08 August 2012

Montana Summer

While much of the U.S. has felt record temperatures, southwest Montana has been relatively moderate. Though many days are nearly 90 deg F (about 10 deg above our historical average), the humidity is low and nights cool down to 50 or less. Returning from China last month, I was a bit slow to fall into the rhythm of summer activities in Montana. The past few weeks, I have done my best to make up for that with trout fishing, big game scouting, hiking, and some social fun.

Fly Fishing the Big Hole River
The Big Hole River fishes very well in the mornings, with mayfly and caddis hatches peaking about 10 a.m. or so. There have also been a good number of spruce moths:

They fly down from the hills in the morning to sip water. Being slow, clumsy fliers, many end up in the bellies of trout. It makes dry fly fishing for larger trout very good:

After fishing, there is always a good swim and some stick-fetching for MollyTheDog (MTD):

Red Mountain is a prominent peak in the Highland Range just south of my home in Walkerville/Butte, Montana. I like that it's the first mountain I see when I step out the front door to take the newspaper from MTD each morning:

It's a favorite morning hike for my friend Dave Carter, so MTD and I joined him and JackTheDog for a trek to the summit:

The north side of the Highlands are a much drier range than the Pintlers, so the wildflowers and other vegetation are not so dense. Still, there were good ones to be seen, including the very showy Old Man of the Mountain (Tetraneuris grandiflora):

The crop of Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) there is the heaviest I have ever seen anywhere. The bears and blue grouse will be VERY happy. Sadly, this important grizzly bear food is not doing well throughout most of its range, as it seems especially sensitive to the effects of global warming. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agrees that Whitebark Pines warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but they are precluded because there are so many other species on the verge of extinction:

Dave and the dogs have also joined my on a few morning hikes to check my trail camera at a prairie spring, which I am happy to report is visited regularly by elk:

A recent visit to Missoula, just 100 miles or so downriver, provided a chance to hike with my friend Don Stierle and MTD's friend ChookahTheDog in the Rattlesnake Creek headwaters. Here's Don with a tall parasitic plant:

It seems early, but many of the huckleberries are already ripe there:

Late summer plants are in full bloom, providing lots of nectar for butterflies such as this meadow fritillary:

Wedding Celebration
Our friends Matt Hamon & Jennifer Combe married last year, and recently hosted a wonderful party at their home high on a hillside overlooking the Big Blackfoot River:

They are both artists, as you might gather from the signs that led us to their door:

It was a musical celebration, with an amazing trio of musicians:

Jennifer's mother and father playing a sentimental Spanish duet:

And Jennifer herself singing her vows, i.e. Bob Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do:"

What's a wedding celebration without the blessing of a bunch of happy, running, screaming kids?:

Superb food in the form of Matt's excellent pig roast:

And of course a wedding cake, complete with heirloom figurines:

Red Skies Over Montana 
Our usual slew of summer forest fires have made for spectacular sunsets and sunrises, too (sunrise shown here):

Day in, day out, "Big Sky Country" really earns its name:

The occasional afternoon shower (oftentimes just virga, as no moisture reaches the ground), also makes for rainbows on about a weekly basis:

The Outdoor Channel: Familiar Waters

 Mike Pawlawski of the Outdoor Channel's "Familiar Waters" cable-TV show was in town, filming on nearby rivers. It was also my honor to be filmed for a segment about the effects of mining on water quality. Appropriately enough, the interview took place at the Mountain Con mine yard on the Butte Hill:

Unlike so many hook'n'bullet TV shows, "Familiar Waters" addresses the environmental issues that can ruin the amazing water quality and fantastic diversity of species that American anglers take for granted. This particular episode will be part of a show about Alaskan salmon that includes the threat posed by the proposed Pebble Mine. Give the show a look.


This post is dedicated to the memory of Al Troth (1930-2012) who died recently in Dillon, Montana. Al grew up in Pennsylvania (as did I), fell in love with Montana trout fishing, and made significant contributions to the sport--most notable was his invention of the Elk Hair Caddis dry fly.