Fire and Smoke

Fire and Smoke

Carol Northcut | Wednesday, 31 May 2023

My rides up the dirt road put me in 10-11 minutes of Zone 2 (heart rate for an older person) and then 20-30 minutes in Zone 3 with an occasional bit in Zone 4. Steve decided to start building a mountain bike trail on our property by connecting and clearing deer highways. With enough switchbacks and perimeter trail, it can be close to a mile in length, with a good quarter mile uphill that quickly puts my heartrate into Zone 3 with the remaining part downhill or flat. I’ve yet to ride it because Steve crashed hard on his first attempt, finding hidden “features” beneath the duff. My self-appointed job it to pick up all the dead branches and small trees along the trail to beautify it and reduce fuels. That deadwood is hauled to the dump to be chipped. It’s a lot of work but gratifying.

The third weekend in May was the start of fishing season in District 1’s smaller waters. We had planned to go camping to an area just shy of the Canadian border where there are a couple of small lakes to check out. We enjoy hiking and fishing. It’s what we did when we started fishing 18 years ago. We’d hike into high mountain lakes where there was no one else and we’d do our best to try to catch something. When Steve became proficient fishing moving waters, it became his preference. However, now that rivers are more crowded, and there aren’t as many smaller ones to fish in this part of Montana, we’ll be spending more time hiking and fishing.

The days before we were supposed to leave to camp, the air quality here was 186 on the Purple Air map ( The smoke map ( showed smoke descending from Alberta. There are/were many wildfires burning in Alberta, and approximately 2 Million acres have burned this spring. Twenty-three of the fires were out of control, likely started by lightning. Twenty thousand people were evacuated from their homes (sad) and oil producers halted some operations. So, unless the wind shifted, we’d head south to the Bitterroot area instead. That was fine by me because I had an ulterior motive, which was to get to Stevensville to talk with Rich Stuber, the owner/operator of Big Sky Inflatables, maker of Watermaster rafts. If we’re going to be fishing more lakes, a small two-person raft sounds like a good idea, but Steve has to be onboard with the idea since he’s the one who will be paying for it. LOL.

Darby area was the destination. The first night it rained, which cleared the air and apparently helped tame the Alberta fires. The next day, the already full Bitterroot was far too high to fish, as were the East and West Forks. The creeks were raging, and the fishing at the reservoir where we camped was terrible. The man working the counter at the Bitterroot Fly Shop in Darby said run-off was 2-1/2 weeks earlier than last year, which also was early. He suggested we hike to a lake popular with locals. Nine miles of switchbacks later, we were at the trailhead for the lake. It was a short trail (2 miles), but the last half mile was through two-foot drifts of snow that completely obscured the trail. Where the trail was visible, it had turned into a large rivulet. But we made it through to find the small 10-acre iced-over lake. There were no fish in the creek below.  Oh well. The exploration was a bit adventurous and fun.

The next day was a stop at Water Master on our trip home. Peppered with questions, Rich answered all of Steve’s, but one, is it better to get a two-person self-bailing raft that weighs 120 pounds with the NRS frame (60 for the raft and floor and 60 for the frame), or does he want a Kodiak one-person raft with an open floor that weighs a mere 35 pounds. That question remains unanswered, and only Steve can answer it, especially since he’s the only one with disposable income to pay for it. There are pros and cons to both.

Yesterday we went to fish a small lake that supposedly has bass and pike in it, only to find that there were no trails around it and the best way to fish it was with a personal watercraft. We then went to another lake where, again, the best way to fish it was with personal watercraft. Finally, we headed to a creek coming out of a larger lake. We passed two guys exiting the creek with personal pontoons. It finally was clear to Steve that personal watercraft was the way to go in this neck of Montana. We drove to the end of the road where the creek begins and there’s public access. The fishing was a little rough because it gets pressuredand the grey (really, brown) drakes were ova positing. The water was covered in spinners. Although Furminsky’s Drake is a fantastic imitation, it doesn’t work that well amidst the abundant naturals. Nevertheless, small brookies were caught.