It’s 5:30 a.m. here on the East Gallatin River about a mile from Manhattan, Montana, and Brad Colter is already in the water. Though the river is chilly with early-July run-off from the Bridger Range, Brad Colter is not wearing a wetsuit. In fact, Brad Colter is not allowed to wear anything. That’s one of the primary rules in the upcoming MOP competition. Brad files his teeth one last time, places his regulation MOP file by a beaver-chewed stump, then ducks under the deep water by a log jam.
A minute passes, then two, and just as I am about to head up to the Colter farmhouse to phone for help, Brad flops up on the opposite bank with a three-pound sucker in his jaws.
Brad is in training for the bi-annual MOP (Montana Otter People) competition to be held this August on the Smith River outside of White Sulfur Springs. While Brad holds the sucker to the grassy bank and strips its carcass with his teeth, he answers a few of my questions.
Keeler: How long have you been participating in the MOP competition?
Colter: Gack, hack, hack, spit, chew, gack.
Colter: Gobble, hawk, glorp, crunch, guzzle, spew, spurt. I’ll be right with you, spit, smear, wipe. Okay, what was the question?
Keeler: How long have you been doing this?
Colter: Doing what?
Keeler: Participating in the MOP competition.
Colter: This should be my fifth year, though officially it’s only my fourth. I was disqualified last year for biting an endangered west-slope cutthroat. The water was a little turbid and I couldn’t tell what she was till I had her in my teeth. I let her go but she left a blood trail and one of the officials spotted it.
Keeler: Who won?
Colter: Mildred Spunk. She ate four small whitefish, two medium suckers and a large brown trout.
Keeler: I notice you said, “ate” instead of “caught.”
Colter: Yes, catching is the easy part. Eating is where the skill comes in. You have to keep your teeth sharp, your stomach expanded and your digestive system in shape. In the WOP (that’s World Otter People) finals, a Japanese guy, Ken Nagano, ate ten large carp.
Keeler: Besides not wearing clothes and not eating endangered fish, what are some of the other rules for the MOP competition?
Colter: Well, we aren’t allowed to use our hands to catch fish, just our mouths, though on shore we can use our hands to hold them down while we tear off the flesh with our teeth.
Keeler: You mean you’re only allowed to swim up to a fish and bite it?
Colter: Pretty much.
Keeler: How is that possible?
Colter: Usually, I can do it by trapping them against a log jam or an undercut bank, though sometimes I’ll catch one sleeping, bite its tail and hold on.
Keeler: What prompted you to mimic otters in the first place?
Colter: I can’t say as I remember. Maybe boredom. Me and some of my friends used to get drunk and throw full beer cans from the sundeck of the Crystal Bar in Bozeman to see who could bean the most tourists, but that was too easy, and after a while we got tired of wasting good beer. Then one summer, maybe ten years ago, while I was jumping out from behind logjams to moon McKenzie boats, I watched an otter catch and eat a fish, and I thought, “Hey, I can do that.” After I tried it, it got to be kind of addictive. Then one evening while I was surfing the net, I typed in “barely legal,” and I found all these other otter people. Hurk! Hurk! Hurk! Buick!
At this point, I have to terminate the interview because Brad is blowing sucker chunks. It appears that Brad Colter still has some arduous training to do if he is to make a showing at the MOP competition this August.
Cartoon: Greg Keeler