 20 percent reduction in water allocations to irrigators. Last year, the lower part of the river near the confluence with the Beaverhead, essentially went dry. This spring it may be wet, but it’s far from healthy.

Jaeger also presented some unexpected findings from the Clark Canyon and Ruby Reservoirs based on study of otoliths (ear bones in fish). The otoliths develop rings as the fish grows, and chemical analysis of those rings can indicate where the fish were in various stages of life. Notably, hatchery-raised fish will have an early life in different waters, whereas a wild fish will show similar waters all their life. Surprisingly, despite extensive stocking in these reservoirs, most of the fish sampled were wild fish.

 Based on this spring’s surveys on the Big Hole, biologist Jim Olsen reported a slight uptick in fish numbers, especially with smaller brown trout, though he conceded that any apparent increase in trout numbers is likely within a margin of error, so there’s nothing to cheer about at this point.

Olsen also noted that the Big Hole River is having 90,000 angler days annually, with resident and non-resident use about equal, twice as much use as a decade ago, though there’s no effective way to determine what effect this has on the fishery. When asked what the effect of 90,000 angler days is, Olsen replied, “I don’t know, but it’s more than 45,000 days.”

Olsen also reported on the project on French Creek to remove non-native fish and restore a native fish population. The basic work has been done. DNA studies will be done in early summer to determine if there are still non-native fish in the waters. If not, restocking with native westslope cutthroat trout and grayling will begin this year and continue for five years. After that time, the streams in the watershed will presumably reopen to angling.

A continuing theme in the presentations was a proposed statewide management plan that would use percentiles of fish numbers, from low to high, to determine if immediate changes are needed in angling regulations, such as season closures or reduced creel limits, or liberalizing if fish numbers are high. The preferred standard is a stable 25th -75th percentile trout population. Note the photo of a PowerPoint slide illustrating those ranges.

 On a happy note, since that April TU meeting, we’ve had a lot of weather systems come through our part of Montana, and the latest snowpack figure in the Jefferson River watershed, which includes the Big Hole River system, indicates that the snowpack is at 99 percent, and since that figure as of the end of April, we’ve had more snow, so the current snowpack is now over 100 percent of average.

 That should have everybody feeling better about the coming season.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, and The Corner Bookstore, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Sow Some Seeds!

Westslope Cutthroat trout – USGS photo

It snowed this morning, or it did on the morning last week when I started writing this column. Nevertheless, after a noon meeting, I stopped at a local store and bought seed potatoes, onion sets, carrot and pea seeds. 

 It’s an act of faith. It snowed in the morning. We just had the coldest first half of April on record. Yet it’s spring and it’s time to sow some seed. The climate is screwed up, the nation is bitterly divided in political matters, and a senseless war is raging in Europe.

 It’s time to sow some seeds.

 The German theologian and preacher, Martin Luther, who launched a Reformation in the 16th Century, famously said that if he was told the world was coming to an end, he’d plant an apple tree. Our old friend, the late Merv Olson, the pastor at Gold Hill Lutheran Church, here in Butte, in the 1990s, would quote Luther, and occasionally add, “Paul Vang would probably get another Lab puppy.”

It’s time to sow some seeds.

 While early April was unseasonably chilly, we did have a few nice days and on the nicest day in early April, when it got into the 70s, it also happened on a day when I was able to get out again for a day of fishing on the lower Madison.

 I’d like to say that the fishing was red hot, and I had to occasionally step out of the river just to get a break from catching fish. Sorry to say, the fishing was kind of slow, but as it happened, in a half hour period, the fish seemingly turned on and in that half hour I caught three trout.

 The first fish I caught was a cutthroat trout and that brought back all sorts of memories of a controversy from some years back, when Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, with support of media mogul Ted Turner, owner of the Flying D Ranch, came up with a plan to poison out non-native fish from Cherry Creek, a Madison River tributary, which is mostly contained on Turner property, and restock the stream with westslope cutthroat trout, with hopes that Cherry Creek cutts would spill out onto the Madison.

It seemed like a good idea to me, back in 1997, when the project was supposed to get underway. A lot of people disagreed and it would be an understatement to say there was a bitter fight that played out in the press and in the courts. The project finally got going in 2003 and by 2010 the initial phase of eliminating the existing fish was complete and FWP began stocking the stream with westslope cutthroat trout. Within a year or so, biologists found that the native trout were thriving and reproducing.

 That little cutty I caught is one of several cutthroat trout I’ve caught in the lower Madison in roughly the last five years. While it’s not like cutthroat trout are taking over in that fragile, yet productive, fishery, it’s clear that the plan is working. Native trout are thriving in Cherry Creek and some of them are slipping over a barrier that prevents upstream migration from non-native trout such as rainbow and brown trout. Through pure luck and happenstance, several of those cutthroat trout have blundered into a stretch of water where I walked into the river and taken one of my flies. The odds are against that happening, but, nevertheless, it happens.

 Like buying seeds in the spring and planting them in the ground, even in the decomposed granite soil and challenging climate of Butte, Montana, good things can happen, and we harvest a crop.

