Tag Archives: fly fishing

Springing into Winter

Spring ought to be coming soon to Northwest Montana—in theory, at least.  Today, daytime temperatures topped out at 6° F, and we’re already on the way to another night, in a string of them, below zero.  In other words, we’re having a proper winter.

There has been a lot of chatter lately about winter being only a temporary state of being, a rest from the joy of summer.  I suppose that for a species that emerged from equatorial Africa, it makes sense to see winter as the dead time between summers.  Of course, we’ve been wandering the rest of the globe for sixty millennia—give or take—, so you might think we’d have grown accustomed to a little cold weather by now.  I for one can attest that, after being raised in the sauna of the Deep South, it takes only a few short months for a sunny day in the single digits to feel balmy.  Though, soon enough 40° F will feel much colder than today, and the cycle will repeat itself as the homeostatic properties of the human body do their work.

There is, as always, the larger perspective beyond our limited human vision.  Astrophysicists tell us that the universe is expanding, and, at some point 10^10120 years from now—give or take—, the universe will reach maximum entropy.  Like spreading a bed of coals apart from one another and into the snow, all possibility for life will more or less have ended.  In that sense, proper winters like these are balmy days for the universe as well.  But enough with existential dread this season.  Yes, we all eventually die and the flame of the material world goes out, but there are more important things to ponder on a warm day in March.

—Fishing, for example.  Due to the onerous finale of my Master’s program, which will gratefully be completed in the next three to four weeks, I’ve had to limit my outdoor pursuits.  In fact, “limit” is a gracious word for the paltry amount of time I’ve spent breathing deeply in the cold winter air.  But, the one thing that has kept me going has been winter fishing and fly tying.  I have a fly box full of pink stuff for the Mo’ and other local tailwaters, and I’m already starting in on ‘hopper patterns and ants for late summer fishing.  I guess I’m no one to judge those whose thoughts have turned to spring—I haven’t slept outside but once since October, and all I can think about these days is the April ice-off and returning to the world outside as the snow slowly melts away.

If winter is a state of universal being, then so is summer—each in their season.  When my classes finally end and I can finally return to working only a more-than-full-time job, it will be spring no matter what the weather station reports.  In the meantime, I’ll be getting ready.

Summer, Part I—The South Fork of the Flathead

Despite a short amount of time for actual backcountry travel, I was able to pull off a surprising number of trips this summer into a number of diverse locales: the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Glacier National Park, the Beartooth Plateau, and Yellowstone National Park. Add to that a tourist-style trip into Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada over the long weekend, and summer turned out far better than expected—especially given that I had to write something near 200 pages of academic work between June 7th (the last day of the school year) and August 3rd.

But with all that logorrhea comes exhaustion. Each of these trips deserves a post in its own right, but I simply don’t have the time or words. I am certain that these days and nights will find their way into my writing at some point or other, as they make their slow way through my mind. Until then, I leave you with the pictures.

*     *     *

The South Fork of the Flathead River (and Tributaries)
Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex
mid-July 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn all honesty, I cannot claim these. I was fishing a new rod on the trip, and I had little time to practice tenkara-style casting before we left. I learned as we went.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALayers of sedimentary ocean floor—“rocks from the basement of time.”

On the Prairie

You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale; you have to understand geological time.

—Wallace Stegner, “Thoughts in a Dry Land,”

*     *     *

Beauty in the Flathead is—more or less—taken for granted.  It’s obvious:  the Swan Crest rises up from the valley floor 4,000 feet or more.  Glacier National Park—a mere forty minutes from the central valley—is replete with peaks so dramatic and so proliferate as to become mundane.  Northwest Montana suffers from the æsthetic of the obvious.  It takes no effort whatsoever to find vistas that would define a lifetime were they not so frequent.

So, I must admit, that I was rather unenthusiastic when a friend proposed a weekend of fishing out on the prairie.  To be fair, I have been spoiled by the lush, overly-green climate west of the Divide.  Yes—we get less sun than those beyond the Rocky Mountain Front, but we also have rich groves of pine and cedar, and with the early arrival of spring this year, our maples and aspens in town have begun to bud, promising a swift change in color.  If anything, why not taste the last of the winter up high in Glacier’s innumerable basins and cirques?  Surely the high sub-alpine country, buried beneath several feet of snow, would be æsthetically preferable to the Great Plains.  But, the promise of learning to fish again after a few years off prevailed.


The beauty of the prairie is less obvious.  The lands swells and undulates like an ocean, browned in the mountains’ shadow.  Yet, there is a subtle beauty to the waters between the cut banks and among low lakes east of the front.  I ought not be surprised by this, given that I spent four years of my life on the edge of the Great Plains in college.  But as one who grew up in the midst of a pine forest, low hills and windswept grass have rarely felt inviting.  They are an acquired taste.