Bear hunting is a key tool in managing predators across the West and especially here in Montana. No, we do not want to wipe out the entire population of black bears; actually I think they are an amazing animal and without actually hunting them I’d never have gained that appreciation. By hunting them we simply are doing our part in keeping a balance, which is weighing heavily in the predators favor in certain areas which we hunt. Black bears kill fawns and elk calves in high numbers in the spring and have only one known predator, humans.
Bear hunting is one of my favorite types of hunting that one can partake in here in Montana. It gets you back into the mountains and forces you to get back into shape. It’s not hard to see bears, but I can say that it’s much more difficult to close the gap, relocate the bear, and try to sneak within bow range.
This past Spring we saw 26+ black bears. I had set a goal of taking a black bear with my bow and was planning on sticking it out unless a true giant crossed our paths. Travis and I had some amazing close encounters, and many great memories. It is truly amazing to be out in the wild, getting close to a predator that has the power to take down a human being. With spring like conditions and lightning storms, we were given the full Montana bear hunting experience. Watch our latest short film Trial & Error as I get close to multiple black bears in my pursuit of an archery kill.
We are excited for the upcoming spring, and will be going out on numerous hunts with the camera in hand. To follow along with us be sure to join us over on our Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/Montana.Wild.Productions.
This is part two of our recap of 2012. If you missed Part 1 be sure to check right here before reading on.
Summer started slow this year. The water ran high through June, and we didn’t get much in for fishing. In late June we decided to get back out and test our luck on some water that we hadn’t visited in months. It paid off as I fooled a large brown on a green drake just as the sun was setting in the west.
From there on out the fishing was stellar. The following week we took a small day trip to another one of our favorite creeks and found some fish willing to eat. Travis made the best of the day and finished with a nice cutthroat.
I had the camera along and documented the afternoon in a short piece titled “Creekside.”
We soon had elk on our minds and traveled to a few of our elk haunts to put up trail cameras for the summer.
We found good sign in our spots and had four cameras up by the middle of June. In mid-July we took our first backcountry fishing trip of the year. It took us into some amazing country and the fishing was great.
From there we had a few mellow weeks and then embarked on our annual fishing trip to some of the most beautiful country we’ve set foot in. It would be a weeklong fly fishing trip in the backcountry and the weather was perfect. The beginning of our trip started off with us exploring some new water upstream of where we had fished last year. After bushwacking to the river we were left with minimal options for a campsite. The spot we found couldn’t have been better and it started our trip out with a bang.
The fishing was exceptional as always if you were willing to put in the time to get back away from the easy access. This area, although remote, is just like any fishing in Montana. The easy to access spots usually get fished hard and the best water always requires a little extra effort. Up here any extra effort tends to pay off big time.
To read more about Part one of our trip see our post “The Unknown – Backcountry Cutties.” Not only did we catch a bunch of beautiful cutthroat but we also managed to find and land some bull trout. These fish are a little bit tougher to find and catch but we landed one each day we tied the streamers on the big rods.
To read and see more photos from our trip be sure to check out our post “The Unknown – Backroad Bull Trout.” It was a killer trip and we filmed a bunch. We came home and began sorting through the hours and hours of footage. What we came up with turned out to be our best piece of the year and probably our best fly fishing short to date. Enjoy “Wild & Clear.”
That trip would be our last fishing trip of 2012 and was a great end to another awesome summer of fishing. Again we shifted back to the upcoming elk season and we made it back into the mountains to check our cameras and scout some areas around Missoula that we knew held elk. We documented a day in the elk woods as we scouted in mid-August in a short film titled “Recon.”
In late August we made a two and a half day trip to Southwest Montana in search of antelope with our bows. We got at least a half dozen stalks in and it was never tough to locate the antelope. Getting in close undetected was definitely difficult.
On the last day we were able to cut off a large group of antelope does and unfortunately Travis missed as his arrow sailed right over her back. It was a great chance to tune up our spot and stalk skills as we would be heading out the next week to chase elk in the open country of the Missouri Breaks. Soon it was opening day of Montana’s archery season and our good friend Tyler had met up with us. After his brother failed to show up for opening day, we decided to bring him along on the first morning and see if we could get into some elk. Only an hour after daylight we had a bull on the ground. After a group of four bulls came up the hill right to us, Tyler was presented a shot on a medium size bull and sent one right through both lungs. He had taken his first elk and it was an awesome experience to share with him.
If you’d like to see more about our first week of elk hunting you can see more at “Brown and Down” and “Elk season continues.” For the rest of the week we hunted hard and found bulls everyday. We even called in a 5×5 to 20 yards, only to not get a shot opportunity. The next week we were back and conditions had changed drastically. There were hunters everywhere and the elk had congregated heavily in the thick willows that lined the riverbottom. Without a boat and a tree stand set it was going to be tough. After five days we had only located one mature bull that we could stalk. We were able to sneak to 70 yards undetected but without further cover we couldn’t get any closer. As is always the case, the wind swirled and the gig was up. After that we decided to give our spot in the dark timber a go. It was a stark contrast to what we had been hunting.
We found lots of sign but the elk weren’t being vocal. We had just missed the rut and it’s almost impossible to take a bull without being able to call one in. The second morning we had one come to 20 yards but the brush was so thick that Travis was never presented a shot and finally the bull spooked when he circled and caught our wind. We were starting to get a little worried and decided to change up the tactics the following day. After not finding any water sources we made our way to one that seemed too close to the road to be a good option. After further investigation we found that the small bit of water was actually getting used fairly hard. We decided to set up on a wallow that had fresh bear sign and wait. About an hour into the hunt and a monsterous, old bull stepped out at 8 yards. After almost two minutes at full draw, he finally turned broadside at 30 yards the the rest is history.
I had achieved my goal of arrowing a mature bull. I was super stoked and to top it off Travis got it all on film and it’s going to be an awesome episode that will be released in 2013. I had this bull aged and he ended up being a 14 year old elk. You can read the whole story on my 2012 Archery elk right here.
After that we continued to hunt hard in an attempt to get Travis and elk with his bow. After being unable to seal the deal with his Anarchy, it was on to rifle season. We invited our Dad down for three days and would be hunting elk east of Missoula. After two days of no fresh sign, we decided to move locations. A snow storm was blowing through that night and we hoped the fresh snow would give us the upper hand the next day. The following morning we woke up to a fresh blanket of snow. We hiked up onto the ridge where Travis had shot his bull before and began searching for tracks. After crossing a fresh set of grizzly tracks, we soon found tracks from a small herd of elk. After spotting two through the trees and not getting any shot opprotunities, emotions were down. We continued on and a few minutes later Travis spotted a black wolf cruising through the timber. He dropped to a knee and with one shot, killed his first wolf.
For more photos and the full story see our post “A New kind of Predator.”
Over the following months, we spent our time exploring new country in search of a big, old mountain buck. We got to see some amazing country and we hiked a lot of miles.
We found some awesome spots that we’ll be back to next year but we never did find that big mountain buck we were looking for. Soon it was Thanksgiving and we were back home chasing whitetails up the mountain behind my parents home. It was tough hunting, as spot and stalk would be our go to tactic. The deer weren’t responding well to any type of calling and the brush was very thick making our efforts seem worthless. On the last morning we were headed up the mountain when we spotted a nice whitetail staring at us off the side of the trail. Travis quickly sized him up and decided he’d be a great first whitetail. After two shots he had his first whitetail buck.
