Time for a fly roddin’ road trip

Ralph Bartholdt

I was down with the whole, let’s-go-to-Livingston-and-enroll-in-a-flyfishing-guide-school thing.

It started as many ideas do: An article in a magazine that lay on the floor of a bathroom stall in Butte, Mont., where a lot of great thinking is done.

Which is exactly what Rodin had in mind when he blasted out a bronze, packed a cooler with ice and headed out the door with his fly rod.

I can only speculate.

The dog-eared, glossy magazine was one I later wrote articles for, because its then-editor was amenable to rambling tales of fly rodding. At the time however — this was years ago — I hadn’t read it much. The particular copy on the floor of the stall had entire pages bent, fly rod ads torn out, yet it contained a mostly intact article about a fly fishing guide school in Livingston, Mont.

I carefully dislodged the story, showed it to pals and said, “let’s do this.”

Livingston at the time was known to me as the place where Dan Bailey had for more than a half-century developed and sold flies by mail order from his shop on Park Street. It was the fishing that brought the New York professor to the Montana cowtown during the war years and Bailey’s shop — along with the bite — almost hooked my Uncle Jim into taking over a small-but-established newspaper called the Livingston Enterprise.

These days, the Enterprise is run by a friend of mine, an avid angler, in whose Butte apartment I first read of the town’s fly fishing guide school, and who sometimes still, when his generosity hatches, lets me stand, knees locked, in the bow of his dory as we careen in the current of the Yellowstone River hunting brown trout.

The fly fishing guide school that we attended was not in Livingston exactly.

Its post office box was in a downtown building, and the men who ran the school traveled to a supermarket along the highway for supplies sometimes, but the guide school proper was an ancient converted ranch to the east, around Reed Point. Below it, the river braided into walkable, mosquito-infested runs, where deer with velvet antlers — heavy already in June — fed on the lush hay, grass and clover that rolled like fur on a dog’s back.

I drove out from Idaho because that’s where I lived, and met the instructors, whose names I recognized from the covers of books. The whole thing lasted a week, and is still remembered as one of those summer blessings you stumble upon a few times in your life. These passing benedictions may include cafes in small towns on road trips that serve a triple burger of mostly bacon with a side of pie, or the artistry of vistas splashed by a setting sun, or the smell of fresh-cut hay after driving all night.

A newspaperman who lives in Lewiston had the run of several ranches decades ago one summer when he lived in Bozeman. Their owners said, “Fish here all you want.” He speaks of those vacation-like days with the reverence reserved for a Nirvana concert, and he dreams of going back.

The likelihood of re-living any of it, he understands, is preposterous.

Valuable lessons are learned during summer road trips, sometimes too brief to be called vacations. They are small adventures, opportunities acted upon, arising almost innocuously, sometimes in places unexpected.

Bathroom stalls in Butte come to mind.

And like a Rodin bronze hammered out a century ago, they live on and whisper:

“Time for a road trip, brah. Grab your fly gear.”

Bartholdt writes outdoor articles for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached at rbartholdt@cdapress.com.

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