Water – the key to Everything!

The Big Hole River in early July. The clear, blue skies mean the photo was taken before the most recent fires in the nearby area.

About 20 years ago, the Outdoor Writers Association of America had its annual conference in St. George, Utah. The event was in early June, so we missed the intense desert heat they probably have in mid-summer. St. George is in Washington County, in the southwest corner of Utah, close to both Arizona and Nevada. 

 St. George was one of the fastest growing cities in both Utah and the country, and it was obvious that the town boosters took pride in that. In 1990, the population was 28,754, and that almost doubled to 49, 628 in the 2000 census. St. George is a desert town, at the northern edge of the Mojave desert. It has average precipitation of 8.8 inches per year.

 I recall asking one of the local hosts about all this population growth and where do they get the water to support population growth, because it certainly doesn’t come from rainfall, and snowfall amounts to around one and a half inches per year. “Oh, we have wells with plenty of water,” I was told. Tapping into an aquifer can produce water, but what happens when the aquifer is tapped out?

 According to the city’s website, the city gets its water from the Virgin River, and there are two reservoirs that capture river water and deliver it to the city’s water treatment plant. The website also states that the city cut water use by some one billion gallons from 2010 to 2015.

Another website acknowledges the limitations on depending on Virgin River water and proposes a pipeline from Lake Powell to guarantee enough water to sustain population growth, projected to reach 500,000 people by 2065 (Kem C. Gardiner Policy Institute, University of Utah).

Lake Powell is also a victim of the drought and is currently at critically low levels. The St. George Spectrum and Daily News recently reported that the pipeline proposal is considered by many as a boondoggle and critics are protesting any further diversion of Colorado river water.

 St. George continues to boom, with a 2010 population of almost 73,000 and 2020 population of 94,535. County population is estimated at over 177,000 as of 2019.

 A lot of St. George’s appeal is its mild winter weather. It is also a golfer’s paradise. There are some 12 golf courses in and around St. George with, judging from photos, lush green fairways and water features. If that’s not enough, there are another dozen courses at Mesquite, Nevada, just 35 miles away.

 I’m not writing about St. George to promote more growth, as much as to point out the insanity of what we’re doing in the West, and only now, in this desperately dry year are people starting to face the reality of what’s happening.

 Last week, the New York Times reported on Oakley, Utah, a town of 1,750 population, about an hour’s drive east of Salt Lake City. The city just took a major step, imposing a construction moratorium on new homes that would connect to the city water system.

 In Arizona, developers in desert areas between Phoenix and Tucson must prove they have access to a 100-year supply of water to get approval to build new homes. The reality, however, is that the agriculture industry already has claims on that water.

The city of Bozeman, already Montana’s worst-case scenario, has imposed watering restrictions as Hyalite Reservoir, the city water supply, is getting seriously drawn down.

Meanwhile, here in our corner of Montana, the drought continues. River flows keep dropping. The river flow on the Big Hole River at Maidenrock Bridge was just 371 cubic feet per second last week, compared to long-term median flows of 708 CFS. FWP has closed the river to fishing downstream from the Tony Schoonen (Notch Bottom) access site to the confluence with the Beaverhead River. The entire Jefferson River is closed to fishing. The entire Madison River downstream from Yellowstone National Park is on hoot owl restrictions.

 The American West is ground zero for climate change, and drought comes with that warmer climate. Water demands should be the first consideration for everything.

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.

While Montana Burns, Guv Pulls out of Climate Alliance

There are wildfires west of Wise River and Wisdom, and in the upper Madison, near Cliff and Wade Lakes. In eastern Montana, there are wildfires in Yellowstone and Musselshell Counties. The tri-county area of Missoula, Mineral and Ravalli Counties has had 227 wildfires this calendar year, with 45 new starts just last week, according to Montana Public Radio.

 The Bitterroot National Forest has declared “Extreme fire danger,” and Fire Management Officer Mark Wilson issued a release, “Last week, I said our high temperatures and dry fuel conditions were ‘unprecedented’ and ‘record-setting.’ You can now add ‘historic’ to the 2021 fire season, which is already shaping up to be one of the hottest and driest on record.”

In the last week of June, the entire Pacific Northwest had an unprecedented heat wave with Portland OR having record highs of 112 degrees, and Seattle had triple-digit highs for three consecutive days. In British Columbia, a small town, Lytton, had a record-setting high of 115, only to break that record a few days later with a high temperature of 121. That’s in Canada, mind you. CANADA! Shortly after that high of 121, the village was mostly destroyed by wildfire.

 While the conclusion is still tentative, climate scientists seem in agreement that the weather of the last few weeks wouldn’t be possible without human-caused climate change.

With that backdrop, Governor Greg Gianforte quietly, and without announcement, withdrew Montana from a multi-state group, U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 25 states, committed to taking action to combat climate change, with a goal of keeping temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Under former Governor Bullock, Montana joined the alliance in 2019.

A spokesman for U.S. Climate Alliance said that Gianforte didn’t respond to an invitation to continue Montana’s membership.

 As reported by Montana Public Radio, Brooke Stroyke, a spokesperson for Governor Gianforte, issued a statement saying the governor believes the solution to climate change is unleashing American innovation, not overbearing government mandates. Stroyke did not respond to requests for clarification as to what the governor’s climate goals are, or what sort of innovation is necessary in Montana.

 It should be clear, in my opinion, that the forces that cause climate change, and the forces to deal with it, are not just local. They are regional, national and international, and Montana can’t afford to drop out of interstate alliances trying to deal with the problem.

The “Lego” handgun cover. Culper Precision Photo.

 From that, let’s move to Provo, Utah, and a company called Culper Precision, that came up with a kit that covers a Glock handgun with what looks like red, yellow and blue Lego blocks, so that the gun now looks like a children’s toy. They marketed the device to promote the idea that “Shooting sports are Super Fun!”

 The Washington Post reported that Lego sent the Culper Company a “cease and desist letter,” and the company president, Brandon Scott, admitted that he had legal advice that Lego would have a strong case against his company, and decided to comply. Up to that time, they had sold something like 20 Lego kits.

Gosh, what could go wrong!

 Finally, we note the death, on July 5, of Dr. Valerius Geist, an internationally renowned wildlife biologist. Geist was known for his expertise in wildlife management, particularly with wild sheep, mule deer, and elk. His death was announced by the Alberta Chapter of The Wildlife Society.

