Dateline: September 13, 2015 – Seattle, Washington
Sometimes, there just isn’t enough Red Bull.
Martini and I finished September 9 at a Motel Fungus somewhere in southeastern South Dakota, and, if we were to keep on schedule, the next day would be a logistical monster. It actually involved very little fishing, because we had over 600 miles of driving to do, which in and of itself is doable (example HERE,) except that we had two major tourist stops and a state to add to the fishing list. Who knew that South Dakota had things other than the Chamberlain Dairy Queen – like the Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore? And who knew that Wyoming – one of the remaining states where I had not captured some sort of fish – was just to the left of South Dakota? So all we needed to do in one day was drive across South Dakota, hit two big bucket list items, get to Wyoming in daylight so we could catch a fish there, oh, and then drive a few more hours to end up in North Dakota so we could fish there in the morning.
It looked so easy on the map.
The Badlands came first. This desolate, jagged outcrop pops out of the northern plains and is the closest thing to another planet I have seen, outside of Cleveland.
Martini searches for the Badlands.
We find them. They’re behind us.
This sort of stuff went on for miles.
We wandered and hiked a bit, and we both took a lot of photos, although Martini’s camera is a whole lot better than my iPhone. I have included some of his better shots here – he’s a talented photographer, even if he hasn’t caught a gizzard shad.
It took Martini half an hour to get into position for this shot.
On the way out of the Badlands, there are approximately 750 signs for a store called “Wall Drug.” Don’t.
We then had another long stretch of road to get to Mount Rushmore. I was already running the calculations for how much Wyoming fishing time we would have based on spending six minutes at Rushmore, and it was going to be tight. Martini made things even tighter because he insisted on doing clever cultural things like hunting for agates and visiting a rock store along our way – he has always been interested in geology and … rockology … even though these things will not help him catch more fish.
Though we were driving hundreds of miles at a stretch, time passed quickly, because we have an endless supply of fishing topics to discuss – species, records, countries, states, and Kate Upton. We also had 11 Taylor Swift songs on my iPod for when things got really slow, although we got so familiar with these that we began taking cultural liberties with them. “Shake it Off” sung in a Russian accent works remarkably well.
Do not judge us – these were long drives. It made sense at the time.
I had expected Mount Rushmore to be big, but it was bigger than I could have imagined. And I can imagine a lot.
Walking up to the viewing area.
Imagine something really, really big, then imagine something even bigger, and then give up, because it’s still bigger than that. We were positively drooling with patriotism. Even though our current presidential election has devolved into something of a reality show, any American who could look at Mount Rushmore and not feel proud is a communist and should be deported to Berkeley. (And forced to read Karl Marx’s Manifesto. Karl was truly the least amusing of the Marx brothers.)
Selfie with the four presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Millard Fillmore.
Did I mention it was huge?
Once we got on the road again, I finally had a chance to get amped up about fishing. It was getting late in the afternoon, and I knew we would have a fairly short window to add Wyoming to my list. We got to our target water with about 45 minutes of daylight remaining, and I did not want to blow my chance. This was pressure.
I saw the creek – a small, gin-clear trout stream, and improbably, I thought of my father. I remember him on a similar creek in my childhood, saying “If you can see them, they can see you.” I have no idea where that came from – whereas Martini might be trading fishing notes with Marty every week, my father and I aren’t close. But I still remember some of that stuff from childhood like it was 45 years ago. I was going to have to revert to ultra-light lure angling, pretty much the first fishing I ever did.
The creek where I would add Wyoming – or not.
My dad and I didn’t fish together much, but I lived for those mornings. And just as I will occasionally remember something from college, like the meaning of “zero allomorph,” those trout trips on the Truckee River in northern California always stuck with me. Small lures with a single, barbless hook, cast upstream and drift it down under control but naturally. It was so simple, and yet so complicated, like hitting a baseball, which I was never much good at either, unless I knew a fastball was coming. My Dad caught most of the fish, and it dawned on me that there was some real skill involved in the whole business. I remembered that ritual of casting upstream and letting a lure drift down with the current, reeling just quickly enough to keep up with it but make it look natural, waiting for the hesitation or jump in the line that meant a bite. It’s a skill I have worked on my whole life, and I think of those days in the early 1970s every time I do it.
