Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Boat anglers must be cautious

| April 9, 2020 1:00 AM

Ready to go fishing? If you are an ice fisherman, I think you are out of luck until next December. If you are a boat fisherman, you have some limited options.

Last weekend fishermen were launching boats at the Sportsman Bridge launch site. The ramp at the lagoon was high and dry due to the winter drawdown of Flathead Lake, but fishermen were launching boats on the winter ramp alongside the highway right-of-way.

Last weekend most of the boat ramps on the Thompson Chain Lakes were still ice-locked. The ramp at Logan State Park was open and most of Middle Thompson Lake was ice free.

Several boat trailers in the parking lot indicated some early season anglers were on the lake.

Upper Thompson Lake and Lower Thompson Lake were still mostly iced over. The same for the Forest Service ramp on the west end of McGregor Lake. What we need is a couple of days in the high 50s or 60s, some sun and some wind, then those lakes could be ice free in a day or two.

If you are venturing out on our lakes in the next few weeks, respect the early season ice cold water. Wear your life jacket while in the boat at all times. If you fall in, the cold water will very quickly sap your body heat in a few minutes.

You will be so cold that you can’t climb back in the boat. Another aspect of early season lake angling is that there are very few boats on the lake. If you get into trouble, there is little likelihood another angler will be there to bail you out.

Several years ago, I was on a local lake by myself, only a few days after ice out. I only had a 14-foot boat that was probably over-powered by a new 25 HP motor. I was racing down the lake at full bore, cleaning out the cob-webs from winter storage. A fishing rod vibrated off the seat.

As I reached down to pick it up, my arm on the tiller remained straight. Reaching down for the rod, my arm pushed the tiller sharply to the left, causing the boat to veer sharply to the right, nearly throwing me out of the boat.

I had no life jacket on, so if I had been thrown out of the boat, hypothermia would have set in before I could have swam to shore.

That incident really spooked me. Be careful out there!

Some governors have closed their states to all hunting and fishing. To me, that seems to be an over-reaction to containing the current virus.

Some common sense needs to prevail.

Now for some good news. Turkey hunting opens this Saturday. Any resident of Montana can buy a turkey license on-line. Don’t forget that you must first buy a conservation license which doesn’t allow you to hunt for anything. Then you must buy a basic hunting license that doesn’t allow to hunt anything. Finally, you are then permitted to buy a turkey license which allows you to hunt turkeys.

Let me commend Regional Fish, Wildlife & Parks Supervisor Jim Williams.

Prior to his current job, he was the Regional Wildlife Biologist or manager. Prior to his arrival in the Flathead, FWP took the position that issuing unlimited turkey permits in the Flathead would aggravate their relationship with Flathead farmers because the farmers would tire of an endless stream of hunters knocking on their door, seeking permission to hunt.

So, turkey hunting in Northwest Montana was limited.

Jim arrived and was willing to test whether unlimited permits would cause a landowner problem.

As far as I know, landowners didn’t complain very much! So, now any hunter can now buy a turkey license. Thanks Jim!

In the old days, turkey hunting was generally limited to the greater Flathead Valley. But in recent years turkeys have spread throughout much of Northwest Montana. Last year I was shocked to see a wild turkey at 6,000 feet of elevation in a dense coniferous forest!

So, we have lots of places to turkey hunt in Northwest Montana.

So, buy a license, grab your shotgun, pack a lunch and enjoy the great Flathead Outdoors.