KOOTENAI CREEK, MT. — True beauty is to see a dark shadow rise from its bed in the dark shadows following your lure, an explosion of white water, a trout fighting to shake free.
If you are seeking pleasure, consider taking an old-timer fishing. Most kids have a lifetime ahead to learn the joys of angling, while elders, on an ever shortening tether, also deserve attention. Why let the youngsters have all the fun? They have time, a lifetime for their homework; meanwhile, you can enjoy an old-timer’s memories and find yourself being treated to tantalizing tall tales that you never heard before. You might even learn some neat angling tricks. Most old-timers aren’t out to impress anyone. They’ve discovered fishing isn’t a contest to see who can kill the most, bring back the biggest, or operate the fastest boat. While they are happy to land a fat trout, after doing so, more often than not, they will release it, understanding that, unless they are commercial fishermen (fishing for money, including cash awarding tournaments), to be properly enjoyed, fishing should forever remain a form of meditation.
Younger minnows probably won’t be aware of major changes ongoing within our natural resources. However, an old salt will, with unwavering confidence, assure us fishing “ain’t what it usta be.” He will be grumbling about more and more regulations and restrictions going into effect each season, while aware of the continued decline of gag and grouper, of red snapper, the closing of shellfish grounds, increasing trout and rockfish limitations, the grassy bottoms, now barren deserts of shell and sand, the cod, shad and herring ghost populations of America’s past.
Ecologists tell of how Rockefeller saved the whale from complete extinction by discovering petroleum, thus making whale oil lamps relics of our past. It might be more difficult to save our oysters or bay scallops from overharvest by encouraging restaurant chefs to substitute French fried seaweed.
A national marine scientist tells of – while checking on the status of various fish populations – calling a colleague asking if he had any problems with endangered species. After reciting the names of half a dozen or so possibilities under some sort of endangered listing, the federal researcher asked the California expert why a specific species; (a giant sea bass) was no longer included. The response; “Oh, there aren’t enough of those still left to bother!”
Despite Montana’s river waters being low and warm, I thought it might be time to host an old man to check its fish populations.
Kootenai Creek lays a stone’s throw from our camp and it seemed a logical start. The creek, draining the four Kootenai Lakes, is paralleled by a hiking trail about nine miles long, gaining about 2,600 feet in elevation near the continental divide and Idaho border. From the valley bottoms, hikers follow the base of a narrow gorge with its dynamic display of raging white waters, pools, cascades and waterfalls overwhelmed by sheer overhanging granite cliffs.
Like Lewis and Clark on their epic mountain crossing, we found some native guides, long term friends: Rae, Jerry, Kate and a new friend, Susan. One had been a camp cook, another a horse handler from earlier years while accompanying our wandering the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Fishing Kootenai Creek is far from easy; steep slopes, fast water, slick rocks form real challenges; but isn’t that what living is all about?