Throughout our visit to Montana, we enjoyed abundant and easy public access to great fishing nearly everywhere we went. From the well-marked and beautifully maintained access sites that appear at startlingly frequent intervals along the Madison River, to the National Park waters of the Gallatin, Gardiner, Firehole and Gibbon Rivers we were free to walk and fish as we liked. The right to this kind of freedom, where you needn’t be a wealthy landowner to enjoy our natural resources, is one of the pillars on which our country was founded. True patriots of every tax bracket should fight to uphold the idea and practice of public access.
Today, however, this right is under attack across America. The movement to privatize or hand over federal lands to states is running rampant, promoted, curiously, by many claiming to be patriots. Whether it’s the misguided “patriots” in Oregon occupying a federal wildlife refuge or Montana gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte (who once sued the state to shut down a public-access easement on his property) running on a ticket emphasizing limited public access, every citizen should be concerned.
But if you are a hunter, fisherman, hiker, climber, surfer, birder, kayaker or anyone else who enjoys the outdoors, you should be doubly concerned. Take a look at the 2016 Republican platform: It calls for handing federal lands over to the states. In other words, if you’re an outdoor person who isn’t a wealthy landowner and you vote Republican, you are effectively voting to cut off your own recreational access. Or, as we like to say out West, shooting yourself in the foot. It’s time for all of us who love the outdoors–and public access to it–to stand up against the privatization of public lands with our votes. It’s the truly patriotic thing to do.
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…