For the second straight year, Field & Stream has partnered with Trout Unlimited on tours of America’s Best Wild Places. The Best Wild Places is a joint project and offers a unique look at some of the country’s best hunting and fishing destinations, as well as the challenges these amazing places face if they are to remain intact and functional for years to come.
*The following is a compilation of writing I did while visiting the Centennial Valley this summer, some posted on my blog, some modified from its original state, some that remained stored in my memory, and some that was written but never shared. I should mention that this trip was sponsored by Trout Unlimited and the Outdoor Blogger Network. So I thank them for the opportunity that I had to experience such an amazing place.
Walking through the knee high native grasses, the transportation back to a different time is instantaneous. The vast landscape that defines the Centennial Valley still remains virtually untouched, leaving a hearty land that protects the plants and wildlife that call this part of the country home. And when the sky falls down upon the valley, a perfect blend of blue, gray, and green greet you with open arms.
Feeling the weight of our expectations, we had rigged up and cast off in different directions from the vehicles. The water seemed endless as the six fishermen went their separate ways. High up in this drainage, grayling and westslope cutthroat trout are the predominant fish, innocent holdovers from the last ice age. And Like many battles these fish have fought, these trout fight with the ferocity of their lineage, naive to the fact that they are anything but survivors. These trout are natives.
I watched the twenty inch westslope cutthroat feed lazily from behind a boulder midstream, and I knew if I could get this fish to net, it would easily be the fish of the trip. For anyone. The hard part was getting a good drift in front of the hungry trout. The fish kept feeding as I kept casting. Nothing. I changed flies in hopes to find anything that resembled what this giant cutt was feeding on. Forty five minutes quickly slipped away with nothing to show for my resolve. As I looked curiously at the water, I gave it one last try. And as I put in the first mend, the line went tight. This was going to be my moment in the sun, and I was going to show everyone what a cutthroat looks like when they grow up. As I pulled tight to set the hook, nothing but dead weight came floating back at me. I had spent the last hour casting to the most realistic, westslope cutthroat trout looking, languidly moving, submerged willow branch. This was not my moment, not even Montana is perfect.
Walking back to the truck, the size of Montana showed itself in the valley. The cold stream was a beautiful birthmark left years ago by a force too large to comprehend. The fish in this valley are reminders that we as humans have a responsibility to care about things other than ourselves. We have a responsibility to each other to keep things as they were always meant to be.
A small family of Sage Grouse scurried across the packed gravel, herded protectively by an anxious mother. And as the dust cloud fanned out from behind the truck, we left watching the river unfold a couple hundred feet below us. An unencumbered creek that lay at the bottom of an unspoiled valley, winding down, and pushing out, feeding one of the best trout fisheries in the country.
As a coldwater fisherman, it is sometimes easy to overlook how much work it takes to keep these wild places in the manner we as sportsmen assume they should be. The fact remains that these places need to be loved, they need to be cared for. And as someone who uses these resources, I am proud to be a Trout Unlimited member, knowing that there are people who work tirelessly to protect my passion.
Whether it’s Dietmar Grimm (VP of Marketing and Strategy), who is looking for creative ways to enhance Trout Unlimited’s member base, realizing that the future of TU will be passed on to the next generation of avid cold water fisherman, enthusiasts, or anyone who loves spending time in the outdoors. Or listening to Michael Gibson (Montana TU Outreach Director) speak passionately about some of the real life issues TU is facing, balancing political winds with common sense work. Corey Fisher (TU’s Energy Director) also inspires. He works to ensure that in the search and consumption of our natural resources, that no short cuts are taken to protect a water and species that can’t speak for themselves. Tom Reed (TU’s OHV Policy Director) works tirelessly to protect the backcountry wilderness where these native fish live and breed, places that might get overlooked without a guy like Tom and an organization like TU. And lastly, Chris Hunt. Chris works with hunters and anglers, government representatives, businesses, landowners and industry to protect the lands we all own. And as he’d tell you, “Let’s just keep things the way they are, we have a good balance right now.” Although, I am not sure that it is that simple. These are only a few of the people Trout Unlimited has in place. There are countless more, working as hard to make a difference not only for their members, but also make a difference for anybody who cares about the natural world in which we live.
The fact remains that the next generation will be left with a legacy we created. It is not only important to be focused on the short term and the hot button issues of today, but we need to be proactive and motivated to work towards the future. It isn’t a matter of wanting to make meaningful change. It is deciding to prioritize that these fish and these places matter enough to start the work today, while looking towards tomorrow.
Although memories may change, I can only hope that the story won’t be forgotten through the work of many. Protect what we have, restore what we've marred, reconnect to the environment and the fish we care about, and sustain a healthy balance for the future. We owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to the generations yet to experience such beauty.