 For whatever it’s worth, in my first two angling outings, I’ve caught a total of six fish; one westslope cutthroat, three rainbow trout, and two mountain whitefish. All six fish took the same fly, or pattern of fly, a beadhead soft-hackled pheasant tail nymph.

 I think I’d better tie up a few more, just in case.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, and The Corner Bookstore, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Earth Day and the Smith River

Smith River floaters arriving at camp.

This year’s version of Earth Day will be on Friday, April 22. This will be the 53rd annual Earth Day observance, going back to 1969, when Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin initiated the first Earth Day in response to environmental damage caused by an oil spill on the Pacific Coast near Santa Barbara, California. 

That first Earth Day happened in “Teach-Ins” at college campuses across the country. The next year, after recruiting a co-chair, Rep. Pete McCloskey of California, and hiring some staff, over 20 million people participated in Earth Day events across the country.

 We continue to observe Earth Day to raise public awareness of the environment and the fact that are always new environmental issues cropping up that need public attention.

This year’s theme for Earth Day is “Invest in Our Planet.” This theme is intended to encourage citizens, businesses, and government to act now on climate change and other issues for a sustainable future.

 Climate change is a crucial issue as we continue to learn the ramifications of a warming climate, especially as we begin to understand how burning fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases have raised global temperatures and resulting extreme weather events, such as flooding, drought, and wildfires.

 This month, in addition to some heavy snow, which brought badly needed moisture in many areas of Montana, there was good news about the Smith River.

 The Smith River is one of Montana’s treasures. From its headwaters in the White Sulfur Springs area, the river runs through spectacular canyons in the Little Belt Mountains before it goes out on the prairies and its convergence with the Missouri River south of Great Falls. In addition to spectacular scenery, the river is famed for its flyfishing.

 The Smith is the only Montana river that is administered by the State Park system, and access to the 60 some miles of canyons is by permit only, or through booking a trip with one of the small number of outfitters authorized to operate on the Smith.

Drawing a Smith River permit may not be quite as difficult as drawing a mountain sheep permit, but it’s still a really big deal. For most people who take the Smith River float trip, it’s the trip of a lifetime.

 A major controversy in recent years is the proposed open pit copper mining project in the White Sulfur Springs area, and in the watershed of Sheep Creek, one of the Smith River’s major tributaries.

The mining project would run some 13 years and extract 14.5 million tons of copper ore. It would also generate 13 million tons of acidic rock tailings. Tintina Montana, the planned mine operator, is a U.S. subsidiary of a Canadian mining company, and also is known as Sandfire Resources America Inc., and the proposed mine is known as the Sandfire Black Butte Copper Project.

 Tintina applied for a mining permit in 2015, and to say that the proposal for a big open pit copper mine in the Smith River watershed is controversial would be a huge understatement. Despite 12,000 comments, mostly critical, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a permit to Tintina after just one hearing in July 2021.

 Montana Trout Unlimited, along with Earthworks, Montana Environmental Information Center, and American Rivers, sued DEQ and Tintina Montana Inc., accusing DEQ of simply accepting assurances from Tintina that the project wouldn’t affect the waters. A District Court judge issued a ruling that DEQ’s approval without further testing and analysis was “arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful.” The judge ordered all parties to propose remedies during a 45-day period.

 In a celebratory message, David Brooks, Executive Director of Montana Trout Unlimited, noted that, “This marks a rare moment in Montana history that a mine has been stopped because it poses serious environmental works.” He also cautioned that “there are always more rounds, so that while we are celebrating this win, we remain poised for our next action.”

 So, as always, we celebrate Earth Day at the same time we learn how much more work there is still to do.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, and The Corner Bookstore, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Getting Boosted!

Some overcrowding along Montana’s Big Hole River

My wife and I just got our fourth covid vaccinations last week. Thanks to the good people at the Butte/Silver Bow Health Department, we got a second booster shot and we’re getting a bit more confident that we’ll avoid the complications from that nasty coronavirus pandemic. 

As it happened, my wife got her jab from a retired nurse she first knew when she worked part time at the local hospital a few years back. In a conversation, the nurse related that she retired last year because she was really burned out from the stress of the pandemic and treating patients who had refused vaccinations for covid, and then being totally uncooperative “while we were trying to save their life.”

My wife and I agree that health care professionals who have risked their own health treating covid patients for over two years now, will rate a special place in heaven for all they have done. Alas, there are numerous health care people who risked their health and lost, including many who lost their lives to covid infections that they caught while in the line of duty. 

So, to all our health care professionals, the doctors, the nurses, administrators, and the many other people working in the backgrounds doing scheduling and planning, and researchers who develop vaccines and new medicines, our hats are off to you for all you have done and are doing for public health. 

My wife and I also agree we’ve probably had more than a little luck, as neither of us have had as much as a cold in the last two and a half years. Of course, masks and social distancing might have had something to do with that. 

