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  1. #1

    Default Long Road to Craig

    Sunday morning the alarms start going off at 5. Yep, two of 'em. One on the iPhone and one old school. It's not a July trico hatch where I want to be on the water at 7:30, so I'm not excited and I hit the snoozes.

    5:30 and my boy wakes me. Spring Break is over and it's time to head back to Mom's in Jackson. He's nervous. He and his mom have been having their struggles lately and he's uneasy about returning. I reassure him that he's moving in full-time with me this summer. I'll find us a little place in Bozeman and he can start 8th grade fresh in Montana. You promise, Dad, you swear?

    Gassed and coffeed and on the road at 6:10. We had a decent snow Saturday night so it's a slow-go up the pass. The sky is lightening orange and pink over the Absarokas in the rear-view. At the bottom of the pass a plow clears both lanes. It's a 30 mph roll into Bozeman and quiet and easy through town. I stop for a breakfast cigarette, out of the car for the boy's sake, in Four Corners.

    The road to Norris is ice-free and dry well before we hit the Lower M, so we pick up the pace. Whitecaps on the M, she's blowing hard downstream through the Bear Trap. Three little deer stand in the middle of the road before California Corner. We have a good laugh. Something like, "Hurry up, Bambi. We ain't got all day."

    Left towards Ennis and the driving is easy but for the wind in our face, maybe a little snow here and there. I tell the boy to close his eyes and get a little nap. He tries. Cruise through sleeping Ennis and I tip my hat to the shop where I bought my rod and reel.

    I've driven through this valley so many times I hardly notice how pretty it is. The sky is dark with clouds this morning, the peaks in snow, and the fields are frosted, and the wind. A magnificent herd of elk on the river side above the Beartooth Shop. The boy doesn't wake for them.

    Whitecaps on the Upper Madison and turn right after $3. I was younger than my son the first time I fished here. I learned how to drift a dry in the pockets and on the edges of the pockets and just above the rocks and that #14 RW brought a few up. There was a metal mailbox and a rancher to collect your $3, if memory serves, but maybe memory doesn't serve, 37 or so years gone by.

    Idaho now and you better slow down. Always a cop at the Wild Rose speed trap on frozen Henry's Lake. There's a very special place way off to the south and east? and not too much about it on the web, a little something from Bob Jacklin, and maybe I'll take the boy this summer, and I hope time and humanity have been kind.

    Smooth through Island Park and ain't the Buffalo River so pretty and fishy looking and sometimes you'll see a winter moose standing there in the middle upstream.

    Snow still deep on the ground in Last Chance, and mind goes back those 37 to age 12, and to catching big whitefish after big whitefish behind a certain rusty manmade object on that storied stream with that #14 RW, and all the old pros who are eating sandwiches and waiting for rising rainbows while sitting on the bank are laughing and begging me to toss those whitefish to the grass and let them die, but I can't. They were righteous fish and I didn't care what anyone said.

    Left to Ashton, then right to Driggs and Victor and Wyoming. She's snowing heavy on that steep windy pass and the road's a mess up and down so very slowly we go.

    The boy is nervous, Mom's upset with him, so I remind him how much he loves her and she him. I have an idea. We roll past the turn to the road to her place up near the Gros Ventre and head to the Albertson's in town. We pick out a bunch of purple daisy-looking ones, both knowing she loves the color.

    He's almost excited now. He texts her that he loves her and he missed her and he'll be home in 10 minutes. She's waiting at the door. Big hugs and smiles as he hands her the flowers.

    11:15 and the Tetons are glorious and back I go, across the Snake, up the snowy pass where the skiers and boarders are happy, Victor, Driggs, Tetonia, pretending I'm in a race car again across the Fall River and into Ashton.

    Past windy $3, and I haven't had a burger at the Grizzly Bar except that once with mom and dad and big brother when I was just a kid and dang that burger was so good. The elk are still there just above the Beartooth Shop, and a pretty little group of antelope just downstream from Cameron, and I'm flying with the wind at my back.

    2:20 in Ennis, $60 in gas and 2 packs of smokes and an Arizona Black and White Iced Tea. Tiny ice pellets blow sideways and sting my face as I gas.

    The drive from Norris to Three Forks is spectacular, a route I've only taken once or twice. Big dark heavy clouds over snowed Tobacco Roots, rolling farmland hills, sleepy Harrison all quiet on a Sunday afternoon.

