Where was I? Oh, yeah…Montana. Every day was a new adventure; one day we drove down into Idaho and fished a gorgeous river near Ashton. On another, Yvon, the kids and I started fishing the Gallatin up high in the park where it’s a meandering meadow creek, then followed it north to where it turned into a medium-sized freestone river. And on yet another day, we took a break from fishing and headed into The Park to brave the circus around Old Faithful (it was 10 minutes late, crowded, and still spectacular) and look for wildlife (spotted bison, elk, bighorn sheep and a moose). Of course, we did have to stop for a few casts 0n the Gibbon and Firehole on the way back…
Wherever we went, though, we wrapped up each day back on our “home waters” of the Madison. That’s Skyla watching and waiting for the evening hatch to start. I loved sitting with her in the warm evening light, feet dangling in the water, listening to the excitement in her voice when she spotted a rise.
We often fished until almost pitch-black night, with bats swooping through the air, and that spooky feeling–a tingly mix of excitement and dread–that comes from being in a river in the dark. That’s Weston and Craig with a fat Madison River rainbow that chased down a big waking dry fly. I think the look on Weston’s face says it all. A huge thank you to Craig, Jackie and Yvon for kindness, patience, generosity, wisdom and just being plain fun to hang out with. We made the long drive home stoked on gratitude and memories that I know will last forever.
One day we fished a medium-sized river flowing through potato and wheat fields. Once Yvon had Skyla rolling on her own with the tenkara rod (no reel), he helped Weston wade into position to try the same techniques with a regular fly rod. Soft-hackle wet fly, downstream swing, small twitches along the way and…FISH ON! I think each kid must have landed at least 20 fish in an hour, with lots of laughter, high fives and huge smiles.
Another day we hiked around in The Park, searching for high-elevation brookies between waterfalls and in creeks meandering through glowing meadows.
Once we found our rhythm, we started each day the same, with Weston washing the breakfast dishes and Skyla packing our lunch while I loaded gear into the car for our next adventure.
But wherever we went, we ended each day back “home” on the Madison. Skyla, below, showing off her new tenkara skills. After yet another fantastic dinner at Craig and Jackie’s, we’d wader up and hit the 50-mile riffle ’til dark. That’s a rhythm I could really get used to.
It’s not easy leaving our home waters in the midst of king-salmon season for catch-and-release trout fishing, but I wanted the kids to experience a bigger version of the active wading and casting they’ve started to enjoy around here. Did I mention I know almost nothing about trout fishing? Fortunately, we had my buddy Yvon, the King of Soft-Hackle Wet Flies, with us for guidance. That’s his fly box above. Pick any color, as long as it’s brown.
Craig recommended we explore a little stream near our cabin to “get our feet wet,” before tackling the bigger wading (and fish) challenges of the Madison. Great suggestion. Yvon, the kids, and I headed upstream to dip our toes into Montana trout water and soak up the dry, high-elevation scenery. Weston spotted a grizzly on the way up, and Skyla saw a cow moose…a successful day before we even started fishing.
That’s Yvon, teaching Skyla the finer points of the tenkara soft-hackle twitch, done here with a regular fly rod and reel due to tight quarters and small water.
Skyla and Weston took a while to adjust to slick wading conditions and swift currents (both eventually made unintentional swims at one point or another) but Yvon came to the rescue with a steadying hand.
And here’s Weston’s first Montana rainbow. Game on! Stay tuned for more from Montana…
As the kids grow older, it becomes clearer and clearer to me how precious–and short–our time together is. It’s also become more important than ever to me that they spend time with key people in my life–friends and mentors who’ve inspired me and helped along the way, in the hopes that a little wisdom and generous spirit will rub off on the kids. With those thoughts in mind, along with Skyla and Weston’s growing interest in fly fishing, we headed east to the Rockies to meet up with my good friends Yvon and Craig. It started with an early morning ferry ride.
Despite countless traffic delays, one bout of carsickness caused by reading Harry Potter as we twisted through the Cascades, and playing the Lumineers to the point that I now know every word on the entire album, we made Missoula the first night. Next morning we hit the road again. Quick stop in Ennis for buffalo burgers (When in Rome…), provisions, and to replace one flip-flop mysteriously blown out while sitting in the car. Then south.
This is us coming into the Madison Valley, enjoying the 80 mph speed limit. I love Montana.
At last, road weary, a bit bleary, and completely stoked, we reached our destination and settled into our cozy cabin on the banks of the Madison River. As Weston says, This is the life. To be continued…
Processing season is upon us, and we’re in full juggling mode. The goal is to turn chrome-bright, fat-laden king salmon (above) into our favorite foods. I think it’s tossup for all of us between hot-smoked salmon and ikura salmon caviar. Of course, we also love it salted and fresh on the grill, and the leftovers in sandwiches. But for now, especially with these summer kings, which have less fat than the spring fish, we’re staying focused on smoking, salting and preserving.
This is the shop fridge holding a combination of pre- and post-brined salmon strips and chunks, along with two bins of brine. For our taste, we like a liquid brine made from 2/3 cup coarse Kosher salt, 1-1/2 cups dark brown sugar for every 9 cups of water. This year, in an effort to speed up our processing, I’m drying the brined salmon for 5 hours with a box fan blowing directly over the fish, then hot smoking at 205 degrees for about 7 hours. Results are delicious.
And here’s another batch of ikura, separated from the membrane using hardware cloth, and just starting to cure with 1/2 tsp Kosher salt, 1 tsp soy sauce and 1-1/2 tsp sake per 2 cups of eggs. Three days in the fridge to cure, then, if there’s any left, we put it in jars and freeze. But mostly it’s eaten up right away, on steamed rice, on crackers with cream cheese, or in Skyla’s case, by the spoonful. At the rate we’re mowing through the processed goods, we’re going to need more fish and more processing if we want any for winter. I think we’re up for it.