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Greetings from Montana (08/12/2007)
By John Edstrom

My fishing pal (Davey DeLano, the well-known sports journalist who, on these pages during the NFL season regularly and perversely casts his pearls before the Green Bay Packers and their loutish fans) and I resumed our yearly fishing trip to the Madison River in Montana, an event even now, after three years, steeped in ancient tradition.

What with the price of gas and the length of the car trip over the Rockies to Yellowstone, we decided to cast our lot this year with Northwest Airlines and its various fractious employee groups. Perhaps Bozeman, Montana, is a preferred destination of the Pilots Association; in any case, we arrived there on time and without a hitch in blazing dry heat on a Monday afternoon. Indeed, the haze was so thick it was hard to make out the ground from cruising altitude, much reinforcing our decision not to drive.

After a two-hour trip along the storied Gallatin River, on this day choked with rafters like logs careening down a flume, we arrived at the Howling Moon Resort near West Yellowstone, chosen over our previous lodgings on Henry's Lake in Idaho, as having preferable accommodations above ground where one could hope for a cross breeze at night - very important with this bunch - rather than a basement room, cavelike, with only scant ventilation from window wells on one side. The fishing season is short, and accomodations there can be chancy.

We apparently were sharing a two-unit cabin with some sort of film crew on location there, shooting an outdoor piece to be viewed on a cable channel in the 40s or 50s. All we ever saw of them was a guy with a cot under one arm and a sleeping bag under the other, who would show up at about midnight when we were sitting on the deck, yakking and drinking beer, set up his bedroom on the other side, and conk off to sleep without a word. By the time we roused out in the morning he would be gone. We figured he must have had a friend with whom his relationship was pretty touch and go.

Our buddy Kevin Moorhead, who had driven out earlier in his pickup, informed us that in the heat, there were few hatches on the Madison, but that the terrestrial fishing had been pretty good, and so that night we marched down to the river from the Raynalds Pass bridge with great, hairy grasshoppers tied on. The fishing was not very good " it always seems to change for the worse when I arrive " but Davey did manage to hook a huge one, not a fish, but a Canada goose, for just a second on his backcast. True story. They came in low over him from behind in order to light down in the choice Fence Pool (at the foot of a fence between two ranches) that Kevin had just staked out, pleased with his luck until then.

The next morning we stopped in at the Blue Ribbon Fly Shop to talk to Craig Mathews, its proprietor, whose name is quite well-known in fly fishing circles, particularly in association with the Madison River. He told us a story about the geese, whom he and a friend felt should be obliged to give up a couple of their number to Christmas dinner a few years back. They crept down to the river with shotguns in a blinding snowstorm, spotted the geese some way off, and began their creep, hopeful of getting in range. The birds never flushed, and when they stood up at water's edge, discovered the geese all around them foraging happily like barnyard fowl. So much for the Wild West, not to mention Christmas goose.

Craig's name is also associated with the successful attempt to keep the next access to the Madison downstream, the famous Three Dollar Bridge, open to the public. For many years a local landowner had left a milk can at the bridge soliciting the price of $3 to park there. "Violators will be band," it read. Not wanting the property to be developed and closed to the public various locals and the owner worked with the Nature Conservancy of Montana to acquire the access for posterity.

In three days the fishing hardly improved, as the first big storm in weeks moved through, radically changing the weather. But never mind, as the weather was always perfect at our favorite spot, the Happy Hour Bar, just up the canyon from Raynalds Pass on Lake Hebgen. The site is decorated with an old fashioned cruiser from the twenties with its side stove in, a momento from Prohibition Days when it was used to dispense illegal hootch to its passengers out on the lake, where the authorities couldn't sneak up, and the evidence could easily disappear over the side. The heirs of that boat captain run the joint today, two blonde Norwegian Valkyries named Tahni and Rin Klungervik (hope I got that spelling right, girls), although Tahni goes sometimes by the name of Sybil because of her many different personalities, she says. I only noticed the one, which could be called dominant. In fact at one point, I was forced to go behind the bar and mix something called "Jagerbombs" for the sisters. I can't, alas, remember my offense.

Despite all that, there is nailed to the wall of the Happy Hour, amid festooned Polaroids of happy customers in various states of dishabille, even undress, a La Crosse Brewing Co. cap inscribed, "We lost our hearts to the beautiful Klungervik sisters at Hebgen Lake, MT, July 2007," signed by each of our party.



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