Montana Lost and Found

I’ve got a little something special for all of you this Monday morning. Recently the Outdoor Blogger Network and Trout Unlimited gave 4 lucky bloggers an opportunity to head out west and fish in Montana. Thanks to fellow blogger Owl Jones of we get a look at a southerner’s point of view of fishing out west. Now he didn’t quite make it all the way to the west coast to wrangle with some real fish, but we’ll give him the benefit of doubt, and call Montana close enough. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this great read…

Montana Lost and Found

North shore Yellowstone Lake

    The road was bumpy and the dirt….well, the dirt was dry, gray and loose. It was sand really; and as it peppered the side of the official “Owl Jones Trout Truck” under the power of another 20 mph blast of wind, I looked for the turn-off I was supposed to take. Ah, there it is…between a couple of skinny willows and some sagebrush and another clump of those fire-red flowers I’d seen all the way down this desolate road. I was in Montana, then Idaho, then back into Montana. I was out West just like I always dreamed. I reached down and cranked the volume up another quarter turn, opened the sun-roof (sand be damned) and hung my already sun-burned arm out the window. This was Montana, baby. This was the West. This was Trout Heaven.

    I’d spent the last 15 years dreaming, scheming, planning and plotting. At one point I had a monstrous folder full of brochures about Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado. Then, two years of holding that folder saw me throw it all in the trash one night – disgusted that another year would pass without me setting foot on Western soil. Dreams come and go, but this one just wouldn’t be shaken. The Firehole. The Madison. The Gibbon. Henry’s Fork. The Yellowstone.

    And then, through a series of lucky events and some measure of desperation, I found myself driving down a gray dirt road, listening to “Ironic” by Alanis Morisette at 11 and smiling like a lunatic. I was going into debt and then some – but what of it. It was now or never and I was choosing “now.” My brain raced… What would the fishing be like? Would I even know what I was doing out there? Were western trout different from the small brook, brown and rainbow trout I chased back home? And what about Western people? Were they going to fall all over themselves at my Southern accent? Would they laugh at me if I didn’t catch their fish? Could I find myself in the absolute middle of my 15 year dream, yet cursed by an inability to catch fish? Would I hate fishing out west – without the cover of laurel limbs and the freedom from biting insects that I had back home?

Herding Sheep

    As it turned out, the only thing I hated about being out west – the only thing I detested beyond measure…were those biting flies and mosquitoes. Back home in the South we call them “skeeters” and to my surprise, the western guys I was fishing with used the same term. How rude of us Southerners, exporting our linguistic flaws like that! At any rate, people in Montana didn’t say “y’all”…but they were plenty friendly. They were also very willing to share with me the methods and tactics they used to catch their trout. “You have some Adams and a few caddis? Fourteens and twelves?“ I did. “You have any soft-hackles and Prince’s?” Sure do. “Well, that’s about all you need, bud.” – And this conversation was with the guy in Jacklin’s Fly Shop!  No upsale. No pressure. No “hey you’re from out of town and you need $323 worth of our flies or you’re not going to catch anything.” I was relieved. If only the fish would be so cooperative!

    Well, the fish weren’t push-overs and all my friends back home kept asking where the “easy” fish were. I didn’t find any really easy fish, but two dream-like evenings on the Firehole were enough to convince me that there could be amazing nights there. Bugs were thick, and the fish were willing…but I couldn’t get anything larger than 12 inches to fall prey to my swung emerger. Maybe a little disappointed as I took it all in – the air, the bugs, the smoke, steam, and sound of hot, rolling water. I caught fish, and I was living my dream after all….far from the city, the smog, the millions of people, and from the heat of an exceptionally humid north Georgia summer.

    When I packed up to head home, I left a part of me in Montana, I think. I also left more than just that. I left a new measure net in the Madison an hour after I stepped (for the very first time) into a western river. I left a brand new pair of forceps I picked up at Arrick’s fly shop somewhere on the Firehole. I left some deer hair in a brilliant yellow somewhere between the mountains of Montana and home. I’d planned to use it for next year’s Yellow Sally hatch and tie up an absolutely astounding batch of Yellow Sallies that were just the right color….oh the weeping and gnashing of teeth the day I cleaned out the truck after the trip! It cost a lot of money to fulfill my dream, and it cost some items that I can replace….but what did I get out of it? Everything…

Sunset over Lemar Valley

    A spiritual moment as the summer sun set low over the Lemar Valley; a purple background and a brilliant curtain of light on the far ridge. A close-up encounter with a huge herd of Bison. My first Grizzly sighting, along with 300 of my closest tourist friends. The confidence gained from driving 2000 miles across America alone to do something I’d wanted to do for years and years. A new sense of what’s important in life…and a deeper appreciation for our wild places. If I never make it back there again, I’ll be able to at least go back again and again in my memories from the past.

     In the end, Montana may not actually be Heaven, but if Heaven is exactly like Montana – that’ll be just fine with me.

~ Owl Jones

If you’d like to add a little lot of humor to your morning coffee be sure to head on over to and check out his blog.

Tight Lines…

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