While we have been relaxing some of the various rules and restrictions of the last couple years as new covid infection rates decline, this doesn’t mean that the Pandemic is over. China is having a new explosion of cases right now. That’s partly due to the rather ineffective vaccine that China developed, as well as the reality that viruses continue to mutate, and every new variant raises the possibility that people who have escaped the coronavirus so far will finally find it catching up to them.

So, we are grateful we’ve been able to get vaccinated and have had boosters to keep up our immunity.

For those of us who enjoy the outdoors, we have certainly seen some unexpected results of covid, as people across the country seemingly rediscovered the outdoors. I know we’ve seen packed public campgrounds the last couple years. Many flyshops, along with outfitters and guides, saw activity plummet when the pandemic started, but then bounced way back as people took to the outdoors where things seemed a bit safer.

In 2020, we spent a weekend at a BLM campground on the upper Madison River. We’d been there many times over the years and never had any problems finding a campsite. That time, we were lucky to find a vacant campsite. I had a chat with the campground host who had worked there about seven years and had never seen it like it was in 2020. In more typical years the campground would reach capacity just six or seven times in the season. In early August, that year, he’d already put up the No Vacancy sign over 40 times and muttered that just keeping all the outhouses stocked with toilet paper was wearing him out. 

Now, it’ll be interesting, as we tentatively inch back toward some new form of normalcy, whether some of the people who hit the road for the open spaces when the pandemic hit will continue to seek escape in the outdoors, or if they’ll return to the more urban leisure activities they pursued before coronavirus blew up the world.

Incidentally, as a footnote to those booster shots, I elected to get a Moderna vaccine, after three previous Pfizer shots. The nurse administering the vaccine said I’d probably get a pretty good reaction to the booster.

She had that right! It kicked me like a mule. Fortunately, it’s temporary.

Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, and The Corner Bookstore, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Taxes Done: Go Fish!

A nice rainbow trout – first fish for 2022.

After a couple weeks of organizing records, plugging numbers into little boxes, scratching my head from time to time, swearing at software and then checking for software updates, I clicked “send” on my computer and within seconds our tax returns for 2021 were filed.

 With a sense of relief, I announced to my wife and to anybody else who might have been listening, “I’m going fishing!”

 I’ll note that I am not an anti-tax protester. For the most part, I don’t find tax return preparation to be an impossible task. I’ve always done my own tax returns, though commercial tax preparation software has certainly facilitated the process. As a retired federal employee, I occasionally smile at the memory of one of my former co-workers, now deceased, who’d annually come to work on a Monday grumbling after spending the weekend working on his tax returns, complaining about government and taxes. I’d remind him, “We, who make our living working for the government, are in a poor position to complain about taxes.”

So, with a good weather forecast, the day after sending those tax returns off into the ether, I packed a lunch and fishing gear and loaded Kiri, our Labrador retriever for a road trip to the lower Madison River.

The river and its surroundings look a little different that in some years when there are still snowbanks everywhere. After a mild winter and early spring, the ground is bare and some RVers had already set up camp for the weekend.

Still, there was no problem finding an open spot to park and access the river. After some six months of no fishing, it felt good to be pulling on waders and boots and assembling my 3-weight flyrod. I’d spent the intervening months chasing upland birds and skiing after the close of the hunting season. All good fun, but it was spring and that means fishing.

While the weather forecast called for warm temperatures in the afternoon, the breeze felt chilly as I waded into the river shallows. After an hour of casting and working my way downstream I finally felt a little bump on the line, indicating a fish had at least shown some interest in my fly, even if it didn’t take my imitation bug.

Kiri keeping a close eye on me while I’m fishing. That orange thing? Someone lost the sole from his Korker’s wading boots. Kiri thought it made a pretty good chew toy.

 Kiri and I walked back to our access point and declared it to be lunchtime. By this time, several boats, presumably with guides pulling the oars, were working their way down the river and I saw one boat stop where I’d just fished and one of the anglers landed a fish. With the fish duly photographed and released, the guide pulled anchor and resumed their trip down the river. They had gone only about 20 yards when the other angler hooked a fish.

 With those encouraging signs, I went back into the water after lunch and, while it didn’t happen right away, a silvery 10–11-inch rainbow trout fell for my beadhead soft-hackled pheasant tail nymph.

 A little while later, I felt something else on my line. This time, it felt like I might have hooked bottom, as whatever was on the line wouldn’t budge. Then it started moving. I didn’t know what was there, but it felt a lot bigger than that little rainbow. After a few minutes, I was able to land the fish, a really big mountain whitefish, something around 20 inches. It also looked old, its face looking kind of like an old boxer who’d lost too many fights. I sent the fish on its way and a few minutes later I caught another whitefish, though this one was much smaller; more like the whitefish I usually catch.

  All too soon, it was time to wrap things up and go home. As I pulled off waders and put gear away, I reflected on the outing. It seemed that, overall, the fishing was pretty slow, but I did manage to catch three fish, and for late March, I call that a successful outing.

 Taxes were done and I’d caught some fish. A successful week.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

April Bugs & April Fools!

My Lab, Kiri, posing for yet another Dog on a Rock photo.

