Growing up in Montana offered me some opportunities that
other people never have. Now that I live someplace else,
I find myself regretting some of the opportunities I let
pass; but I also have memories of some great times in
places others can only dream about.
Remember the "Movie"? I'm talking about that movie called
"A River Runs Through It." Most fly fishers I know dream
about fishing the waters represented in that movie. I understand
their desires. I dream about it too, but I dream about going back
and fishing them again, not just the first time. Some of my
favorite fishing trips were played out on those waters, and
I find myself missing those days a lot.
That movie was about a family who lived near, and fished,
the Blackfoot River. I was fortunate enough to fish the
Blackfoot and several of its branches quite often in my
younger days. There is a certain lure about the Blackfoot
that can't be fully described. I'm not sure if it's the
scenery or the river itself that draws my heart and mind
back to its waters for repeated memories and dreams of days
gone by; but there is something about that river that won't
release its grip on my heart and mind.
The North Fork of the Blackfoot is a mix of violent water
and smooth meadow pools. In the rough water, fish cling
to life in pockets behind boulders and anything else big
enough to break up the current. Anything eligible to be
considered for lunch passes by so fast, the fish must make
up their mind in a fraction of a second if they intend to
eat at all. Big bright flies are always productive in that
type of water. West-slope cutthroat trout are the most common
fish, and they are easy fare for anyone who can hit pocket
water with a big, high-floating fly. Hiking into the
wilderness is the best way to fish the North Fork.
The main river is less violent, but also easier to access.
Deep pools and fast riffles are etched into my memory of
the river. When I was young, I could fish all day and maybe
see one or two other anglers on the river. It isn't that way
since the movie, but there are still some nice cutthroats to
be caught if you can edge your way through the crowd.
When I close my eyes I can hear the wind blowing through
the trees and smell the strong odor of pine and tamarack.
I can hear the rumble of fast water on the North Fork and
smell the white bear grass plumes that line the river in
June. I can hear a bull elk bugle his love song in September.
I can see the sapphire pools of the main river and the rings
of rising trout searching out August hoppers or July caddis.
When I watched the movie, I knew right away that the filming
was done on another river. That scene where they were fishing
a stonefly hatch using Bunyan Bugs, was filmed on one of my
favorite pools on the Gallatin River south of Bozeman. I
spent many afternoons there in the early 70's trying to
lure a big rainbow or cutthroat to my fly. Yes, the
stoneflies really do grow that big in that river.
Wild raspberries in July and chokecherries in September were
a pleasant break from willing and hungry trout. Not as violent
as the North Fork, or as mellow as the pools on the main
Blackfoot, the Gallatin is a pleasant stream with a character
all its own. Fast water, hungry fish, big bugs and mountain
air flood my memories.
I know that if I ever get the chance to return to either river,
things won't be the same. With the movie came exposure and
people who wanted to experience a part of Montana fishing I
grew up with. Like most cases of exposure, there is a point
eventually passed that overcomes any attempts by the river to
recover. I doubt I'd want to share my pool with the hordes
that flew to the river after the movie. However, it's nice
to dream dreams based on real experiences on real rivers.
Maybe someday I'll get a chance to wander the banks of both
rivers and revive some dreams that have haunted my sleep for
several decades. If I'm lucky the weather will be foul and
the sunbirds will be sucking up suds at a local watering hole,
waiting for fair weather. If that's the case, I might have
one or two favorite pools to myself for a while. And maybe,
just maybe; I'll get a chance to skip back a couple of decades
for a moment, and revive a long lost friendship with a couple
of rivers I knew when I was young. ~ AC