Saturday, February 20, 2016

Big Sky Journal: "Outside: Fish on the Brain" by Greg Thomas

I thought my brother John would like this one. He's fished the Clearwater and wants to go back.

Outside: Fish On The Brain

Twenty-four hours for steelhead

Written by Greg Thomas  
Illustrated by Fred Thomas  
February 2016

Giving yourself just 24 hours to catch a steelhead and then setting out on the road to do so is one of angling’s worst gambles. Especially when you must drive three and a half hours along one of the windiest roads in the West, over a notorious mountain pass, just to reach these fish. Steelhead don’t exist in Montana. You have to get to Idaho or beyond to find them.
A friend and I took that bet in November. He somehow convinced me that leaving Missoula at 8 p.m., just after I coached my girls’ basketball team to an overtime loss, was a great idea. I had no voice and seemingly little sense, the latter due to my friend’s propensity to drive at the very limits of physics. On this trip I have to remind him that all that waits ahead are a couple whiskeys and a night of sleep; we won’t miss a thing if he drives a safe 60 miles an hour versus 80.
I say this each time he drives, mostly as a valid mark of concern, but also to see his reaction. “You worry about the songs on the iPod, and I’ll drive,” he says, adding, “You’re just nervous because you’re not used to the sway.”
The “sway” is a sensation brought on by the tipping of his 3,000-pound Lance camper. At each bend, as he hits the brakes and my eyes get wide, the whole truck seems to lift onto two wheels before, miraculously, finding purchase again. On this particular road, Highway 12 between Lolo, Montana, and Orofino, Idaho, we go through this process perhaps 600 times. While negotiating one particularly sharp turn he glances up at me and says, “My girlfriend has to medicate when she rides with me.” I ask the obvious question: “Does she have any of that stuff stashed in here?” By the time we park at an access site along the Clearwater River, I am worn out but glad to be here in one piece, with nothing more to do than swing flies for steelhead.

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