It was a nice 8 point and after some photos and a little video, it was time to take care of the meat and head back to Missoula. Again we ventured back into the mountains to see if I could get it done on the last weekend.
Once again we covered lots of miles and glassed up a lot of country. We found a few nice bucks but not quite what I had set out to tag. Unfortunately I would go another season without punching my deer tag. At least it will fuel the fire for next year as I look to bag a big mountain buck. After that we finally caught up on some sleep and editing. In early December we made it out to fish for the first time in months. We met up with our good buddy Anthony Von Ruden and hit a local spot. The weather was pretty nasty as the temperature was in the low 40s and a steady rain was coming down. We soon found that the fishing was red hot as we all began hammering into fish.
The action kept up for the next couple hours and Travis landed his largest rainbow of the year. It was a chunky bow that would rival some of it’s Alaskan counterparts. To see more from this day be sure to check out our post “Brown December.”
The rest of December found us working hard to get proposals out to all of our hunting sponsors so we can continue to make hunting films in 2013. We also spent countless hours going through all of our fly fishing footage from 2012. We finished our Fish Reel for 2012 and scheduled flights to go to the SHOT show to kick off 2013. Below is our 2011 Fish Reel and our most recent 2012 Fish Reel. I think that the progression is apparent and I can’t wait to see how 2013 shapes up for us.
Thanks again for all the support you guys have shown us and we are very excited about the projects we have planned for 2013.
2012 has been a whirlwind year. Travis and I have been blessed to experience so much throughout the year. It had it’s ups and downs but was by far the best year of my life. We put a lot of hard work in this year to make sure we continued to progress as individuals, hunters, filmmakers, photographers, businessmen and generally in all aspects of our lives. I can say we learned a lot, and we’re looking forward to 2013 as it’s going to be bigger and better than ever! A lot happened in 2012 and there’s a lot I could say but I’ll try to make it brief and to the point.
2012 started out with us chasing coyotes on the Hi-Line. Hunting season for the most part was over and the skiing was sub-par so we decided to call for some coyotes with our good friend Tyler McCann. After two days of poor weather, things finally shaped up and the coyotes started running to the call. We were able to put 4 on the ground the last day and made a short film called “Valley Gold.”
After that we came back to Missoula and got busy working on putting together our best fishing shots of 2011. We were able to finish up our 2011 Fish Reel, which I’ll post at the end of Part 2 to compare to this years reel. After watching all of our footage from the 2011 year we were motivated to go try our luck for the year despite the cold weather. This would be the earliest I’d fished, and it turned out to be a great day. My first fish of 2012 was a very respectable brown that broke the tip of my rod.
After that it was mainly school and work. Of course we had to have some kind of escape and our good friend Jeff Heiskell convinced us to go tackle the Missouri for a day. It was an awesome float and our first time on the Mo. We all caught our share of healthy fish and of course the colors during winter/early spring never fail to impress.
We brought the camera along that day and we were able to put together a nice short film that documented the day.
A few short weeks later we were back for two days and this time we found some fish looking up. We all got our first dry fly takes of the year and all were solid fish. You can read more about that day here. Again the camera was in tow and we created the short film “200 East.”
After that we returned home and went back to school. Between school and work, we had been feverously editing our hunts from 2010 into four episodes. I’ll spare the details here, but the following links will take you to each episode. Episode 1 – The Copper Ranch. Episode 2 – The Haggard Horns Buck. Episode 3 – The Bull Chase. Episode 4 – The Bear Creek Bull.
A few weeks later and it was officially spring. Our mindset had shifted from fishing to hunting and we began to get the bows sighted in and ready for Montana’s spring bear season.
Again we took the time to try to share and spread the stoke and created a short film documenting a few pieces of our what we do to prepare for bear season. The piece was aptly named “Preparation.”
Soon it was time to lace up the boots and head into the hills in search of bears. The first four or five days were slow and we failed to find any bears. It was a good time to get back in shape and retrain the eyes. Soon the bears began to pop up and we were on them daily. Travis hadn’t shot a bear before and was ready to make his first year count. After ten days we finally found a mature bear for Travis to take a shot at. He was able to put a .300 Win Mag through the vitals and had his first bear on the ground. You can read the whole story here.
After Travis killed his bear I was on a mission to get one with my bow. Unfortunately I missed a great chocolate phase black bear and got very close on another couple stalks but was unable to seal the deal. If you want to see and read more click here.
To wrap up our spring we spent a lot of hours sorting through our all the footage we had accrued during February and March and created a short spring fly fishing film we called “Contrast.”
That led us right into summer and again we were fishing and hunting as usual. Be checking back for Part 2 which will be up tomorrow and documents our summer and fall of 2012.
After a few weeks of wading through hundreds of hours of fishing footage we have finally cut it down to a short and sweet four minutes. These are some of our best shots from 2012. We are excited by the progress we have achieved and are looking forward to 2013!
***Please watch in HD. You’ll benefit two ways – 1) a better viewing experience and 2) improved patience. Enjoy!***
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Predator vs. Prey. It’s a dynamic balancing act. During most of the hunting season I am the dominant predator, or so I thought. Seeking to find my prey, preferably elk or deer. This is the time of year when I get the chance to harvest my own wild meat and enjoy all the amazing wild places found here in Montana. I never realized how many other predators were out there until the past two years. Wolf tags have been issued in Montana for a reason. In 1995 & 1996 federal Fish and Wildlife Service transplanted 66 Canadian wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho. By the year 2002, the Northern Rockies wolf population surpassed the federal recovery goal of 300 wolves in 30 packs. In the past decade, Fish and Wildlife has killed about 7% of wolves annually (1,200 wolves in total over the years). The wolves have expanded into most mountain ranges now in Montana, and we are seeing a decrease in elk & deer populations in many areas. As of now, the population has grown to over 1,700 and stronger measures were taken this year to help hunters reduce the population. One thing is clear, hunting is conservation. As a hunter I feel I should do my part. That’s why I bought a wolf tag and if the opportunity arose, I would be glad to use it.
This past weekend we met up with our Dad for some time spent elk hunting. He was looking for his first elk, and we were excited to help him try to achieve that goal. Unfortunately the trip started out with a flat tire just a few short miles from camp. We threw the spare tire on and got geared up at the trailhead. That night and the next day we spent our time attempting to still-stalk elk through the dark timber. A tough venture when there’s three guys and frozen, crunchy ground. With a stormfront moving across western Montana, I made the decision to change locations for the night. We navigated our way through the falling snow, often not able to see more than 50 yards in front of the truck. We knew with the fresh snow in the morning we would have a great chance to get close to some elk. The snow would allow us a huge advantage come morning.
After my 6AM alarm, I opened truck topper door to a fresh 3 inches of snow covering our two-truck campground. Zack and I gathered ourselves in time to eat a quick meal and move our Dad’s truck 1.75miles to where we planned on exiting the timber later that day. We dropped the truck off and made it back to the trailhead for a 3/4 mile hike through the squeaky fresh snow. I made sure not to tell my Dad exactly how far we were going to be hiking, for I wanted him to forget about miles hiked, and just focus on shooting a bull. Fortunately we made it over halfway up the first ridge before shooting light was upon us. Once making it to the top of the ridge, I saw my first set of animal tracks on an old logging road. It looked like snowshoe prints from a distance, but upon further examination it was a fresh set of grizzly tracks!