    Another little group of antelope as I cross the Jefferson, and I'm the kind of tired that's relaxed and contemplative. I remember how excited my mom would get when we would see antelope; and the two antelope heads, and the boar from Paso Robles, from Dad's hunting days, mounted on the wall in his den, and the big elk mount in the garage. That house burned down in '93, but that's a whole other story.

    I daydream about buying a 490 Method on close-out this summer and a new Abel TR, but what would become of beloved 490 One and Colorado LT, and I haven't even cast the old 490 SP Dad gave me for my move up here but that's a whole different kind of rod I imagine; but what I really want is to wade the Christmas Island flats for the first time since June '87 when I was crazy and 18 and shirtless without sunscreen and had so much fun with those bones and hooked a big trevally or jack or something steaming out of the blue onto the flat and broke me off as he turned back and dove down deep off the edge of the flat, with Method 690 or 790 and maybe a Nautilus next winter because this winter really wore me out and had me down...

    The Jefferson is a beautiful stream I've yet to fish, but I know where she flows, and that's where I'm going too.

    Three Forks, then cross the Missouri in Toston and again in Townsend and I swear I always see a rising fish here when I'm driving, Helena, and racing again through the canyon and off at Wolf Creek.

    4:30, sunny with light gray white clouds and a light wind blowing upstream, which is good for me but bad for the drift boats, and I know I'm too early.

    I take my time gearing up and walk down to a spot that's been active recently with a sunset midge eating pod of nice rainbows. I sit on the hillside bank downstream from where the pod should be and wait for them to rise. There's a group of big white pelicans just off an island upstream and little birds floating and dipping their bills where the trout should be. I wonder if the birds are eating emerging midges and why I don't know more about birds, their names and habits. I don't know much about plants and trees and rocks and geology either. I smoke and hide from the breeze and daydream maybe about some women I used to know. It starts to darken and I look at my phone and it's 7:30. 5 more minutes? I know they're here. The fish are here but the bugs aren't, dummy. Let's go.

    I hop in the truck and race quite a ways downstream to a spot I've often spectated but never really fished. This spot is close to a road and I came here to rest in the truck out of the sun July and August afternoons after hours of trico action elsewhere on the river. The fish were always feeding on top and looked smaller than those I normally targeted, but I enjoyed watching them and watching the drift boaters fruitlessly toss bobbers on their heads, and the groups of partiers on blow-up swan and giraffe rafts float by with their laughter and splashing.

    There is no wind here tonight and the water is still and the fish are feeding. I slip in maybe 45 feet below them and try not to move. The water is barely flowing downstream, no weird currents, just barely moving. 8 or 10 rise consistently close to the bank, not big, not dinks.

    It is wonderful to cast without wind and my new leader system works perfectly.

    I can't see my fly but I know about where she is. I set a rise that must be on me and hook and land a great little brown around 15". I set a couple rises that aren't on me and I don't spook the fish. If they were bigger and wiser I'm sure they would have been gone. I catch two more like the first and that little #20 hanging midge is toast. The fish continue to rise but I have no more interest in catching them. My casting was good, my new leader system worked well and the little browns were spectacular.

    I walk up to the truck and put away the gear and sit on the tailgate and have a smoke and watch the trout. The sky is purple now and the river and the snow on the mountains and no wind. I know the water is warming because my toes aren't numb.

    9:10 through Craig and onto the 15 south and maybe it's still light enough to see a fish rise but I'm happy and it's time to go home. Helena, Townsend, left at Three Forks, over the Gallatin, Belgrade, fresh rain in Bozeman and over the pass, and home in Livingston at 11:30.

    I often think I'll drive down and stay a few days in Ketchum this summer and spend more time in Last Chance, and I know many anglers' favorite river is right outside my front door, not to mention the spring creeks, but as I write this late Tuesday night with a day off tomorrow, I think you know where I will be.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    City of Angels, CA

    Default Re: Long Road to Craig

    Beautifully written.

    Thanks for taking us on your trip.

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  4. #3

    Default Re: Long Road to Craig

    Thanks for sharing a glimpse into lives that are interwoven into the rivers, roads, and soul of Montana. I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time in some of the spots you describe and your words created vivid images and transported me there instantly from my living room hundreds of miles away.

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  6. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Farmington, ill. -Stop by for a cold beer on your way thru
    Blog Entries

    Default Re: Long Road to Craig

    Nice read, I enjoyed the trip

  7. Thanks npike thanked for this post
  8. Default Re: Long Road to Craig

    Well written. The good people of Tetonia will forgive for leaving them out.

