July Third

Seth & WD           The markets were closed on Friday, the Third, in observance of the Fourth of July, Independence Day. I decided to capitalize on the day by finally pulling the raft and trailer out from underneath the deck late Thursday evening with the Seth and Erin’s reluctant help. This turned out to be quite a project, entailing the removal of the frame and transporting of the raft and frame first up and around to the front of the house, followed eventually by the trailer whose tires were stuck in the bed of rocks it had spent the winter mired in. With some agonizing rocking back and forth, the three of us finally managed to get it unstuck and then latched to a small mower tractor to tow it through the fence gate and finally up and around to the driveway. I reckon it would not have been such a production had it not been almost a hundred degrees. Molly pressed the truck’s breaks and turned on the turn signals and I noted the trailer’s left turn signal and break light was not working. This was annoying, coupled with one of the raft’s four handles being ripped. Sweat beads pouring down my forehead, I swapped out the “bad” trailer bulb with the one that worked to see if it was the bulb or the wiring. What a production it is removing the small bulbs. I finally figured it out, pressing in and twisting while trying to align the metal sections just right. Of course, the problem was/is somewhere in the wiring. Another thing to fix. While reassembling things, the UPS driver arrived stating, “You’re supposed to do that during the winter,” as I was now sweeping a pile of old sunflower seed shells off of the trailer bed. He was delivering for a second time a print of Van Gogh’s “Patience Escalier” which I had returned after its initial arrival with a broken frame. “I went for a nice swim last night in Seeley Lake. It’s a bit of a drive, but there was no one there and felt great,” he educationally continued. “Thank you. I’ll keep it in mind,” I said, thinking immediately about our kids who fairly often visit a friend’s place at Seeley, mostly riding wave runners and dodging the occasional motor boats with skiers. Seeley is a beautiful area.golden           Friday morning we slept in. When things are as warm as they’ve been lately in Missoula, it’s generally a good idea to get on the streams early in the morning; however, this was not to be the case and honestly I didn’t mind one bit, realizing it would be mostly a swimming affair. Molly shuttled us to the put in on the Bitterroot at the Florence Bridge on the old East Side Hwy. We dropped the trailer at a take out in Missoula above the Buckhouse Bridge near where I used to do road intervals on Jake the Snake when mountain bike racing. A elder lady who wore a large black shappo was at the put-in with her yellow lab. This dog, playing in the river, was incessantly barking. For absolutely no apparent reason other than the pure pleasure of the matter, the large yellow dog swam back to the bank with a rock in its mouth almost as large as his head. Otherwise, the place was pretty quiet. There used to be a yellow lab outfit across the river and I wondered if this dog was associated therewith. Wen, our black lab who was tagging along on the float, was indifferent to the carrying on of the other dog. I started thinking that it had struck me as a little odd there were no other trailers at the takeout. When we got back to the put-in, Molly noted a sign restricting the fishing on the river to before two o’clock only. This was a result of the hot and dry spell we’ve been enduring in the area and explained the lack of trailers at the take-out and activity at the put-in. As the rivers warm, oxygen becomes an issue and the fish suffer. As Seth and I launched, a beautiful red Jeep Scrambler drove into the area with a canoe on its top. I do like the older utility vehicles, and I took a moment to admire this one.Valley Forge           There was a nice morning breeze as Seth, Wen and I floated under the initial bridge. “We should have brought the inner tube,” I realized once again thinking to myself, recalling having seen it the evening prior sitting in the garage above the workbench. Todd’s been floating the rivers during the evenings with new friends he’s met as a local camp trainer/instructor. During the days he’s been teaching kids how to fly fish at the Frenchtown Pond and McClay’s Flat. One day this past week I arrived home to see a pile of about twenty fly rods in our living room. The next morning (I’m not sure why he waited) at about a half hour prior to when he had to be out the door, I heard, “Dad, can you help me with this.” I subsequently dug through my fly vest and tied on three new leaders that morning for the kids where they were needed. I demonstrated how to tie a nail knot (after relearning myself) to the butt of the old and somewhat dilapidated fly line. There is something gratifying knowing he’s passing along fly fishing to local youth. He has a lot of patience and noted, like soccer coaching, he enjoys it.golden flight bitterroot           I noted on the eastern bank not too far down stream a brown mass which as we got closer I knew to be a Golden Eagle. I pointed out the bird to my son as I scrambled to dig my pocket camera out of my vest, which was hanging on the empty seat behind me. I managed a couple of photographs which turned out semi legible, just keeping the bird in the shutter as it flew upstream across from us. Pocket cameras do a nice job and are relatively inexpensive these days. I’ve left them on river bottoms, mountain tops and hither and yon, so I don’t carry the expensive jobs when we’re recreating. Time and experience. The phones do a nice job as well, but they’re a little