Jed showed up to fish one morning and before we hit the road, he handed me a single, perfect matsutake mushroom. I stashed it in my pocket, and from time to time throughout the day, I’d catch whiffs of the unique scent–a mix of pine trees, cinnamon and something earthy and mushroom-y. Someone once described matsutakes as smelling like red hots in a dirty sweat sock, but I don’t get the sweat sock part. They just smell delicious to me. More than once, my mouth watered at the thought of it.
Fast forward to dinner prep. Bruce and Aaron had a stack of enormous moose steaks; Calvin and April ran out to the truck, dug through a cooler, and produced a deer backstrap; Yvon broke out a magnum of Chateau Musar Bruce had given him; Rick was outside burning logs into perfect barbecue coals. I washed some rice, added the hydrating water from dried shiitake mushrooms, a bit of rice vinegar, a pinch of salt. Then, with great anticipation, I cut into that gorgeous matsutake. Inside, something moved. It was alive with small, white maggots. I recoiled. What to do? Figured I should give the crew the option. I showed them the wriggling mushroom slices and said we can either add it to the rice as planned, or toss it out and just go with plain rice. Someone said, “The rice is going to boil, right?” Another said, “Hate to waste a good matsutake.” There was a moment of silence, then the crew voted “Go for it” without objection.
It was delicious. And part of one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in a long time. Great food, great friends, great spirits. And a few maggots just to keep things on the adventurous side.
Sometimes, you get lucky and hit it right. We arrived just as the rivers were coming back into shape from high, dirty water. A fresh push of fish moved in, and between visiting with friends, cooking huge meals and generally hanging out, we found a few that wanted our flies. Yvon wasn’t messing around. That’s him, below, hooked up minutes after arriving on the river.
Yvon fought his fish with an audience, and landed it for an up-close look by 11-month-old Will. That’s Uncle Aaron providing fish-viewing assistance. The poor kid’s doomed to be a steelhead junkie like the rest of us now.
A few days later, after a morning spent on an enormous breakfast and serious socializing, Aaron and I walked down to the river for some fresh air and a quick fish. Aaron did his job, and then some.
On the one full day we actually dedicated to fishing, we found plenty of takers. It was a pretty epic six-fish day for me, and I was even spooled for the first time ever, by an enormous buck that turned downstream and never came back. When there were about four turns of backing left on the spool, I just clamped down until the hook straightened out. I’m already stoked for next year–there are friends to visit, meals to cook, and even a few fish to chase.
My buddy Yvon and I made the trek up to Skeena Country to give talks at the SkeenaWild fundraiser, but also to spend time with our friend Bruce, and sneak in a little fishing, too. I don’t know if there’s a more important place for Western Canadadian conservation–or epic meals–than the wooden table in Bruce and Anne Hill’s kitchen in Terrace, BC. Ideas, plans, strategies and campaigns have been hatched, setbacks lamented, victories celebrated around this table, and I always feel honored to have a seat here. On this morning, Bruce and Yvon talk history and strategy for the video cameras.
Then we were off to The Shack, for more time with friends I never get to see enough, and some actual fishing. After a day on the water, that’s (from left to right) Yvon, April, Aaron, Bruce and Calvin chewing the fat before dinner. Rick, our host was, I believe, outside turning moose steaks and deer backstrap on the barbecue, and I took a quick break from tending the matsutake mushroom rice to snap this shot. The highlight of the night, and probably the whole trip, for me, was when Bruce put his prized Martin six-string in my hands, and with a mix of embarrassment and fumbling fingers, I plunked out and sang a couple verses of Long Black Veil with Bruce. My utter lack of guitar and singing skills made me unworthy of the instrument, but it’s a moment that’ll stay with me forever.
Lured in by the aroma of sizzling moose steaks, our landlord, Bob and his giant friend Ootza(sp?), dropped by for a bite and a visit. Bob is one of the finest steelhead anglers and cane-rod makers on the planet, as well as a staunch protector of his beloved river and fish. He’s also a hell of a nice guy. Any time I fish or talk with him, I learn something new. Stay tuned for fishing and fish…
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.