Dog Days are Over

By Beacon Staff

The weather finally broke. Summer heat that had cooked the region came to a windy halt last week as a cold front made its way through the Rockies.
After what seemed an endless stream of sweltering days, temperatures plunged, with “highs” topping out in the ’70s.

That makes me happy. I love summer, except for the Dog Days near the end. By early August rivers are usually dropping below levels where they fish well, and that drop is often accompanied by a corresponding increase in water temperatures.

The result is we don’t catch many trout, and the trout we do catch are prone to going belly up when released. These two trends tend to spoil the fun.

Despite this I accepted a chance to float the Bitterroot. Mid-August is often a crummy time to be on the Bitterroot, for the above mentioned reasons, along with the humanity that gathers along the river’s length trying to beat the heat.

I can’t fault folks for crowding the banks near every access point, but I was amazed at the knuckleheads who barely moved from their spots on the loading ramp as we trailered our raft. One girl nearly took a Carlisle in the choppers as we pulled Denny’s NRS onto the trailer. It was as if the heat had so clouded her brain that she was oblivious to the boat and trailer being loaded about a foot and a half from where she sat, and the oar blade bearing down on her dental work.

Since the Roman Empire we’ve associated the Dog Days with episodes of widespread insanity induced by the oppressive heat of the season. Just consider the “diversity” that flocks to the Middle Fork in August. We have to hope the psychological effects are only temporary; the future of the species is at stake.

Fortunately on the Bitterroot water temperatures were outside the lethal zone, and the handful of fish that rose to our foam hoppers were in fine shape upon release. That river’s trout fishery benefits from water stored in upstream reservoirs, which is held back just for that week or two in August when the heat, and water diversions for irrigation, can make the Dog Days a deadly time for trout. Those slugs of cold water are usually enough to keep die offs to a minimum.

With last week’s cold front came the wind, and August winds are the advance troops of fall. The kids are back on the fields now as they gather in teams to prepare for the upcoming sports season. The first day of school is imminent. The shortening days suggest hunting season will be with us soon.

There may be something purposeful about the timing of the Dog Days, serving as a break between the glories of summer and fall. The rivers often round into shape just after the summer solstice, when it almost seems as though daylight lasts until midnight, as do the hatches of mayflies and stones that bring trout readily to dries. That great fishing usually holds through July. Then comes fall, the season of color and wood smoke and hunting. I’ll soon be walking fields with my setters looking for birds.

The placement of Dog Days on the calendar suggests that summer and fall uninterrupted might be too much; that we’d overdose on the magnificence of it all if it came in one unbroken six-month stretch.

If by some horrible twist of fate I was forced to give up either fly fishing or bird hunting I’m not sure which I’d choose (though I know how the dogs would vote). Setters make terrible boat dogs by the way. The free-ranging, perpetual-motion tendencies that make the breed so good in the field create chaos in the boat.

I’m not much of a waterfowler so I leave my dogs at home when I fish. That’s a drag. The dogs deserve time on the water on days like these.