Back in the spring of ’92, Tim Linehan and I spent a week bouncing around Montana and Idaho, hitting a different river every single day for six days in a row. We started on the lower Henry’s Fork and then moved on to the Madison, the Big Hole, the Yellowstone, the Bighorn and the Missouri. We couldn’t maintain that kind of pace forever, so on the seventh day we rested up in a bargain motel right off the interstate in Helena. I don’t know that a cheap bed and a hot shower ever felt so good.
Most of us who’ve been kicking around the sport for a while have a handful of epic road trips to our credit. That particular jaunt started with melting snowbanks on the river in Island Park and then moved right into the Mother’s Day caddis hatch on the Yellowstone, a bunch of native grayling on the Big Hole, and a bent trailer tongue on the Bighorn.
There’s a bit of a story with that last one. I was still learning how to maneuver a drift boat trailer at the time, and Tim, who was an old hand by that point, damn near laughed his pants wet when I jackknifed my rig below Afterbay Dam and bent the trailer tongue. We had no idea what to do next, so we took a big chance and jackknifed it again in the opposite direction. Amazingly, our maneuver worked. You could still see a little shimmy in the tongue, but it never seemed to affect the way the trailer tracked behind my truck.
One of the best things about road trips is that you can typically expect something unusual. I’ve seen some pretty wild things over the years, from dancing coyotes to massive grizzly bears to a gorgeous Native American gal – she bore a remarkable resemblance to a teenage Angelina Jolie – thumbing a ride on the outskirts of Hazelton, British Columbia. (Nope, we didn’t stop. My fishing partner and I were both married, and nothing good was going to come from inviting that young lady into the truck.)
Every road trip has its own pace. Some are languid, in a “lazy days of summer” kind of way, while others take their cue from caffeine and adrenaline and race by so fast that the days literally blur together. My favorite trips are the ones that fall somewhere in between. They’re quick enough to be exciting, yet slow enough that you don’t feel rushed. You know you’ve hit it just about right when you’re catching fish and having fun, but you can still remember the tart-sweet taste of the lemon meringue pie you had for breakfast your second day out.
A few years ago I took a ride up to British Columbia with Tom Davis, who’s a longtime outdoor writer. Tom lives in Wisconsin, and since he’d already driven 1,500 miles when he pulled into my driveway, we decided to give his rig a break and take my truck north of the border. That was the first time we fished together, and there’s always a little bit of nervous anticipation when you’re on the road with someone you haven’t traveled with before. I knew Tom was a good guy and that he had excellent taste in music – trust me; you never want to head for the hinterlands with someone who adores Britney Spears and The Village People – but there are any number of other issues you have to take into consideration. For example, does he snore? Or just as importantly, does he mind if you snore? Given that you’re essentially living with each other for the duration of the trip, it’s important you work through any potential issues without resorting to violence.
Fortunately, Tom’s innate good cheer and gracious demeanor held up well to my ... let’s be charitable and call it my “undisciplined” style on the road. I usually travel with a ton of gear, and while it tends to start out neat and orderly, after a few days it envelops pickup trucks and fills motel rooms to the point of bursting. Despite having ample opportunity, Tom never complained; not even once. Furthermore, he was invariably upbeat, cheerful and solicitous, which is exactly what you want from the guy riding shotgun on a road trip.
We eventually hooked up with Tom’s friend, Winston, in the little town of Fernie, and the three of us drove through the wilds of BC, enjoying both the autumn-splashed scenery and the excellent trout fishing.
We spent a couple of wonderful days on a little jump-across creek, and then an enjoyable day on the Elk, and then we headed high into the backcountry to a river I’d rather not name in print. With the exception of one lone elk hunter who parked next to us while we were pulling on our waders, there wasn’t a soul around. The scenery was beyond magnificent, we caught a bunch of nice cutts on dry flies, and the balance between solitude and companionship was just about perfect. I don’t think we could have drawn it up any better if we’d started with a blank sheet of paper.
Then there were the bull trout. Tom and Winston spotted them in the shallows, all decked out in their spawning reds and oranges. Their dorsal fins poked out of the water as they played out their age-old ritual and the biggest one, the male, probably went 11 or 12 pounds.
We watched them for quite a while, fascinated by their size and their bright colors, and by the fact that bulls are the true water-wolves of the northern Rockies. A three- foot bull will eat a 14-inch cutthroat without thinking twice, and finding them in the river gives you a whole new appreciation for the landscape. It’s like seeing a grizzly bear amble across a misty meadow or watching a bull elk bugle against a backdrop of dark timber. You know you’re someplace special.
When it comes right down to it, I suspect that’s why most of us enjoy our road trips so much. We’re starting out with a sense of complete freedom and then throwing in all kinds of memorable experiences. No matter how you look at it, that’s a winning combination