March came in like a lamb and if last week’s forecasts were correct, it’ll leave like a lamb. The lion hiding behind that lamb occasionally emerged a bit and emitted a mild roar, but overall, those roars were those of an irritable bobcat, not a lion.

However March goes out, I look forward to something better when April comes.

 While winter usually isn’t through with us in April, we’ll start with nearly 13 hours of daylight and with days lengthening at the rate of three minutes per day, we’ll be well over 14 hours by the end of the month. That solar energy translates to some warm days, along with some cold weather, of course. Hopefully we’ll get April showers and mountain snow to put more moisture on the land.

 April is when I get serious about fishing, flyfishing, that is. With the longer days and some warming of waters, aquatic insects get more active and that gets fish more active.

A favorite bug in April is the blue wing olive, or baetis, if you like your bugs with a Latin name. Whatever the language, they’re a small mayfly, or actually a whole group of mayflies, depending on where in the country you may be.

Even though they’re a small bug, they will get trout feeding, either on the surface or under the surface, as the insects work their way to the water’s surface to become, in their last day or two of life, an adult flying insect.

 Another popular bug is the skwala, a good-sized stonefly, about one inch long, though small by salmonfly standards. Like other stoneflies, these bugs spend most of their lives underwater, and then at the end of their lives will crawl out of the water, climb on some shoreline vegetation and then crawl out of their exoskeleton to emerge as an adult flying insect.

 Skwalas aren’t as big or flashy as the salmonflies we see in June. In fact they’re downright inconspicuous. I once had a streamside chat with Al Lefor, who used to own the flyshop at Divide, who called them “the invisible hatch.”

 Skwalas are common to rivers in the northwest, from California to Oregon and Washington, and, of course, Montana. The Bitterroot River is famous for the early season skwala hatch, but Rock Creek and the Big Hole rivers also have good skwala hatches.

 For whatever it’s worth, I like fishing the lower Madison River in April and several times I’ve lucked into some high temperatures in mid-April that triggered an early look at the famed Mother’s Day caddis hatch.

 I fondly remember a day when the weather changed every few minutes as clouds moved through, dropping some intermittent rain, and mayflies would start emerging. Then the clouds moved on and the sun would come back out again. When the sun was shining, the caddisflies were active and I’d get action on a caddis imitation. I kept changing flies as the hatches changed, but I had continuous action for several hours.

 The first day of April is, of course, famous for something other than fishing, though there is a connection where it all comes together and that’s April Fools’ Day.

It’s a day often filled with pranks and tricks. Occasionally, serious newspapers will run a humorous story that is totally made up. Advertisers sometimes run funny fake ads.

 In France, a person that has been pranked, or made out to be a fool, might be referred to as a poisson d’avril, or April fish, a fish that’s easily caught.

 My favorite prank goes back a few years. April 1 fell on a Sunday, and my wife and I were leaving the house to go to church, I said to my wife, “Your slip is showing.” She had this momentary look of panic on her face, then relaxed when I said, “April fool!”

In fact, she hasn’t worn a dress in years, much preferring slacks, and was wearing pants that day. Despite that, she didn’t think this was funny, for some reason. Poisson d’avril!

Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

More Notes on Spring!

My Lab, Kiri, enjoying a spring outing on the Madison River – from a few years ago.

Spring, the astronomical spring, that is, happened on Sunday at 9:33 a.m., MDT. The Vernal Equinox marks when the earth’s tilt changes, while on its trip around the sun, so that in the coming three months we’ll go from days of roughly equal daylight and darkness to our longest days of the year in June, with June 21 the date of the Summer Solstice.

 As the days lengthen, we can see almost daily changes as things begin to grow.

 I found my first garlic sprouts in my garden—a flower bed next to the house—on March 1. Then a week later another winter storm came through with several days of subzero temperatures. After it quit snowing, I threw snow on top of the garlic bed to insulate it from the worst of the cold. Still, I was concerned that those tender shoots might have frozen out. Not to worry. I inspected things after the snow melted and about a dozen new shoots had emerged from the straw and leaf mulch. Almost daily I can go out and spot some more new shoots.

 On the other hand, my tulips hadn’t come up yet, though their spot is shaded by lilac bushes, so the ground doesn’t warm as quickly.

As of last week, I hadn’t heard or seen any robins, but I’m betting that they’ll be back by the time you’re reading this.

Update: since writing the above two paragraphs, my tulips have emerged and our first robins showed up yesterday.

Also, as of last week, I hadn’t been out flyfishing yet, but I’m hoping to have that rectified by now. In most years I will have had my first flyfishing outings by now, if not earlier. I tend to not push the season too much. As a friend said a few days ago, he has no urge to be out flyfishing when you have to dunk the rod in the water to melt the ice that has frozen in the guides.

 If the weather doesn’t permit outings on the river, I’ll keep busy. This is also the season for the annual ritual of preparing tax returns. I know many people wait until April 14 or 15 to get with the program, but I normally have things wrapped up and filed by the end of March. I can also remember when tax returns were due on March 15, which gave added meaning to the warning to Julius Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March!”