Of course the bruin was walking in the direction we were hunting, so I carefully followed the tracks, hoping he jumped off the game trail further ahead. My Dad was getting antsy, always thinking the worse is going to happen. I reassured him that the bear didn’t want anything to do with us. Soon we came across two sets of elk tracks heading the opposite direction we were hiking. They obviously had sought out lower ground during the night. We pushed on, glad to see the grizzly tracks head off the trail a 1/4 mile later. As we hiked we passed multiple sets of deer tracks, but never caught a glimpse of a single deer. My Dad was in awe of the beautiful white landscape before him, helping to keep his mind off of his aching legs. We finally got to the location where I shot my very first elk. Unfortunately, the elk were not there feeding in that same spot. We sat down and ate a quick bite, boosted our energy, and set out looking for fresh elk tracks.
As we worked our way back over the steep ridge, we came across 4 sets of elk tracks. I asked my Dad, “you have the energy to follow these tracks a ways?” He replied he did, so we started following the tracks. Soon enough we found some fresh beds, but no sign of elk. We followed the tracks further, as they spread out in the same general direction but a good distance apart. We positioned my Dad in the lead so he would get a shot if he caught view of a bull. Zack was between us with the camera hoping to have enough time to film if we saw an elk. After about a 1/4 mile of slowly creeping through the dark timber, my brother stops us dead in our tracks. He mouths “bull”, pointing to the hillside 150yards away. My Dad and myself look, unable to make out an elk. The timber was blocking our view and before either of us could move he trotted off. Zack was smiling, thinking it was funny that the cameraman could have just shot a nice 5×5 bull elk while the two hunters could see nothing. I didn’t share the same feelings at the moment. We continued following the set of tracks through the overgrown larch trees, hoping for the best. After tracking another 1/4 mile, I see another bull looking at us through the trees!! As I raise my Vortex scope up to see the bulls rack, the bull takes off once again.
The whole time we were tracking these elk we noticed that there was dirt kicked up along their tracks. Almost as if they were trotting through the woods. We knew it wasn’t us pushing them so we pushed on hoping to catch up to them if they slowed to feed for the morning. There were 5-7 sets of tracks in the snow so we knew there were more elk to find than just the two bulls we had bumped.
As we bypassed a small clump of thick brush I saw a dark figure moving through the timber to our left! At first I thought bear, but I saw a long tail! I instantly dropped to a knee and said “wolf” to Zack behind me. I quickly aimed my rifle into the only clear gap I had in the trees. The wolf finally trotted into my shooting lane. I settled the crosshairs and let the 8mm Ultra Mag rip! The wolf dropped instantly, my quartering away shot killing him instantaneously. “I just shot a wolf!” I glanced back at my brother, with the camera on me. “I just shot a black wolf!” I was so amped up and couldn’t believe what had just taken place! One second I’m following bulls, the next I’m seeing wolves hunting the same group of elk as we were!! This was my first real up close encounter with a wolf. I’ve heard them howl, and seen fresh wolf kills, but have never had the chance to get this close undetected. I approached the black mass of fur, completely in awe of the sheer beauty these animals behold.
To see the size of these animals is quite amazing. Upon further investigation of the area, we found multiple sets of wolf tracks, some being larger than this black male. Obviously a pack of wolves had the same idea we did that day. To be able to share this moment with my brother and Dad was priceless. My Dad only gets time to hunt a couple times during the year and this was truly an eye opening experience for him.
After knotching my tag and getting a handful of photos, I loaded the jet black wolf into my Mystery Ranch Long Bow and began arduously placing one foot in front of the other as we climbed the steep snow covered hill. It would be a good 500 vertical foot climb to the ridgeline and then 2 miles downhill to the truck.
After cresting over the small peak we came across the logging road which would take us back to our truck. Before I stepped foot onto the road, I noticed once again a set of large tracks? It honestly looked like bigfoot had ambled through. Of course we knew better and upon further investigation it was another set of grizzly tracks, this time even larger! Once again the tracks were going in the direction we were heading. Another 1/4 mile down the logging road the tracks made their way back into the forest.
We peacefully made it back to the truck, all things intact. No we didn’t get a bull for my father, but we did have one heck of a hunting experience! I couldn’t believe it, I had just put down an elk killing machine, another predator. The same predator that was hunting the same prey as I was. Not to mention we saw grizzly tracks twice that day. As humans we feel we are at the top of the food chain, when in reality, grizzlies and wolves rank very close seconds. We all have the same motive, survive. If it weren’t for grocery stores, humans would have to go out and harvest their own meat, which today is the healthiest meat in the world! The wolves are taking a toll on elk here in Montana, and I have seen this first hand. There out there, and we cross paths more and more often. This time we crossed paths a little too close. I may have just saved those elk I was pursuing today, and ya that feels good! The balance between wolves and elk is off right now and it felt great to help do my part of the management that FWP sets out for hunters each year.
My watch woke me at 6:00. We had survived another night camped on the edge of some serious bear country. We begrudgingly crawled out of our warm sleeping bags and stepped into the crisp morning air. We quickly packed up camp and headed north up the dark logging road. We were again headed to a new location, situated below the ridge we had hunted only one day earlier. Just as the sun began to creep through the tree tops we slipped into a good location to call.
We called for 20 minutes. Nothing. It seemed as if the elk were ghosts. Leaving us sign but never seeming to show themselves. We moved up through a ridge full of the regular downfall.
We worked slowly and patiently, knowing a bull could be lurking anywhere in the dark timber. We called again with no success. We tried cow calls, bugles, raking, and a combination of all three at times. The elk were just being stubborn, or at least that’s what I’d like to think.
We continued on undeterred. We were constantly reminded of the bulls that roamed and call these thick mountains home. Rubs would crop up out of the blur of grey trees, and often in the most dense areas. This only served to fuel the fire further.
We pushed on and stuck to the game plan. Sneaking through the woods as quietly as possible and calling in any area that seemed good.
Over the course of this trip we were thoroughly impressed with the Open Country pattern on this trip. While one might not think that a lighter patter would be ideal for the dark timber, the pattern actually blended with the woods amazingly well. Let’s just say if an elk came in it wasn’t going to be seeing us.
As we neared the truck that morning it was beginning to set in. We were running out of time and we needed to find an elk. When half your time is running the camera your season is cut in half, and Travis and I needed to seal the deal soon. We had worked hard and knew it could only be a matter of time. Just keep a positive mindset and keep pounding away. As Cameron Hanes would put it, “Go Beast Mode.” We hung out at the truck and had lunch, contemplating the options for the evening. As we sat and talked we began talking about a water source. In the two years we had hunted here, we had never found a creek, wallow, or seep. We knew the elk had to drink somewhere, and we decided to check out a small pond back down the road. It’s easy to access and I figured wouldn’t hold any promise. Well I was wrong. After some inspection we found some quality sign around the pond. Nothing to amazingly fresh, but we knew they’d be back sometime. We continued to walk the waterline and found a natural blind another hunter had created. I knew it was there for a reason and shortly after I found why it was there. There was a heavily used wallow that had been carved into the ground almost three feet from years of use.
