An end to pheasant season and farewell to an angler

Flicka with pheasants from a more productive hunt

Flicka and I approached a clump on willows along a creek. A pheasant flushed from the other side of the willows, followed a second later by another pheasant. I raised my gun but held off from shooting as the willows screened my view of the birds. As the first pheasant got out of range I could finally see some colors on the bird. It was a rooster after all.

I suppose I might have thought a few nasty thoughts about that pheasant, but it would have been a waste of time. The pheasant, after all, was simply doing what it needed to do, and that was to stay alive until spring when it could finally pay attention to what he really needed to do: attend to the propagation of the species.

Earlier, another rooster pheasant flushed from a sagebrush patch. I raised my gun and, again, put it down without shooting. The bird got up just out of range and shooting would have been futile. Or would it? That question plagued me the rest of the day. Maybe if I’d been quicker I might have had a chance.

I made a point of getting out for my last pheasant outing of the 2010 season before a well-predicted winter storm hit western Montana last week. Certainly I’ve hunted pheasants in falling snow and frigid temps over the years but it seemed logical to get out on a relatively pleasant day.

The pheasant season closed at sundown on New Year’s Day.  Of the general hunting seasons all there’s left at this point is waterfowl and that season is shrinking rapidly.

In the Pacific Flyway areas of Montana, generally west of a line from Havre to Livingston, the duck and goose seasons will close on January 14. In the Central Flyway area of Montana, the duck season closes tomorrow, January 6, though goose hunting will continue until the 14th.  Then we enter that awkward time of the year between the end of the hunting season and the beginning of the serious flyfishing part of the year.

Fortunately in Montana, there are ways to fill that time, such as skiing, flytying, ice fishing, rabbit hunting, or bird watching.

Before going into that interim season I need to return to 2010 to note the passing of a prominent personality of the flyfishing world.

Tom Helegeson described flyfishing as “Standing in the water, waiting for something good to happen.”

Tom was a college classmate at St. Olaf College years ago. After 50 years I can remember only one class we had together but I’ll always remember how, for Tom, the process of putting words together for writing or speaking came both easily and naturally.

After graduating, Tom put in a three-year stint in the Marine Corps and then began a long career in journalism as a reporter and editor with the Minneapolis Star. Somewhere along the line he picked up a flyrod and as his wife, Julie, said, “From the moment he picked up his first flyrod, I never had his undivided attention.”

He left his newspaper career in the 1980s to open Bright Waters, a fly shop in Minneapolis. He used this base for teaching flyfishing classes and leading trips to Alaska and other flyfishing destinations. He even created a sportsman’s show, the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo, to feature and promote flyfishing in the Midwest.

In 1994, Tom launched a magazine, Midwest Fly Fishing, to highlight the many flyfishing opportunities of the Midwest, as well as to promote conservation of fishing waters. In a newspaper interview he said anglers must be stewards and caretakers. “There needs to be a new spirit in this country about conservation. It’s bigger than trout streams. It involves how we live and how we treat each other.”

Tom Helgeson died of cancer on November 12, 2010. Chris Wood, president of Trout Unlimited, paid tribute to Tom as a generous, passionate and visionary person who understood the benefits of protecting and recovering the health of our lands and waters.

Rest in peace, Tom.