 Geist was a longtime professor at the University of Calgary, the author of many books and articles on deer, elk, antelope, and wild sheep. After he retired from teaching, he moved to Vancouver Island, but continued to write and publish, including some controversial views on wolves.

 Dr. Geist was a featured speaker at a conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America around 15 years ago, and he held his audience spellbound during his presentation on his findings on wolf behavior. I’ll also note that a North Dakota writer friend, Patricia Stockdill, had the opportunity to pick him up at the airport and enthused about what a decent and down-to-earth person he was.

Farewell to a giant in wildlife science, in the tradition of Aldo Leopold.

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.

In Search of a Creek

A gentle little stream in a mountain meadow.

It was nice to have some thundershowers in early July. It’s funny how a little bit of rain will help revive a lawn more than running sprinklers. Still, if we want to keep our rivers running, we’re going to need a lot more than an occasional shower. We need some serious rain.

 Our son, Kevin, and his family, have been visiting here, and, of course, Kevin and I went fishing. It’s what we do this time of year. When we get together again, this fall, we’ll go pheasant hunting. It’s what we do.

 While we enjoy the outings, the drought is making it a challenge.

 We fished the Big Hole River one day, and while fishing this beautiful river is always rewarding, it’s sad to see how low the upper part of the river is for early July. On the bright side, wade fishing is easy, with shallow water, and lots of privacy and solitude. Where just a few weeks ago, during the salmonfly hatch, there was a constant parade of drift boats and rubber rafts, this morning we didn’t see a single boat on this stretch of river. What boat traffic there was, was on lower stretches, where tributaries add more flow to the river.

Another Dog on a Rock photo. a couple weeks earlier, this rock was totally underwater.

 For figuring out the next day’s fishing, I recalled a conversation with a Kansas outdoor writer friend, David Zumbaugh, a few weeks ago. He and his wife had been on a western vacation, and we got together one morning after an overnight stop in Butte. David was enthusing on fishing a mountain creek in the upper Big Hole valley. The fish were both plentiful and willing, according to him.

The drive along the upper reaches of the Big Hole is pretty, though the river looks extraordinarily low, with hardly any current.

Still, the upper Big Hole valley, with its vast stretches of green fields, is always impressive. The early mountain men dubbed these mountain valleys “holes,” such as Jackson Hole, and others, but this valley was truly a “Big Hole.” Driving through the little community of Jackson, I mentioned to Kevin that the hot springs there were visited by the Lewis & Clark expedition, and they made stops there on both their way to the Pacific and on the way back.

We found the turnoff for the creek (which shall remain nameless), driving a gravel road across ranchland and then up a Forest Service road. I was wondering where the creek was, but we spotted a turnout and Kevin said, “There are willows down below.” I drove in and, sure enough, there was a pretty mountain stream, flowing gently through a mountain meadow.

With two Labrador retrievers with us, we didn’t exactly sneak up on the creek, though even after Kiri had checked things out, I could see rises at the upper end of a deep pool.

 Kevin went a little farther upstream, where he reported that his black Lab, Kota, was fascinated with the skeletal remains of a moose that had likely died during the winter. Other predators had cleaned off all the flesh, but there was still evidently enough aroma to be interesting.

We wandered around in this stretch of the creek, exploring a bit and hoping to not break a leg in various beaver channels through the swampy creek bottom.

I enjoyed fishing that deep pool, catching around a dozen little brook trout, mostly six inches, or smaller. If I’d thought about it earlier, I would have brought a cooler with some ice, for a fish dinner, or appetizers, to be more accurate. But, without ice, I released the brookies back to the creek.

We took a lunch break, finding a shady spot to set up some chairs where we could relax while having lunch and swatting deer flies.

We talked about the fishing, and he expressed his frustration that, while he had some rises, he hadn’t actually hooked any of those willing little brookies.

 He took it philosophically, though, noting, “There’s probably more distinction in NOT catching any fish in a brookie stream like this.”

 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.

It’s Hot – But Upland Birds are Not Far!

There’s not much doubt that we’ve just had one of the hottest and driest Junes we’ve ever had in western Montana, along the Continental Divide. In fact, this past June was the 2nd driest and 7th hottest on record. In more typical years, June is a cool and rainy month. Usually, in June, the delicate plants such as tomatoes and chile peppers in my mile-high garden are hunkering down against the cold, waiting for warmer weather in July to really start growing.

While most of us have been wilting in the heat, some people aren’t worried about the present. They’ve already circled September 1 on their calendars, the opening day of the 2021 Montana upland bird season.

Many of those upland bird hunting enthusiasts are spending time with their bird dogs throughout the summer, training puppies, or reinforcing training with older dogs. With our continuing hot weather, it’s important for dog owners to be careful when working with our dogs.

 Dogs come with fur coats, of varying types, but whether Fido’s hair is short or long, it’s easy for your dog to get overheated in this hot weather. They don’t have sweat glands, so they have to pant and drool to cool off after exercise in the heat. More often than not, they also love their summer training and don’t know when to stop.

 It’s up to us, the dog owner, to know when to quit a training session. Then, make sure that the dog gets re-hydrated with cool water. If available, it’s a good time for a swim in a cool lake or stream. If it’s possible, do your training in early morning, before the heat builds up.

 On the topic of hunting, I’m happy to share information about a new book I’ve enjoyed.

 I’ve occasionally written about Charley Storms, my good friend who lives in Evansville, Indiana. We share passions for flyfishing, and we’ve been able to have some adventures together, such as on the AuSable River in Michigan, and fishing for monster pike in Saskatchewan, plus the Big Hole River, and fishing for bluegills at a pond near his home.

Charley in Saskatchewan.

 Charley is also an upland bird hunter and a dog man. He’s had a long string of bird dogs and he lives for hunting bobwhite quail, though he has also made many trips to North Dakota for sharptailed grouse and pheasants, and to Montana for ruffed grouse.

 He has written a book about his hunting experiences, Friends, Best Friends and Feathered Friends, 50 Years of Upland Bird Hunting. I’ll note that I had a small part in encouraging Charley and making suggestions during the writing process.

 Charley lists lessons he’s learned over the years through mentors he’s had as well as experiences, such as never hunting another hunter’s territory, appreciating good dog work and not criticizing a friend’s dog, and being a mentor to new hunters.

