Labor Day weekend is here and with it comes decisions. Do you stretch the end of a fishing summer? Or, do you get a start on the first hunts of the fall?
Sunday marks the first day of the grouse and partridge hunting season in Montana. It’s the first hurrah of a long series of hunting season-openers to follow – archery big game, moose, sheep and goat, waterfowl, pheasants, then rifle antelope and rifle deer and elk.
In western Montana, the early grouse season usually means a trek to the mountains to chase ruffed, blue and spruce grouse. In central and eastern Montana, it’s sage and sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge. The grouse and partridge seasons runs from Sept. 1 through Dec. 15, except for sage grouse which closes on Nov. 1.
For pheasants, Montana residents will have to wait until Oct. 12 to hunt the state season. But if you want to hunt pheasants this weekend, you can on shooting preserves, like Seldom Seen Shooting Preserve south of Drummond. Bird preserve seasons in Montana are open from Sept. 1 through March 31. To find out more about preserve hunting call 406-288-3402.
This is the first year that I can remember that the archery big game season won’t start on Labor Day weekend. That’s probably just as well, as it will give bowhunters one more week to scout and get their gear ready. Archery season for deer, elk and antelope opens Saturday, Sept. 7.
If you want to keep your summer of fishing going, this weekend should give you a lot of choices wherever you want to go.
With the exception of south central Montana, the rivers are running about normal for this time of the year and fishing is excellent. The Clark Fork River is clear now after the Milltown Dam drawdown and, like the Bitterroot and Blackfoot, should produce some good hopper fishing for trout. Bass anglers might want to try the lower Flathead River. The smallmouth fishing has been picking up lately. Lake fishing on Flathead continues to be good for both lake trout and Lake Superior whitefish. Just look for the other boats and throw an anchor out.
If you want to head east of the mountains and do some lake fishing, then I might suggest going to Lake Frances near Valier for northern pike and walleye fishing. The reports say the walleyes are slow in biting but the pike fishing is good.
Only 20 miles east of Lake Frances is Tiber Dam and Nancy Nelson at the Tiber Marina reports that the walleye fishing has started to pick up recently. Nelson says anglers have been catching 14- to 16-inch walleyes. If you want to have some fun and fish at the same time, then maybe you and a partner would want to fish the sixth annual and final Labor Day Weekend Walleye Tournament on Tiber Dam. It is based out of the marina and runs just one-day. It will be held from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and you have until 6:30 a.m. to register. Entry fee is $100 per team. The anglers I have talked to like Brandt Hamernick from Missoula tell me it is a fun tourney to fish because most of the kids who fish it receive a prize and it seems more like a customer appreciation put on by Nancy and Cliff Nelson who have run the marina for the past six years. For more information call 406-759-7100.
Mark Henckel, outdoor editor of the Billings Gazette tells me that the Chinook salmon fishing hasn’t picked up yet at Fort Peck Reservoir. Henckel was up there last weekend and said a 24-pounder was caught along with a smattering of others. However he said there were quite a few anglers who spent hours trolling with downriggers and did not catch anything. Henckel said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists still feel the salmon run might be coming to the dam area in the coming weeks, but as of yet, not many have arrived.
To add to the anglers’ frustration, the walleye fishing is also reported as being relatively slow. The Fall Classic of the Montana Walleye Circuit was held last weekend and a third of the 63 teams participating zeroed both days of the tournament.
In fact, Henckel, who did not fish the tourney, fished for walleyes for two days and ended up with just one 13-pound northern pike to show for his efforts.