02 May 2007

Psalm of the Trout: Spring Fishing a Big Hole River Trib

Gramps, who was not particularly religious, was deeply spiritual. He loved to recite David's 23rd Psalm:
- while taking a break from scything the timothy and goldenrod along his rod-line paths that ran from the powerhouse to the individual pumping jacks at his oil lease;
- while leaning on his hoe and looking out over the garden that supplied much of our need;
- while eating lunch before a blazing hunter’s fire on a ridge over Elk Lick; and,
- while cleaning a mess of trout at a favorite hidden spring on our way home from Sugar Run.
As a boy, I always thought the poem was about fishing—all this business about a restored soul, a path beside still waters, the comfort of a good rod, a cup full of spring water, and a table laid with trout (of which the neighbors were quite jealous).

And so last evening AJ and I found ourselves beside greening pastures and the still waters of beaver dams (and the rushing water in-between). Usually, at this time of year, it is an iffy proposition to fish these tributaries of the upper Big Hole River. Always – except for this year – there are snowbanks along the creeks and sometimes shelf ice that makes the water unfishable. I knew the waters would be rising, but the many beaver dams along the meandering path of this valley floor creek slow the rush and also settle the sediment:

We were there to fish, or at least AJ was:

And I fished a bit too, though mostly I was interested in rambling around a special place, flushing a few sandhill cranes and ducks, marching to a drumming grouse, listening to the meadowlark, taking stock of the elk tracks, and wondering what climate change will do to places like this. For several days, the temperature has been in the 70s, about 20 degrees above average with correspondingly warmer nights. No wonder the creeks have risen so much, and water flows across the meadows:

The tiny wildflowers of these near-Alpine meadows are just coming on, though the hot sun of the past few days has been tough on them. With any luck we’ll get some long-soaking rains and more seasonable weather. Here’s one of my favorites, bluebells:

“Oh where, tell me where, did your Highland laddie dwell?
Oh where, tell me where, did your Highland laddie dwell?
He dwelt in Bonnie Scotland, where blooms the sweet blue bell,
And it’s oh, in my heart I lo’ed my laddie well” [traditional Celtic folksong, “Bluebells of Scotland”]

And pretty shooting stars, which my elk hunting mentor Denis Haley liked to refer to by their Montana colloquial name, “roosterheads,” just to piss off our botanist colleague Paul Sawyer. They come in both violet:

And white:

No springtime ramble would be complete without a bit of yellow from buckwheat:

C’mon AJ, get those fish cleaned:

What’s this? Several of AJ’s brookies had eaten sculpins (aka bullheads) 2 to 3 inches long. We’re talking brookies of 8 to 10 inches, sort of like a human being swallowing a dog!

We met Jan for a picnic lunch, took in the panorama of the valley, watched hundreds of elk and a half-dozen or so moose, and packed up as the setting sun chilled the air:

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