Montana Night Driving

Marck and I departed his home in North Bend, WA at just after 3pm and headed east on I-90 toward our destination of Hamilton, MT. Along the way we stopped in Kellogg, ID for a massive hamburger and fries, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Within 15 minutes it became apparent that perhaps a green salad may have been a better choice and thus we did drive into the night, windows down. Montana welcomed us with 40 miles of road construction which slowed our progress a bit. That progress would be further delayed about 20 miles west of Missoula at 10:30 PM. Anyone who has driven through Montana knows that there are game animals aplenty on either side of the road, and often in between either side of the road.  It’s here that they show themselves mainly at night.

Seconds before impact the deer wore a certain expression, and so did I. Fortunately we weren’t going the posted speed limit and it wasn’t a large deer. The damage to the front passenger corner of the Fish Taco, which we examined after pulling over to the safety of the center meridian, wasn’t horrendous: we lost a turn signal and rearranged the bumper and some sheet metal, but the headlights were in tact and the tire was still round. Fortunately we were able to use a cargo strap to secure a piece of flapping plastic and Marck was able to put his 250 lbs to good use and bend the bumper just enough that we could continue our journey.  The unmistakable smell of deer feces hung in the warm air of the evening as we limped down the road toward Missoula, a fair amount of tying material stuck to the front end of the truck. If only we’d hit a decorative chicken instead–the damage would have been less, and grizzly hackle is worth more than deer hair.

Any significant bump in the road resulted in cringe-worthy scraping of metal on tire, and it just so happened that there was about 20 miles of major massive road construction between Stevensville and Hamilton, the results of which were countless significant bumps in the road. Amazingly we arrived without having to change a flat tire at 12:30 A.M. The next morning we stopped by Wimp’s Body Works where a helpful gentleman with a slide hammer was able to increase the clearance between the tire and a certain bolt that threatened to make our trip less enjoyable.

Bitterroot River Fly Fishing

After seeing to it that that the Fish Taco could once again drive in more than a straight line without scraping metal on rubber, we headed down the road to the River Otter Fly Shop in Florence where we met our guide, Jay Dixon. Jay lives off the grid (literally) high in the hills above the Bitterroot Valley in a solar-powered home that he shares with his wife and two young boys. Owner of Dixon Adventures, Jay is passionate about getting kids out on the water and that’s how we met initially: I had contacted Jay about adding his outfitter business to the Kid Friendly Guides page on Take Kids Fly Fishing. From there we struck up a conversation and I knew right away that I needed to fish with Jay, so Marck and I decided to book a Bitterroot float on our way to Idaho to participate in the Casting 4 A Cure event in Victor on August 26th and 27th. And so it was that we came to be fishing the Bitterroot on August 24th.

We put in near Florence and proceeded downstream toward our take out near Lolo. The day was headed well above 90 degrees and after record high flows earlier in the season, the Bitterroot was running about 700 cfs (about normal for this time of year). Other western Montana Rivers were still running higher than normal, but the Bitterroot Valley is heavily populated (relatively speaking), and irrigation demands are high for the alfalfa and hay that grow in the surrounding fields. There was concern, on Jay’s part, that the fishing would be slow as the water temperature pushed just past 70 degrees. The lower river doesn’t have much gradient and with long stretches of flat water it’s easy to see how the water temps can get too warm for fishing to be good for either the fish or the fishermen. Our bodies retained every ounce of fluid that we pumped into them all day long. Well, nearly every ounce.

When Lewis and Clark passed through the Bitterroot Valley in 1805 they wrote of a certain plant that would eventually become the state flower of Montana. The roots of this plant, when consumed without cooking, left a bitter taste in their mouths and thus the plant was named accordingly. Marck may have had a similar taste in his mouth after the Unaccomplished Angler struck first and pulled to a 3-0 lead over the superior fisherman.

Jay Dixon with an Unaccomplished Bitterroot rainbow

Unaccomplished Bitterroot 19" Cutt-Bow

Unaccomplished Bitterroot Cutt

If the taste in Marck’s mouth was bitter, at least it was not the taste of skunk–I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, particularly someone with whom I would be spending the next several days. He pulled out of his funk with a nice cutthroat, and ended up with 4 good fish on the day: 3 cutts and a rainbow. I finished out the day with a cutt-bow, a brown, a cutthroat, and 3 rainbows. That’s 6 fish for the Unaccomplished Angler and 4 fish for Marck, although it was not a competition and nobody was counting. Despite concerns over the water temps, the fish were all very healthy, fought hard and were in great shape when released.

Marck's first fish of the day: a beautiful Bitterroot Cutt

Marck's nice Bitterroot rainbow

Actually, Jay may have been counting (he’s one of those freaks who is actually good a math) and he was glad to at least put 10 fish in the catch column. After all, it’s beneficial for a guide to be able to say that his clients had double digits on trout in small water during hot weather. He’s a great guide–perhaps the best I’ve fished with as far as his overall intellect, knowledge of casting and fish fighting (ask him about “corking”), and his Little Johnny jokes.  I learned a lot and had an absolutely awesome time, and I think Marck did too, despite the ass kicking he received. According to the measuring tape sticker affixed to Jay’s boat, neither of us were Yanni or even John Denver, but we’ve got a ways to go before we reach Steve McQueen Status.

How Badass Are You?

Luck continued to be on my side after we got off the river, too, because the Sheriff who pulled us over on our way back to Hamilton let me off with a warning. It may have been due to the fact that I have a clean driving record and was very polite, or perhaps because I told him I was simply in a hurry to get back to the hotel before dark because I don’t like driving at night in Montana.

Montana Blue (and red) Light Special

As we prepared to depart Montana for Idaho the next morning, we took with us both good and bad memories. The deer-in-the-headlights encounter, while it could have been avoided had we been going 20 mph, was certainly unfortunate and is going to cost me at least my $500 deductible (which is more than the cost of the great trip we had with Jay). But it could have been much worse (it could have been an elk or moose). And I suppose the fishing could have been better, but any day that I can catch more fish than Marck is a pretty remarkable day.

An Unaccomplished Brown, for the win!