On my second cast, the lure landed in a pocket upstream and was gently wobbling in the current when I got the electric tug of a trout strike. I lifted up, not too hard, not too soft, and a fish was on. I could see it was a small brown at the head of the pool, and I played it gently onto the bank. I had added Wyoming as my 47th state, with almost no time to spare.
The Wyoming Fish.
For good measure, I got a bigger trout moments later, but then the sun started disappearing and we were done. Bowman, North Dakota was still a long way off.
The bigger Wyoming fish.
A Wyoming cow at sunset. It was in a good moo.
We got in the car and headed north. If we had it to over again, we would have found an extra day. There just isn’t enough Red Bull for some things. But we got there, although it was a close run thing and no, the underwear was not reusable.
Somewhere in that very long last 100 miles, caffeine stopped having effect and we were forced to take desperate measures to stay awake – rolling down the windows, shouting songs, competitive flatulence. Things that are not normally amusing became hilarious. Things that might be faintly amusing (to an emotionally-stunted eight year-old) became pants-wettingly funny. We almost wrecked the car laughing at something about an angel shark attacking the windshield, and to this day, I can’t explain why it was funny.
The morning came far too early, but we had another daunting task – catch a fish in North Dakota and get the heck on the road, because we needed to be a long way west before the end of the day. Fishing spots were getting farther and farther apart, but there was a lot to see, mostly corn.
Martini had somehow located an isolated North Dakota pond that was supposed to have solid fishing. We got out and walked around it, hunting for panfish in the shallows. The place looked sterile, and I was a little worried.
The Little Pond on the Prairie
While Martini checked out the boat launch, I wandered down the shoreline, examining the weedbeds for a lonely sunfish, a small pike … anything. I had gone a few hundred yards and was beginning to worry, when I saw a small, dark shape about 15 feet offshore.
It had to be a yellow perch – something I had forgotten would even be there. Tying on a trusted small crankbait, I cast, and I was immediately rewarded with a spirited strike. Seconds later, I landed the fish and had added my 48th state.
The 48th state. Up to 1958, the US only had 48 states, but in 1959, we added Alaska and Canada.
I yelled for Martini to come up and try his luck, and then I cast again. The perch were ravenous and of reasonable size, so we stayed and fished for about 45 minutes, catching at least 30 between us.
Some of the morning bounty. I only wish we had time for a fish fry.
It reminded me of my first yellow perch ever, summer 1977 in Port Sanilac harbor on Lake Huron, with my Uncle Jim patiently supervising.
Quickly, we saddled up and hit the road again, heading west through the vast, open plains of North Dakota.
Martini managed to photograph a pronghorn.
We entered Montana late in the morning, and we would be in Montana for a long time, because Montana is 9000 miles wide.
“Welcome to Montana – Widest State in the Union.”
We had one very important tourist stop to make – a place I like to think of as “America’s Monument to Bad Planning.” Whereas most countries commemorate their military triumphs, in this case, we have chosen to memorialize a complete disaster. For it was on this isolated hillside above the Little Bighorn River, 139 years ago, that Colonel George Armstrong Custer and 209 men under his command attacked the enemy without properly researching how many of them were there. It didn’t go well.
Looking up “Last Stand Hill.” The place was haunting. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you can still hear Custer whispering “Oh, shit.”
The monument at the top of the hill. Most of the enlisted men are buried here.
Looking down the hill back toward the river. These stones mark where the men fell, but are not the actual graves. The one in the center with the black plaque is Custer’s.
Speaking of not doing well, this stretch of the trip was a culinary low point for Martini. I am, shall we say, a bit less picky about food than Martini. There may only be three Dairy Queens in Montana, but they are spaced in such a way that we ended up eating three consecutive meals there. I believe that this is nearly ideal, but Martini would have given my right arm for a salad.
In the morning, we had to plan out two stops which Martini had found. These were some distance apart, because, as we have discussed, Montana is 9000 miles wide.
In the first portion of this 9000 miles, we stopped at an absolutely gorgeous small river – crystal clear, deepening into some Alpine-blue cuts and holes, and obviously full of trout. But we didn’t want trout. We wanted longnose suckers. Yes, we know this is weird.