The only real fresh sign were a few sets of bear tracks. I still had my bear tag and a good feeling began to make it’s way into the depths of my brain. We got back into the truck and decided to quickly head to a new area and make a final decision for the night around 3PM. After a few hours of exploration we had yet to uncover anything too mind blowing and relied on our instincts. Travis and I both had a good feeling about the wallow, and with our knees sore from the constant climbing over and through deadfall we decided to go back and spend the final evening sitting in the natural blind on the edge of the treeline. I’m not usually one to sit in place for long, but I knew our chances were better here than busting brush all night. We threw on new layers and walked the 400 yards from the truck to our natural ground blind. We setup and settled in for a patient evening.
As we sat I wondered about the hunter who had made this blind. Was it meant to be that we found it? Did he already shoot an elk from here or had he made it and was looking to come back to it at another time? I said a prayer and leaned up against the log as Travis and I waited and listened. After about thirty minutes I decided to lay down. Sitting in one spot usually isn’t my thing, and I can get very sleepy staring at the same piece of real estate for too long.
Soon I felt like I should man up and be ready for anything. This was our last night and I needed to be in the best position to have my bow in hand if something did sneak in. I got back up and waited. I’m glad I did because twenty minutes later Travis told me he heard something walking our way. He always seems to hear things before me, and I got my bow in hand and waited. Sure enough the sound was unmistakable, an elk was making his way through the tight trees and headed for the pond. Soon I could see a chocolate set of antlers peeking through the limbs. He was getting close and the adrenaline hit hard. I hoped our wind was good and got into my shooting position. He was on a path that would bring him very close to us. As he finished his way through the tight trees he soon closed to twenty yards. When he made his way behind the last set of trees, I drew my Bear Anarchy. He stepped out at 8 yards and stopped. At this point I could only see his head and half of his huge neck. Travis had a full view of him only a few feet to the right of me. I was nervous as the bull waited and listened. Moments later a squirrel began chirping 100 yards behind us. The bulls head swung instantly, inspecting the area. He wasn’t looking directly at us but soon turned his head and stared at the two of us, sitting dead still staring back at him. With his ears alert I figured a mature bull like this would bust and I’d never get a shot. Well he didn’t. He looked right through both of us, and I know that our camo served its purpose. He didn’t see us as humans. He slowly turned and began walking towards the wallow. At this point I’d been at full draw for a minute. Between holding my bow back and the adrenaline, I was beginning to shake. He slowly walked away, only giving me a Texas heart shot. I waited. He neared the wallow, taking one slow step at a time. Soon he turned broadside with his front leg back. My pins were shaking all over even though he was 30 yards away. It had been almost two minutes now and I was on the verge of letting my bow down. I took one last deep breath, and as he stepped forward with his right leg I released my arrow. It was a hard hit behind the shoulder. He instantly bucked and went screaming into the timber. I could see the blood instantly coming from his right side as he ran off, and I knew that he wouldn’t make it far. I could hear him crash up onto the road. He ran down the road and then there was a loud crash followed by silence. I sat and listened. Nothing. He had to be down. Travis and I decided to give him thirty minutes just to be safe.
We grabbed our packs and slipped out into the golden meadow. As we neared the wallow we could see where he had stood when I shot him. A few short feet later the blood trail began. It wasn’t huge, but enough to follow easily.
We slowly made our way into the timber and soon found my arrow, covered in rich red blood and broken off just behind the broadhead.
I slipped the arrow back into my quiver knowing it would only be a few minutes before I laid hands on my second elk. We made it up to the road and followed his tracks down the side of the gravel logging road. The blood had been covered by a truck that had passed earlier leaving us only his hoof prints. We soon began looking for blood where he had crashed off the side of the road. That’s when I saw those white tips just over the weeds on the side of the road.
I couldn’t believe it. After 120+ miles this year and hunting through some of the gnarliest deadfall imaginable, my bull was laying only 20 feet from the road. It was ironic but also a blessing as he was truly one of the largest bodied elk I’d seen.
He had wedged himself in a very interesting spot. His rear half was on top of a rock and wedged against a tree. His front half was about to slide under a downed log just behind him. They just don’t always fall in the best spots as this year has shown us, but I couldn’t care, my #1 goal for the year was complete.
The character and the mass on this bull was also truly awesome. His left side held incredible mass throughout. His third tine was palamated and thick. The right side also had good mass but only held three points. Along with that he either had lost his brow tine or G-2 over the years as he had one set of tines protruding from his forehead. I figured with the huge body, heavy mass, and a degenerated right side that this was an old monarch of a bull. A true king of his domain.
I couldn’t believe it, after so much hard work it was the most simple of tactics that paid off. It truly goes to show you that you can make elk hunting as complex or as simple as you’d like and still be successful. This bull had lived a long life. He had survived many winters, avoided numerous predators, and kept his distance from many hunters, only to be killed in the most simple of setups. I later had him aged by a biologist, and he was estimated to be 9 or 10 years old. I’m extremely blessed to have harvested such a beautiful, old bull in only my third season of chasing elk. He’s going to be tough to top next year.
Not only was I able to harvest an elk, but I was able to do so with my brother by my side. A guy just can’t ask for much more. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime for both of us, and Travis was able to beautifully capture the whole hunt on film. We’re really excited to share the footage here in the future as it’s by far the best elk footage we’ve captured in our short two years of filming our hunts.
Once we had taken some photos we began the process of determining what to do with him. If we cut him up as he lay he would slip down under the deadfall below him and it would be miserable to attempt to cut him up. We drove up the road and got service. We called our dad and told him the good news. We told him of the situation and asked him if he could bring a chainsaw and a tow rope up the mountain and help us pull the beast from his final resting place. After an hour and plenty of time to relive hunt he showed up. Smiles were had by all, and then the work began. The tow rope barely made it to the elk. We tied it up to both rear legs and cleared some small trees. The diesel quickly pulled the 700-800 pound elk up to the side of the road.
God truly answered my prayers on this night. We shot an awesome elk, on film, and didn’t have to spend at least 12+ hours packing him out of the jungle. Not only that but my brother was there for the hunt, and my Dad made it up to see my bull in one piece this year. I’m truly excited for the future and all the amazing things that lay ahead of us out there in God’s country.
I also found a few thing interesting about my hunt this year compared to last. Last year I shot my bull on my first day hunting the mountains of Western Montana after hunting the Missouri Breaks. This year I shot my bull on my first full day back in the mountains after 5 days in the Breaks. Last year I ambushed my elk at 40 yards from my knees. This year I ambushed my elk from 30 yards off my knees. Last year I shot my elk quartering away, and he ran and looped left only making it about a hundred yards before he took his last breath. This year I also shot my elk quartering away and he also made about a hundred yard loop to his left before crashing. Nothing too crazy but definitely an interesting comparison of the two seasons.
Thanks for reading my story. This is a post that I look forward to writing each year, and I can’t wait till 2013. So far it’s been a truly awesome season. We helped my good friend Tyler McCann kill his first bull this year, and I was able to take a great elk also. Now it’s Travis’ turn, and we’ll be working hard to get him a bull before archery season is over.
