Craigs Corner - Science Edition
I had recently returned from Montana. And a guy I know from out here on the left bank was querying me about the country up there. Turns out he was debating following his girlfriend, who had recently transferred to the University in Missoula, and invited him. He had traveled many places, but not there. He was considering.
“ Don’t do it,” I replied.
“That’s not the answer I expected,” he frowned at me: “Seems like you go there every year -why’s that?”
“Well...because once you go, you’ll kick yourself for not going sooner.”
For our tribes of river runners, skiers, climbers, miniature golfers, and anglers, Montana is bitchin’ kitchen. Mountains galore, vast space, history, amazing Breaks in the prairie. Room to roam and inviting. Seems like every river, stream and irrigation ditch drips trout silently finning beneath the surface.
I can’t forget the time I first heard it: Big Sky Country! What a name. All of that neck of the woods, along a number of states and provinces, scream ‘drop by’ when you lay the pre trip maps out on the table. Too many amazing windows of adventure in America’s Rocky Mountain region.
One day heading back to Cali from up there, I broke my journey at an old hang from college days, and dropped anchor in Stanley Basin. The alpine skyline of the Sawtooths looked invitingly the same as I remembered. Up high, even in late summer, snow creased steep couloirs between ragged spires. Now, years later, these peaks seemed reminiscent to me of Austria’s Kaisergebirge. We both have cows in our alpine regions.
Down here in the Basin, Idaho’s upper Salmon River seemed the same too. A vague breeze wafted the scent of fresh cut alfalfa from somewhere upstream. I sat on a picnic bench with soft river riffle tumbling through meadow a few steps away. To the west, last of a summer evenings light silhouette the skyline which give the range their name.
A couple of people sauntered over to ‘my bench.’ On such an evening, I could care less, and the three of us bantered in the usual wayfarer way; of rivers and mountains, particularly these.
The Salmon River. Before you drifts a river the stuff of legends. Written about, dreamed about. Here near its headwater infancy, it is curiously flowing east to go west. Beyond our sight, it bangs into deep canyon out toward Yankee Fork, horseshoes north, then tumbles west, far from our picnic bench.
It will join the the Snake in deep canyon, just downstream of Hell’s Canyon. The Snake will wash into the Columbia out in eastern Oregon’s Cayuse country. In final turn, Columbia, one of North America’s great rivers, will dump this water to a turbulent washout into the Pacific.
Sawtooth Mountains and Salmon River Photo: Wikimedia Commons
At lower Stanley, a fourth person wanders over to the picnic bench. The first two are causally interesting. The newcomer, turns out, not so much.
“I overheard you say you’re from California and work for Caltrout” He accosted.
We looked up at him from the river, and were silent.
“...Sure,” I answered vaguely.
“Well I’m from California, and won’t fish there, I only fish Montana!”
I felt surprised anyone would intrude on a Salmon River conversation.
“Well, bless your heart,” I thought to myself. Returning from a month or so up there, I hadn’t thought much about my home waters. California’s river issues, and our personal trout in travail had seemed far away from me for a few weeks of rambling. None of us quite knew how to respond.
He gave me a bunch of reasons. I wasn’t sure if he was right about all his points, but I listened. Shortly, the guy turned and wandered back toward the lodge, but turned to toss me a sour look over his shoulder in parting, “-cause the trout fishing sucks in California!”
So this video was born. And though the rivers I highlight are only ‘near’ Montana, they are intriguing and might inspire the intrepid to check them out. Nevertheless, it would take a few lifetimes to flush out all the angling opportunities off our porches here in the Golden State. And while I may privately wish that testy angler bad knots and bad light, on the other hand, I certainly won’t see him ‘hot holing’ me on a patch of river in Cali.