I've lived in Missoula Montana for about two months,
and at least once a day, usually more, I have what I
call a Montana Moment, a brief second where I stop
whatever I'm doing, take in my surroundings, and think,
"Wow! I actually live in Montana!" This is not unusual
when everywhere you look are majestic mountains and clear
running streams. I've queried others who are transplants
and they confirmed they share these epiphanies, even after
ten-plus years. Once, while fishing the Clark Fork River
in the center of town at dusk, I heard the voices of a
celestial choir, and I seriously thought for a brief moment
that I had died and gone to heaven. I later learned that
there was an international chorale competition in Missoula,
and what I had heard was choir practice. Such is living
This past weekend I was able to experience Montana in all
its glory while fishing with river guide and new friend
Ben Hart. Ben is originally from Pittsburgh, but he
attended the University of Montana in Missoula and, like
so many of the University's alums, never left. He has
worked as an elk hunting guide ("not much fun and VERY
hard work"), owned his own rafting company, and is now
a fishing guide specializing in float trips. In this
he might be a bit too successful; since I arrived in
Missoula we had been trying to arrange a time to fish
and, finally, after four weeks, he had a day free (but
only then because of a last minute cancellation).
We arranged to meet at a secluded gas station and casino
(everything in Missoula is a casino), and the feel was
of an illicit undertaking, made more so by Ben's insistence
that I take a vow of silence, not even telling my best
friend or mother about the place he was taking me. He
drew the line at blindfolding me. Then off we went, me,
Ben, and his dog, Babe, down miles of highway until we
turned off on a dirt path, then many more miles on a
bumpy road before we came to a spot that could hold one
car if you looked at it from every angle. "We're here,"
I don't know the name of the creek, pronounced "crick"
up this way, we fished because Ben wouldn't tell me.
He needn't have worried; I didn't have the faintest
idea where we were and, even if I did, my poor old VW
bus would never make it down the miles of washboard we
When we arrive it's easy to see why he has been so
secretive--it is a trout fisher's fantasy. Though it's
been in the 90s for over two weeks, the water, coming
from high in the mountains, is numbingly cold. It is
so crystal clear as to be transparent, and wading is
interesting because what looks to be twelve inch deep
runs are really three feet deep, a shocking but pleasant
surprise when wet wading. Every ten yards or so there
were deadfalls creating deep clear pools, each one ideal
"What are you fishing?" Ben asked, looking at my motley
collection of poorly tied trout flies. He was kind
enough to say "here, try this," while handing me a fly,
and polite enough to not say "and throw all of your flies
away." I took the big, bushy dry fly he offered.
His expertise in fly selection was proven on the second
pool we fished. I drifted the fly down the deep slot
in the center, and a 16 inch cut materialized, coming
up from the bottom and slamming the fly. As I brought
the fish to hand, a bull trout, about the same size,
followed close behind the cut, trying to see what the
commotion was about. A bigger bull would have taken
the cut, as they are wont to do.
I have what a former acquaintance called "an unhealthy"
fear of bears, but I disagree. Being afraid of
something that can eat you is very healthy in my opinion,
and since moving to Montana I have developed a case of
what John Geirach refers to as "bearanoia." I tend to
be hyper-alert when fishing in the woods, usually
mistaking small sounds for large carnivores. Ben's dog
had been so well behaved that I had forgotten he was along,
and he very nearly gave me a heart attack when he popped
out of the underbrush directly in front of me, and I saw,
not a 60 lb black lab, but a 600 lb grizzly. Latter he
ran to us with a deer's leg in his mouth, no doubt all
that was left of some grizzly's lunch. I only hoped the
bear's appetite had been satiated.
Bearanoia aside, we fished this beautiful mountain stream
the whole day without seeing another soul. I managed
three more native cuts; Ben caught four times what I
On the way home after a great day's fishing, I pass a
field where a herd of 40 plus elk are grazing. As I
watch the elk, magnificent animals, many with racks worthy,
in my humble opinion, of the Boone and Crockett register,
it strikes me: this entire day has been a Montana Moment.
(Ben at his secret spot.) ~ Dave
Until recently Dave Micus lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
He just moved to Missoula, Montana. He is an
avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor.
He wrote a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet
newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats)
and taught a fly fishing course at Boston University.