I think Charley’s book is a great addition to the hunting literature, in that it covers an overlooked niche in quail hunting. There’s a lot of literature on southern quail hunting, with classic authors such as Havilah Babcock and Archibald Rutledge, and their stories of hunts on old plantations and a now mostly vanished way of life, and mostly vanished quail, as well.

Charley writes about his passion for bobwhite quail in the southern Midwest, and the few dedicated hunters who maintain relations with farmers for decades and hunt specific coveys of quail for years. He also notes that it’s kind of a losing effort, as land use changes often mean loss of quail habitat.

 For information on ordering Charley’s book, contact him directly at cstorms@flandersinc.com.

 During a long-ago stint in southern Iowa, I occasionally bumped coveys of quail while hunting pheasants, and it’d seem like I’d just stepped on a hive of bumblebees, and once shared an outing with a dedicated quail hunter much like Charley. I also have fond memories of a pheasant hunt on an Iowa farm with one of the farmer’s sons accompanying me, and warning me, “Don’t shoot any quail from Mama’s house covey,” so the book resonates with me in several ways.

 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.

Montana Brown Trout in Trouble

My brown trout of the year (so far).

Some people look down at brown trout. Perhaps, it’s because brown trout are seemingly hard to fool. Sometimes, it’s because, when hooked, brown trout don’t jump as much as a rainbow trout.

 Personally, I love to catch brown trout. Yes, they can be selective at times, but they can be a rough and tumble fighter at the end of a line, and if inclined, they will jump and tailwalk their way out of a fix as well as any rainbow trout.

 I also like catching brown trout because they get big. This is hardly scientific, but most of the fish porn I see on Facebook from fish caught in area waters are brown trout. I know that a brown trout I caught in May will no doubt be my best fish of 2021. I also love brown trout for their looks. A buttery-yellow trout with bright red spots, brown trout are often drop-dead good looking.

 Unfortunately, brown trout are in trouble. I reported on this back in May, following a presentation by FWP’s Big Hole River fisheries biologist, Jim Olsen, at a Trout Unlimited meeting.

At a public meeting in Butte last week, Travis Horton, FWP Fisheries Manager for Region 3, presented information on a number of area waters, including the Shields, Yellowstone, Beaverhead, Ruby, Madison, and Big Hole Rivers. Similar meetings were also held in Dillon and Bozeman.

Travis Horton, FWP Region 3 Fisheries Manager

With some exceptions, most of these rivers have common issues, including reduced numbers of brown trout, poor recruitment (baby fish surviving to adulthood), and, curiously, a larger percentage of large fish, indicating less competition for food.

Common issues with most rivers are reduced flows in the last 20 years, which also translates to warmer mid-summer water temperatures.

As a beginning basis for discussion, Horton presented some possible suggestions for change. Those include:

·       Adopt seasonal fishing closures from October 1 to the 3rd Saturday in May.

·       Catch & Release fishing for all brown trout.

·       Hoot owl restrictions July 1 to August 15 every year.

I will note there was some uneasiness regarding labeling those suggestions as biologist recommendations. With a new FWP Director and with all but one Fish & Wildlife Commission members being brand new, there seems to be some trepidation in presenting recommendations. A repeated emphasis was they were looking for public comment.

 Paul Siddoway, a Butte physician and frequent advocate for brown trout, suggested that FWP should establish test sections on rivers to try some concepts. He also suggested that on the Big Hole, FWP should build dams on some tributaries to hold back mountain snow melt for release in summer.

 There was comment that fishing should be restricted to artificial lure with a single hook.

 A frequent comment from attendees is that the Commission should pay serious attention to the scientific findings and recommendations. Horton urged people to submit comments and include those recommendations.

 The deadline for submitting comments on brown trout issues is July 11. Comments may be made by mail, sent to FWP, PO Box 200701, Helena MT 59620-0701. For email, send comments to FWPfishcomments@mt.gov. Finally, you can go online to www.surveymonkey.com/r/browntroutscoping. It is anticipated that, based on comments and biologist reports that the Fish & Wildlife Commission will make decisions on brown trout management at their scheduled meeting on August 15.

If you like fishing for and catching brown trout on area waters and are concerned about declines in the fishery, I strongly recommend that readers send their ideas and suggestions to FWP in one of the ways listed in the above paragraph. If nothing else, you can urge the Commission to pay attention to the findings and recommendations of our outstanding fisheries biologists.

 Personally, I have to admit that some of those recommendations will reduce angling opportunities. In most years, I start flyfishing in early March, so by the third Saturday in May, I have typically been out at least a half dozen times.

I’d miss those opportunities, but if It helps preserve our wild trout, it will be worth it.

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.

In Search of Salmonflies

A bashful salmonfly resisting photojournalism.

It was Miners Union Day, so, naturally, I was looking for salmonflies.

 For readers in places other than Butte, Montana, Miners Union Day might not mean much, but back in the heyday of underground mining in Butte, June 13, Miners Union Day was a big summer holiday, celebrating both Butte’s mining heritage, and the founding, in 1878, of the Butte Miners Union No. 1, which, in 1885, became the first chapter of the Western Federation of Miners. Of course, there’s a lot more to the history of Butte’s mining unions, but my beat is the outdoors, not labor history.

 As it happens, the emergence of adult salmonflies on the Big Hole River happens around the same time, so the two events are inextricably associated with each other here in Montana’s Mining City.

 I found salmonflies, though not as many as I hoped to find, or as many as I have found in past outings about the same time.

More to the point, the fish didn’t seem particularly interested in my offerings of counterfeit salmonflies, either on top or on the river’s bottom.

Actually, as far as salmonflies are concerned, the catch of the day was when Kiri, my Labrador retriever and faithful fishing partner, came running up with a plastic container holding around a half dozen salmonfly imitations, most likely dropped from a passing boat a day or two earlier. Over the years, I have often collected fake salmonflies from streamside willows after spring runoff waters have receded. This was a first time to collect a bunch.

Kiri in a characteristic pose.

  As far as spring runoff, while it was just mid-June, it was clear that the spring runoff season on the Big Hole River was over. I had fished the same spot about 10 days earlier and the river was significantly higher, faster, and dirtier. In numerical terms, the river flow had dropped from around 2900 cubic feet per second (CFS) to 1400 CFS, and it is continuing to drop every day.

