Out West '97

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Bring on the Cubanos

Peter Kohlsaat
Monday, August 4, 1997
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Wade Lake, Montana -- The night before last was a Parataga’ night. The second of five re-discovered chico Cuban cigars was fired up. Late yesterday morning I left the Madison River valley, heading up into the hills and was rewarded with Wade Lake. Its water is the color of the Caribbean. It even looks as though it might contain coral reefs. But it is hard to ignore the 60-foot Ponderosa pines. And the noisy ravens. And the ospreys flying around with trout in their talons.

I have the best campsite on Wade Lake, a tiny remnant of the Madison River, this being historical earthquake country. (As recently as 1958 an earthquake, magnitude of 7.1, struck a Madison River canyon, redirecting the river and killing 28 people.) The water is cold and very, very clear. Trout can be seen cruising in the still water, sucking up various insects. Wade Lake is the perfect body of water for this Minnesota boy with his canoe and only a spinning rod. .

Perhaps my luck has changed, oscillating once again. The last several days had me wondering if lithium wasn’t perhaps in my future. I arrived Wednesday, mid-afternoon. There was only one vacant campsite. The previous occupants must had just have left. On a hill. Breeze. Shade. Lakeside. The perfect place to regroup. The manic pace I have maintained since I left Minnesota has to be checked. The daily nature of these dispatches has to be reconsidered. Bits of enjoyment had been few and fleeting. And if I’m not fishing, what is the point?

After a fine dinner, some wine, coffee, Jack, and my chico, I sat in my Eddie Bauer beach chair and finished The Beach. It was not a book on the book list I gave my friend Brad to fill from the shelves of Half-Price Books, but his personal selections have always been encouraged. Perhaps he thought this traveler’s tale was the kind of travel book I should read, versus the Jan Morrises, Paul Therouxs, Annie Dillards, the John McPhees. The Beach. Searching for Eden. The book is full of insights of traveling, but there were a couple passages in particular that have stuck with me.

Richard, in Bangkok. At his hotel he meets a French couple and strikes up a conversation:

Richard: "So where’ve you been for the last month? Not only in Bangkok, surely?"

Etienne: "No, no. A few days in Bangkok is enough. We’ve been north."

Richard: "Chiang Rai?"

Etienne: " Yes, we went on a trek. We rafted a river. Very boring, no?"

Richard: "Boring?"

Etienne: Raft, trek. I want to do something different, and everybody wants to do something different. But we all do the same thing…There is no…ah.."

Richard: "Adventure."

And later, after Richard has found The Beach. He and Jed, on look-out duty. Anticipating the unwelcomed appearance of new arrivals and seeing nothing has changed:

Richard: "I’m bored."

Jed: "Bored is good. Bored is safe."

All my life more than anything I’ve feared boredom and have always been puzzled by its easy, seemingly unresisted, acceptance by so many. Having adventures. That is was has always driven me. (Which explains my choice of women, in most cases.) Are there still adventures to be had?

Here is my dispatch from Wade Lake:

In the campsite next to mine, down the hill, open, on the water, there is an older Ford pickup truck, a minivan, a Chevy Blazer, three women, two dogs, eight kids from about the ages 12 to 2, two tents, and a pile of large yellow toy dump trucks, road graders, and heavy machinery. The dogs: Cody and Buck, yellow labs. Buck stays at home, while the younger, Cody, wanders.

The kids: all boys, one girl. The boys: Jason, Dustin, Joey, Tucker, Paul…are names I heard. The girl had bright red hair, very white skin and lots of freckles. She told me she sunburns real easy. All day long the mothers call children’s names. Get out of the water. Watch your sister. Stop that. Put that down. Be careful. Come here. You have five minutes and then let Tucker play with it. Where’s Paul? Put your shirt back on. Scattered everywhere are towels, toys, clothes. The moms are like ants going back and forth from a sugar source. Pulling some kid from the water. Putting a shirt on some kid. Taking off a shirt from some kid. Picking up some kid who fell down. Taking something away from some kid. Bringing some kid to the bathroom. The dads- carpenter, electrician, banker- are all back home working. The moms tell me they are having such a great time. They are enjoying this get-away so much.

All morning the kids have been trying to catch minnows with a little pail. They have two minnows. With some left over mosquito netting and a couple sticks I make a seine net and give it to the kids. I show them how to use it and on the first pass they catch a couple dozen minnows. They tell me I have saved their lives. It all sounds like quite the adventure.

Fishing Report

Wade Lake, Ennis, Montana --

The trout in Wade Lake taunt you. They swirl on the surface of the aqua blue transparent water, snatching floating insects and leaping for those flying by. They are not concerned about the noise they make as they flop about in the still water.

Ideally, flies are what you should be using. But I DON’T HAVE A FLY ROD. So for two days I threw everything in my tackle box at the trout in Wade Lake: Mepps, Roostertails, Panther Martins, orange, black, yellow, silver, gold. I used my beloved Twister Tails. Black. Yellow. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

This morning, as the sky was beginning to lighten I assembled on my little spinning rig a tiny blaze-orange blade and treble hook with a small split shot two feet up the line and began to troll. This is a lure of my own design, created to be used with a clear bubble to fish wide, rapid rivers. The lake was perfectly still. I shared it only with the ospreys that grew smug and fat using Wade Lake as their refrigerator. The line trailing behind. The canoe creating a gentle wake in the steaming early morning water. Approaching the campsite, my rod bent over and line began to peel off my real. The surface broke 75 yards behind the canoe. It was the same noise I had been hearing for two days, but I sensed a certain urgency in the splash this time. It was a 20" rainbow. It’s in the cooler.

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