By: Chad Okrusch
Return to the RIvers
I’ve always been fascinated by moving water. Many of my earliest memories are tied to rivers and creeks.
I remember fishing Nez Perce creek in Elk Park with my father as a small boy. It’s one of the handful of times we ever fished together. When I close my eyes I can feel the heat of the summer sun on my face and still viscerally find pangs of the giddiness and joy I felt as we hauled trout from the stream on rods too sturdy for such delicate fishing circumstances.
Decades later my father, a McQueen kid who’s lived most of his life in Seattle and Dallas, would return for a short vacation from his never-ending work. At that time, Jody Troupe (Mullaney) and her husband Dan, ran the outfit at Brown’s Bridge on the Big Hole. For a reduced rate, they let my brothers, father, and I make some memories before and after our full-day floats upriver by sojourning as dudes. To fish with one’s brothers and father is a sacred thing that so many of us too often take for granted.
I remember walking the game trails along Wise River near Lacey Creek with my rod in hand and an old wicker creel awkwardly slung over my shoulders. My maternal grandfather, Juan Jesus Duran, then a still-young but retired underground copper miner, led the way. I tried to walk in time with his steps, but my legs were too short. It was my grandfather who taught me to rig my outfit, bait a hook, and cast where the fish are. He taught me to use open-face and old Johnson style reels, how clean a fish, and modeled for me the solace that comes with focus on actually physically connecting with another living creature. A child of the depression, my grandfather ate every fish he ever caught and to this day looks askance when he sees pictures of me releasing a fish back to the stream.
It was with my grandfather, again along the Wise River, that I first fished with a fly--I was 12. He had an old fiberglass rod fit with an automatic reel. The entire system was different than what I’d known. I was camping with him, alone for some reason. And, we were getting rained out so we sat in the old Cascade camper he still parks out on his lawn. When the sun broke, I decided I would try this strange fishing pole. He didn’t fly fish, so I was on my own. I eventually, luckily, plopped a big ugly fly near the opposite bank of our camp spot, and to my great wonder and surprise, a trout shot from the water like a Seaworld orca. My heart skipped, and a new curiosity was born in me.
I wouldn’t take up fly fishing in earnest for another 7 or 8 years. Little did I know that that moment would ignite a passion for moving water, complex and rare ecosystems, and freshwater fish on a fly. My best friends and I were fanatical during our 20s. During my 30s I was preoccupied with life and let the rivers run without me. The skills I developed early are gone. Now I fish rarely and probably appear to be a newcomer to an outside observer. I stumble awkwardly across slippery river bottoms and seem to fall into the water more. I find myself tangled in my line and delivering casts that put down feeding fish.
This year, however, I intend to return to the river and rediscover my place in the system. I hope to bring my daughters along and pass on what was given to me. Get out and enjoy the beauty and splendor of this place we call home. Montana is heaven. Enjoy our holy places with the people you love and I’ll see you riverside.