It has taken me so long to attempt to tell this story, our Montana story. Every day for the past few months I have fought myself to just sit down and get it out on paper but I could never decide where to begin. And if I were to begin, how I could possibly get it all in? I once heard Jim Babb, one of my favorite authors say, “Tell a story just like you were telling a friend over coffee at a diner.” So, get your coffee and order up 6-8 eggs over medium.
We arrive to find the Meadow Creek Trailhead parking lot filled with cars, trucks, and horse trailers. This was not what I had hoped to see. Optimistically, I proclaim that “People use these trails for all kinds of stuff, most of ‘em ain’t fishing.” We load up the packs, hide the car keys, take a long deep swig of George’s peach brandy, and head down the trail bear bells banging away.
About two hours into our hike, it becomes painfully obvious that we have over-packed. The weight of the packs on our shoulders is nearly unbearable. It feels like we we’re carrying a bag cinderblocks on our backs, just a heavy dead weight that never stops burning the shoulders and back. The pain is relentless. For the first time, I wonder what the hell I have gotten us into.
Up until this point in our trip, I have been in charge of navigation. Along the trail, we pause to allow a few lesbians and their dog pass. As we exchange what I assume is typical trail banter, one of the woman reveals to us that we’re headed in the wrong direction. The lesbians kindly take a look at our map and point us back towards the direction from which we have come. At this point, George has had enough of my internet maps and instructions. He grudgingly gets out his old compass and takes over all navigation responsibility. This is also to be the first of many times Chow and Luke inform me that they are going to kick my ass.
As we finally begin in the right direction, maps are no longer needed as we realize that simply following the endless piles of horse shit would lead us to our destination. I have no problem with horse shit. I’ve even seen Chow eat some when we were kids, I just never expected to see so much of it on a Montana wilderness trail. Gang after gang of horses pass us along the trail, both coming and going.
Lifting my eyes from the horse shit trail, I realize we’re marching along the most picturesque river I’ve ever seen. At most points, the South Fork of the Flathead is only 100 yards below me and I still can’t believe I’ll be fishing this beautiful river. It doesn’t feel real, or possible that I could come upon something so perfect.
The horse shit eventually leads to people. Nearly every spot that look camp-worthy is occupied. Forcing us to hike an hour longer than our bodies want to take us to find a camp site. Eventually we come upon a vacant sand bar a mile or two past Bear Creek, right along the river. Pitch the tents, make a fire and hang our packs in trees to avoid bears. We eat our freeze-dried meal and wash it down with bourbon and brandy. My body aches, and I lay in the dirt staring at my fly rod tube. My body longs for rest, but the river screams for my attention. In my exhaustion, I hear my Mom-moms voice bantering me with her well-worn phrase, “Dougie, shit or get off the pot.” Charming yes, but I get up, rig up, and head towards a fishy-looking hole. The river is not as picturesque as it had looked earlier. I’m shocked when I raise a trout, as I can’t believe they are actually here. I don’t land what looks to be a decent cutthroat, but my tank is refueled with enthusiasm just before it gets too dark to see. Get back to our camp and crawl into my “two man” tent with Chow. Sleep comes quick.
The hiking continues. We’re all sore and our feet are severely blistered. We’re again passed countless times by pack trains. Despite how battered and tired we are, I keep us moving. Occasionally, we stop mid-trail to drink water or eat a Cliff bar. Pops always seems fine, Luke the most energy, while Chow deals with some harsh blisters. “This is ridiculous. What the hell is wrong with all the spots were passing?” I try to ease Chow’s rage with some jokes. This only prompts him to state, “I’m gonna kick your ass.” (For the hundredth time today.) I try to stay positive, but as the day wears on, I want to kick my own ass.
Around 6pm, we come to a perfect campsite and decide we have walked far enough. We set up base camp and will move up or down the river from this point for the remainder of the week. After we set up camp, I rig up and walk back down river to a 60-foot pool within a small canyon. I’m still dealing with bear anxiety, and constantly looking at the ridge above me for grizzly bear.
Trout begin rising to my size-12 hopper as soon as it hits the water in the most beautiful piece of water I have ever stood in. I land my first 5 or 6 cutthroat trout within 25 minutes.
Eventually Pops and Luke join me. The old man has no trouble catching fish as soon as he gets going. Luke has trouble with the currents and getting a decent drift. I want more than anything for him to hook a fish. I know that Luke, like Chow, is still a little pissed about the two-day death march I’d just drug him on. So I approach with caution and offer some instruction on how to mend line. As his drift gets better, the fish take notice and it’s not long before he’s tight to his first cutty. Luke happily releases his fish and the three of us continue catching until dark.
At first I was using my graphite Winston 5wt and considering that perhaps graphite rods aren’t for the devil. Then at some point Pops handed me a rod of our own making, a 3 piece Leonard 50DF taper. It feels as if the line wants to soar itself across the river with just the smallest amount of motion from my right arm. Yet the big foam hopper lands softly in the current with each cast. As I hook and play a decent 12 inch cutty, its once again clear why my allegiance lies with bamboo. To fly fish and not use bamboo, is like driving a 68′ mustang with a Hunda four cylinder under the hood, your just not doing it right.
We’re all pumped and finally enjoying our trip as we hike back to camp. To my surprise, when we arrive, Chow is now also in high spirits. Upon further investigation, I realize he has finished off his supply of Jack Daniels. We cook our two trout, and Luke heats up our evening feast of freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff. It becomes known as “Beef Stroggie” and is damn good.
*Will be posting rest of the trip report and a video of all photos this weekend. Come back!