spendy and for the most part remain in the dry bag. Seth left his intentionally in the truck, following his mother’s instructions. The magnificent bird had me thinking of the July 4th holiday. I had had a conversation with Erin recently about past episodes on the Forth of July. When I was a kid, we used to have parties and watch the fireworks from the old stone back deck, spectacularly visible, bursting high above the Kanawha River in Charleston. I recalled watching the fireworks show over the Commons while having Molsons in the sweltering heat while sitting on apartment building rooftops in Boston with other college students in the late eighties. More recently, casting flies in the dark while sitting in a canoe on Georgetown Lake as the locals shot off their displays. For this year’s holiday, I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life and thinking about how fortunate the country was that such a fellow and his contemporaries were able to pull it off. It’s a great read, detailing many aspects Washington’s life and line of thinking. I had thoroughly enjoyed Chernow’s work, The Warburgs and had a feeling his latest would be a page turner. At some point a few year’s back I had decided to whittle down my library, somewhat adopting the electronic reading world. Chernow’s Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller and The Warburgs both were donated to the local public library. I’ve built the paper library back to a degree, however. Usually I pull James Michener’s Chesapeake off of the shelf this time of year to glance through his magnificent historical passages outlining the nation’s birth through fictional literature. Michener had a genius in this regard. Early last week Erin and I were at one of the local box bookstores where I noted oddly, and much to my chagrin, not one Michener work on the shelves.boyfishing           We brought along two flyrods, one graphite and one bamboo. We also brought along a spin outfit as Seth is learning how to work an open face reel as well without generating a large bird’s nest. It was a beautiful morning, but I realized soon I’d be rowing in the scorching heat of the afternoon’s sun. I pointed out numerous Osprey and a great Blue Heron which played leap with us for part of a stretch as Seth fished in the bow. “Is that a flamingo?” I think he asked. I laughed, taking a slug of gatorade and pointing out that it was a heron. I was glad I’d chosen to wear the three fishes hat which does a good job obstructing the sun and is relatively light weight bamboo. I’d at one point sewed an old ‘bowl ball cap within to help with excessive wind. I’d managed to catch a few fish, off and on while rowing, as Seth flailed the water from the front. Looking down stream, as the water slowly meandered along, I noticed an immense pile of logs and up turned root balls. “This is not good, son,” I remarked looking on in wonder. “Now I know why there are no other rafts around,” I may have said out loud. It was stacked Ponderosas from one side of the river to the next, leaving a very small water passage along the eastern bank. A guy would have been chainsawing all spring to remove this obstruction. Once we squeaked through, on rower’s right, it was not clear if the main channel was going off to the west below the blocked logs, or if we could continue through the smaller route along the bank to the east. Once below the large obstruction, we still had to stop and portage the raft in a section. The top photo in the writeup captures the site below St. Mary’s Peak. The small opening over the dog and Seth’s right shoulder, the snag extending much further across the river above the dog.Sapphire Ranch Bridge           I removed the cooler, anchor, and all other heavy objects hoping the two of us could move the raft without having to remove the frame. “One, two, three…” so it went for maybe a foot or two each tug. I grabbed the frame where the strap was broken off. It went pretty well, really, and we decided to fish the braids in the section after a few sardines. I mentioned that the fellow at the put-in with the canoe had the right idea. Looking up into the surrounding Bitterroots while taking a break was sublime. Noting the almost fully diminished snowpack was disconcerting. The community needs moisture in a significant way. Fire season will most likely be another boon for the government and its contractors. My tomatoes and bell peppers are shriveling and turning brown.lounger           We sallied forth after the short delay and I hoped the small channel would rejoin the main. One thing about the area though is its close to home and a couple of fishermen can always deflate things, make a phone call, walk out and be square. It was at this point that Seth got all excited and caught a nice fish. This always helps to pep things up. It was also not too long after this that I noticed what looked like a red truck in the distance in the middle of the river. As we got closer, I noticed a fellow in a cowboy had sitting in a lawn chair in front of the truck’s front-end leisurely reading Louis L’Amour, no doubt. As this was something new for me, I took a photograph from afar and subsequently asked as we floated by, “Did you ford the river here or are you from up there?” pointing towards the east side. The river section was shallow. “Nope, I came down from up there,” he said pointing up into the underbrush. “Nice piece of ground you must have,” I continued, lifting the oars. “Yep, have a nice day,” he smiled. I thought about how we used to ford the Greenbrier getting into the camp in Greenbrier County when I was a kid. Getting vehicles stuck in various places and torn up if we got off the ford. Somehow, my sister still maintains the place.
