Friday, June 14, 2002

Fishing the Madison, Montana

This evening we discovered a miracle river. I slept the better part of the day as we drove west through Montana for two reasons. The long off-width crack on the second pitch of Devil’s Tower yesterday sucked me dry. And a long night spread out over the front seats of the van had done little to restore me.
So it was almost before I knew it that we were driving down an unnamed dirt road toward a river “recreation area” in the middle of an endless meadow that flowed out to distant forests in all directions.
I had no hope that the wide and shallow river would produce any fish. Wading out across the stony bottom, I flung a few long casts with a big Panthermartin barely a third of the way across the river. I gave up on that approach and contented myself to fling casts up into the side water above me. I had almost tired of that when a little Brown hit.
Josh and Nell headed for the van after Josh lost two lures to the shallow, fast water in the middle of the river. I told him I was right behind him.
In the memory, there is a magical place for those casts that produce beautiful fish. Billowy white and surly dark clouds gave witness to this one, with a rainbow that connected them to the ripples on the water.
My lure had run the course of every seam in the side water and I inadvertently whipped out a cast into faster water. A big fish rose and doubled my rod over with nonchalance, as if he had just taken a sip of tea at morning brunch. I reared back on my rod. The fish jumped and plunged away from me. He was taking line and heading downstream as I stumbled across wet, slippery rocks. A minute later, I coerced him out of the current and began to close the distance between us. The water was glazed with sunlight and all I could see was that there was a great distance between his head and tail on the surface. I stretched down a net from my back and dipped it into the water. Up he came. Nearly 18 inches and fat as a brick, the rainbow had a red stripe that looked like it was painted.
Jennifer came back downstream to see what all the commotion was about. She ran back to the car and got the camera. After a couple pictures, I reversed my net and watched the big red stripe swim away into a swirling, emerald home.

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