At Wisdom, Montana the Big Hole River is a small hole stream. The lady at the Trading Post said, “Hell yeah, there’s grayling here. Go try at the bridge on the edge of town.” The river didn’t look too promising at the edge of town. But an hour downstream, where the sagebrush swept out from the river to the snow-capped mountains, the Big Hole looked very good indeed. Problem was, the wind had kicked up ferociously and shut down the fishing. As I strolled through the grasses of the riverbank, I flushed a sandpiper brood, the chicks scuttling from my wayward feet, the distraught parent feigning the broken-wing, come-get-me flight.
I wasn’t so smart to camp on the Wise River that night– mosquitoes too heavy and the fishing too light– but next morning it was good to revisit the Big Hole. Wide river, shallow water flowing over stones, with sunlit mountains in the background. Arctic grayling. I began to catch them when I switched to smaller (#16) dry flies. Gray salmonid with a spreading dorsal fin. Too bad my camera wasn’t functioning when a nice fish came to hand. The species is found only in a few waters outside of northern Canada and Alaska.
I camped on the West Fork Madison at the edge of grizzly territory and managed to wrestle up productive angling on the main stem. Later, thinking I might camp in Yellowstone Park, my timing was awful. It seemed like 40 percent of the world’s population tried to squeeze into the park with me. Finding a campsite there was hopeless. Finally I took a mountain spot beyond Cooke City where the wind was wicked, the gasoline expensive, and the bison monstrous when they grazed beside the tent ropes after midnight. I had opportunities to watch Dall sheep through binoculars, and had a chance to step aside quickly when a big cow moose and her calf charged through the camp one evening.
I commuted into Yellowstone each day to fish for cutthroats on Soda Butte and Slough creeks, and did my best fishing on the rollicking Lamar. A grizzly bear offered me a decent study at a safe distance. I departed via the Yellowstone and Wind rivers and, upon returning home, learned that tragedy had struck my Cooke City campground the night after I left. A starved grizzly sow and cubs had torn through several tents, killing one visitor and injuring two others. Still, as I looked back at my final hours in the Yellowstone country, I remained thankful for the wolf howls, buffalo dust and sparkling waters of our dwindling wild America.