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  10. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Wasilla / Skwentna, Alaska
    Blog Entries

    Default Re: Long Road to Craig

    I suggest that you copy this and put it onto a blog page here. Your Profile has a blog feature, don't let this fade away buried by hundreds of future posts. That was well done!

    Anywhere can be the land of great expectations, broken dreams, or paradise found, it's all up to you.

    Life On The Line - Alaska Fishing with Ard
    Ard's Forum blog, Alaska Outdoors

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  12. Default Re: Long Road to Craig

    Quote Originally Posted by Ard View Post
    I suggest that you copy this and put it onto a blog page here. Your Profile has a blog feature, don't let this fade away buried by hundreds of future posts. That was well done!
    I fully agree.

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  14. #8

    Default Re: Long Road to Craig

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us. And I agree wholeheartedly with preserving the memory.
    There's 2 dates they carve on your tombstone.
    Everyone knows what they mean.
    What's more important is time that is known as the little dash in between.


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  16. #9

    Default Re: Long Road to Craig

    Wednesday, similar results.

    April Eve.jpg

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  18. #10

    Default Re: Long Road to Craig

    Arrived at the river around 1:30 or 2 yesterday. Warmer temperatures in the sixties with a little wind and dark thunderheads and sun.

    Rising fish haven't been everywhere, so I haven't been hiking in to many of my spots, just driving the roads and stopping here and there looking for feeding fish.

    From the top of a steep cliff I see a few working along the bank in front of a huge willow that the rising springtime river is beginning to overtake. They cruise and feed close to the bank of a deep bay, out of the wind where the water moves slowly. When the sun comes out from behind the clouds, I can see them through the water. Nice fish. Maybe I'll come back to them.

    I continue on downstream. A small group of women in the parking area at Mountain Palace, where I plan on turning around and heading back upstream, is taking a casting lesson. "We start with our wrists together," barks the female drill instructor. "Now we raise our rod." I notice a blond. I hope they don't have to stay in the parking lot all day.

    There's a beautiful thunderstorm, some driving, some reverie, and I end up back at the rising fish at the bottom of the cliff.

    I slide and sidestep down. Three fish cruise up and back along a forty or so foot stretch of bank, rising just occasionally. I see their mouths working subsurface.

    It's an awkward upstream cast, where I'm actually kind of seated on a rock maybe five feet from the bottom of that steep cliff, with that big willow just downstream. I see the fish cruising and I lead them by a couple feet. 10 or 15 rejections of good presentations and the one I've been working for rises and takes. A beautiful Missouri River rainbow that in a month or so from now will smoke my reel and have me running just kind of flopped around a bit and came right to net. I unbuttoned her quickly with the hemos and let her slip out of the net. Leave the rainbows alone. Glad I know where the browns will be this evening.

    It's a good group of fish tonight, but two in particular catch my attention. Close to the bank, almost side by side, just noses, no splashing, no rolling, just two noses consistently rising.

    I go for the easier cast first, the one maybe a foot off the bank, the other kind of in the weeds and just inches from the bank.

    With so many naturals on the water you know I can't make my fly out, but on about the third or fourth cast I set and it goes tight. He heads upstream taking up the slack and then peeling some line off the reel, then turns dead around back at me and screams downstream, not to the backing, and stops and digs in. I hold him there and slowly walk down to him, reeling in line as I go. A wonderful tough trout of about 18 inches, he battles fiercely but comes to net and is released quickly.

    I clean and dry the #20 midge and slowly walk back up, where the other still rises next to the bank. It is a tough cast. I certainly don't want to land on the bank and snag and spook him off.

    The first cast is too far out of his lane. The second is much better, not as tight to the bank as he is, maybe six inches off, and he takes.

    He rolls when he's hooked and there's a big tuna boil and I can feel his weight as he takes line straight across stream, and stops. He shakes his head violently and I give just a little slack so he doesn't break me off. He stops. He holds there for an eternity, maybe 65 feet up and across. he's heavy as I steer him toward the bank above me and I gain line. I get him leader close and still can't see him through the dark water this time of night.

    I reach back for the net tucked into my wader suspenders. He turns and screams 40 feet of line out straight across and holds. He bulldogs. I worry about the 5.5X and my knots and the little hook. I rotate my body and the rod and turn him downstream to the bank. It's a battle, especially the last 25 feet, and an ugly gnarled beautiful monster he is, with a jaw like a sockeye and a nose like Rocky and brilliant crimson spots near his tail. I wish my photography could do him justice.

    Brown Jaw.jpg

    The opening of the net is 20", for reference, so he is a bit longer

    tax day brown.jpg

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