Western Montana landscape


Goose Creek

First published in Volume 14, Issue 2 of The Flyfish Journal

Random stunted stalks of wheat, interlopers amid the native grasses, rose defiantly alongside the dirt path. In the adjoining rock-strewn field, the crop was sparse, indicative of the land’s limited agricultural value. 

My father, the sole occupant of a faded International Harvester pickup, was resting, recovering from a week of graveyard shifts. I doubted we would see any other anglers this far from Oakley Reservoir.

Lacking standard flyfishing tackle, I improvised with a six-foot spin-casting rod and an open-face reel. The makeshift setup terminated with a poorly tied green woolly worm knotted to the end of heavy monofilament. The fly was large, proudly created by youthful hands unfamiliar with proportions and smooth head wraps. As far as I knew at the time, flyfishing was still largely unknown in this part of Idaho.

Goose Creek flowed north beside me. Undammed, it had carved a deep channel in the valley’s alluvium. Standing atop the dirt bank, I lowered the overly large fly into the riffle, cognizant that trout frequented the pools below. No false casting or mending involved; instead, I walked downstream, accompanying the fly on its journey.

With little cover, few deep pools and extreme seasonal fluctuations, the water held mostly small fish. Runoff had already transitioned to summer flows, yet the water moved fast. I hustled to keep up. I knew little of the nuances of presentation, but I did know wild trout would not take a fly unless it was drifting naturally.

This was high desert with cold nights, as evidenced by the dew on the grass blades, moisture the rising sun had not yet dispersed. I wore a teenager’s uniform: tennis shoes and jeans, no waders. Whatever I hooked, I would lift from the river.

Unharvested wheat kernels littered the ground and crumbled underfoot, food for upland gamebirds. I missed a take and, as I turned to fish the section again, caught the toe of my left shoe in a gopher hole. I stumbled forward, brushing the top of a dirty section of garden hose lying across the trail. Other than the occasional rusted can, there was no trash here; the farmer was fastidious about keeping these fields free of anything that might damage his equipment. The garden hose struck me as incongruous and I had to satisfy my curiosity. I gently prodded with the uppermost guide. The hose flexed and gradually curled in upon itself, the hollow keratin buttons silent.

I was standing amid scores of rodent holes. The channel was far too wide to jump across, the riverbed at least a 10-foot drop.

Teenagers are generally not skilled at gauging risk; I did not suffer from that deficiency. I stole a glance at the International Harvester and confirmed this was exclusively my decision. Acutely aware of the rising sun and the prospect that other dormant garden hoses would soon be active, I loosened the metal-ringed net attached to my belt and began swinging the fabric wildly, side to side. From a distance, it must have looked like I was either attempting to harvest the farmer’s crop or was deranged. I took a few tentative steps, then broke into a panicked run.

In the shadow of the camper shell, I patted the dust from my jeans, aware that when the farmer found my fresh footprints and the trail of crushed wheat stalks, he would banish me. It didn’t matter, I had no intention of fishing beside a grain field again.  


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