 As the frost goes out of the ground, it’ll be time to start spring yardwork, raking leaves and dead grass and giving lawn grass a little stimulation to start putting out new growth. It’s also time to prune the apple tree.

 I’d guess that all these things could be summed up as the rites of spring.

That is also on my mind. Our daughter, Erin, plays in the Helena Symphony Orchestra, and on this coming Saturday, March 26, the Helena Symphony will be performing Rite of Spring, the monumental orchestral work by Igor Stravinsky.

It’s actually a ballet, though I suspect most performances over the years have been by an orchestra on stage, without dancers.

While I usually write about the outdoors, classical music is also one of my passions in life and it’s a privilege to be able to be a member of the Butte Symphony Orchestra, though the possibility of our local orchestra playing Rite of Spring is remote. Rite of Spring is usually done only by large professional orchestras. When a Montana orchestra performs Rite of Spring it’s an event.

When Rite of Spring was first performed in Paris, in May 1913, it was truly a memorable event. Some people in the audience loved it and others hated it and some of those disagreements ended up with fist fights. It was one of the most celebrated premieres in musical history.

 The concert will be this coming Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Helena Civic Center. Assuming it isn’t sold out, you can call for tickets at 406-442-1860.

 Hopefully, the sacrifices depicted in the ballet and music will, at least, bring badly needed snow and rain to Montana’s still-parched landscape.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

St. Patrick in Montana

Sooty Olive – an Irish fly.

Paddy and Mick were walking home after a Halloween night of celebrating at Murphy’s Pub.

 They decided, just for the fun of it, to take a shortcut by walking through the village cemetery.

 They were startled when, in the middle of the cemetery, they heard a tap, tap, tapping coming from the misty shadows.

 Trembling with fear, they cautiously approached the area from where the sound was coming and then made out the sight of an old man with a hammer and chisel, chipping away at a tombstone.

 Paddy says, “Jaysus, man, you scared us half to death; we thought you were a ghost!”

Mick adds, “Why are you working out here in the middle of the night?”

 The old man pauses his tapping and grumbles, “My friends are such fools, they misspelt my name and here I have to correct it.”

 Tomorrow is, of course, St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s a big day here in Butte, Montana, per capita, the most Irish city in the United States. It’s a day when everybody who is of Irish descent, or would like to be, if only for a day, celebrates their Irish heritage. It’s even known, if you can believe it, for celebrating with a bit of ale or whiskey.

 It’s also a day to tell Irish jokes, and there are thousands of them, to be sure. Not surprisingly, many of those jokes take place in a pub, or after an evening at the pub. And, don’t be surprised when there’s a little gallows humor in the story, too.

Now, as far as I know, all my ancestors were Norwegian, or at least Scandinavian, as my mother sometimes said there was a scandalous person a few generations back who found a bride in Sweden. Still, there’s a good probability that, if I got my DNA tested, we might find some Celtic genes somewhere in that big gene pool.

 One indication might be that my mother, whose first language as a child was Norwegian and who was militantly Protestant and a teetotaler, absolutely loved St. Patrick’s Day. She especially loved Irish music, and the radio in our farm kitchen would be tuned to WCCO in Minneapolis, which back then broadcast Irish jigs and reels all day on St. Patrick’s Day. She also loved the movie, “The Quiet Man,” which I plan to, yet again, watch that marvelous movie if it’s on tomorrow’s TV schedule.

There might be a wee bit of melancholy in our observance of St. Patrick’s Day this year, as, next month, we’ll also be remembering my mother’s death 50 years ago, from complications of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

That movie, by the way, was originally a short story by Maurice Walsh that ran in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933. John Ford, the director and producer of the movie bought the movie rights for the grand total of $10. Republic Pictures paid the author another $3750 when the movie was made.

Of course, if I’m watching The Quiet Man tomorrow, I’ll be rooting for Father Lonergan, the Catholic priest and avid fly angler in the story, to finally catch that salmon he’s been hoping to catch for all these decades.

 I don’t know what kind of fly Father Lonergan was using when he did momentarily hook up with that big salmon. I did, however, do an internet search for Irish flies and, surprise, surprise, the popular flies are pretty much the same as the ones most American anglers have in their vests.

 I did, however, find one that seemed different to me, at least. It’s called a Sooty Olive, and it’s a popular fly for fishing the loughs, or lakes as we’d call them. According to an instructional video, it’s supposed to resemble chironomids, or “buzzers,” as they’re sometimes called. We usually call them midges. Personally, I think the fly would be a good mayfly or caddis emerger.

I tied a few of these and if the weather is nice tomorrow, I might see what Montana trout think of these Irish flies. Then a glass of stout might be in order.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Happy 150th! Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful – the symbol of Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Charissa Olson Reid, used by permission.

I wonder if President Ulysses S. Grant had any idea what he set in motion, back on March 1, 1872, when he signed legislation creating Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park.

