I’ve often said that if I’d gone to Montana when I was eighteen I would have never came back. That may not be entirely true, but it might be. However, I was well into adulthood when I made my first trip there, long past teenage years and getting pretty well settled into the woods of Minnesota. I wasn’t in a bad place at all – a pretty good place, actually… but, still…
I’ve been to Montana hunting birds – prairie grouse and doves – with my dogs, my friends, and my friend’s dogs on the grasslands of the northeastern part of the state and had nothing but fun doing it: setters casting well ahead and locking on sharptails, Dutch oven dinners in an open prairie camp, and crawling into the sleeping bag while coyotes yipped the evening serenade. And I’ve backpacked in the high and rugged mountains where I was told grizzly bear live. I didn’t see any bears, but I was lookin’. I’ve been treated to seeing a fair sampling of game there, mule and whitetail deer, antelope, and elk but I’ve never hunted big game out west. Perhaps one day. I’ve also had the good fortune to have fished on half a dozen rivers, some a couple of different times. I’ve slept in big tents and small, motels and cabins, and on the ground under that legendary Big Sky full of stars.
When I tell the stories I tend to make it sound like I know more about that country than I really do, as if I’ve been there a lot. I haven’t been there a lot, though, not nearly as much as I’d like to. I still believe I could have stayed out there years ago and pounded out as good a living as I have here at home, wandering around the streams and mountains with rod and gun when I could and just plain becoming familiar with it all. Sort of, I guess, like I have here. Nowadays I go west as a tourist, a sooner, a hopeful yo looking to catch some big trout, stare at the scenery, enjoy some good evening whiskey with good friends, and make some great memories doing it.
With drift boat in tow we traveled all night and most of the day, Brent, Scott, John, and I, but we were on the water before dark casting to trout rising to tiny midges and blue wing olives. And we caught some. The fishing proved far more technical than I’d ever experienced. When I see fish rising all over the place, their heads and dorsels popping out of the water all around me, my Midwestern meat and potatoes mindset can’t help thinking “this is gonna be a slaughter!” Far from it, but thanks to some shared advice from the fly shop guides and my more experienced companions I was able to hook a trout here and there when I wasn’t untangling wind knots, or trying to slip an invisible tippet through the eye of a hook that an amoeba couldn’t squeeze through, or watching my buddies land yet another one. We toasted our luck each night in our comfortable rented cabin with a convenient fly shop within spittin’ distance of our door. Man-sized breakfasts, days on the river, and heaping delicious suppers guaranteed sound sleep and before I knew it we were packing for home.
Yes, we caught trout, enjoyed the views, sipped some fine bourbon, and brought back good memories. And I never even rowed the boat, but I tried to!