 On the positive side, there was a profusion of aquatic insect life. Besides salmonflies, there were big golden stoneflies and small golden stoneflies fluttering about. There were also caddisflies, even if not as many as a couple weeks earlier. Along with all the other bugs, there were pale morning dun (PMD) mayflies hatching.

 In other words, for those of us who like dry fly fishing, right now is the best time to be fishing on the Big Hole and, presumably, other local streams, as well.

 With lower water conditions, wade fishing is getting to be more feasible, and with the all-you-can-eat buffet going on, fish are starting to look up for their next bite of food.

 Naturally, there are no guarantees that trout will take those dry flies. I worked one little stretch of water where I could see fish rising. I was using a PMD imitation and I got rises but no hookups. After a few minutes, the fish stopped rising. After repeating the same strategy on a few other runs, I switched to a small beadhead soft-hackle nymph and caught two trout, a brook trout and a brown trout.

 We took a lunch break, with Kiri and I sharing a sandwich while watching the parade of passing drift boats and rubber rafts, some with anglers, and some with people just enjoying a Sunday boat ride. Then we walked back to the water.

 I found some more rising fish and after some misses and refusals, I caught a chunky grayling, a precious jewel of the Big Hole River. I think this was the third one I’ve caught this season, so far.

 While walking along the shoreline, I looked for salmonflies to photograph. I’ve got quite a few photos of them, but I can’t have too many. I saw one fluttering around in some dead grass, so I put my hat on the ground and then put the bug on my hat. It wasn’t interested in modeling and kept trying to run away.

I’m used to fish rejecting my offerings. It’s kind of insulting when a salmonfly rejects me, too.

A more cooperative salmonfly a few days later.

Two salmonflies entwined in passion.

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.

Drought in Montana – and the West

Dry croplands in Montana. Billings Gazette photo, 2017

Last week, when I started writing this column, there were storm clouds building in the west.

 Many things we do are affected by weather. For me that includes a morning tennis group. After a morning of hitting tennis balls at each other, we plan on the next outing, “weather permitting, of course.” We’d be quite happy if the weather didn’t permit, because we need rain.

 Here in southwestern Montana, with average precipitation of around 11 inches, and 12.6 inches in Butte, we’re in a semi-arid area during normal years. Further, that also means it doesn’t have to be much below normal to become a near-critical drought situation.

 That near-critical situation presently includes most of Montana, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), a service of the National Oceanic and Atmospherics Administration (NOAA), or the weather bureau, if you prefer. The drought information is found at a website, www.drought.gov.

 According to NIDIS, 81.9 percent of Montana is currently “Abnormally Dry,” as indicated by “soil moisture is low, dryland crop germination is poor, pastures are dry, fire danger increases, streamflow is low, affecting recreational fishing.” Does that sound familiar?

 Over half of Montana, 54.2 percent, is in “Moderate Drought,” meaning livestock producers are supplementing grazing with hay, crops are stressed, and growth is poor. Fire restrictions are implemented. That describes most of our corner of Montana.

 30.7 percent of Montana is in “Severe Drought,” meaning subsoil moisture is non-existent, hay and crop yields are poor. Fire danger is high, air quality is poor with dust and smoke. Livestock ponds are low or dry and wells are stressed.

 Most of northeastern Montana, 15. 6 percent of the state, is in “Extreme Drought,” meaning crops are not harvestable, winter pasture is opened for summer grazing, soil has large cracks, and fields are bare. Livestock producers are hauling water and supplemental feed. They’re starting to cull livestock, or marketing early.

 Current precipitation puts 2021 in select company, though not in a good way. Montana’s precipitation to date makes 2021 the 7th driest year in the 127 years that records have been kept. May, usually a wet month, was the 15th driest May on record. 14 counties have already been designated as “disaster,” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over 455,000 people, almost half the state’s population, are affected by drought.

 About the only parts of Montana not in the Abnormally Dry classification are south central counties, basically from Livingston to Billings, and some west central counties from Missoula to Great Falls.

 Regionally, the entire Missouri River Basin (MT, WY, ND, SD) is mostly in drought status, and almost all of North Dakota is in the Extreme Drought category. Large areas of the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West are also in Extreme Drought.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to come up with a list of ramifications to fish and wildlife, and, consequently, to outdoor pursuits such as fishing and hunting, if conditions don’t improve.

 If we look at the Big Hole River, for example, we’re still in the spring runoff period, and a casual bystander might look at the river and think it looks like a big, brawling river. Perhaps, but at Maidenrock, last week, the river was running at a velocity of 2370 cubic feet per second (cfs). However, the long-term median flow is 3,890 cfs, almost twice current flows.

When spring runoff comes to an end, we can expect below average river flows, and if we have hot weather, fishing closures and restrictions will be the norm. Fingerling trout will find survival difficult, and fish populations, already in decline, will continue to suffer.

Similarly, wildlife habitat will be degraded, and as farmers and ranchers struggle through the crisis, private land wildlife habitat will likely be grazed or cut for hay.

 So, as we struggle through this hot, dry summer, you might be able to schedule many outdoor activities without worrying about the weather. So, go ahead and plan your picnics, family reunions, volleyball games, and the like. Just don’t plan on having bonfires, and don’t complain if you get rained out.

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.

Salmonflies on the Big Hole River!

One of last year’s salmonflies taking a rest on the tailgate of my truck.

Right about now, bugs are moving, and if the bugs are moving, so are the trout.

 Yes, it’s time for the salmonfly hatch, that annual rite of early summer, when giant stonefly nymphs, with the imposing scientific name of Pteronarcys californica, approach adulthood and move towards river shorelines. If the trout don’t pick them off along their migration, the stoneflies crawl out on shore and find something, such as shoreline willows or tall grasses and crawl up the plant.

Under cover of darkness, the adult stonefly crawls from its exoskeleton and emerges, at daylight, in all its glory as an adult flying insect. This isn’t a little bug. It’s a seriously big insect that attracts the attention of anglers, and, optimistically, big trout.

While the salmonfly spends most of its life along a river’s bottom, happily munching on old leaves and other small woody debris, it’s the salmonfly’s last few days of its life that create the legends. In the manner of all living things, the adult salmonflies seek out bugs of the opposite sex, and after mating, the females fly out on the river to deliver fertilized eggs to the water’s surface, and thus completes the stonefly’s life cycle and starts the next generation’s cycle.