           As we went under the Sapphire Ranch bridge, one of the ranch hands was going across in a utility four wheeler. Just after we’d passed, he turned around on the east end and drove back to the bridges center and cut the engine. “How’s the fishing?” He asked while looking down and simultaneously petting one of the two obviously young Brittany Spaniels which accompanied the fellow. “Not bad, we’ve managed a few here and there,” I calmly replied. “Nice day. Shame the water’s already so low,” he followed. As we continued down the river, I thought of the running irrigation pumps I’d pointed out to Seth throughout the stretch. Constant Montana and western US disputation, fish, hay, Ag. Water is a global concern.pike in root           “Where are you going today?” I had asked Todd once he’d taken all of the kids’ rods out to the garage to put into his vehicle for the day’s camp excursion. “Lolo’s ponds,” he said. “Better take a pike rod,” I remarked as he headed out the door. Everyone knows Northern Pike are in the Bitterroot. I’m not sure how they got here; if they were illegally introduced (most likely) or otherwise. I used to fish above the Blackfoot Dam (when it still existed) with a ski bum buddy from a canoe with frozen smelt specifically for the large disdained predators. Fishing with Seth, I decided to cast his silver spinner into an old favorite hole to see what would happen. Total sadness, as the Ugly Stick went over and I fought a small Northern. I almost instinctively released the fish, but quickly caught myself and subsequently killed the fish with the blade of a buck knife I found while cycling up the Lochsa side of Lolo Pass a while ago. Seth had on a large fish in the same hole that managed to get off and I wondered if it too had been a pike. It had a silver tone noticeable as it flopped above the water a few times. Pike are most likely going to have a negative impact on the traditional local fishery.
           It had been a priceless day on the river. Prior to the day, Seth and I had only canoed together with just the two of us so this had been a new first with just us and the dog on the raft. He got to learn how to oar in numerous sections and not simply the dead water places upstream from Lolo, for example. Earlier in the day I pointed out one area in the river below us that was outlined by awkward ripples stemming almost entirely across the drainage. Small white water, but only very briefly. “Do you see that below us? Look. That’s a problem, wait and see,” I said pulling towards the bank. As we drifted just to the outside of what now looked almost like a small weir, I said to the young fellow in the bow, “Is it a log?” “Yep, all the way across,” he said eyeing it as we floated slowly by along the bank. Learning to row on Montana rivers takes a lot of trial and error and I’ve certainly made plenty of the latter over the years, fortunately not to my peril. I even still have the same old raft I bought after a local dentist got rid of it due to hurting his back while rowing. Luck matters immensely in life. As Chernow notes in his book, Washington had a lot of it; however, the first US President, as demonstrated from an early age, had great endurance and the ability to inspire others to forge a nation. Enthusiasm is priceless and that’s also what it took to get a ragtag group of men to hold together and see it through the long, arduous campaign. If a fellow can pass along what to avoid, lessens learnt along the way, he may be doing a great service to his fellow man.

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