Camped at the “Secret” Fishing Spot

It’s a secret, yet this road happens to be named Fish Creek Road; the guy in line at the dump station in town told us about it under his breath, putting his finger to his lips with a dramatic “shhh”; and my old friend David, whom I caught up with briefly in Missoula, said, “Oh, yes, I know it well.” 

There are so many anglers here that this gravel road is about as busy as I95 around Fredericksburg, Virginia.  (Just kidding; there is no road in the world as busy as there.) We’re camped on a little spur of the road that edges over to Fish Creek, and offshoot of the Clark Fork River, but you’d think it’s a Cabela’s parking lot.

View from the back bedroom window, toward the river.

A guy came up from the river one evening and walked right past the tent and trailer (Banjo gave him a good growl). He was polite, but he walked inches by the Airstream—our home—as if this were his weekend trail that we’re parked in.  I guess we are. 

Ponderosa Pines on Fish Creek

An elderly man and his grandson made careful conversation from the water one evening as I was up at the tent holding Banjo by the collar; after that growl, I wanted to supervise her interactions with anglers walking up.  These two stayed in the creek bed, but they asked me her name and said pointedly pleasant things while watching me hold her.  Good girl, Banjo. 

Another afternoon I was inside listening to a podcast and folding laundry when I heard a knock on the door. Good thing I was dressed: it was a game warden.  You know, the extra beefy guys in body armor, with guns strapped to intentionally visible places.  

He was mighty friendly, talking about the fishing restrictions while I held an armful of tea towels. The cutthroat trout here are catch-and-release only, but it’s been so hot that even doing that might stress them to death, so all fishing is prohibited between 2:00 pm and midnight until the water cools. There are neon signs saying so everywhere, but the game warden said people still don’t “seem to see them.” 

You could tell he’s been trained in assessing people: I was gently quizzed about where I’m from and where I’ve been (two tricky topics for me, as I’m not from what’s on our plates—Texas—and I never can remember the exact place we stayed at last. Don’t even try asking me where we’re going: see below on that mystery). After a polite parting, he came back to tell me I need to register my kayak as an out-of-state boat when I put it in the water.  He explained exactly how to do that so I would be sure to remember. 

Yes, sir, I’ll do that, sir.  These guys are masters. If I’d been Banjo, not one hackle would have risen on my neck while this guy made a detailed assessment of me and my intentions here.  

An endangered Bull trout, dead in the stream, maybe due to the shallow water being too warm. 

And this morning I woke up (with all the window shades open, wearing just a t-shirt) to a car parked right in front of the truck.  Totally not a big deal in a campground, but out here it’s startling as all get-out.  The driver is out fishing, of course. Banjo and I saw him, as well as two other guys in the other direction, on our morning walk, and later he walked right beside the trailer on his way back to his car. 

Perhaps it’s like when you find the perfect spot to sit in the woods, and it turns out there are already a billion ants living there. You’ve accidentally invaded an ant world.  Here we accidentally camped in the “secret” fishing spot, but no one is telling us to vamoose, of course; they’re just parking next to us, walking by us, totally ignoring us as they fish.  


Tracy’s gotten in on the action (during non-restricted times, of course). He was so concerned about stressing his catch that he took a really quick picture, but here is the native trout (unlike most other trout in Montana rivers), and also the namesake of the university’s literary magazine, if I remember correctly. 

Missoula and Moving On

Well, we’ve been here almost a week, and we’re definitely ready to move on.  There are no hiking trails, since fishing is what it’s all.  The gravel road is a little too busy for walking or biking. And there’s only so much sitting in the water while knitting that a person can do.  

Our one day in Missoula didn’t turn out as planned, either. Our next camping spot may have fallen through, so we needed to do serious research online during our trip to town with cell service. We also had to do laundry, buy groceries, get propane and diesel, and wash the truck (it would meld into a big pile of dirt otherwise).  

Several factors kept us from having a relaxing day in town while taking care all these errands. The biggest is that there’s a regulation in Missoula now that prohibits dogs from the outside spaces of breweries.  Which is pretty damned ironic, seeing as how when I lived here a guy used to bring his wolf hybrid into the inside of Charlie’s, the local bar, each weekend. So we couldn’t sit at a brewery to do our planning.  

And I’d turned on my VPN at the laundromat thinking I’d have a few minutes to find a spot outside somewhere in Missoula for us to eat takeout and plan, but turns out the machines at that laundry work for only 7 minutes at a time (at least that’s as far as I got), so I had to monitor them and couldn’t get any research done. And then, as we drove away, I couldn’t get Google Maps to work because my VPN wouldn’t shut off.  It was a nuts day where nothing worked. We were hot and grumpy, dealing with unexpected traffic in Missoula, driving around in circles. 

Thank you, David, for suggesting a cool spot by the river in town, next to a restaurant with take-out, and dropping your plans to bike out and visit. While he and I caught up under the shade of a tree and he chimed in on possible camping spots, Tracy came up with alternate plans. 

I’m afraid I asked David more about our shared experiences with my favorite author, David Foster Wallace (he introduced me to him, literally, in person) than I asked about his kids and wife and life in Missoula. Our appreciation of DFW is unrelated to this blog, but if you’ve ever gotten into a conversation with me (aka lecture) about him, you know what his works means to me, and heck meant to my mom and my sister, too.  

This is David’s hilarious (and time-traveling-ly accurate) poster advertising DFW’s visit as a guest writer back in 1991, when DFW was writing the brilliant Infinite Jest (although we didn’t know that then). If you’re wondering about the quotes, remember that this was during the Gulf War.  Don’t get me started on DFW; as usual, my stories are unrelated to travel, but I am tempted to tell you anyway!

Missoula, I missed getting to know you again.  But I’m sure we’ll be back, and we’ll leave Banjo in the trailer (wherever secret fishing spot we camp in) so we can spend a relaxing day at a brewery and walk around downtown.  

I swear, though, if I see that guy with his wolf in Charlie’s Bar, I’ll be both thrilled that the town hasn’t completely changed and kinda pissed off that Banjo wasn’t allowed in!

Ukulele Segment

This is what Tracy puts up with.  I woke up at 5:30 with the lyrics to Fortune Teller in my head; I’d been trying to learn them yesterday.  So of course I got up in the dark, in my robe, and learned the danged song.

I hope I’ll get better at it, but this is me whispering it while Tracy sleeps just a few feet behind me.  I don’t think of this song as a lullaby, but maybe it is.  

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