For me elk hunting has become a passion and a lifestyle. For now, my #1 goal each season is to arrow a bull elk with my bow. This year was no exception. In 2011, just my second year bowhunting elk, I was able to arrow my first elk. He was just a raghorn, but a trophy nonetheless. If you you’d like to check out my 2011 bull elk please read a bit more here – My 2011 Bull Elk. Being the person I am, I constantly am looking to improve and challenge myself no matter what it is I set my mind to. This year it was two-fold. One I wanted redemption in the Missouri Breaks. Last year I had been very close but couldn’t seal the deal. After time spent with filming Travis in the Breaks this year, I knew I had a very solid chance at doing just so. My second goal was to arrow not only a bull but a mature bull. Mature can mean a lot of things and each elk is different, but in my mind I had a solid idea on where I’d draw the line.
After 5 days in the Breaks I had only one stalk to show and no elk. The action was slow and with lots of other hunters pressuring the elk, it was just tough hunting. It was turning into another year chasing elk and not much as far as actual hunting. I hadn’t given up on the Breaks, but it was time to switch gears and hunt a bit closer to town. This summer Travis and I had placed game cameras in a few areas that seemed promising. With photos like this cropping up, I knew we had to at least devote a weekend to chasing elk in the deep, dark timber of Northwest Montana.
Our bags were packed and on the morning of the 23rd we hit the road. We arrived at our spot at 5:45AM and started our hour hike in with camp on our backs. As we made our way up the old logging road we hoped that we would be catching some part of the rut and that the elk would be fired up. We heard no bugles on the hike in, but we quickly set up camp and dropped over the nearest ridge to begin hunting. Travis was up first. I’d run the camera for the first day and a half and then we’d switch. As we began hunting it was very apparent, the dark timber was starkly different than the open country in the Breaks.
From stands of lodgepoles scattered with downfall, to more open slopes covered in brush that grows overhead, it’s beautiful and frustrating at the same time. It really is a magical place and this area has to be one of my favorite places to hunt elk even though it’s one of the hardest places also.
As we worked through the brush we finally heard our first bugle. The bull was below us, and we knew he was working up the north facing slope to bed for the day. Unfortunately the wind was headed straight downhill. After exchanging some bugles we had closed in to about 200-300 yards attempting to flank him on his right side. As we tried to sneak along the only game trail we heard hooves pounding up through the jungle. We were busted. There is literally no such thing as stalking a bull in these woods. Between the thick brush and downfall, it’s impossible to move around without sounding like a rhino. Add a backpack and the noises that a human makes moving through the woods, and you simply aren’t going to get close to much. You simply must call them to you or sit in wait in one spot and hope an elk passes by. We pushed on, at points wondering if we were even elk hunting. It surely wasn’t possible that an elk would want to be in this tangled mess. As soon as you begin thinking that your often humbled by an obnoxiously large rub.
We knew they were around and it was only a matter of time before we found one. Most of the rubs were easily less than a week old. The fresh smell of pine lingering and the sap freshly beaded up on the tree. Now if they would just pipe up and bugle it might get exciting. Before long though it was mid-day, and we worked back to our camp to rest up for the evening hunt.
Around 3:30 we headed back into the darkness. We worked a couple old growth ridgelines and dropped into the tops of a few drainages in search of a bull. We called multiple stands, waiting for 20-30 minutes before moving on with no success. Half the battle was moving any considerable distance in these woods. It’s so thick that you sometime can only hike a mile an hour. We continued on. Our only find that evening being another impressive rub and some scattered elk sign.
The next morning we were back at it again on the same north face. Travis and I worked back down the hillside to where our trail camera had been posted up this summer. The camera had been on one of the only game trails in the area, and it cut across a wide face that the bulls came up in the mornings as they headed to their beds in the deep, brushy thickets. After just a couple minutes of calling Travis could hear an elk coming up through the bushes towered overhead. We held our ground and hoped he’d come up to the game trail. We couldn’t move because he’d hear us and know we definitely weren’t two elk, so we sat and waited.
The brush was so thick here he’d have to work to inside 20 yards. As he pulled within 50 yards we crouched behind a down tree. Moments after I spotted antlers just above the brush at 30 yards, a solid 6×6. Seconds later he stopped behind some trees at 20 yards. He listened and stood still. He either trusted his instinct or didn’t like the complete silence above him. He turned and bolted down the hill and stopped. Travis bugled and raked and then threw out some excited cow calls. The bull came back up the hill but flanking us to the left. Travis had a glimpse of him at 40 yards until he stopped and began circling us trying to get our wind. Well with nowhere to move, it was only a matter of time. He finally smelled us and was gone for good. That’s just tough conditions, conditions we need more practice in. Again the bull was silent the whole time. Not necessarily the conditions you’d dream about. Hopefully we’d be able to catch the rut somewhere, but apparently not in this area. We hunted back to camp and made the decision to move locations.
We drove back down the logging road and decided on a new spot. The beginning of the hike in was actually bearable. It was fairly thin and there was sign hidden amongst the brush. We kept pushing on hoping for some clearer forest and talkative elk.
The only problem was that it just kept getting thicker. Up here it can be frustrating trying to move to areas when you don’t know what the vegetation consists of. A map only tells you so much, and once your in the woods you never get a chance to see out. It’s just trees and brush in every direction. Sometimes you just have to set out and explore and hope something good comes of it.
After a while it got downright silly. You definitely couldn’t say we were elk hunting. Bushwacking some major jungle was the name of the game. Wouldn’t you know it though there was sign in here too. The animals are straight crazy to call some of this home.
After a solid hour we finally emerged onto a ridge that significantly opened up. We began slowly working the deadfall in hopes of being quiet enough to setup further down the ridge and call. Some rubs started showing up, and we knew we were in the right area. Again we felt it was only a matter of time.
After calling three setups we had not had any luck. We slowly made our way out and hoped Tuesday would be a better day. We’d have one day left to try to seal a deal on a bull before we had to head back to Missoula for work. We cooked dinner, dumped the SD cards, and got in the tent for the night. Tomorrow was going to be a good day.
Year three of my short elk hunting career, and it was back to the Missouri Breaks. The goal, arrow a mature bull in 5 days.
As we bounced our way down the familiar dirt road, the temperature read 56F. It was 5:30 AM, and we had just completed our 6 hour drive from Missoula, MT. The headlights illuminated the sagebrush, and soon we were geared up and ready to hunt. With headlamps on we started working up a long ridge full of coulees on both sides. We knew if we wanted to catch a bull on his feet it would be necessary to be in position before daylight. These elk often will stop bugling for the morning by sunrise and stay on their feet for maybe an hour longer before bedding. As the sun rose we continued walking.
That morning we glassed the hillsides for hours after sunrise. With over 5 miles covered and many more glassed, we had to return to the truck. Our only finds being some mule deer does, a hunter on a horse, and 3 trucks and a horse trailer. Great start! We weren’t worried yet though, after our first trip to the Breaks when Travis was hunting, (see story here – Elk Season Continues) we had high hopes of finding mature bulls daily. That night we glassed a basin that held multiple bulls the last time only to find it empty. The next day we went back hoping some bulls would filter into the area overnight.
We made it back down into this basin well before sunrise. No bugles and no elk in the hills. We could see elk in the river bottom and hear them sounding off. The riverbottom consisted of willows that are thick and only huntable from a blind or treestand. A boat is extremely helpful and neither a boat or treestand are in my elk plans as of now. We continued to move on in hopes of locating a bull and getting a stalk in. That night was no better. We headed back, cooked up some hot dogs, and got ready for another early morning.
