Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

August 8th, 2005

Cutbank Creek

(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 some trout!"

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

It's out! And available now! You can be one of the first to own a copy of Roger's book. Native Waters: A Few Moments in a Small Wooden Boat

Order it now from www.iuniverse.com, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble.com. Roger will also be giving away three autographed copies to readers. Stay tuned, for an announcement on the Bulletin Board on that soon.


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