Glad to be in Montana on a Spring day

Spring keeps happening by fits and starts. A few days ago I decided I needed to go fishing. It had been a busy week and I needed to get away from computers and telephones. If there was a hitch in my plans for the day, it might have been the fact that it was bone-chilling cold that morning across the region.

My destination for the day was Clark Canyon Dam, the reservoir south of Dillon. I keep hearing stories about the red-hot fishing on the lake about the time the ice is going out. As I drove south from Butte my biggest concern was that I waited too long and the ice was out and the magic time had passed.

Those worries were for nothing. After a couple nights of temps in the teens, there was likely more ice on the lake than a week earlier. There were spots of accessible open water along the shoreline, but in those spots there were already lots of people already fishing there. Probably from some people’s perspective things were still un-crowded, but not from mine. Rather than shoehorn myself into a spot I decided to head to the Big Hole River.

Taking a hike upstream from a Fishing Access Site on the lower river, accompanied by Flicka, my black Lab, who really appreciated a hike along the river, I got to a stretch of water that has been a long-time favorite.

It’s fun to tell stories about fishing outings when you can’t keep the fish off your hook, but this wasn’t one of them. I had just picked up a fishing magazine with an advertisement on the back cover suggesting that what we say isn’t always what we mean. For example, if someone says, “I don’t care about the fish. It’s all about being out on the water,” chances are what he really means is, “I’ve already caught seven fish and you’ve only caught two.” In my case, being out on the water was all I had.
While frequent interruptions from hungry fish would have been pleasant, it was a glorious day to be out. The frigid weather of the morning changed to pleasantly warm sunshine by early afternoon.

Canada geese were flying overhead or could be heard in backwaters as they go about the routine of setting up spring housekeeping. Mallard ducks were paired up in some old oxbows, and to prove that the season had really changed, the call of sandhill cranes echoed through the river bottoms.

The riparian areas were still dry, in need of spring rains to get some greenery going. In good water years, there is also flooding to give the thirsty ground a good drink, though that’s not likely to happen this year. Still, green grass is poking through the fallen leaves and desiccated grasses of last year.

While waiting for some fish action, I reflected on my good fortune to be living in Montana, where standing in the river is a right guaranteed by both statute and court rulings.

I had just read, in the online version of the Wall Street Journal, of controversies in Colorado, concerning landowners who would like to cut off floating access on waters flowing through their property. In Colorado, the courts have long ruled that fishermen can’t wade into rivers flowing through private land without risking being hauled into court for criminal trespass.

While that’s settled law, a current issue is whether landowners can bar access to floaters. Some property owners who have developed dude ranch operations would like to be able to advertise private fishing on what they consider their water—without the annoyance of rafters disturbing the peace and quiet.

Currently, some landowners are threatening to sue floaters, while in the legislature one representative introduced a bill to guarantee the right to float, though it got bogged down in the state senate. Currently, people on both sides of the issue are circulating initiatives to bring the question to the voters this November.

Yes, nothing like warm sunshine, and a comparison to Colorado, for example, to make me fully appreciate a spring afternoon on the Big Hole River of Montana.

Note: the photo above is Clark Canyon Reservoir on April 10