Day 3 and we were in a new area. With some deep coulees away from the road and river we had high hopes of finding some elk.
Just like any other morning the name of the game for us had been get in the area early. If we hear bugles then close the distance. If we don’t hear anything then break out the binos and spotting scope.
On this morning we had to resort to option 2, get out the spotting scope and binoculars. We heard nothing and got zero responses to any type of calling. We glassed until 10 and then decided to loop back to the truck. After once again hiking close to 5 miles, we were amused to find our only bull of the day, a small raghorn, just 600 yards from the road.
We were starting to get just a touch worried. It was Day 3, and we had yet to find the elk and especially not any great bulls. It appeared that the elk had shifted drastically with the heavy pressure that had recently been plaguing the Breaks. The Missouri Breaks is a love/hate area. Your not going to feel like you’re alone by any means. On this trip it was no exception. There were trucks parked at almost every access each night and the sounds of ATV’s or boats on the river were common while hunting. The amount of time your able to actually hunt each day is very limited. You get about two hours in the morning and about two at night to catch a majority of elk on their feet. The elk have to be some of the most hunted in Montana and are very smart. The bugs are often clinging to any exposed skin and the temperatures hot. All of those negatives fades away when you see some of the bulls out here. They aren’t extremely plentiful, but there are some real toads running around. One day when we were hunting earlier this season, we stumbled into a 320 class bull hanging with a 350 in a secluded draw. Unfortunately, that hadn’t happened on my trip, but just the thought of a bull like that around the next corner keeps a guy hunting hard and we did. Most days we easily covered 8-10 miles hiking ridges, crossing coulees, and working creek bottoms.
I knew it was only a matter of time. Finally on the morning of Day 4 we found a bull. We had been hiking in the dark for about 20 minutes when I decided to throw out a bugle where two draws met, hoping for a single bugle in response. One echoed out from a long ways off about a minute later. We knew he was a ways up the draw so we spent the next twenty minutes climbing to the top of a ridge to glass and hope to spot this bull. After ten minutes of glassing I spotted a group of cows. Sure enough a bull popped out. We pulled out the spotting scope as the early morning wind tried to tear through us. It was shaping up to be a particularly windy and cloudy day, and they appeared to be content to mingle around in the bottom of a small draw. We geared up and snuck closer. After about a half hour we had pulled to within 300 yards of the cows and spotted the bull bedded in the bottom. As we decided on a game plan the cows started working our way. With the wind swirling bad we decided to keep our distance until we could assess the bulls position and how we would go in for a stalk. Of course as we repositioned to get a better view of the bull, the cows fed down below us at around 100 yards. All of a sudden the bull was with them again. If we had stayed put and the wind held, I could have already had a 60 yard shot at him. Now we were above and upwind of them. Soon the bull and cows bedded, and we began a long and arduous process of circling around to get into position for a shot on the bedded bull. After a half hour of belly crawling carefully through the short grass in the bottom we were ready to start moving into position. Of course as we moved in he decided to exchange his current spot for one more tucked away. He now was further from the spot we were working towards, but he was bedded broadside at least.
We kept moving forward, hoping we could get close enough for a shot or that he’d get up again soon and present a shot. We still hadn’t been winded and we crept to within the 100 yard mark. As we worked through the last little dip we peaked over to find that he had repositioned and now was bedded facing away. Great, all this time and now I’m 70 yards from a bull that is bedded with his a** facing me. We decided to wait for a few minutes and see if he’d get up again as we were in a good position if he did. Unfortunately, the wind suddenly shifted as it often does, and before you know it all 5 of the elk are over the ridge. Exciting and frustrating at the same time. The scenario just wasn’t right that day. The elk had beaten us again. I tried to second guess myself, saying that I should have cow called to get him to stand, but with the wind and length of shot, I never would take that on an alert animal. We made it back to the truck and took a mid-day nap.
That night we moved up the same draw some ten miles before hunting again. We did see some mule deer and elk sign but no elk. We hoped this new area would hold some bulls looking to avoid the strong hunting pressure down low.
The next morning we worked down to the creek bottom in hopes of catching some elk coming off the water and moving back into the hills.
After about an hour of glassing we had only turned up two raghorns and a couple spikes. I was leaned back on my pack in a state of heavy depression when I heard the sound of two bulls fighting and some cow talk. They sounded like they were a ridge north, and we hustled to cross over to see if we could locate them. As we cleared the next ridge I saw a bull on the opposite hillside climbing up through the sand with his tongue out. He appeared that he was running from a fight. We let him cross over the top and then slowly worked to the edge to see if any elk were still in the bottom. Of course as we slowly worked around the edge we spooked a bull below us in the timber. He booked it over the same ridge as the other bull and once again we sat there in disbelief. We had put in so many miles and hunted from sun up to sun down for 5 days and had only one stalk to show. Not exactly my idea of how the hunt was going to play out. I figured with the success we had had on the first trip, we were going to storm in there and be on bulls everyday and definitely get a shot. I was hoping to redeem myself for not getting one last year in the Breaks, but that hope was fading fast. On Tuesday morning we humbly packed up the truck and headed for home. It was time to get back to a regular work schedule and get back to the dark timber of Northwest Montana. It felt a little too similar to last year, but I knew we still had a lot of season and many opportunities to come.
If you missed the first write up about our recent fly fishing trip into the Montana backcountry, be sure to read the post “The Unknown – Backcountry Cutties.” During our six day trip we not only set out to explore some of Montana’s most beautiful water, but to legally target and fish for native bull trout.
In the earlier part of this century and also within the last few decades, the bull trout was seen as a cannibal of the trout family. Many viewed it as a trash fish because of it’s highly predatory nature and its voracious appetite for other fish. There numbers soon began to plummet due to extensive logging ruining spawning habitat along with unchecked fishing practices. Today they are now found in healthy numbers and are addictive to catch. We had never fished for these trout but felt confident we could get into a few. Very few people fish for bull trout so as long as you can find them, you should be able to catch some. I figured they would be easiest to find on the main river with its deep holes and long runs. We decided to bushwack down to the river off a nearby dirt road and set up camp. To say the canyon we’d be fishing was stunning was an understatement.
We immediately scouted for a suitable campsite. Fortunately we found a small sandy area along the river and got situated. Bull trout can grow upwards of 3 feet and are very powerful fish. For this trip we decided to take a couple 8wts. It’s best to play these fish quickly and without a sturdy rod, a big fish might be running downstream with no end in sight. A big thanks goes out to Dan @ Grizzly Hackle. He was gracious enough to help outfit us for our trip. If your around Missoula, be sure to swing by. Whether it’s trout, steelhead, or tarpon, they have what you’re looking for.
We quickly set up the rods and hit the river. Immediately we found great looking water. I honestly felt like I was in some exotic place and surely not Montana.
The water is deep emerald and the surrounding rich forests and moss covered cliffs made me feel like I was in New Zealand or deep in the Canadian backcountry. The first hole looked promising and we spent almost an hour drifting streamers through every nook and cranny amongst the rocks.
Finally I heard those magic words, “I got one!” Travis had hooked into the first bull trout of the trip. After a short fight we had a nice bully in the net.