 On the 150th anniversary of the signing, Chuck Sams, Director of the National Park Service, in a press release, said, “We also celebrate something much bigger than the park itself—the beginning of the national park idea, an idea that spread through the country and around the world, inspiring governments to protect natural and cultural resources ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.’”

 Of course, signing a bill was one thing; creating a functional agency to manage parks took longer. At first, there was little management of this tract of wilderness in the far West. Then the U.S. Army was assigned to manage the park until, finally, a National Park Service was created to manage the many wonders of our nation’s national parks.

We’ve come a long way. There are now 63 national parks, such as Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, but that’s just a small part of the Park Service. There are battlefields, such as the Big Hole Battlefield, or historic sites, such as the Grant-Kohrs Ranch at Deer Lodge. There are national monuments, such as the Little Big Horn Battlefield, near Hardin. National Recreation Areas, such as the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area on the Montana/Wyoming border. Then there’s the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in the Washington D.C. metro area. The White House, itself, is part of the National Park System. These are just a few examples of what’s included in the National Park Service. There are some 423 varied units, covering some 85 million acres in all 50 states.

 I never had an opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park until I was an adult, when we packed up our tent trailer in the summer of 1971 and took a family excursion touring the Park. Alas, I came down with a horrendous summer cold and felt miserable most of the time, and the thing I appreciated most was that with my stuffed-up nose I couldn’t smell most of the sulfur fumes from the thermal areas.

A memorable visit was in October 1988, just after the big fires of that summer. In mid-October, there were still plumes of smoke from smoldering trees, but the fires were mostly done. It seemed sad, at the time, seeing the stands of lodgepole pine reduced to blackened wreckage. “The Park will never be the same,” was the conclusion of many observers. Some 20 or so years later, park visitors were hard-pressed to find any sign of that big burn.

 Sometime around 2000, I went on a day trip with James Anderson, who had just been hired to be the director of the orchestra program at the University of Montana and was in Butte auditioning for the conductor job with the Butte Symphony. Visiting the park was high on his list of things he wanted to do during his week in Montana. Wolves had just been reintroduced to the park a few years before and we hoped to see some. We did see some in the Lamar Valley, but primarily with binoculars. Then we made a stop at the buffalo ranch area for an informal “rest” break. I wandered through the snowdrifts for a secluded spot next to an elk carcass. There was a wolf, just a few feet away, feeding on the elk. I excused myself and found another spot.

A few years later, on a winter drive to Cooke City, we pulled over behind another car. We quickly found out why this car had stopped. There was a wolf perched on the top of a snowbank at the side of the road, howling at another wolf.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Yellowstone National Park, and we don’t go there as often as many people do. Still, Yellowstone, and our other national parks, are places where memories are made.

 This 150th Anniversary is something all Americans should celebrate.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

March Means Spring – and Licenses

Licenses – the passport to the many opportunities for hunting and fishing in Montana.

February may be the shortest month of the year, but sometimes it seems like the longest, especially when the last week of the month brings the season’s coldest weather.

 The poet, T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month.” Some might assert that March is actually more cruel. After all, Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. Two days later, the first covid cases popped up in Montana, disabusing us of any notion that in remote Montana we would be spared from this exotic new disease.

March can be cruel in other ways. Spring comes in March. I subscribe to the meteorological concept that spring begins on the first of March, contrary to the astronomical definition of spring beginning with the Vernal Equinox, which this year will happen on Sunday, March 20 at 9:33 MDT. And, yes, that MDT stands for Mountain Daylight Time, as, whether you like it or not, we go to Daylight Time on the second Sunday of March. Still, no matter when you think spring begins, we can have horrendous winter weather in March.

After a relatively dry winter, spring storms will be welcome, especially if they put down some significant snowfall to bolster our mountain snowpack.

 As it happens, today, March 2, is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. If March seems late for the beginning of Lent, you’re right, but the date for Easter determines when Lent begins. Easter, for most Christian churches, is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. We’ll have a full moon on March 18, so the first full moon after the Equinox will be on April 16, and Easter will be the following day, April 17. Orthodox churches will observe Easter on April 24.

 In any event, spring does begin this month. I mark the beginning of spring by when tulips emerge from hibernation, and when the garlic I planted last October sends up its first shoots. Usually, the tulips and garlic emerge just about the same time, or within a few days of each other. Robins return to Butte in March in most years, along with other migrating birds.

 March also marks the beginning of a new year for fishing and hunting in Montana, at least as far as licenses are concerned. The license year begins on March 1, so this week I’ll be going online to buy most of my fishing and hunting licenses for the 2022 license year.

 There are some pre-requisites when you get licensed. First there’s a conservation license, which is required before you can buy any fishing or hunting license. Next, there’s an Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Pass, which raises money to fund efforts to deal with aquatic invasive species. Then, finally, you can buy your Montana fishing license, with options for full season or short-term licenses, and discounts for kids and seniors.

 I always get my hunting licenses at the same time, which involves the basic hunting license, and then the upland bird and migratory bird licenses. Depending on what’s on my calendar, I might get a spring turkey license, too. I usually wait until autumn to buy deer licenses and a Federal Duck Stamp.