Not all the stoneflies live that long. They lose their grip on shoreline vegetation and fall in the water, giving an opportunistic trout a quick bite of protein. Birds pick them off tree limbs and in the air. Nevertheless, enough adults live long enough to complete their mission to propagate the species.

Our area’s premier trout stream, the Big Hole River, should be the place to be in this coming week or so.

 Miners’ Union Day, June 13, is when the salmonfly hatch is supposed to happen on the Big Hole, but it’s not something you can depend on. During the years I’ve fished the river, I’ve seen salmonflies as early as Memorial Day and as late as the 4th of July. I’m not an expert but it strikes me that the giant stoneflies emerge a bit earlier in years with lower snowpack in the mountains, and that describes 2021. So, don’t be surprised if the big bugs are already buzzing around now or in the next couple days.

 Now, a big question, whenever the topic is salmonflies, is what is happening with these giant stoneflies?

If you get some long-time Big Hole anglers or residents talking, many will assert that there aren’t as many salmonflies as there used to be. I recall one Big Hole rancher, now long gone, who said the chickens would eat so many salmonflies their egg yolks would turn bright orange. Another old friend, also departed, told of taking the family for a picnic on the river, and within minutes, the children were running and screaming back to the car because of all the salmonflies.

Salmonflies are totally harmless. Like the cicadas in the East, adult stoneflies have just one mission in their brief moments in the sun, and it isn’t eating. They don’t bite. They don’t sting. Still, when a salmonfly unexpectedly lands on your neck it catches your attention.

 The trouble with anecdotes about swarms of salmonflies is that it’s just anecdotes. If there have been any long-term aquatic entomology studies of Pteronarcys california on the Big Hole with scientific data of counts, I’m not aware of it, and FWP fisheries biologist Jim Olsen commented on that during a presentation to the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited last month.

 Still, I can’t dispute stories about the “good old days,” of salmonfly hatches. My historical memory of happenings on the Big Hole goes back over 30 years, but that’s the blink of an eye in comparison to some peoples’ memories.

I’ve had fun while fishing the salmonfly hatch, though I’ve never had a day when the big trout went bonkers over the big bugs. The hatch also brings high boat traffic, both residents and guides, with anglers pounding the banks, while the trout lay low.

 It’s really kind of a carnival, though carnivals are usually fun.

 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.

Spring Rains Relieve Drought

Kevin Vang flycasting for pike in a North Dakota lake, with his Lab, Tori, giving moral support. Note how brown the hillside is.

It wasn’t exactly a pleasant afternoon. There was a cold rain coming down, and a stiff wind didn’t make it feel any better.

I was wading and casting big streamers on a shallow bay on Lake Audubon, an extension of Lake Sakakawea, the giant impoundment of the Missouri River in west-central North Dakota. My fishing companion was our son, Kevin Vang, who lives in Minot, North Dakota.

While conditions were a bit on the miserable side, I didn’t dare complain. The rain coming down was life, itself.

A few days earlier, we’d driven across Montana and western North Dakota on the I-90/94 corridor, just ahead of a predicted stormy, snowy weather system that would bring heavy snow to many areas of western Montana.

 On our drive east, we were struck by how greener things were from Livingstone and points east. Obviously, there had been more precipitation that what we’d been having in Butte. Then we were struck by how quickly the green conditions changed as we approached Miles City, and the further east we got, the drier things were.

 Usually, when we make this trip in springtime, the high plains of Montana and North Dakota are a lush green from spring rains. This time, it was mostly brown, with just scattered patches of green. There was also a constant smell of dust in the air, even through the car’s ventilation system.

 The morning after we arrived, I went outside with our Lab, Kiri, for her morning constitutional, and it was cloudy, cold and windy, plus there was more than a little smoke in the air, coming from fires in northern Manitoba. The grass in Kevin’s backyard was brown and lifeless. It seemed just plain bleak, with the combination of everything. Kevin said the north-central areas of North Dakota were officially under “extreme” drought conditions.

The weather improved in the afternoon and Kevin and I went fishing on a lake that was sheltered from the wind. The clouds moved out and we had bright sunshine and warmer temperatures that made things feel much better, even if the fish weren’t cooperating.

It rained about half an inch that night, which cleared the air of smoke and dust, though it was still chilly and windy enough that we didn’t feel inclined to go fishing. More rain fell that evening. On our last day in Minot, Kevin and I went fishing again, driving into the rain on our way to the lake. Kevin was the champion angler of the day, catching a nice smallmouth bass. I never had a bite, but that’s fishing. Actually, over many decades of fishing together, that has been the pattern, with one of us having good luck while the other person looks on with envy.

 Even with rain gear, we started to feel wet and chilled and ready to quit, but we had to wait for a break in the rainshowers, so we wouldn’t get soaked while changing out of our waders. We got that break and we packed up and hit the road.

More rain fell that night. But, after several days of cold, wet, windy weather, the skies were clear in early morning, and it even felt relatively warm. We hit the road for Montana in golden sunshine, and we marveled at the changes on the prairie. Over the weekend the fields had turned green after the rains. There was water in puddles here and there.

On our trip back home, we were happy to see new green growth in eastern Montana, as well as in North Dakota. That new growth was apparent all the way to Butte, where snow fell every day we were gone.

 It would be a mistake to think that the drought is over. We still are in need of more precipitation to bring us current with long-term averages.

 Nevertheless, the precipitation, here in Montana and points east, was a life-giving bounty for our forests and plains, and for crops, wildlife, and the farmers and ranchers that depend on the weather for survival.

 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.

Brown Trout: What’s Up?

Despite bad news about Big Hole brown trout, I was lucky enough to catch this beautiful brown trout the day after the TU meeting discussed below.

“There’s not a lot of good news,” is not what people wanted to hear, when Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fisheries biologist Jim Olsen began his presentation to the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited on May 12. 

 The gathering actually drew an in-person audience, for a change, with covid-19 restrictions loosening, though some people took in the program at their home computers.

 Olsen is the biologist assigned to the Big Hole River and its watershed, and he reported on the latest data from electrofishing surveys done this spring, adding this year’s information to almost 50 years of sampling data.