Travis was pumped up. This was his first bull trout on a streamer and things were looking good. We kept moving up the canyon, methodically working each hole. One of the problems we encountered on this stretch was the depth of each hole. Often you couldn’t see the bottom. I know some of the holes were at least 20 feet deep and with the current it was just plain tough to get your streamer deep enough and in the right spot.
We fished hard that day but never got into another bull trout. The scenery keep us in good spirits and we slowly worked our way back to camp.
With the clouds rolling in we decided to call it a day and hang out by the fire.
We had an amazing view of the river, a hot tasty meal, and good conversation to finish up the day. Just down river there was an osprey nest perched on a tall dead tree next to a tall cliff. Mom was screaming her head off and even did a bit of fishing.
Over the course of the trip we got a chance to fish a lot of water. Another day of our trip was spent exploring a second deep canyon upriver.
This canyon is only accessible from one end or the other. We worked in from the bottom and immediately were met with beautiful water. This canyon consists of long deep pools, large boulders, and some solid rapids. The water is ideal for bull trout, but again we were up against very deep holes. With little room to cast it was difficult to properly fish much of the water.
After a few hours we were beat down. The water looked perfect but the fish just weren’t emerging from the shadows.
Just as I was about to turn and begin fishing back to the truck I heard Travis yelling. I headed over to see what was going on. He had a bull trout chasing from one of the larger boulders, and I intently watched as he worked his streamer along the boulder. After a few misses he finally connected. Although it was a juvenille bully, it did re-energized me to continue working a deep run. After a long cast I let my fly drift back and down about 60 feet. I then slowly twitched my streamer across the current. Boom! These trout attack the fly and often it initially feels as if you have a snag. They soon realize their caught and the fight begins. After a few surges and small runs, I turned him into the shallows and chalked up my first bull trout of the trip.
Over the course of our trip we learned a lot about where to look for bull trout and how to fish for them. The key is to go deep and get twitchy. White and grey seemed to work best for us. Also they enjoy lurking next to any type of rock formation that allows them cover and a quick path to small fish passing by. Another characteristic we found was that when they do feed, they often will fall back into the tail out of a pool where the river condenses into a smaller area. Two pictures down are three bull trout sitting in a tail out of a pool we found.
Travis was also pretty excited that his homegrown flies did the trick. Grey Gandalf was doing work and a couple white variations had success also. The few days we spent fishing for bull trout was very educational for us. We were able to successfully explore a few areas that held bull trout and learned more about where to find these bad boys. We even got a chance to sight fish for them. I’m already looking forward to next summer as we found another spot where the bull trout are fairly numerous and should be easy to catch with the knowledge we acquired during this trip.
As they say, “The tug is the drug.” Watching your streamer get hammered is by far one of the most fun aspects of fly fishing that I have yet to experience. I now understand more of why people love fishing the salt flats for tarpon. Maybe one day. Hopefully Travis and I can get working on the video before hunting season get’s too far underway. I think we got some awesome footage and can’t wait to share it with everyone.
There’s only 16 days till archery elk opens in Montana. Since June we’ve been scouting a few locations that we know hold elk. Our biggest asset when scouting is trail cameras. We usually set up 3-5 cameras starting in early June and head back a month later to see what’s been showing up. This is a great way to size up the local elk herd. If your camera is set up over water or along a game trail you can begin to determine when the best times to hunt these areas are and which way the animals are generally traveling as they move from one area to another. Travis and I went out a few weeks ago to check a couple cameras we had in the same general area. If you missed our post on that trip be sure to check it out in our post “Dog Days of Summer“. On this day I brought the camera along and filmed a short piece showing some of what goes into a day in the elk woods. Enjoy and as always, ***please watch in HD***
We found plenty of nice bulls with lots of character. Nothing crazy big but both spots should be good come September. If you haven’t made it out there’s still plenty of time to nail down a good spot. Grab a map and find a deep, dark hole away from roads and chances are you’ll find elk.
This year we explored once again the great Wilderness of Montana with fly rods and cameras in tow. Let me tell you, Wilderness is one badass dude. It’s a place where a man can get lost and never make it out. It’s the perfect spot to find some of the most amazing country you’ll lay eyes on. An adventure lies in your back yard here in Montana, and this is only one of the many gems found in this amazing state. The fishing is top notch for those willing to push themselves a bit and by the end of the trip, society looks like a much larger nuisance than you ever thought possible. Waking up to this sure helps a guy out after 10 hours on the river with 30+ pounds of camera gear and miles of treacherous river travel laid down.
No, it’s not easy. But is it worth it? Hell ya! Granted your gonna fall and get smacked around by mother earth. You’ll be sore, injured, mad, and tired at times.
But when you lay your eyes on a killer pool around the next bend and nail a wild cutthroat on the first cast, your emotions get tossed upside down. It’s a roller coaster and our good friend Ian Orlando got a good taste of it. Ian just graduated college in Missoula and is one of our good buddies. He told us he was working on getting a big boy job, and we figured we better show him a real fishing trip before he got to far into the real world. Little did he know that Travis and I are just a bit crazy. We took Ian to places where if you fall, your dead or in some serious trouble. It all pays off in the end though.
For this trip we had six days blocked out to explore the crystal clear waters of the wilderness of Montana. Were not going to openly tell you the location because anyone with half a brain could figure it out. It’s more fun that way right? The plan was to spend our time laying out line for native cutthroat and bull trout that inhabit these waters. Of the six days we only spent a half day fishing water that we had fished before. The rest was all exploration with only the help of some Google Earth maps at home. When you hike in a few miles and find that there is in fact no trail down to the river, you only have one option. Bushwack. Travis and I both hunt so this is nothing new. The same principles apply to both sports as far as being successful. Go where no one wants to go and find the fish. It helps when this is the view on the way down to the river.
A few of these days were spent camping upriver along stretches with difficult access. When we made it down to the river we weren’t left with many suitable camping spots. Turns out the best spot had the best view.
We had four things on our minds while out there: fish, food, water, sleep. Usually we would be on the river by 8 or 9 AM everyday. The areas we fished are difficulty to navigate as they often were in canyons with rock walls and steep forested slopes on both sides. Getting out early and staying out late helps when three guys are fishing and the camera is rolling.
The fish would feed fairly consistently on top during the majority of the trip. The smaller canyon creeks held the best dry fly fishing as they saw little to no pressure. We did see some boot tracks in a few spots where we thought we’d be the only ones fishing. Apparently a few others think like us. Only one morning did we see a strong hatch. During the end of July and into August, caddis are the #1 bug on the trouts menu. The morning that we had a strong hatch was awesome. You had fishing rising everywhere and the bugs were fairly heavy. Fortunately these fish don’t see too many fakes floating overhead and often destroy almost any fly. That day was almost too easy. Other than that day though there wasn’t much for bugs. Some days it definitely was tough to turn the big fish up and often it was tough to keep the small trout off your fly.
Certain holes are so slow and clear it’s hard not to jump the gun on the hookset as you see a trout rise from behind a boulder.
The clear water made for some great GoPro shots. Without spooking the fish we made it into a few holes and caught some awesome footage of rising fish. Be looking for a solid video to be released in the future. When the fishing is good and the scenery world class, it’s hard not to push yourself out here. When every corner tops the next and the fish seem endless at times it really helps a guy push all day to fish as much water as possible.
