July 23rd, 2007

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60 Fish, 4 Lakes, and One Marmot
By Mark Killam, Bozeman, Montana

I spend most of my weekends from May until September fishing the high country of Montana and Wyoming. I have had some really wonderful trips into backcountry lakes, but this trip in particular will always stand out for a variety of reasons. Some trips will be remembered for spectacular fishing, some for downright lousy fishing, and others for a variety of reasons such as wildlife and scenery. One of my downfalls is that I tend to visit the same lakes on a regular basis. Many of these lakes have special meaning for me, but at the same time it means I don't get to explore new territory.

A few weeks ago I went to a new set of lakes in Wyoming (though I used a familiar trailhead). I had a pretty good idea of what to expect as far as the trail and what the fishing would be like. The trail in drops 300 feet right from the trailhead (always a pet peeve of mine) and then goes back up about 800 feet. The distance was tolerable though, maybe 3 miles to my destination. I figured it couldn't hurt to pack in my float tube even though it meant carrying a pack of about 55 pounds. I trudged my way down and up the trail to Native Lake in about two hours which is pretty much what I had anticipated. Of course the USGS maps were wrong and the trail I was supposed to take wasn't marked so I stayed on what appeared to be the main trail. I realized that by checking my GPS that something was a bit off. I could tell that the trail I was on was heading where I wanted to go eventually, just not in the way I expected. I rolled into camp (my parents went in a day ahead of me) and got settled in.

Native Lake is fairly small lake of about 8 acres which is supposedly stocked on two year interval by Wyoming. I grabbed my trusty fly rods and headed down to the lake to see what was there. After watching a few cutts cruise around and not seeing any rises, I grabbed my 6 wt and put on a small woolly bugger (size 12). I missed a few small fish around 8 inches or so before landing a nice 14 inch cutt. After fishing for 45 minutes and catching a few cutts between 6-10 inches, I wandered back to camp to figure out what I wanted to do. There were a series of lakes about a mile away that I wanted to check out. These lakes had brookies, stocked splake (brook trout x lake trout hybrid that WY stocks in some lakes to knock down the brook trout population) and according to my guide book possibly lake trout there were also stocked at some point in time. By looking at my GPS, I could see that the trip over would actually be about 2 miles by following the trail. Shoot, I had plenty of time and decided to wander over to Horseshoe Lake.

After following trails over to the lake, and looking down a 200 foot hill, I got to thinking that I wasn't really in the mood to get too carried away and go to all of the lakes I wanted to, I decided Horseshoe would be fine. Since I saw no surface activity, I decided that the same bugger and rod that I used at Native would be fine. After three casts, I caught a small 8 inch brook trout. Great, this is just what I wanted, another lake with little brookies. About five minutes later though, my fortune changed and I caught my first ever splake, about 13 inches. I fished Horseshoe for about two hours and caught a total of 8 brookies and splake between 8 and 14 inches. It was now time to head back to camp and get a good meal.

While fishing Native Lake that evening and catching a few cutts, I decided to get up at 5 AM and head back over to Horseshoe and try it again in the morning. This time I used the trails for about half a mile and shortcut across the open terrain over to the lake. While walking down the hill to Horseshoe I saw some rises and decided my 4 wt and a size 12 stimulator would work. Sure enough, that was just perfect. After catching six fish between 10 and 14 inches, I wandered up to Finger Lake which is about 100 yards above Horseshoe. I proceeded to get another half dozen fish in the same size range but decided I liked the fishing at Horseshoe a bit better. After fishing until 9:30 or so, I looked at my GPS and saw that T Lake was about ˝ mile from where I was. So, I decided to wander up and see what that was like. As it turned out, it was pretty much the same as the other two lakes, brookies and splake up to 14 inches. All told I caught about 60 fish out of 4 lakes I had never fished before. Around 11:00 AM I decided it was time to head back to camp and think about heading out.

This is when things got interesting. I grabbed a quick snack and drink of water before heading back to camp and taking another shortcut. That worked out fine until I got back to camp and saw my folks were out and about. It took me all of ten seconds to realize they had walked up the trail to see what there was to see. Since I had decided to shortcut the trail, I hadn't seen them. Oh well, no big deal, I figured it would take me about 20 minutes to pack up if they weren't back by then. Sure enough, they come wandering with their own story to tell (I won't go into that story). While looking around to make sure I had everything, I realized something was wrong. Where was my Nalgene? Uh oh, I know what happened; it must have fallen out of the holster at T. There was no way I was going back for it. Luckily my parents had two so I was able to take one of theirs so I had water for the hike out.

