Strange things can happen when John Holt hits the back roads of Montana in search of a small creek and some big trout. But bullfights? Stray bullets? Biblically inspired weather? C’mon, man! You gotta be making that up.

I’m goin’ up on the mountainFind me uh cave ‘n’ talk them bears
In t’ takin’ me in
Wild life is uh mans best friend
—“Wild Life” by Captain Beefheart
Trout Mask Replica

The crash of metal doors clangs through the still, late September afternoon air. The sound of a diesel truck engine starting followed by a rough grinding noise as the gears engage follows. An old Dodge Power Wagon slowly appears, moving from right to left through a background of sage flats and rolling hills. The rusted, gray truck begins winding down a gravel road pulling an equally rusted horse trailer that was once white. Patches of yellowing paint bear this out. I follow the machine’s progress as it lugs away from me by watching the black exhaust rise above a line of old cottonwoods along the road. The smoke climbs into the sky with the sound of the struggling Dodge, seeming as though an old Baldwin steam locomotive pulling empty cattle cars is shuffling along some abandoned and invisible rail line.

The racket fades to nothing. All I’m left with is the rustling of leaves and the burbling of cool, clear water over the copper-colored streambed at my feet. I’ve been working my way up this stream using a #14 Elk Hair Caddis that takes Yellowstone cutthroat, brook, and a couple of fat brown trout. Lots of fish—some missed, some not. I know that just up ahead in a slight depression beneath a brushy overhang, there is a brown trout. There always is. Fifteen, 18, 20 inches. Depends on the year and finally the season. I dry the fly by squeezing the elk hair in my shirt, then gauge the cast to a spot several feet above the hold, enough distance to gain slight contact with the bug and throw a small upstream mend in the line a little above the butt of the leader.

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