Filling that Gap Between Hunting and Flyfishing

Riding the lift at Discovery Ski area in western Montana.

If you’re looking for more hunting outings, you’d better hurry up.

The waterfowl hunting season in the Pacific Flyway areas of Montana closed, temporarily, on January 10. It will reopen for one more weekend, from January 16 through January 20, and then it will be finally over, the last of the general hunting seasons.

Then, after shotguns and rifles have been cleaned and put away, gear re-organized and stowed, and other end-of-season rituals have been done, the question then becomes, “Now what?”

From the standpoint of writing about the outdoors, this is the challenging part of the year, this long stretch of time between hunting and fly-fishing.

Of course, this is an odd-numbered year, meaning that the Montana Legislature is in session. I hope I’m proved wrong, but with both houses of the legislature controlled by Republicans and with Republican Greg Gianforte our governor, I fear that there will be a lot of whacky legislation emerging from the legislative sausage making machine, as there won’t be a temporizing influence from the governor. I fear attacks on public access to public lands and waters. I fear political meddling in our highly professional and highly regarded Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks agency. 

I fear whacky legislation on gun issues. College students bringing AR-15s to class? No vetting or permitting of concealed carry? That’s just starters, I fear. What could go wrong? Consider the rioting in Washington D.C. last week.

With Covid-19 cautions, it’s going to be a challenge to get people to go to legislative hearings to comment on potentially bad legislation. 

With Covid-19, having a public rally for our public lands, as we’ve had in recent legislative sessions, would be a super-spreader event. 

Of course, the best antidote for depressing news is getting outside and doing things.

Lots of people enjoy ice fishing, and for many, winter is the best season of the year. Georgetown Lake, west of Anaconda, Clark Canyon Reservoir, Ruby Reservoir, and Willow Creek Reservoir, also known as Harrison Lake, are popular destinations for local ice-angler enthusiasts.

I’ll confess that, while I have done a fair amount of ice fishing, it doesn’t really appeal to me. I regularly drive by a lot of anglers on Georgetown Lake on my way to Discovery Ski Area. It’s a great place to ski, whether on the groomed downhill ski runs or on the many cross-country trails in the immediate area. With covid precautions, it’s going to be a little different, especially for food service. Check their website, www.skidiscovery.com for details. Packing your own lunch may be a good option. You might also do a snow dance, as snow cover is still pretty thin.

While I don’t particularly enjoy fly-fishing when it’s really cold, it’s still an option on many area streams, especially streams with relatively stable temperatures, such as Poindexter Slough, just outside of Dillon, or the Madison River at Beartrap Canyon. As always, it’s a good idea to check the regulations for seasonal rules regarding closures, catch & release rules, etc.

Hunting is still an option. There are elk shoulder seasons in a number of areas, and seasons can be open until February 15.

Rabbit hunting is an option, as well. There are no closed seasons for bunnies in Montana, whether cottontail rabbit or jackrabbits and snowshoe hares. In addition, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares are really good eating. Jackrabbits (which are also a hare) are also edible, though it usually takes a different preparation. I recommend Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook online (honestfood.net) for tips on cooking almost any wild game, especially some of the lesser–known critters, such as rabbits. Incidentally, I’ve met many people who made it through the Depression, thanks to the lowly cottontail rabbit.

Bunnies also come with an abundant supply of fly-tying material, a nice bonus in addition to food on the table. 

That brings me to one of my favorite winter activities, tying flies for the next season. There’s nothing like tying flies on a cold and blustery afternoon, and thinking of warm summer days when we can use them on area trout streams.

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