Caribou gone from the lower 48

It isn't a surprise, really, that woodland caribou were finally declared extinct in the U.S. We've been watching the remaining woodland caribou in the Pacific Northwest dwindle to just a few stragglers for sometime. The animals, the lone pre-European settlement big game animal native to Montana that is now absent, once roamed as far south as Lolo Pass in the Bitterroot.

The last time woodland caribou were in the Treasure State was 2012, when five wandered down from British Columbia.

Here's my latest Flathead Beacon column about these extinct gray ghosts — extinct in the U.S. that is.

Latest gimmick or wave of the future?

I love my Lamson Litespeed fly reel. It help convert me from a fishing gear Luddite into a fan of the high-tech stuff. The reel isn't just eye candy, but a real tool that helps me catch more fish. But I'm not sure what to think about Lamson's new Center Axis setup.

If it's as brilliant as suggested, maybe we'll all be fishing with a rig that looks like a cattywampus lollypop in the future. If not, these rod/reel combos may find a home in the discontinued clearance bin before too long.

One other consideration about the Center Axis. All fly fishing equipment uses the same basic setup. You can mount a 30-year-old reel to a $1,000 Sage rod, and it will work. The Center Axis breaks that tradition of interchangeability. And fly fishers are if anything, traditionalists.

Here's my latest Flathead Beacon Out of Bounds column discussing the progression of my fishing gear preferences.

You never know who’ll be in the seat beside you

On a recent flight from Texas back home to Montana I found myself seated next to a young man, Renan, who I soon learned was traveling from his home in Brazil to Wolf Point, Montana.

Renan's dramatic journey was was one of his final steps in gaining a degree in agriculture from his college back home. His summer would be spent on a farm, working as an intern. We talked most of the flight. He was excited about the learning opportunity in front of him, but nervous about the snow that covered more and more of the ground below us, the farther north the jet travelled. I ensured him winter would break soon and the snow would be a memory that would express itself largely in high river flows this summer.

It turns out I lied, but not on purpose. Winter continues to linger in Montana. I have dreams of finally pulling the cover off my drift boat and hitting the water, but we're not quite there yet. Still, I hope Renan has enjoyed his stay in Montana so far, and that his summer is filled with rich experiences and great learning opportunities he can take back to his farm in southern Brazil.

Here's the column I wrote for the Flathead Beacon about our conversation.

Skwala time in the Bitterroot

The weather's a little iffy, but iffy weather in a Montana spring is about as redundant as Sahara Desert (Sahara means desert in Arabic). Still, if you're a fly fisher you should be thinking about the Bitterroot River skwala right now. And if you're now a fly fisher, you should be thinking about becoming one. Seriously, you don't fly fish. What's up with that?

Here's my latest column on skwalas.

The end of winter can’t come too soon

It's been a long, hard winter in Montana, but with a little ingenuity we'll get through it. In my latest column for the Flathead Beacon, I share my hope that spring will slowly give way to summer, unlike in 2017 when it got so hot so early we had one of the worst fire seasons in Montana history.

Unless you're on the Blackfeet Nation, however, the snow and cold is probably just an inconvenience.  Heart Butte and Browning have been hammered in recent weeks.

Montana bearish on griz hunting, for now

Montana will hold off on grizzly hunting, at least for now. That's a good decision, but as the bears recover, conflicts will become more frequent.  We ought to prepare for the reaction when something bad happens. Bears aren't wolves and when the victim of an attack is human rather than livestock, the blowback will be fierce.

My latest column about the future of grizzly bears and the inevitable hunting season in Montana's future.

In Montana, both GOP and Dems support conservation

The Eighth Annual Conservation in the West Survey by Colorado College shows that Montanans, regardless of political party, describe themselves as conservationists and consider open space and outdoor recreation an asset for the Treasure State.

The results aren’t much of a surprise. Montana may be the ultimate poverty-with-a-view state. But that commonality is something we can urge the leadership of both parties in Montana to embrace. In my latest column I suggest we make taking care of our public lands, and protecting our access to them, a priority for leaders of both parties.

It’s not that simple, of course. How a fly fishing guide defines conservation may differ from how a rancher defines it. That’s OK. We can’t and shouldn’t expect everyone to agree on every issue, but we should be able to agree to be respectful and work toward compromise whenever possible.

Elk herd rebounds

My latest "Out of Bounds" column discusses some interesting developments from the wolf/elk war front in Montana. There's the news that the Northern Yellowstone elk herd is up 42 percent in 2018 as compared to the 2017. It's unlikely the herd nearly doubled in just a year. More likely, biologists speculate, the count just missed some animals last year. Still, the numbers are encouraging for a herd that is still less than half the size in was before wolves were reintroduced in 1998.

Just days before the elk numbers were released, news broke that a striking coal black wolf was killed by a hunter near Joliet, not too far from Yellowstone's northeast corner. The wolf is probably the same one that had been filmed wandering near a road in the region a few days before that. Wolf numbers in Montana are stable, or declining slightly, probably a result of hunter success and aggressive management of problem packs.