Let the stories be told from on high. Stories of men, battling the elements. Of obstacles most would think could not be accomplished by mere mortals. Stories of great deeds, heroic efforts and the kind of feats that you've only read about in story books. This is not one of them. Sorry. This is just a day on the river.
Back in May at the annual Citizens For Balanced Use fund raising banquet, I bought a guided fishing trip donated by my good friend Captain Mike. I happened to catch Captain Mike at The Mint Bar in the proper state of mind to donate a day on the river. "You donate the day Captain Mike and I will buy it." He agreed that night and again the next day when the Absolut had worn off.
The auction was itself a bit of a spectacle. Captain Mike charges $450.00 for two people to fish in his boat per day. As it was an auction he knew it would go for less. He was being generous to do this and I promised it would go for at least $350.00. The banquet was sold out. 320 people from all over Montana and neighboring states. The fishing trip was next on the block. BG was the chair of the banquet committee and she graciously volunteered me to serve on it. God love her. The trip comes up for bid and I say "Someone in here is going to try to run me up so you bid. I'll keep telling you yes until it gets to high."
The bid opened at $100.00. Hands flew in the air. At $150.00 it was BG and a guy across the room. He would bid and I would tell her "yup" and she would bid. I was standing right behind her. At $250.00 he bailed. The auctioneer looked her way and I raised my hand from behind her. "$300.00 to you" I told her "yup" then raised my hand to $325.00. The auctioneer looked at her "$350.00?" I told her "yup". She bid $350.00 and it was sold. BG turns to me after it was over. "I saw that one guy get out, who was the other person bidding me up? Did you see?" I just started laughing. "It was me! I told Captain Mike it would fetch $350.00 and wanted to make sure it did." Hey, my money was going to an organization I believe in and support and I was glad to give it.
Flash forward to early August. I call my brother Bill and tell him I have a guided fishing trip and would like him to come. "Well, I am going to be in Bozeman for a conference." I told him he had a week to decide to skip the conference for a day and come with me. "It's your birthday present. If you don't come and fish, well, then you already have the rest of the present." He called the next day to say he was in and the count down began.
Flash forward to today. Brother Bill meets me at my house and we head to Ennis to meet Captain Mike. We rendezvous with him, load up and head south to the Middle Madison River. Captain Mike gets the gear ready and we put in the water.
I'm not a fly fisherman or much of a fisherman at all. I had talked to Captain Mike the night before and told him as much. "Just give me a spinning rod. My brother has fly fished. Just get him on some fish and I'll be happy." As you will see he obliged.
Captain Mike, setting up the gear.
A view of the sun coming over the Madison Mountains.
Brother Bill, ready to beat the water.
We hit the water and headed downstream. When you fish with Captain Mike (CM from here on out, sorry, its a lot less typing) you keep score on the football scale. CM is an MSU grad (which makes him even more awesome) and was going to be a teacher and football coach. He did graduate and did teach for a year but decided that being a guide was more fun. You don't have to put up with quite as much bullshit. After spending the day fishing with him, I have no doubt he would have been a great teacher. So here are the rules: anything trout under 15 inches is a field goal worth three points, 15-18 inches is a touchdown worth six points, 18 inches and longer is a touchdown and a two point conversion for eight points. The fish have to touch the net or break the plane of the boat to count. CM makes the call on length if he can't measure them. A whitefish (sucker fish) is a safety. It doesn't matter if they break the plane. If you have a white fish and get it close to the boat it's two points for the other guy.
I bet Bill $5 on the first fish caught. If it's a white fish, you lose. I catch the first fish and am down two points and $5.
As the day progresses I am giving Bill and good thrashing. Though I've caught two white fish, I've kicked a bunch of field goals. The lead is something like 26-9 when CM changes the rules. Really? What a cheesedick. Bill is fly-fishing and I'm using a spinner so CM gives him and extra ten points. I land a field goal in the "bonus run" a stretch of river where the fish are almost uncatchable (I caught one. I am an awesome fisherman) so a bonus of two points for that. It's 31-9 then Brother Bill goes on a tear. A couple of field goals then this.
A whopping 15 1/2 incher. The game was on. It's 32-26 when this happens.
Oh, so sorry. One of the three safeties he would give me. Nice job getting us on those white fish CM.
Brother Bill would make it close. His ten bonus points were doing him good. I was up seven, then ten, he'd kick a field goal. I would match it. And then came a bend in the river that would change everything.
CM kept telling me to look for deep water with my spinning rod. To fish off the back of the boat. We hit some fast moving water and the river took a hard bend to the left. I saw a dark hole on the opposite side and flipped my lure towards it (here's the part of the story where I should say I can cast a spinning rod on a dime, but I'll leave that out) I threw the lure to the far bank in a deep blue hole. There was a snag bush there that I didn't want to hit. The boat turned left so I picked up my retrieve pace on my lure just a bit. The drag on the reel went off with snnnnnnnzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I thought I had hit the snag. Then my line headed up river. Fast! I had a big on one.
I threw my tip in the air and started reeling. CM heard the drag and looked back. "Big fish! Start reeling Chip!" I started to reel and then.....SNAP!! The reel broke out of the rod! The monster was heading for a log bank. I grasped the reel in my hand and held it to the rod. Reeling hard and fighting the great beast. It was ebb and flow but I became victorious and put him in the boat. A 19 1/2 incher! Touchdown and two point conversion.
Captain Mike and MRM with a beauty.
Note the left end of the reel mount. It broke off in the rod. Yet with my uncanny natural fishing ability I was able to land that monster.
Now it's 40-26. Five minutes later, I put the game out of reach with a 15 incher. To Brother Bill's credit. He had many more hits on the fly but having not fly-fished for many years, couldn't get enough hooked or landed to the boat. CM told him at the end of the day "Bill, a couple of more days on the river with me and you would be a pro." High praise.
Quote of the day after I landed the big one on the broken reel comes from Brother Bill "God! This will be about three pages on your blog. (In a tone mocking me) 'Yeah. There are great fisherman. Captain Ahab. Jesus Christ. The Old Man. Oh wait! And Me'" I especially like the Hemingway reference myself.
We had a great time. If you want to come to Montana and want to fish, Captain Mike is the absolute guy to take you. I have his number. He doesn't have a website. Yet.
Enjoy the rest of the pictures.
Just a shot of the Madison Range. Used my sunglasses for a filter.
Another shot with my sunglasses.
A nice picture of Spinx Mountain. Captain Mike says there is a trail right to the very tip.
Looking back up river.
The monster catching his breath after our epic battle. He did swim away fine.
Just a chance to mock Ralph.
A great day. Chickory and Boxer, if you still read this. I hope for God's sake this was enough pictures.