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Haunted by trout waters


“Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

“I am haunted by waters.”

— Norman Maclean

“A River Runs Through It”

I too am haunted by waters. I could never walk or drive by a stream without wondering if there are fish in it. While other kids preferred playing in water, I chose to fish in it.

Having fished the Blackfoot River several times, it is easy to understand why Norman Maclean was captivated.

Dottie and I fished there a few weeks ago with Sonoma friends and neighbors Chad Overway, Jeanne Montague, Tom and Katherine Culligan. It just happened to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of the movie, “A River Runs Through It,” which was based on Maclean’s book.

This time, the experience was a step back in time, including a brief stop at Trixi’s Antler Saloon in the little village of Ovando, Montana.

Trixi’s lures loggers, miners, anglers, hunters, cowboys and bikers off the road and into a darkened, smoky, weathered interior where the Old West meets the cast of “Star Wars” (the bar scene).

Less adventurous anglers can fortify themselves and gear up at the Stray Bullet Cafe and Blackfoot Angler fly shop nearby.

We met up with our guide, Dan Troupe, at our float trip launch point just a few miles downstream from Ovando on a stretch of the Blackfoot that was so pretty I could have just stayed there fishing for the rest of the day.

The Blackfoot has an old soul. Tumbling through canyons and valleys formed by the great Missoula Floods of the last ice age, it begins in Lewis and Clark County at the Continental Divide, then, fed by melting snow and many springs, meanders westward to enter the Clark Fork near Missoula.

We spent the day floating and fishing through a fast, cold, picturesque section surrounded by towering Ponderosa pines. There were deep, dark pools and whitewater rapids with calm stretches in between. The water was so clear we could see the trout coming up from the gravel bottom to pursue our spruce moth imitations bobbing along on the surface.

Most were native cutthroats, mixed with a few rainbows and brown trout to add variety. The Blackfoot is also home to lots of bull trout, a variety of char that feeds primarily on other fish, including trout the size of most of the fish we were catching and releasing.

Although it didn’t happen on this trip, bull trout have been known to chase and swallow a hooked cutthroat or rainbow, scaring the heck out of a fly-fisher about to net the smaller fish.

We caught and released many fish, but this was one of those days when just fishing would almost have been enough.

For me, the Blackfoot is like a touchstone. It transcends time. For the day, I could believe that I was back on haunted waters fishing with Norman Maclean.

If you’d like to fish the Blackfoot, I highly recommend guide Dan Troupe of Upland Anglers, uplandanglers.com. He grew up fishing the river and knows many of the trout in it by name.

Closer to home, salmon and rock fish action continues to be excellent off the Sonoma Coast, while striped bass, halibut and salmon are making anglers happy fishing inside the bay.

Contact Capt. Rick Powers of Bodega Bay Sportsfishing at 875-3344 for a combo salmon and rock fish trip. For bay party boats, call Keith Fraser at Loch Lomond Bait Shop in San Rafael at 415-456-0321.