Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Getting lost

By Chris Hunt

I got lost last night.

Not your traditional, “I have no idea where I am,” kind of lost. But lost just the same. My daughter is home for a scant month between jobs—she’s returned from Colorado’s ski country and is a month away from her next gig at Colter Bay on Jackson Lake. So she moved into the spare bedroom for a while, and did a bit of rearranging, as 19-year-old girls are apparently fond of doing.

“I don’t need this,” she said, walking into my office. She plopped the Montana edition of the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer down on my desk. Fly-tying feathers scattered and a handful of receipts took flight. I initially groaned at the mess, but realized there wouldn’t have been a mess if I hadn’t have had a mess on my desk to begin with.

And then, of course, I saw the big, red, sexy book of maps from the Treasure State.

“I’ve been looking for that,” I said, somewhat sheepishly. How it ended up in the closet of the spare bedroom is a mystery, and it took a “meddling kid” to solve it. I looked down on the floor at my dog, Phoebe, who was now sporting some yellow marabou feathers on her muzzle—I’ve been tying pike flies. “Should I give her a Scooby snack?”

I picked up the gazetteer and thumbed through its pages, and, within minutes, I was lost.

I used this book a lot a couple of years back as I fished my way north en route to British Columbia and beyond on a sabatical from work. I remember taking the “back way” to the Ruby River at the advice of a friend of mine (and I scoped it out, dutifully, in the gazetteer). It would have been just fine if I hadn’t been towing my newly minted camper. I arrived at my appointed campsite with about an inch of caked-on mud on both the FJ and the trailer after a summer squall turned the gravel road into gravy.

A week or so later, I dropped the camper jacks on the banks of the East Fork of the Bitterroot, and a week after that I camped on the edges of Glacier National Park. And I poked into several little creeks along the way, my fingers following blue lines on the pages of this magical little book, and found some of the best fishing I’ve ever experienced.

Montana is a fantastic fishing state, as is Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado … I own the DeLorme book for most states in the West. I used to travel more throughout the region, but not as much anymore. I use my Idaho book a lot—it’s tucked into the console of my truck, and I’d been looking for the Montana book for a while, because I’ve got some serious time planned this summer around West Yellowstone, and I wanted to explore a bit.

So I flipped through the pages, reverting back to discovery mode, fingers following blue lines and Forest Service roads into hidden little drainages that I suspected might hold fishy treasures. There are lots of those in Montana, too, and with it being so close (West Yellowstone is about 90 minutes away), I usually buy a seasonal fishing license for the state to my north. I inserted a few sticky notes to mark the pages, with names of creeks I’d like to explore in the months ahead, imagining fat, native cutthroats rising to dry flies, or maybe beefy spring rainbows chasing streamers on lowland seeps as they migrate out of rivers like the Jefferson or the Madison to spawn.

I conjured up memories of hiking into the Beaverhead Mountains that separate Montana from Idaho, and catching surprisingly big cutthroats and equally beefy brook trout. Years ago, my son, Cameron, and I wandered into this country in early July, busting through snowbanks to reach a high meadow where the fish seemingly never refused a fly. He was still quite young, but the fishing was so elementary that even as a little kid, he was able to hook and land as many trout as he wanted.

It was heavenly.

“I don’t need this, either,” my daughter said, busting into the office and handing me a small screwdriver kit that I used to assembly my desk here in the home office a couple years back.

“Huh?” I asked, lifting my head from the map and the memories. “Oh, yeah. Here.” I reached for the kit and put it in my desk drawer.

And just like that, I was found. Lost no more.

But it was a sweet little trip. I patted the book of maps and smiled.

It’s going to be a great summer.

Chris Hunt is the national digital director for TROUT Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls.

By Chris Hunt.