Often our days would end just before the sun would set. Perfect time to boil up some water and watch the view as your freeze dried meal cooked. Let me tell you those things taste amazing in the backcountry. After a long day you really appreciate a good meal. We also found that strawberry cheesecake is a necessary item to round out a good day on the river. Just add water!
Shortly after dinner Ian often took on the look of one tired ass bum. He quickly found his way into the tent and zipped into his sleeping bag. Out here you have to be able to treat your own water to stay longer than a day. Having a good water filter is huge. It’s the best way to keep three people hydrated and nothing beats a full Nalgene of cold river water out there. Each night we had to make a trip for water so we could get up and begin our day. Fortunately we had a small creek nearby.
Each morning was better than the next. Get up, eat, and toss on the waders. Hit the water and start tossing line. When the hardwork pays off and all your intuition and time spent scouring maps leads you to a one of a kind hole it’s a pretty damn sweet.
Ian was able to swing into the groove quick enough on the trip. His first cast of the trip yielded a great cutty and held his own during the trip. I gotta say it though, he did break a rod during the trip. I laughed my ass off while he got all torn up about it. Turns out everything’s gonna be alright, and he quickly forgot and got back to fishing.
Even though Ian got a damn good trip, we didn’t let him off the hook all the way. Travis was fishing to a fish up a long narrow canyon below camp. It was a long cast in tight quarters. After hassling Travis, I finally got to throw it a few times. After two great casts my fly finally found a target. Ian’s neck.
Woops. After deciding that it was going to be difficult to get it back through the skin to de-barb the hook, it was decided that it was coming back out the way it went in. I figured it would just have to be quick and painful. I grabbed the fly tightly and gave a big yank. Uhhh damn. It was still stuck in his neck. My hand had slipped off the fly. Round 2 began shortly after. This time the fishing pliers got used. After securely grabbing the hook a quick yank had the hook out. I was pretty amazed at how good his neck looked. There was only a small pinhole in his neck and zero blood. Fish on brother!
Travis happened to decided to fish better than our last trip and continued to lay into trout after trout.
A big shout out goes out to Vortex Optics, Grizzly Hackle, and Cuttroat Leaders. All of these companies are strong supporters of the outdoor lifestyle. Vortex Optics makes amazing hunting optics and appreciates the outdoors as a whole. Their support of a fly fishing trip solidified my respect for them as an outdoor brand. If your a hunter or are in the market for a great set of binoculars be sure to check them out at vortexoptics.com. Grizzly Hackle is an awesome fly shop in Missoula. It’s run by Dan Shepherd who’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. They helped us out on this trip and always have the angler’s success in mind. Swing buy grizzlyhackle.com to see the best fishing reports for the local Missoula rivers. And all week we were running Cutthroat Leaders on our dry fly and nymph rods. These things rock and you need to pick up a pair and at least give them a try. Hit them up at cutthroatleader.com
Now the cutthroat fishing was amazing. They’re some of the most beautiful fish you’ll find and they fight hard for their size. Speaking of fighting hard, these waters also lay claim to the home of the menacing bull trout. These elusive fish are fickle beasts. They either destroy your fly or simply sit in place even with the fly only inches from their faces. On this trip we were lucky enough to fish for these fish. We learned a lot about where they live and how to fish them on this trip. We might have tricked a few so be sure to read Part 2 right HERE.
Day 2 started with partly sunny skies and mild temperatures. After a wholesome pop tart and Clif Bar for breakfast we grabbed the fly rods and packs and hit the trail. We hiked about a half mile upstream before starting to fish. Again we found deep pools cut into the valley and surrounded by grey toothpicks. There aren’t a ton of amazing holes on this stretch of river, but the good ones are real good. After finding one of the largest log jams we’ve ever seen, we headed just above it and found our first hole of the day.
Prospecting this fine piece of water.
After some rock climbing to get down to the water I quickly was into a good rainbow. After untangling him from some underwater branches after a failed net job, I had my first nice fish of the day. Travis was above filming and things were looking good. Again we had to bushwack through the nasty dead burned timber and small growth pines to get back to the trail and head further north in search of fish. The mountains are sure unique in this area. Almost everything was burned out at one time and grey and black dead trees extend for as far as the eye can see.
Soon we were back down on the river. There’s so much dead water that it’s frustrating at times bushwacking only to see foot deep riffles for two hundred yards, but when you get a bend or small cliff to pool things up, the fishing always delivers.
Sure enough it wasn’t long until more fish were landed in the emerald water.
Unfortunately there wasn’t really any kind of hatch going on while we were there. The small fish were eager to smash a dry, but the 15″ and up trout had to be tricked with nymphs. I think areas like this are usually a few weeks behind schedule as far as the fishing is concerned, and just recently the main local rivers have just started to see some good hatches. I think the later in the summer you can go the better. Soon it was well past noon and we pulled off just before another great hole to cook some lunch.
We didn’t bring a whole lot of food on this trip. I think we both were taking in about 1000 calories per day. We definitely felt the stomachs shrink a bit on that meal plan. While the food was cooking I decided to blind fish the hole we were at with a golden stone/skwalla pattern. First cast and a rainbow absolutely destroyed my fly. The fish up here jump like crazy and this one was no different. I proceeded to drift the hole another 15 times afterwards but couldn’t get any other fish to rise. We sat back down, ate lunch, and then it was Travis’ turn with the nymph rig.
Of course the nymphs turned up a handful of fish. After about four minutes of fishing Travis finally hooked a good one that immediately jumped the entire width of the river and then back across. When I checked the footage I found out that our memory card had filled up just prior to the catch, d#@$! Oh well, shit happens.
We soon turned around and headed back downstream. After a few short casts I had one very brightly colored rainbow to show.
Around 6 o’clock we trekked back to camp and decided to fish the remaining holes below camp. The fishing was just ok as a lot of small fish seemed to dominate this water. And to top it off, we were almost out of memory, the camera batteries were on their last legs, and we were down to one freeze dried food meal, one pop tart and a Clif Bar. While we didn’t prepare as well as we could have for a longer trip, it was a great preparation trip for our 5 day Bob Marshall trip planned for later this month. Overall the fishing was amazing, the scenery was top notch, and the weather held out on us.
The next morning we hit the trail and headed back to the truck parked at the trailhead. We don’t have much to show or tell from the last day as we hiked a lot, fished mostly for fun, and had a full, dead camera. One thing is for sure though, I won’t be forgetting that day anytime soon.
Overall the trip was a success and we’ll be heading back next year for sure. This trip has us stoked for our 5 day excursion into the Bob Marshall. We’ll be filming a little short film up there, and it should easily be our best when it’s said and done. After that it’s straight into hunting season, and we have been shooting the bows quite a bit lately. And until next time, get out and explore Montana.
Here’s our first summer fly fishing video. After runoff we’ve been doing a decent amount of fishing, but just haven’t really had good enough fishing to justify taking the time to try to film an edit. On Sunday I decided that summer just doesn’t last as long as you ever hope and that the camera was coming out. Travis and I headed up to a small creek in the Blackfoot Valley and got ready for an afternoon on the water. This is what we came up with. Watch in HD you fishin fools!
Here’s the link to our original write up on the afternoon – Creekside
I’m sure we’ll be filming again soon enough, and we hope to have more summer fishing up soon to keep the stoke alive.