Sleeping with the fishes
by Toner Mitchell
by Toner Mitchell
By Aaron Kindle
I am often asked why I choose to spend so much time out in wild country? The question always strikes me as odd. I usually respond with “why not”? I simply can’t imagine a life without wide-open spaces, clear streams and wild critters. It would be a life I wouldn’t want to live.
Most people I acquaint myself with spend much of their time planning and plotting to get “out there” again. My wife and I never go more than a few days without talking about our next float trip or how we’re going to get in enough camping with the kids before the snow flies. I speak to friends about hunting once the snow does fly or where we’ll do our annual winter backpack trip or about how we’ll use the three-month summer window to get into an alpine lake in hopes of tangling with wild cutthroats.
So when I contemplate the question of “why?” or better yet, “why not?”, I eventually always circle back to the same answer. I gravitate towards wild, quiet places because that’s where I’m supposed to be, that’s where we are supposed to be. Wild country made us us. It’s in our blood and from our ancestors. Without wild places we wouldn’t be connected to our past, we wouldn’t be human.
The most obvious way to understand this truth is by taking children into the woods. They love catching fish or bugs or just digging in the dirt. When I ask my kids if they want to go camping, they never decline or say they’d rather do something else. When I ask them why they love it so much they say, “We don’t know, we just do”. They don’t have to think about it, they simply know the outdoor world is authentic, and needs no further explanation.
My folks recount similar stories from my childhood. I too was always eager to get outside to catch fish, shoot BB guns and generally make fun with things found outdoors. I eagerly hopped in the truck anytime dad offered to take me out. My father was also shaped by his time outdoors, as his father was a dedicated outdoorsmen and an amazing mind on all things of the natural world.
I mention my father and grandfather because truly valuable things stand the test of time. My family has passed our love of the outdoors from generation to generation going back as far as I can trace. Our outdoor heritage stands the test of time and endures through the years, connecting us through time and distance.
When I hear the joyous sound of my children’s laughter and see their pure delight while playing in some wild locale, I know that my father heard and saw those same things from me, and his father from him.
That laughter is a sweet music to my ears. It’s an old familiar music that our ancestors would certainly understand. It is obvious and pure. It is the essence of “why.”
I do it once a year. Me, a fly rod, four horses and a couple of dogs. When the heat of the summer is in its prime I’ll head for the mountains for a week of “Dave solo time.”
I don’t do it to get in all the fishing I possibly can and it’s not about covering all the country I can. It’s about going into the wild country, slowing things down, and clearing the brain. It’s about continuing to gain competence and confidence in my backcountry skills. It’s about coming out grizzled, smelling of campfire and rejuvenated. If I catch a fish or two along the way. . .well that’s just a bonus.
People fish for different reasons and more power to them. I will say “the cool scene” is always tough for me. Cool bro-bras hanging out on the ramp talking about their epic fishing day, making fun of the worm plunkers and figuring out what they’re going to post on their blog when they get home. There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact it’s great they’re getting out. The more people we have appreciating these great public land resources the better. But it’s not for me. I fish not to tell the story but to live the story.
On my last solo horsepacking trip I realized I’m finally hitting it. The progression, the evolution. . . where I want to be. My old man used to say “I don’t care if I catch a fish, I’m just happy to be out.” I never understood that. When I was a pup, I just wanted to fish every waking moment. As I progressed through the years I moved to wanting to catch a lot of fish, then big fish, and then wanting to outthink the tough-to-catch fish. There were several stages in-between.
Sometime in there my old man taught me to fly fish. I don’t consider myself a good fly fisherman. I will say it feels really good when I can occasionally put a bug where I want along a seam or in front of a rock. That feeling, you know the feeling. It clears the brain.
Nowadays it’s about where I go. It’s about working hard and seeing no one. It’s about appreciating cold, clean fishable water in wild country. It’s about peering over the bank and watching native cutties as thick as pink salmon doing their spawning dance in high mountain streams. It’s about setting the rod down occasionally and looking up, following fresh grizz tracks as you hike the game trail down to the creek and watching waterfalls cascade hundreds of feet down granite walls into crystalline dark blue lakes. It’s about sitting on a mountain lake shore at dusk and seeing thousands of fish rise at the same time.
It’s not about telling the story but being the story. And I can finally repeat what my old man used to say. I don’t care if I catch a fish, I’m just happy to be out.
By Corey Fisher
For the last few months, USGS Daily Stream Flow Conditions and NRCS Montana Snotel have been my two most frequented websites. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not www.new.tu.org. Nope, I’ve been in search of hard data, the kind of government funded, scientific, real time statistics that could help me predict one very important number: the cubic feet per second that the Smith River would be flowing on June 22nd. This year, after 8 years of applying, I had finally drawn a coveted Smith River permit for the fourth Saturday in June, and I guess you could say I’ve been pretty excited about it.
The Smith River begins in the Big and Little Belt Mountains of central Montana and in a state renowned for its wealth of trout streams, the Smith is the only river regulated on a permit system; no permit, no float. It’s also one of only a handful of rivers that are well suited for a multi-day river trip, with a 60 mile stretch of river from put in to take out that features a canyon section with thousand foot cliffs towering over the river, picturesque campsites and five days of getting away from it all.