This is a short story I wrote about 2 years ago. This is my first short story post in a while. Please comment on it as my skills have grown rusty and my craft is ever elusive these days.
In a Montana Sort of Way
Eight years old we rolled in an old Chevrolet, seated in the bed because I told my friend’s dad that all Rush lacked was a good drummer. Yes, he played the drums and didn’t find the comment funny, but did we care? We were on our way to Montana to fish the Beaverhead River. We could dream in the shell-protected bed of our Shangri-La, trout the size of arms, without needing a radio or passenger window to remind us of our whereabouts. Besides, what did the dark hold? Could it tell us anymore about the river than we could imagine in our green minds. Dreams told us what we had concluded in waking hours. The passing stars told us more than my friend’s dad could tell us about aggressive rainbow trout, large browns at the bottom of subaqueous holes, 27 inch cutthroats near the outlet of the Clark Canyon Dam. We knew what we needed, what we wanted, and to think some grown man could add to our zeal would have been foolishness on our part.
We got all we bargained for and more. As inexperienced fly fishermen, we caught anything between 18 and 21 inch fish, and have pictures to prove our fishing tales. But, the big ones, the wily buggers, those always got off. Broke our line with a jump, snagged us on submerged tree limb, or just ran too far and too fast for us to get them in before they achieved their freedom. That’s what kept us coming back. We needed 24 inches or more. We were comfortable with our phalluses, and this quest couldn’t be termed as little man syndrome, especially since my best friend was like 150 lbs at eight years old, and if genes can be calculations of future measurements, I knew this kid would be a beast. And he was.
So maybe that’s what irked me some twenty years later as I perused the fly-shop, waiting. I needed new line. Mine had a crack in the coating about twenty feet down that exposed the simple core. While the young man, born and raised in Montana, suited my real with the new weight forward, seven weight line, I asked him what flies were hot, what the fish were keying in on. I had my general arsenal of small and sundry red and green midges, and two gala, lime-green midges known to work anytime, anywhere, on any fish habituating the Beaverhead. I even had a good idea what he would say, but even the nonpareil sometimes must make the mistake to take a knee and ask for advice. The kid eyed me as if I were just another customer, another dumb out-of-stater, whose arrival marked yet another attempt to make a mockery of the fish in his river. He answered my question with the haughtiness of one who is a fisherman versus one who pretends to fish and has all the high-priced gear to prove he isn’t a novice, not realizing that clean waders stood out like clean armor after a bloody battle. The kid’s response smelled of fish blood and that distinct fish slime. Give me a minute and I will show you what you need.
Doesn’t sound hostile or demeaning, but context can be a complex factor of syntax. What he really said was, “Once I finish with your line, I will you show you some flashy flies that won’t work, but that you will buy because my word is like gospel to your heathen flesh.” He finished with my line, scooted out from the counter and proceeded to flaunt some gaudy flies, way too large to work, in front of my puzzled eyes. I didn’t buy any. I offended him by not buying any of what he thought were talisman flies. I lied and said I already possessed a few of those flies in my flybox. The kid laughed out loud at me, as if I were some rich novice flown in from New York to spend a hopeless weekend making a fool of myself on the river. “Why did you just laugh?” I asked him.
“Let me see your flybox, please. I can’t let you go out on the Beaverhead without equipping you with some flies that are sure to work.”
I refused to show him my flyboxes. I carry seven of them in my grandfather’s old-school fishing vest, and each box is either for a specific river, like my Green River box, loaded with bitty midges for the slow summer months and some larger midges for spring when the flow levels are high and the water murky, or with my streamers for the deep pools and the crepuscular mornings or gloaming twilight. “I have fished this river before,” I assured him. I knew each bend from Clark Canyon Dam to the Barretts campground. “What dry fly are you going to use?” The kid crossed that arbitrary line of service and stomped aggressively into what would be considered battlegrounds. “I know that the BWO (blue-winged olive) with its olive-brown dubbing, dark-blue hen hackle tips on a size 20 hook is the answer to your question. May I go and fish my river now?”
“I hope you catch something,” he relented.
“I have since I was eight years old,” I retorted, gaining some of my pride back and sliding his foot back across the arbitrary line.
Who the hell did he think he was? I drove the 14 miles in ten minutes. I had a bad taste in my mouth, metallic and smoke flavored. I parked, wadered-up, tied my tippet on and put a size 22 midge at the end then tied 5x fluorocarbon on to the hook and trailed my first midge by two feet with a different colored midge. I waded to my first hole, thinking that big fish rarely rise and midges present the only method savvy enough to catch the monster trout. What did that kid know? The air felt brisk and with the crested wheat fields crawling up the otherwise barren mountains, beside the stands of pine on north-facing slopes, and the sound of the water rushing around me no different than a large boulder, I felt at home, but not quite settled into bed. I needed the thrill of hooking into a fish the size of my adult arm.
