Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

September 24th, 2006

A Montana Moment
By Dave Micus

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 in Montana.

Clarks Fork in town

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," Ben said.

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 just traveled.

Creek

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 trout habitat.

"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.

Author and Trout

Skeleton

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 caught.

Ben Hart

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 Hart
(Ben at his secret spot.) ~ Dave

About 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.


Previous Dave Micus Columns

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