Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

August 15th, 2005

Otatso

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth 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.)

Chief Mountain stands at the eastern edge of the Rockies where the range suddenly bolts to the northwest near Canada at almost a forty-five degree angle. A solitary and juggernaut feature, Chief Mountain is like a sentinel guarding the way across the divide. Though I was only in Montana for a few days, its presence each morning when I looked up into the Backbone of the World from Browning was a comfort.

Cutbank Creek had turned up a buncha trout for me, frantic, beautiful rainbows. In the first day alone I had managed to learn to cast in relation to the wind, walk across streams without losing my footing (most of the time) and caught many trout, as well as something they called a Rocky Mountain Bonefish, or whitefish. Looked like a trout to me, what do I know? I'm from the swamps.

It had been decided that day we would head up to Otatso, a creek north of Browning near Glacier National Park. To get there would be a two-hour ride and then a trek down a road that Joe Kipp described as "brutal." I was to learn later that he was in fact being polite.

Joe's son Max joined us that day and I rode with him for the trek. The rest of the crew followed in two other vehicles. Once we left the main road, the short trail to Otatso was brutal, all right. More than once I hit my head on the top of the truck cab, and was jarred and jumbled, but I never wondered if we'd make it through. Max knew his business - he had guided his first fishing client when he was six - and though I arrived tossed and shaken, we got there safely and none the worse for wear. We did, however, see grizzly tracks on the way in, but Joe said it was a small one and not to worry about it.

On a ridge overlooking the creek, Otatso chanted and sang below us. We geared up, a process that took up to half an hour or more, and I observed that trout fishing was pretty "worky" when you get right down to it. I mean, back home we throw our tackle in a boat, put the boat in the water, drive to where we want to fish, fish until we've had enough, then come home. But we ambled down the ridge slowly, finding ourselves at last on the banks of the creek. I learned I had to sidestep to get down the ridge, as wading shoes with felt soles are great for maintaining a foothold on slippery rocks, but slide like a wet penguin on vegetation.

At that point I realized I had left my hat in the truck, and Bill, the videographer, was kind enough to go back and get it for me, surely recognizing that a Montanan would be able to do so in about ten minutes, whereas a Louisianan might take an hour or never return at all. I was very grateful. The canyon that hid Otatso Creek was deep, its sides steep and forbidding. We would have to fish our way down a few miles, Joe said, to a point where we could climb out and reach the trail back to our vehicles again. Regardless, this was perhaps the finest water I had seen since arriving in Montana, and that's saying a lot. Otatso was gorgeous, secluded and pristine. In my entire time in Montana I saw not a single scrap of litter. I mentioned this to Mick who said he wasn't sure if that was because Montanans are so much more noble, or if it all just blows into Wyoming.

Once again, our guide showed he knew his business and his waters better than anyone and he put me onto many wonderful trout on Otatso, all cutthroats. Joe would go ahead of us, survey likely pools and wait for us to catch up. While individual anglers can fish the Blackfeet Nation waters with a proper permit, they can only fish the headwaters of many areas with a guide because of the bull trout. Listed as a threatened species, the Blackfeet authorize headwaters fishing only with a guide to help assure these fish remain viable. It is illegal to even intentionally target these fish, and if one is caught while fishing other species it must be released at once.

We caught plenty of cutthroats, though! Joe knew the best pools and the best ways to fish them, and by the end of the day I had caught plenty. There was one particular pool that we fished subsurface and coaxed a couple especially nice trout from. It was pretty cool because both Joe and I stood upstream of where water was raging over this shallow dropoff, hurtling itself below, and the trout were in the pools behind big boulders or at the seams between the quieter water and the moving flow. I think my best trout on Otatso was about 14 inches, but I'm still a rank amateur, don't forget.

The hike back to the vehicles was excruciating, and I learned an odd thing: The smokers in the group just went along like nobody's business, while I, at the time nine weeks into my cessation, was wheezing like a dilapidated Hoover. At the end of the trail was the same ridge we had gone down to fish in the beginning, and now we had to go up. That ridge nearly licked me, I admit, and had to take two breaks on the ascent to catch my breath. If a grizzly had come by right then I wouldn't have had to remind myself not to run - I didn't have the breath to try anyway. In fact, I got to studying on that ridge, all full of wildflowers, looking over chortling Otatso creek, and thought, "Put me up a marker right here, and I'll just stay for eternity." But then I remembered I hadn't had any fry bread in Montana yet, so I got up and made it the rest of the way.

After passing the brutal road back, we took the highway again. There was still plenty of time to fish since full dark doesn't come until about 10:30 in Montana that time of year, so we were off to Goose Lake. This was quite a piece away, but finally we turned off the highway again and began climbing into the foothills of the Backbone of the World. There were three vehicles, often separated by a quarter mile, and the folks in the lead vehicle that evening got to see a grizzly.

It was just a few dozen yards away from them, and at first they thought it was a cow. There's cattle everywhere you look in Montana, but then this creature took off in a way only a grizzly can run, they said, and there was no mistaking the awesome size, gait and profile of it.

Some of the crew wanted to turn back then, since the bear was heading right toward Goose Lake, but Joe shrugged and said, "It's my land, too," and so we pushed on.

All the time we were gearing up - inflating float tubes and pontoon boats, putting on waders, assembling rods - we could hear cattle raising hell all around. They mooed and fussed and groaned, obviously irate and uneasy about the proximity of the grizzly. I never saw it, though, and while I wish I had in a way, the notion of a closer encounter than a look-see does not appeal to me.

Learning to use a float tube wasn't hard, really. Just sit in it like an easy chair and paddle with the flippers on your feet. Since I have considerable expertise with easy chairs, I adapted quickly. Goose Lake is cold, of course, but there is heavy vegetation in it. Joe instructed us to fish along the edge of these by drifting or paddling and either casting or trolling subsurface flies - woolly buggers and the like - along the weedline. This resulted in my two best trout of the entire trip, both in the 20-inch range, just before sundown. These were cutthroat trout, characterized by the slashes of orange-red below their jaws, gorgeous creatures, soft and strong. Again, the expertise of Morning Star Troutfitters had allowed a south Louisiana newbie to fish trout and to exceed all his wildest expectations.

I don't know how high in altitude we were at Goose Lake but the near-sunset was gorgeous, the air clear and thin. I was grateful that there were no more ridges for me to climb to get back to the vehicles. With two magnificent trout capping two days of great fishing, I was pretty smug.

We finished up right at dark, made the long trek back to the Kipp ranch, tired and satisfied. The following day would be wrap-up filming, final interviews and a few more moments on the water. ~ 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.


Previous Native Waters Columns

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!


[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ]

FlyAnglersOnline.com © Notice