While he reported on survey results on several stretches of the river, the Melrose to Browne’s Bridge stretch was typical of what’s happening.

 Both brown trout and rainbow trout have been on a decline in the last several years, and he’s trying to figure out what is going on that’s causing the decline. This stretch was hit by a saprolegnia (a water mold disease) outbreak in 2014 that caused a temporary decline in fish numbers, especially brown trout. After a dip, numbers rebounded in 2016. Since then, fish numbers, both brown trout and rainbow trout have been declining. Olsen noted that whirling disease has been affecting rainbow trout in this area.

 Currently, surveys indicate trout populations of around 400 brown trout and 400 rainbow trout per mile. A troubling statistic is that age two fish are only around 100 per mile.

 Olsen summarized his presentation with known information. There is currently poor recruitment (fish surviving to adulthood), no significant disease factors, and by and large the fish are strong and healthy. Warm weather begins sooner in spring and lasts longer into autumn. Significantly, angling pressure is way up. Olsen has been working the Big Hole since 2008 and total angler days per season has doubled during this time to nearly 90,000 angler days annually.

 He adds that there is no real data on fish harvest though he believes that some 90 percent of fish caught are released, though there is always some mortality with catch and release. He suspects that angling pressure is affecting fish populations, especially damage to spawning redds which are highly vulnerable. He also notes that other rivers in southwest Montana have similar issues.

 In response to an audience suggestion of stocking fish, Olsen responded that FWP’s commitment is to manage habitat for wild fish, not stocking.

 Olsen says he is considering making a recommendation to the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission to return to a regular closed season on the Big Hole, as the doubling of angling pressure is a statistic that stands out in looking at changes to the fishery.

  Olsen also reported on efforts to restore French Creek to a native fishery. The entire watershed was treated with a first dose of rotenone in 2020, and a second dose will be done in 2021. If DNA testing in 2022 shows that efforts to get rid of non-native fish are successful, they will begin stocking westslope cutthroat trout in 2022.

 Caleb Uerling, who became fisheries biologist for the Upper Clark Fork watershed in 2019, reported on low trout numbers in the upper Clark Fork River, though trout numbers are improved slightly from a low in 2019, including some small populations of cutthroat trout.

 He also had some intriguing data on the Little Blackfoot River, with fish numbers ranging from 600 to 1100 per mile, including both brown trout and cutthroat trout. Most intriguing was a pair of photos of a large brown trout that showed up in electrofishing in almost identical locations in two consecutive years, growing from 25 inches to 26 inches during that time.

 I’ll close by reporting that the following day, I went out on the Big Hole with a Dillon friend, Ray Gross, floating the Melrose stretch. I caught just two fish for the day, one a 10-inch rainbow and the other a gorgeous brown trout that may well be my best trout of 2021.

 We were somewhat frustrated by the lack of fish action, but we can’t make the fish bite. Still, that big brownie certainly made the day a success.

 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.

Season of the Cicada!

An adult cicada

There’s a major event taking place this month and, for better or worse, we in Montana will be left out.

That major event is the explosion of life called the 17-year cicada event, also called the Brood X Cicada. The X means the Roman numeral for ten, and there are, in fact, some 14 different broods of 17-year cicadas, as well as several more 13-year cicadas. Brood X is getting a lot of attention because the emergence is going to take place over many eastern states. 

There are a number of cicada species across the U.S., including Montana, but our cicada outbreaks are minor compared to this year’s Brood X.

Sometime around now, as soil temperatures reach 64° F., adult cicadas, which started as eggs placed in tree limbs in 2004, then hatched, with the tiny baby nymphs falling to the ground and burrowing their way underground, drawing nourishment from tree roots for all this time. These nearly mature insects are boring holes through the ground to reach the surface. Once out, the cicadas will break out from their exoskeletons, spread wings for the first time and fly or crawl up to tree branches.

Once up in the trees, the male cicadas will proclaim to the world that they are adults and in the mood for love. 

While male cicadas are specifically trying to get the attention of their female counterparts, their mating calls are around 100 decibels, the same level as a noisy lawnmower, motorcycle or ATV. When there are millions of cicadas calling in unison, there is a lot of noise. Likely, many people in the heart of Brood X territory will retreat to basements to get some peace and quiet.

These adult cicadas exist only to procreate. They don’t bite or sting or even eat. They’ve had 17 years to store up energy reserves and they aren’t going to waste it on silly things like eating.

While adult cicadas don’t eat anything, they do get eaten by most everything, including birds, small mammals, fish, and, yes, humans. A lead sentence on a website notes, “Biologists who have studied cicadas say they are not only safe to eat—but may actually taste quite nice when dipped in chocolate, made into a stir fry, cooked into a pizza, added to some fresh banana bread, or perhaps a rhubarb pie.”

Last week, the Washington Post had a story about a 1987 cicada event. A reader told of being at a Baltimore Orioles baseball game and cicadas were buzzing around. One person in the stands was pulling them out of the air and eating them. People started giving him $1 bills for each cicada he ate. “He pocketed quite a few dollars that night.”

Trust me, if you do an internet search for eating cicadas, you will get more information than you could possibly desire.

While cicadas get eaten, stepped on, run over by cars, etc., they’re in no danger of not reproducing. They emerge in such huge populations that it’s impossible for predators to make a dent in the population. The term for that is “predator satiation.”

The adult cicadas won’t be around for long. Their adult phase of life is about a month and then, after the females lay eggs in tree branches, their work is done, their lives complete, their lifeless bodies rotting on the ground, fertilizing the trees that gave them life.

Did I mention fish? Where trees hang over water, bugs by the thousands will fall on the water, providing a tasty bite of protein for opportunistic feeders.

A few cicada imitations.

There are many cicada imitations for the fly angler to throw at fish looking for a free lunch. I tied some up last week, and while I don’t expect to use them, I have a good friend in Indiana, who has fishing rights on a pond surrounded by big trees. That pond is full of bluegills and bass and I’m betting they are now attuned to the sounds of large bugs hitting the water with a “plop.” 

I’m expecting a report.

 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.

Mayflies and Fickle Trout

Sending the trout free.

There’s something about mayflies that get flyfishers excited. If you look at the flies displayed in any fly shop, chances are that the majority of flies are intended to resemble a mayfly in one or another phase of the mayfly’s ephemeral life (pun intended).

