Two natives, two friends, two streams
by Tom Reed
New country and old friends. A foundation, a beginning. An idea. Each year we’d each pick a stream on our borders, a thin blue line of water splashing from high mountain hold in country without roads, and few trails. If it were easy, we thought, anybody could do it and the fishing would be a thin soup, or polluted with brook trout, cutt-bows and the like. No, our targets would be wild and pure, the waters crystal, as they were and as they are.
And so began the border wars, the years of scrambling into the vehicles with 2-weights and wire-thin triple oughts, one of us pointing south, the other north, a rendezvous. A tradition. Men need tradition like they need oxygen, a reason. A tradition builds parameters and goals. Can’t skip tradition. I’ve been Nevada chukar hunting every Thanksgiving for a decade: “Sorry, no I can’t come to the nutty family Thanksgiving in the city. I’m in Nevada. It’s tradition.” We’d fish places with names, but names that will never find the light of cyberspace, for they are to be discovered and half the adventure is in the discovery. Good fishing needs to be earned and thus earned, is owned. Those who have earned know.
Last summer, we found three streams with good fish. The first was a hop-across, with cutt-bows and cutthroats and rainbows. We each caught two dozen, then ate tailgate lunch and relocated to the second stream, where browns rose to hoppers. It was summer tail-out, August fading to September and the bulls starting to talk and piss themselves in the high country. The browns were thick and yellow, sides peppered, jaws toothy. The foam hoppers shredded quickly, caught in a Cuisinart of trout teeth. And then the third: westslope cutthroat. Hungry. Red-bellied. Slash-marked. We took turns at the bends of the little stream. Standing, casting, landing, catching. We lost count at 50, went probably twice that. Each. Laughing the whole time. Incredulous. We had found this place on a map, where contour lines are tight, where the road ends. August fell from the sky that day, and September rose the next. A few weeks later, I stalked elk with a bow at the stream’s headwaters.
This year on the other side of that mountain, where gravity sends water to another river entirely – we found our way up yet another thin blue line. We cast for Snake River cutts this time, catching thick fish in tight turns of a stream hardly larger than an average irrigation ditch. Just over the mountain was our stream of the previous year, with a different fish swimming there, a fish just as pure, on the other side of a wild mountain that split two subspecies from each other as the mountain has for all of time.
- Tom Reed is the Northwest Regional Director of the Sportsman’s Conservation Project of Trout Unlimited. The author of four books, most recently Blue Lines, A Fishing Life, Reed lives outside the town of Pony, Montana, with four bird dogs and 10 hunting horses. For more visit www.tomreedbooks.com