I hit the first bend from upstream. My line cascaded down the ripples perfectly, and I watched my thingamabober™ strike indicator float like a pink bubble over the area I predicted a fish would strike. An instinctive tenseness occurs in the shoulders when a fisherman reaches this moment, and oftentimes the night after fishing, the trapezius muscles would benefit from a massage. The bobber dropped under the water, and I slightly raised my rod tip while my other hand pulled the line taut. The hook must have embedded in the fish’s jaw because it immediately jumped three feet out of the water and performed a 10 out of 10 fish out of water spasm dance. It crashed back down and ran straight at me. I spooled in the line as fast as I could to keep the fish tight on the end. The fish whizzed past me so close that I could see the white haloes around the red and brown spots along its side. The brown trout began unspooling my line that drifted on the water. It began taking the line from the reel, and my reel sang as the fish cruised so fast upstream. I ran with it to minimize the amount of line off the rod. I continually applied just enough pressure to move the fish toward the bank and then let the big boy run. It exited the water again with an 8 out of 10 effort of the fish spasm dance. Last ditch effort to break my line, I figured and began walking further up the bank, caressing the fish to the bank with each step. The fish cooperated, tired out, and ready to give in. I forced it up on the bank then ran to it. I measured it, studied it for its beauty then let it go. 25 inches, kiddo. One inch more than I needed to tuck myself into my Montana bed.
Norman Maclean pegged the flesh of life down to the raw elements. Rocks, water and words, after that, doggerel and mop-up rooms where ones make the general commerce, and if a twenty gets in there by mistake, then sing it girl, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah,” but make it Cohen’s version for sure. We ride in the bed because his dad doesn’t like me. I’m eight, old man, and of course I messed with your head. Pass the time; pass the state line, Idaho, then Montana. What is a state line anyways? What is a state? What is a line? Do the trees know?, the spruces more robust on the Montana side, and what of those caught between? The paraplegic Idaho side, limbs gnawed by spruce beetles and the green-needled Montana side taking in all the light (Ps). Big P little s equals photosynthesis=in the long run, oxygen and life. Tons of oxygen up here. It is big sky country, but so is Wyoming, just no catchphrase. And I have a beef with Annie Proulx’s BROKEBACK. Montana and Wyoming are hard states. The people don’t put up with the guff of what some people might elsewhere, and for that, their lack of a poker face, tact at a premium, I love them, would like to think I am the same way. I still have to say the two states are made up of a mould more of the type that would tie a man to a barbed-wire fence and assault the man for being what they ain’t. And so would the panhandle of Idaho for that matter.
But this is a fishing story not a political story, so let me readjust some things.
First: I would have died happy if I had been the first man to pen the words, “My mother is a fish.” It would have been my father, of course, by the very nature of things that swim, and my mother would be the water my father swam in and what would that make me? Too many questions, and that is what I am. A big “?” to every motive, make that action not motive, motive sounds too unquestionable.
The dirigible clouds hover in bowling pin formation
Five minutes later a seven-ten split above and the
Sun rolls in between them both, if God would shout
Fieldgoal no one would argue and some might laugh
The water runs a line of clear lingerie’s garter over a
Fat woman’s naked thigh. We search with young man’s
Utopian hope to see the spotted quarry: the fish
I think like a fish.
Therefore I am a fish.
Prick tried playing me like I didn’t know what the hell was up. You can do it, sort of like seat time in a plane, live in Utah and be a Montanan. I had logged some three to four years as a Montanan and say two to three years as a fisherman. The license plate said Utah and had a skier on it, but that didn’t mean I skied, nor does every single person from Utah. They are all Mormons, however, and the bugle boy-prophet, Moroni, would be a more adequate depiction of the driver’s inner drive in life. I can say that without being racist because besides being a fisherman, I am a Mormon, and flip the bird by sticking up my pinkie so as not to offend other Mormons—that’s a joke. So this prick tried selling me flies that floated, something I rarely use, and some streamers that made a rainbow need color and looked like a raccoon tail while tripping on acid—the person not the coon is on the acid for that to work. What he was really trying to sell me would best be described as his superiority for actually living near the river, and what he might have thought of as his skills. The kid may or may not have been a poser. I won’t judge him. He judged me, and in so doing, pissed me off. I left Dillon and arrived at the river nine minutes later all in a rage. I caught a big brown. I continued catching fish all day long. I caught them the next day too. I left on a Tuesday and logged in three days seat time.
What is a state anyways besides lines on a map?
What is a line anyways besides a jealous wish to
Be a circle?
Montana is all in my head. Montana is a state of mind.
And I am way more in a Montana state of mind than you ever could be standing behind the counter selling fishing gear.
I am as Montanaed as they come, bitch. You better get yourself some seat time on the river and later that night at the bar. I didn’t see you there once—the bar nor the river.