Some years ago, I had a chance to fish on Michigan ‘s Au Sable River during the Hex hatch, meaning the giant Hexagenia Limbata mayfly, and tied up some flies that were an equivalent to the Salmonfly of our western rivers. Actually, I once had a streamside conversation with an angler from Michigan who, with some buddies, came out to Montana in mid-June to fish the Big Hole River’s salmonfly hatch. They didn’t bring any giant stonefly imitations so just used their Hex imitations and reported, “The trout liked them just fine.”

Near the other end of the mayfly spectrum of the Hexagenia is the little spring mayfly called Blue Wing Olive, or simply Baetis for those of us who like to impress people with a little Latin. They’re not the smallest of our mayflies. That title goes to the Trichorythodes, or tricos, of late summer. 

The baetis mayfly calls for a small fly, from a size 14 to a tiny size 20. I use mainly size 16 dry fly hooks for my imitations, and that’s what I was using on, appropriately, the first day of May, when I was knee deep in the lower Madison River in the Beartrap Canyon. When I went in the river I didn’t see any bugs on the water, so I started casting a nymph, imitating the juvenile phase of the mayfly. That didn’t get any takers, but I started to see some adult mayflies floating down the current, and then I started to see some dimples on the water, indicating that trout also noticed the adult mayflies and were picking them off the water’s surface.

Of course, knowing that fish are feeding is no guarantee that they’ll take a fly. I tied on a dry fly that, to me at least, looked like the real thing. Trout are, of course, the authority as to what looks like food, so I tried several variations on imitation mayflies. The one that brought some attention was a relatively sparse Sparkle Dun, a fly with a deer hair wing and no hackle.

After some refusals, I had a take from a trout that was rising just three feet from me, and when it felt the hook it tore off across the river. It took a few minutes, but I finally led it into the shallows where I was able to slip the hook from the fish’s jaw and let it swim away. I didn’t measure it, but it was a beautiful rainbow trout, around 15-inches.

And, as it turned out, that was the only fish I caught in a long weekend of camping and fishing on the river. In four days of fishing, those few rises on May 1 were the only rises I’d seen. We had one day of hot weather that I thought would result in an explosion of the Mother’s Day Caddis, but it didn’t turn out that way. Caddisflies were mostly absent.

Clouds from the leading edge of a cold front coming in.

A cold front came in that evening, bringing some welcome rain, but that also turned off the fishing. 

Kiri posting for another dog on a rock photo.

If the fishing was slow for the most part, the weekend was a good way to start our camping season. Hot, high winds on one day were annoying, but anyone who fishes the Madison River knows better than to be surprised when it’s windy. The real surprises are those days when it isn’t windy.

While the weekend marked the beginning of the summer camping season on the Lower Madison BLM campgrounds, it was standing room only, as far as late arrivals hoping to find vacant campsites. 

Last year, in the first year of the Pandemic, Americans re-discovered the great outdoors. As we begin to emerge from the shutdowns, it’s reassuring that the outdoors is still important, at least here in Montana.

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.

Montana Justice? Slap on the Wrist for Wolf Poaching!

Our home away from home for many years.

We got excited last week, as my wife and I scrambled to get ready to go camping.

After a long winter and cold early spring, as of a week ago we had a favorable weather forecast and we decided it was time to de-winterize our camping trailer and head out for a weekend of camping and flyfishing. 

We talk, occasionally, about getting a newer trailer with some newer features, such as slide-outs for extra room, but we agree that ol’ faithful does what we want it to do, and some RV mechanics tell us that newer trailers aren’t built as well as ours was. So, we stick with what we have and keep things up so that everything works as it should.

I’m also excited about the fishing prospects, because I love evening fishing, and that’s something I’m mainly able to do when we’re camping. I’m also hopeful that predicted warm weather will get the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch going. 

 It’ll be nice to get away from the 24/7 news cycle for a few days. We’ll just worry about weather and whether fish are biting.

This is all against the backdrop of other things going on in the outdoors.

A month ago, I wrote about the curious case of Governor Greg Gianforte and the slap on his wrist for failure to complete an online wolf trapping class before supposedly trapping and then shooting a collared wolf on a ranch north of Yellowstone National Park.

The most recent wolf travesty was of two young men who, in early March, hired a helicopter and in the course of a flight shot two wolves from the air. Their story was that they did have a Department of Livestock permit to hunt coyotes from the air. 

Poached wolves – Billings Gazette photo

The catch, however, was the wolf hunting season ended several days before their flight. They didn’t have permission to hunt on the private land where they shot the wolves, and they didn’t have wolf hunting licenses. They also didn’t report their wolf shooting to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for mandatory inspection and tagging. They were caught because wardens had a tip on the incident.

In other words, they did a whole lot of things wrong and violated a whole bunch of laws. Nevertheless, in a Beaverhead County Justice Court, the two men paid fines of just over $400 each—a slap on the wrist.

I talked to Warden Phillip Kilbraith, who works out of FWP headquarters in Helena, for background information. He said that hunting without a license usually involves a fine of $500 to $1,000. Hunting private land without permission on a first offense involves a fine of $135. A second offense rates of fine of $500 to $1,000. Offenses often result in forfeiture of hunting and fishing privileges for a period of time.

In any event, however, he says the job of game wardens is to “investigate and report” and then it’s up to the county attorney and county court to prosecute and adjudicate the case.

Of course, all this took place when the state legislature was in session and enacted laws to extend wolf seasons, allow trapping with snares, and even to allow organizations to pay rewards to successful hunters and trappers to defray their expenses—though they warn: don’t call it bounties.

Frankly, from the standpoint of a lifetime of hunting and trying to be ethical and legal in the process, I’m angry and disappointed by this case of willful disregard of laws and ethics in the taking of these wolves. 

Unfortunately, with the current atmosphere of lawmakers who regard wolves as vermin and openly express frustration that they can’t just wipe ‘em out as was done back in the good old days, I’m afraid that cases like this will become more and more common. 

What the heck, shoot them from airplanes, trap them, poison them, look for wolf dens and kill the pups. 

What’s the worst that can happen? A slap on the wrist and go do it again. Who cares?

I do—I hope ethical Montanans agree that we’re better than this.

Too Cold! Too Hot! Never Satisfied!