 All in all, with geezer discounts, I usually emerge from all that with a fee somewhere between $40 and $50. With all the opportunities for hunting and fishing we have in Montana, it’s a darned good deal.

On the topic of licenses, if you aspire to hunt for bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose, or bison, or if you wish to apply for some special elk or deer permits, you can apply for permits now. The deadline for applying for those permits is April 1 for deer and elk, or May 1 for sheep, goats, moose, and bison. The deadline for antelope, or elk B and deer B, is June 1.

 So, don’t go fishing this month without getting licensed first, and good luck if you’re applying for an opportunity for a once in a lifetime hunt.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Wolves Back in Headlines

John & Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS

A recent federal court decision regarding wolves sent ripples across the country and, perhaps, a warning shot across Northern Rocky Mountain and Great Lakes states, as well.

 U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White in Northern California reversed a Trump administration decision to strip Endangered Species protection for gray wolves in many parts of the country.

 In 2020, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service took gray wolves off the list of endangered species and gave control of wolves to the states. In his ruling, White challenged the rationale for the agency’s decision, saying the agency didn’t rely on the best available science or to address threats to wolves outside of their main populations. “The Service failed to adequately consider the threats to wolves outside of the core populations in the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains in delisting the entire species,” the judge wrote, as reported in the Washington Post.

 While Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, plus several Great Lakes states, were not part of this suit, it seems evident that some… shall we say aggressive?… approaches to wolf management likely had some influence in the case.

States that will feel the impact from the decision likely include Pacific Coast states where wolves have expanding in recent years.

At about the same time as the court decision, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wrote an op-ed piece for USA Today calling attention to Montana where about 20 wolves that range both in and out of Yellowstone National Park were killed in hunting districts where wolf harvest was previously subject to low quotas. She wrote, “We are alarmed by recent reports from Montana.”

She went on to say, “Because of the gray wolf’s recovery, individual states are responsible for its welfare and sustaining that recovery. Nevertheless, we will reinstate federal protections under the ESA for the northern Rocky Mountains’ gray wolf, if necessary.”

 Haaland said that the Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating whether a re-listing of the Northern Rocky Mountain’s gray wolf under the endangered species act is necessary.

 She specifically calls attention to recent laws in some western states that promote “precipitous reductions in wolf populations” allowing baiting, snaring, night hunting, etc., “the same kind of practices that nearly wiped out wolves during the last century.”

Secretary Haaland referred to her Native American background. “I feel the embrace of my ancestors reminding me why our nonhuman relatives deserve respect—because the creator put them here to live.” “My Pueblo ancestors taught me to live with courage, respect our ecosystems and protect our families—the very same virtues that wolves embody…I will continue to work hard for our nation’s wildlife and its habitats, because we were meant to all coexist on this earth.”

 Like many in the outdoor community, I looked on with revulsion at the seemingly insane legislation in last year’s legislative session that legalized a whole raft of practices that blatantly violate principles of fair chase when it comes to wolves. In addition, FWP Director Hank Worsech recently announced that hunting by airplanes is legal, as well.

If the Fish and Wildlife Service returns wolf management back to Federal jurisdiction or returns wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain states to the endangered species list, we shouldn’t be too surprised. When the Lege gleefully went about the process to legalize unlimited warfare against wolves, many of us could have predicted (and probably did) that by going too far in that direction, Montana, along with Idaho and Wyoming, could totally lose any say at all in wolf management.

 Changing topics, climate made the news yet again, last week, when a report came out that the overall drier and warmer weather in western states for the last 20 years amounts to a “megadrought” the likes of which we haven’t seen since Charlemagne became Holy Roman Emperor in 800 C.E.

 The report was based on study of tree rings on trees, including ancient living trees as well as tree samples from archeological digs.

 Sorry to say, despite snowfall last week, most of Montana continues to be in extreme drought. It’s going to be another long, hot summer.

Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Great Backyard Bird Count – 2022

Carolina Wren, Mcaulay Library, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

This coming weekend will be the Presidents Day holiday weekend, and that means this weekend is also time for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count.

 This year will be the 25th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). This is one of the major citizen-scientist events of the year, where just about anybody can participate from wherever they are and report their observations and join the millions of people from around the world who participate in the GBBC.

 It’s easy to participate. All you need to do to participate is to spend just 15 minutes or more sometime this weekend, from Friday through Monday, February 18 – 21, and make a note of kinds of birds you saw and how many. Then log onto the internet at www.birdcount.org and report your observations.

 Participation can be a solo project or a group project, whether family members, scout troop or class. You can do it in your neighborhood or go to a park or anywhere. Birds can be found most anywhere so anywhere you are or where you might go is a good place to check out what the birds are up to. For example, one year, I did a bird count at Discovery ski area. Other years I’ve just walked out the house and around the neighborhood or visited one of our city parks. There’s no wrong way to participate in the GBBC, whether you report observations once, or every day.

 It might be helpful to carry binoculars to get a closer look at some birds to make an identification, as well as a note pad to jot notes. If you take a camera along, you’re invited to share photos to the birdcount website.