For the first hour or so, I kept catching beautiful trout, which is nice, but they kept me from the suckers, which were stacked up in a school right by a bridge piling. I soaked worms for about an hour with no success.
Martini prepares to fish. About an hour after this photos was taken, he did something terrible to me.
Martini stepped in and caught a sucker fairly quickly, because he was clever and used nymphs for bait. In the interim, we both got rocky mountain sculpins, a surprise addition to our respective species lists.
“Rocky Mountain Sculpin” – one of John Denver’s most beautiful songs.
Then I was back to the suckers, this time using the nymphs as well. Bait, cast, strike, miss, repeat. This went on for a while – actually, well past when Martini had mentioned we would need to get on the road.
Considering that I had forced him to eat at Dairy Queen repeatedly, Martini was remarkably kind. He knew I would be insufferable if I got that close to a new species and failed, and he patiently helped me by foraging for nymphs under rocks and helping wrestle them onto hooks – they are not cooperative. When I finally hooked a sucker, he was right there to land it, and we raced to the vehicle and hit the road. And he never gave me a word of trouble about it.
The longnose. And the longnose sucker.
But there was a terrible secret behind Martini’s kindness. Months later, I found out he had caught another new species, the longnose dace, while he was waiting for me to get the sucker. He chose not to mention this to me because he reasoned, with undeniable accuracy, that if I had known this fish was there I wouldn’t have left for two more hours.
The longnose dace. Martini has one and I don’t. Bad Martini.
We then drove more of the 9000 miles required to get across Montana. I believe to this day that if you dig a hole from eastern Montana straight down through the center of the earth, you will come out in central Montana.
On long drives like this, you get a lot of time to talk. It was a different road trip than 2014, still boisterous but perhaps a bit more serious. Last year, we were celebrating the great triumph of Martini graduating Stanford and heading home for some well-deserved time off. This time, we were heading away from his home and family, to his new challenge of grad school. New professors, new classmates, new supermodels – I knew he would be unbelievably successful like he always is, but there was a lot of work ahead of him, and it was clearly on his mind. But he has a large brain, which is only 44% dedicated to study and 38% dedicated to Kate Upton, so there is plenty of room left for fishing topics.
Toward the end of the day, we pulled up at a gorgeous mountain river – a bit bigger than the earlier stop, but a classic western trout water. Except that we were hunting for northern pikeminnow. Yes, you heard me. And again, I had to fight my way through some amazing trout before I could get the target species on the hook, but I managed to get a few, as did Martini.
The pikeminnows (there are four species) can actually get quite large – see “My Failed Weekend of Parenthood“
Martini working on his northern pikeminnow.
We spent the evening in the relative civilization of Bozeman, and actually got to eat somewhere that had vegetables on the menu. My intestinal tract was deeply confused by this change of pace. The next day, we finally got out of Montana.
I was so happy to see this sign. Montana was beautiful, but nothing stays beautiful for 9000 miles. Except Marta.
That was pretty much it for the fishing. We had a couple of shots at some line-class and fly records across the miles, but not much happened. The highlight of this segment of this trip was undoubtedly finding a Couer d’Alene Taco Bell that served their inimitable breakfast – we had been looking for this since Illinois. The Crunchy Chicken Gasarito is my personal favorite, and this kept us inspired as we entered the moonscape of western Washington.
School was weighing heavily on Martini’s mind, and we spoke about his upcoming work. A lot of it would involve how trout species evolve into different types in given environments, and I was hopeful he would describe a new species of trout – Onchorhyncus uptonii – so I could be the first person to put in a record for it while he was still busy in the lab.
The Columbia gorge. It’s big.
We got to Seattle on a rainy Sunday morning, moved him into his dorm, ate lunch, and pleasingly watched the Seahawks lose.
The nicest day I have ever seen in Seattle.
I was then off for the airport, and a few hours later, I was back home, with Marta looking forward to my next adventure. I had added 19 species, and at 1476, I was getting tantalizingly close to 1500. I had gotten another chance to be on the road with a great friend, like it was college again except with better fishing gear. Martini was already figuring out where we could catch Washington trophies like largescale sucker and peamouth, and I knew that whenever I saw him again, that he would not have eaten at Dairy Queen in the interim.