The hike out was uneventful except for me cursing carrying a float tube up the hill to Clay Butte Trailhead. My parents requested I move their truck from the lower lot to the upper lot in case it rained. The lower lot has a very steep pitch to get back to the road and doesn't look like fun when wet. No problem, I moved the truck and proceeded to put all my gear in my truck. Sweet, everything is ready to go and I have a clean set of clothes on and am ready to head back to Bozeman. I turn the key in the ignition and check the gas gauge….wait a minute I should have 2/3 of a tank of gas so why does my gauge read empty. This is not right at all. I then check the trip odometer expecting to see it reading 135 miles or so since I got gas in Livingston. Instead of reading 135 it says "No Bus." OK so now something is really not right. I glance at the tachometer and it is reading zero RPM, so I check the oil gauge which also reads zero. By now the service engine light has come on. Actually none the gauges on my dash were working at all. This is really not good so I shut the engine off and think for a bit. Hmmmm, this sounds like maybe something electrical so I check the fuses, which of course are fine. Now I am really starting to worry because I am 40 minutes from the nearest town (Cooke City).

After thinking about things for a bit, I hop in my parent's truck and cruise down to Cooke City. The whole trip down I was weighing my options and trying to figure out how I was going to get back to Bozeman to be at work at 6 AM Monday morning. I tried calling roadside assistance for Dodge. That was a waste of time since the road I was on had no name and the person on the other end had no clue where I was. I wandered over to the gas station and asked for help and the mechanic there suggested that a relay had been tripped for whatever reason. He said I should try pulling all of the fuses (again) and maybe that would reset the relay. OK whatever; I will give that a shot. So I headed back to Clay Butte still trying to figure out what to do if I couldn't get the gauges to work. All of a sudden it dawned on me; I have my GPS which means I can tell how fast I am going. Just to verify things, I tested it out while driving back to my truck.

I get back to my truck and pulled all of the fuses and still nothing. I had forgotten about there being a fuse bock in the engine compartment until then. So I popped the hood and was greeted with very loud piercing chirp. Wait one minute; I know that sound all too well. It was the sound of a four legged critter. A few curses later and a quick inspection revealed that some animal (I thought a squirrel) had chewed through some wires coming out of the fuse box. OK so now I know the real problem and had a possible way to get home. Just to be safe, I drove the truck on a short level stretch to make sure I had brakes and steering. Cool, everything there was still functional. Well it looks like I was going to have to drive back to Boze with my GPS as a speedometer. Four hours later and totally frazzled from that experience, I get back to Bozeman and my parent's house. I parked my truck in their garage and grabbed the keys to their car to drive back to Belgrade where I live. By this time it is almost 9PM and I am in no mood to unload my truck. I was not leaving several thousand dollars worth of fishing and camping gear sitting in the back of the truck outside.


The next day, I get a call at work from my Mom after my folks got back asking why my truck is in the garage and the car is missing. I tell her I will be over in about an hour and will explain everything. So I go over their and tell the story for about the sixth time that day. We decide to unload my truck, park their car in the garage, and I will be able drive their truck until I get it fixed. That sounded good to me so I open the garage door and notice all these little pieces of rubber at the bottom of the door. Dang it, I forgot the critter might still be in the truck when I parked it. I guess he wasn't happy about being in my truck or the garage and wanted out. Well, as it turns out, that was all he chewed on in the garage, thankfully because I had my pontoon boat sitting on the floor of the garage. Trust me that was the first thing I checked after seeing little pieces of rubber. I get the truck out and pop the hood. Well I'll be darned, there was a furry little face staring back at me. My dad and I realized then that this was no squirrel but a young marmot. For those who don't know, a marmot is essentially an alpine version of Punxatawney Phil. So my dad grabs a broom and starts poking at the marmot which now chirping rather loudly. He finally drives the marmot out of my truck only to watch it jump up under his truck. By now this is just too funny. So we close the garage door and back my truck out of the driveway in hopes of chasing it out of his truck. We used a broom, a hockey stick, and a hose for well over an hour to no available. A neighbor's dog couldn't scare the animal out from the truck. The neighbor suggested we try calling Animal Control or Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks in the morning. Since I had to work in the morning, my parents went down to MT FW&P and they put them in touch with a person who would come out and remove the marmot for the modest fee of 50 dollars. This person said no problem and would come out during the day to remove the marmot. Well it took him two hours to trap the marmot and remove it. The critter really seemed to like hanging out above the spare tire which made things a wee bit tricky.


In the end, my truck got fixed. It turns out that the marmot also made a home above my spare tire at some point and totally destroyed the wiring leading to my brake and tail lights. So on my last journey into the woods; I didn't look at marmots as being so cute. I had to chase a couple of them out of my camp on several occasions. I will admit that one of my favorite pictures I have ever taken though is of two marmots wrestling. ~ Mark

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