Sunday, April 26, 2015

First Yak Bass...

...of the year. And a decent one at that. Not huge, but at 5.8 lbs. on my ancient-but-dead-on Rapala digital scale, not a bad way to break in the kayak this season. I would have preferred to have caught her on a fly, but when your gut (and the gusting wind) tells you to put down the rabbit strip leech and start throwing the red shad Tiki Stik, you put down the rabbit strip leech and start throwing the red shad Tiki Stik.

Truth be told, I probably should have gone turkey hunting. That was my plan. But when I got up early that morning, poured myself a cup of coffee and walked outside into the darkness, there wasn't a hint of wind, a rare thing on the prairie in springtime. So I started thinking about bass and kayaks, and how I'd experienced neither so far this year, separately or in conjunction.

I am, admittedly, a fairly casual turkey hunter, and a fairly obsessed angler, so bass and kayaks took the day. I ditched my turkey hunting plans, loaded up the yak and headed for a local lake. As it turned out, the wind was just politely waiting for me to get on the water before starting to howl. But I had a good hour to two before it blew me off the lake. The vagaries of plains weather giveth, then taketh away...

With fish pics I try as much as possible to follow the tenant of "keep 'em wet" (besides the ones I plan on eating), so I snapped a couple quick pics in the water, then off she went.

And wouldn't you know, I didn't catch a damn thing after that. So it goes...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Oklahoma Chrome

No, it's not a steelhead, but out here on the arid plains, you take your piscatorial sport where and when you can find it, and when the white bass ("sandbass" in our regional slang) start running upstream to spawn, the banks of a slow, shallow, turbid prairie river is the closest this poor, water-challenged bastard is ever likely to get to chasing chrome.

But you know what? I don't mind, because the sandbass is a helluva fish in its own right, one of my favorites.They're not large ( most average one to two pounds), they're not found in postcard country, they're not revered and fetishized as totemic symbols of wildness and personal meaning, and they will never be trendy and cool and hip. They are, like the channel cat, a glamourless, working-class prole's fish, caught by people sitting in lawn chairs casting bubble-pack spincasters, then taken home and eaten. The carp, the goddamned common carp, has more cachet (at least with the flyfishing crowd) than the white bass ever will. And yes, I like carp, too. But I like white bass more. They're plentiful, pugnacious, unsophisticated, delicious, and strong fighters, especially on a fly rod. What's not to like about that? Not a damn thing. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Modest American Proposal...

When confronted by a false and deceitful political "movement" so outrageous, so dangerous, and so fundamentally un-American and antithetical to our core values that it seems like satire, sometimes the only sane response is to go full-on Swiftian.

A. Richard Hatcher of Lewistown, Montana, I salute you, and if I ever get back up to your fair country to hunt again (and the good {insert deity of choice here} willing, I shall), I will gladly seek you out, take you down to the Mint, and buy you a round or three of Pig's Ass Porter.

Hat tip goes to the most excellent Bull Moose Gazette Facebook page, which is where I first saw it posted. If you're on FB, do yourself a favor and follow him... 


Published in the Lewistown (MT) News Argus, April 11, 2015

This is such a great idea I propose we take it even further and put Congress out of its misery by restoring the British monarchy to America. Half the country is ga-ga about royal gossip anyway.

April 11, 2015

Look to European model for land ownership

Dear Editor,

I am extremely disappointed that more of Montana’s citizens are not enthusiastically supporting the efforts of the majority leadership in the Montana Legislature, recently joined by our junior U.S. senator, to divest the federal public lands and transfer them to the state. This transfer to the states should be but a brief prelude to their sale and privatization, so they can be put to proper use by America’s wealthy.

We should applaud the efforts of these representatives and their financial backers to return the public estate to private ownership. For over 200 years, the United States has increasingly strayed from its European roots and traditions of exclusive private land ownership by the wealthy and gentry.

The silliness of President Theodore Roosevelt’s National Forest, National Wildlife Refuges and other conservation innovations can be put aside in this great effort to revert to the European model of land ownership and resource management. 

As Montana’s population and its out-of-state ownership
grow, there simply won’t be enough high quality hunting and fishing for everyone. As these amenities become more coveted it makes sense that we cash them in for the enjoyment of the most deserving – those who can pay.

The European model of fish and wildlife ownership by the privileged and hunting and fishing for the wealthy and their friends is a good use of these commodities and maximizes their economic value.

Alas, there will always be public land. It is inevitable that some of the arid, ugly lands devoid of game and sport fish will not be sold. Here the public can cling to this ill-considered land use.

Ancillary benefits to privatization of the public lands include the jobs that are created in an increasingly difficult economy. The vast, private estates will require gillies and gamekeepers. Enormous numbers of employees will be required to fence and patrol these lands against trespass.
People will be needed to conduct the driven bird and game shoots. Privatization will eliminate all this fuss about public access. Seemingly, endless time is wasted on these access issues. Your newspaper alone will save barrels of ink.

We need to get behind this effort to privatize the public lands and get back to the model of European hunting and fishing.

A. Richard Hunter, Lewistown

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

John Joseph Mathews

"The god of the great Osages was still dominant over the wild prairie and the blackjack hills when Challenge was born. He showed his anger in fantastic play of lightning, and thunder that crashed and rolled among the hills; in the wind that came from the great tumbling clouds which appeared in the northwest and brought twilight and ominous milk-warm silence. His beneficence showed on April mornings when the call of the prairie chicken came rolling over the awakened prairie and the killdeer seemed to be fussing; on June days when the emerald grass sparkled in the dew and soft breezes whispered, the quail whistled and the autumnal silences when the blackjacks were painted like dancers and dreamed in the iced sunshine with fatalistic patience."

                                                      from Sundown, by John Joseph Mathews

Sometimes we discover great writers through a recommendation, sometimes we stumble across them through sheer dumb luck, and sometimes we discover great writers because we're forced to. I discovered John Joseph Mathews way back in college, in the very same history class where I first discovered R.A. Lafferty. And like Lafferty (Steve Bodio has a neat Lafferty story), Mathews is almost completely forgotten these days, even by Oklahomans who should know better. I had certainly never heard of him, or Lafferty, before I was forced, kicking and screaming, to read them both for that western history class. I can think of no better reason than that to go to college. Sometimes enlightenment has to be crammed down your ignorant damn throat.

While Sundown, his semi-autobiographical novel of the mixed-blood Osage Chal Windzer is probably his best-known work, Mathews' Talking To The Moon, which is often described as a "Native American Walden", is a jewel as well. It's the chronicle of ten years spent living alone in a stone cabin on his tribal allotment in northeastern Oklahoma (Mathews was part Osage) after his return from living abroad, during which he graduated from Oxford (where he was offered a Rhodes scholarship but declined, preferring to pay his own way), served as a fighter pilot in WWI, worked as a journalist in Europe, traveled the world exploring and hunting (Mathews was a lifelong hunter) and generally lived the kind of adventurous life you'd expect from a highly-educated, cosmopolitan person of means (the Osage tribe was flush with new oil money at the time) living in that golden age of adventure. He was the real deal. If you ever stumble across any of his books, I highly recommend them. I believe most are out of print, but easily found online.

Mathews died in 1979, but his cabin is still standing, and is now part of the Nature Conservancy's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County. One of these days I'm going to make the pilgrimage over there to see it.