With a couple leaps from airport to airport, and a few bounces, we sluiced through the mountains and into Missoula, Montana, a small city nestled in a valley between parched mountain peaks. Entertaining, dusty, dioramas greeted us as we awaited our luggage. Did you know a mature grizzly bear is 10 ‘ tall and has nails longer than your fingers? Oh my. This girl has been in Connecticut too long. I had forgotten how wild the West still is.
There are a lot of great rivers to fish in this region, so I’m told. The Blackfoot and the Flint are where the big brown trout live. JJ says they’re cagey and hard to catch, which sends a ripple of excitement up his spine- even on vacation, this man loves a challenge. I’m tagging along on this adventure, donning waders for the first time. They are like big waterproof overalls with felt-bottomed boots to help you stick to slippery river rocks. I feel like I’m clothed in a shield and it gives me an exhilarating freedom, to slosh through the water, searching for fish and combing the trees above for unfamiliar species of western birds. Thus far, we’ve only spotted large magpies, a common western bird, locals consider a nuisance.
Casually wading and exploring is a nice way to introduce a beginner like me to the river, but I discovered what separates the men from the boys, was crossing rushing water to explore the pools along the opposite bank. I’m shocked to feel the determined drag on my feet. This gentle looking river could knock me down in an instant. JJ held onto my belt like a leash, coaching me how to set each boot at an angle against the river. Each step must be securely planted less an insistent current deigns to incorporate me into its surge downstream. Alas, JJ steadied me across, while my camera precariously dipped in and out of the river. There was time for me to consider also the perfect perch the bank above my head looked, for a mountain lion awaiting his next victim.
Fortunately the food at the ranch was ample, because by lunch I had worked up a monstrous appetite.
Bears out here will be hibernating before long, and their hardy appetite drives them to search out food to carry them through the long winter. Our first morning at the ranch, we woke up before dawn, ready to hunt down a cup of coffee. Our cabin was a short walk from the main house. A roly-poly shape that I assumed was a dog, but my more astute husband recognized as a black bear, was meandering along the path too. He was ambling home to bed up in the hills behind, of all places, our cabin! This was the very place that I looked forward to exploring after breakfast!
The ranch called in Fish and Wildlife to relocate the bear, parking the trap nearby our cabin for the night. The trap had a jug hanging in the depths of it filled with something irresistible to bears, vile to humans. I awaited all night for the gate to slam shut on the poor bear and for the ensuing chaos within his chamber. The next morning, the trap was empty- the bear perhaps too wise to fall for this ruse.
All this bear business has put a kink in my hiking plans. Mamma bear and her cub are fattening up on the riches from the ranch compost.
I’m sticking to the river in my waterproof shield, and scouting out trout with JJ.