 This bird count effort is a way to capture data about birds and where they are in late winter, before spring migrations begin in earnest. When you enter observations you may be asked to indicate whether we have snow cover.

 The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society, and Birds Canada. While I’m not a birder, I think I’ve promoted the project just about every year since the beginning. In this annual lull between hunting and fishing seasons, it’s a great excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors.

This Monday holiday is officially the Washington’s Birthday (February 22, 1732) holiday, though February also marks the birthdays of Presidents Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809), William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773), and Ronald Reagan (February 6, 1911).

 The holiday was established in 1971 as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing three-day weekends for many of the holidays. Interestingly, establishing the third Monday in February for celebrating Washington’s birthday guarantees that the holiday will never land on February 22.

 When Washington was born, the British Empire was still following the Julian Calendar, and the date on that calendar was February 11. Great Britain finally adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1852, which moved his birthday to February 22. The Julian Calendar, established by Julius Caesar, is pretty accurate, as it establishes a leap year every four years. However, it doesn’t allow for an 11-minute discrepancy, which amounts to a day each 300 years. It isn’t much, but by the time Washington was born, the calendar was out of sync with the sun by 11 days.

Pope Gregory XIII made the new calendar official in 1582. Many Protestant countries, however, resisted the new-fangled Catholic calendar. Greece was the last European country to adopt the Gregorian calendar, beginning in 1923, though only for civil use. Many Orthodox church bodies still use the Julian Calendar, accounting for differences in the days on which Orthodox churches observe Christmas and Easter.

So, there we have more than you ever wanted to know about counting birds and counting days.

 Don’t worry, there won’t be a test on any of the trivia in this week’s column. Just enjoy the holiday weekend, go check the neighborhood for birds and go online to enter your observations.

Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Winter Dreams of Fishing

Quill Gordon. Photo: Allen Landheer, Facebook post

I shoveled snow this morning, but I was thinking about fishing as I sent shovelsfull of snow on top of snowbanks created from previous similar exercises. Make no mistake; it’s still winter and my next few recreational outings will likely involve skis, not flyrods.

 Still, the days are getting noticeably longer as an additional three minutes of daylight every day makes a significant difference.

 One sure sign of a coming fishing season is the almost-annual fundraising banquet of the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited. The last previous banquet was in March 2020, at the beginning of the Covid Pandemic, when the first covid-19 cases appeared in Montana. The leaders of the Trout Unlimited chapter elected to do an on-line auction last year and avoid having a super-spreader event.

 Unfortunately, the Pandemic is not over, and all signs are that it will never go away, so at some point we decide to resume life and hope that we and other people will take some precautions to limit spreading viruses to our friends and neighbors.

So, the 2022 Return of the River Rat Rendezvous will take place on Friday, March 4, at the Copper King Hotel. If you’re already on the mailing list of Trout Unlimited you have likely gotten an invitation. If not, you can check the website of the chapter at www.GGTU.org. for more information or to make your reservation. Don’t delay, as in most past years the event was a sell-out.

 In addition to daydreaming about early flyfishing, I’ve started tying flies again. From a practical standpoint, I have no need to tie flies, as I’m pretty sure I will never run out during my lifetime.

 Flytying is a fascinating way to spend a winter afternoon, creating imitation bugs that hopefully some foolish trout will think is a bite of food.

I’ll note that people are always developing new fly patterns or devising some new wrinkles in some of the old standards. The last couple years, however, I’ve been dabbling in some older flies, learning to tie Catskill-type dry flies.

 The Catskill flies take us back over a century to some of the early anglers who, in effect, brought some of the classic English techniques of flyfishing to North America. Theodore Gordon (1854 – 1915) is recognized as one of the most influential of those early anglers. He studied English literature of flyfishing and corresponded with prominent English writers, such as Frederick Halford and G.E.M. Skues to learn some of their techniques. He went on to create flies intended to imitate American insects.

 One of those Catskill flies is, appropriately, the Quill Gordon.

 Those flies tend to be a bit sparse but still on the elegant side. In any event, there are several dry fly patterns that fall into that classic Catskill fly category.

Some of those flies have wings from wood duck flank feathers and I lucked into a nice collection of Woodie flank feathers following a Facebook bird hunting post from a person in Missouri who told of a fun day, collecting a limit of wood ducks. I sent him a message asking if he saved some flank feathers. He responded that he saved all of them and sent me a packet of feathers.

 A couple months ago I reported in one of my columns about taking a fall when I was out chasing pheasants on the prairies and incurring a major rotator cuff tear in my right shoulder. I’m happy to report that a couple months of therapy has helped a lot in regaining strength and function in my right arm. My doctor agrees with me that I can avoid surgery.

 Still, I’m learning some new issues, especially when it comes to holding small flytying tools in my right hand and doing dainty work. I’ve gotten around some problems by standing up for some functions—if that makes any sense.

 So, I have work to do, as I continue therapy for my injured shoulder.

 Next, I should probably take some lessons in how to fall more gracefully.

Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.