(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a
series of columns on Stouff's recent trip
to Browning, Montana to fish for trout on
the Blackfeet Indian Reservation for an
upcoming episode of "Fly Fishing America"
to be aired next spring.)
We stopped at a convenience store to make a
phone call to Mick's contact and friend,
Darren Kipp, cousin to Joe, the guide I
would be fishing with. I was glad for the
rest and reprieve from the vehicle, letting
the motion sickness fade and my stomach settle.
Darren is the man behind a successful film
production company on the reservation and as
amiable a guy as could be asked for. Darren
led us on out of Browning to the long road
that led to Joe Kipp's cattle ranch. Meeting
Joe for the first time was equally rewarding:
Here was a man with a quick and surgical sense
of humor, generous and enthusiastic, yet with
a no-nonsense air about him that exhaled confidence.
The proprietor of Morning Star Troutfitters grinned
as he shook my hand and asked if I was ready to
catch some trout.
Joe and his wife, Kathy, served up a great
supper and, after a long experience with
airplanes, motion sickness, mountain roads
and the sheer exhilaration of Montana, I
crashed into a deep slumber in the bunkhouse
Joe keeps for his trout fishing clients. Coffee,
I was told, would be at seven.
It was chilly when I woke up, and I reminded
myself that this was still spring in Montana.
In a state where non-winter months are few,
I was experiencing but a small sample of the
nearly omnipresent cold Montanans are born
into intimacy with. The coffee chased most
of the chill away, though, and not much later
Mick returned with his crew of two videographers
and one audio technician, respectively, Bill,
Jake and Julie. A long discussion ensued which
concluded with the plan that we would get my
Blackfeet fishing permit first, then we would
head to upper Cutbank Creek, a very long stream
on the reservation for an introductory interview
on camera and start fishing from there.
But first I had to understand about grizzly bears.
It was really pretty simple, when you get
right down to it: While in grizzly country,
the worst thing I can do is startle a grizzly,
especially a sow and cubs.
But if a meeting does happen, the next worst
thing to do is run, they told me. I was advised
not to look a grizzly in the eye and to speak
to it in a low, calm voice, "Whoa, bear, easy,
grizzly," was the recommended mantra, while
sidling away. The minute you scream and run,
you turn from something he's curious about or
wary of to something that he considers prey.
Now, they tell me, if none of this works and
a grizzly charges me, I am still not to run
or scream or try to fight (as if I would try
to fight a grizzly bear.) In fact, the only
chance of survival one has if a grizzly does
charge is to roll up in a ball, interlace the
fingers behind the neck to protect the spinal
connection at the base of the brain, and let
him bat you around until he figures you're dead
and goes about his business. No, I'm serious,
this is the truth, I was told.
It's not a subject to take lightly, of course.
There are, I was told, about 600 grizzlies on
the Blackfeet reservation, and of course, I
was told they were mostly around where we'd
be fishing. All of a sudden alligators and
water moccasins seemed like cuddly pets.
But it's easy to see why Morning Star Troutfitters
has been a success under Joe Kipp's guiding hand
for 20 years: He knows his ancestral lands and he
knows where the fish are and how to catch them.
He knows how to put just the right amount of fear
and respect of the true nature of Montana and all
its joys and pitfalls into a client then slap him
happily on the back and say, "Now, let's go get
There were some things I had to figure out
first, though, about all this trout fishing
business. Not the least among these were
putting on a pair of waders (we don't wade
in south Louisiana, we sink three feet into
mud if we try) and how to walk through a
rushing stream with water trying its very
best to take your legs out from under you.
We sat by Cutbank Creek (photo below) and did our first
interview, then made a few casts without
any takers before deciding to move on to
another section of the waterway.
Here I was confronted with wind unlike I
had ever experienced before, and Joe told
me, "It's all in your head," and I tried
to believe him, but I think it's like
grizzlies. Montanans are used to wind and
grizzlies, respect them, think about them,
but they're second nature now. I had to
learn to cast into, through, broadside of
and with wind that sometimes was at 30 miles
per hour. Though with Joe's help I got the
hang of it, I snapped off a few flies on my
backcast. I must commend the film crew: When
I did this, they went through great pains to
act like they hadn't seen a thing, whistling
at the clouds, taking particular fascination
with a wildflower patch or swatting a mosquito
and examining it closely in their palms.
Oh, and let me tell you, Montana has as many
or more mosquitoes as Louisiana, and most of
them are bigger, too. We were never far from
a can of Deet, I promise. There were skeeters
and biting flies nearly everywhere we went.
Naturally, when the wind is kicking like it
always seems to in Montana, it blows all these
assorted bugs into the streams and creeks,
and the trout feed on them, and we go fly
fishing for the trout.
I learned about fishing pools. When water
rushes along like that, hurriedly on its
way south to eventually join the Mississippi
River basin system and believe it or not end
up in the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps via our own
Atchafalaya River, it will carry a fly from
one point to the next very quickly. We were
fishing Elk Hair Caddis, a dry fly. I was
still struggling with wind, backcasts and
rushing water when...the magic moment happened.
Joe patiently explained to me about pools,
areas where water rushes around a rock or
log and leaves a small area of relatively
calm motion. He explained to me about seams,
the margins between rushing water and slower
or nearly motionless water. He directed me
to put my fly into one of these pools behind
a small boulder and let it drift into the
seam to be churned downstream.
You must realize, the fly fishing I do in
south Louisiana is very different. Water
doesn't move much, if at all. I mean, I can
cast, put down my rod, get a Diet Coke out
of the ice chest, comb my hair, read the
newspaper, and my fly will still be pretty
much where I put it. We usually don't have
to cast very far, and our largemouth bass
and bream are not nearly so spooky as trout
so presentation is not so critical.
Not so when fishing trout in fast streams.
It took me some time to learn to mend the
line, get the slack out so that if a fish
struck I would not lose the hookset.
Then it happened. I saw the faintest flash
of silver, the littlest gurgling bubbles and
I lifted the rod tip. Oh, he was not huge by
any measure, but I brought him to hand and
carefully removed the hook from his jaw, and
beamed up at Joe like a big kid. My first trout,
a sparkling, feisty rainbow. I let him slide
away, his soft belly wriggling out from my palm.
A creature surviving on the edge, living in
cold water from glacial melting from those
high Rockies above me, a survivor of the
finest kind, beautiful and delicate but at
the same time hardy and hale. Many times I
have read trout fishermen herald the virtues
of these creatures, but now I truly understood
the affection I might develop for them.
I had forgotten the television cameras, the
show, the grizzly bears and the wind. I had
caught my first trout, and right then, all
I could think of was doing it again.
"Let's see if we can find another," Joe
smiled after a handshake.
And so we did. Boy, did we. ~ Roger
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