Bright sunshine makes the Big Hole sparkle.

I’m getting tired of this cold weather. 

 Oh, wait a minute, I said that last week, too. In any event, I meant it both weeks. I really am tired of unseasonably cold weather. It’s getting to be time to plant some hardy plant seeds in the garden. It’s time for some bug hatches on the rivers.

 In fact, I did plant a row of peas in my garden on April 15. Peas are really hardy so if they emerge in cold weather, they’re up to the challenge. I scattered spinach seeds in a little garden patch last fall, before freeze-up. They were up in early April, though mostly hunkered down during the cold weather we’ve had. They weren’t hunkering down enough, however. I checked them a few days ago and those little green spinach shoots were neatly clipped off just above the ground. I didn’t have to look too far for suspects. Cottontail rabbits live in the neighborhood and those little bunnies know where to go for choice fresh greens.

 Happily, we did have a couple days of nice weather on that middle weekend of April, before another round of wintry weather hit us again.

 Along with many others, I headed for the Big Hole River, and lots of people had the same idea. It was fun to see people floating the river, wading the shorelines, having picnics, or just sitting on lawn chairs and watching the river flow by. For those of us who get to live in this part of Montana, the Big Hole River, and the tributaries that feed the river, is one of the best parts of our backyard. It’s an internationally known river, but it’s our home waters.

 While cold weather put a damper on spring runoff, it took just a day or so of halfway decent weather to get runoff going again. A surge of meltwater stirred up sediments, so the river was rather murky.

 I threw out some San Juan Worms and large nymphs into the current in a couple different spots. I managed to hook some rocks or driftwood and lost a couple flies before I decided that the fish weren’t in a feeding mood if, in fact, they were even aware of my flies. Kiri, our Labrador retriever and my steadfast hunting and fishing partner, and I shared a sandwich, then packed up and went home, getting back in time for an hour of tennis, as it worked out.

 We’re now almost at the end of April and, hopefully, we will start having some seasonable weather, including some spring rains to revive our grasslands and woodlands. And, as it works out, these last few days of April will be the warmest of the year, so far.

 While I might complain about April’s chilly weather, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone with that, it would be incorrect to say that April’s weather disproves climate warming, or climate change, to be more correct.

This past week there was a “super” typhoon in the west Pacific Ocean that barely missed the Philippines. It was a Category 5 storm, with 190 mph winds. The storm intensified from a Category 1 typhoon, with 90 mph winds to Category 5 in just 36 hours. It’s considered the most intense typhoon ever for the month of April, and stronger than a 2015 typhoon that created widespread devastation in the Philippines. Scientists believe warming seas are responsible for the intense storm systems.

 At the same time, scientists are predicting another active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean, likely as severe or more severe than in 2020, when we ran out of alphabetical names for the tropical storms that repeatedly battered the southeastern states and Caribbean. Current forecasts are for a 70 percent chance of a major hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland this year. In normal years, there’s a 50-50 chance of a major hurricane to hit the U.S.

If there’s a bright side to all this, January, world-wide, was a bit cooler than expected, so 2021 is not expected to be the hottest year on record, though it will no doubt be among the top 10 hottest years.

 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.

Spring Cleaning

Madison River Quicksilver

According to weather forecasts, the weather today should be better than it was a week ago, when I started drafting this column. I hope the forecasts are right because last week I was getting downright tired of freezing weather. 

I just got back from a local store. It’s April so the store put out a display of live plants in front of the store. It was 33 degrees and snowflakes were in the air. The plants did not look a bit happy about their outdoor environment.

I took advantage of a rare mild day to take another jaunt to the Madison River. As expected, the wind was blowing. It was fairly gentle when I stepped into the current, but as the day wore on the wind increased, making flycasting a challenge. Fortunately, one pretty rainbow trout took my fly and put on an acrobatics display, making the day a success. A modest success, but on a day when the wind is blowing and no insects are hatching, it’s important to celebrate success, however humble it might be.

With an expected return to more springlike weather, it’s time to do some spring cleaning, so that’s this week’s theme.

First off, while many of us have been complaining about the cold weather this past week, there are benefits. For one thing, the freezing weather put spring runoff on hold, and area streamflows have dropped accordingly. Last week, the Big Hole River at Maidenrock Bridge, for example, was running at 803 cubic feet per second (CFS). A week earlier, streamflow spiked, temporarily, at around 3,000 CFS. Considering the relatively dry winter we had, the longer we can hold that mountain snowpack in the high country, the better off we’ll be. That applies to many things, from fishing, floating, irrigation, and municipal water, to summer water temperatures, fishing closures, and other complications from reduced water flow.

Varying waterflows are nothing new, of course. During the spring runoff period, streamflow can go up and down like a yo-yo, as cold and warm fronts come through. As insect activity picks up and weather gets more conducive to fishing, I’ll be following the USGS Montana Streamflow reports on the internet when I plan my fishing outings. 

The Montana Legislature will soon be finishing up its work, such as it is. The current Legislature has been, to put it mildly, a disappointment. I have praise for our local legislators, who have worked hard to kill some of the dumber things to emerge from the sausage factory, even if it has been like trying to suck the Missouri River dry with a soda straw. 

In last fall’s elections, Montana voters voted, in a landslide, to approve a pair of initiatives to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana. Legalized marijuana will possisbly be big business; some $200 million annually, according to a news report last week. It will also generate a lot of tax revenue. Measure I-190, approved by 57 percent of Montana’s voters, specified that a large portion of marijuana tax revenues would be earmarked for funding public lands, as well as assistance for veterans, and other beneficial uses. 

The Legislature is doing its best to ignore the will of the voters. Currently, it looks like the Lege wants to put 88 percent of the tax revenue toward the general fund, presumably to partially replace money lost by tax cuts for millionaires. A paltry $1.95 million would be split in three accounts to fund state parks, recreational trails, and non-game wildlife. Nothing would be available for Habitat Montana, a conservation program managed by Fish, Wildlife & Parks that was expected to reap revenues from pot taxes. 

I wonder how many bills from this legislative session might end up on a future ballot to send a message to the Lege that it shouldn’t ignore the voice of the people.

On the bright side, there are just another 14 days, spread over the next three weeks, left in the legislative session, and we’ll again be able to sleep at night, without worrying about what the yahoos in Helena are up to.

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.