For several years, Josh and I have traveled to Missoula, Montana for a few days of trout fishing. It’s been our “thing.” Not only are we able to spend a few days fishing in some of the country’s most spectacular scenery and fish the country’s most prolific trout streams, we have some father and son time. Time to talk, to listen, and be pals. It may sound trite and old-fashioned, but the 3 or 4 days we spend together are among the best days of the year, just two guys, fishing, talking and sharing a beer.
The rivers we fish are legendary (a least to those of us who fish) and include the Clark Fork (of the Columbia) River, the Missouri River, Rock Creek, and the famous Big Blackfoot River. The 1990’s movie, “A River Runs Through It”, is about the Maclean brothers fishing the Big Blackfoot and, I’m told, the movie was filmed on location in Montana. The fishing can range from good to incredible and we try to time our trip for early/mid-June, just after run-off, in an attempt to catch the Salmon fly hatch. Salmon fly are large mayfly that spend most of their lives under the water only to emerge from the river bottom, float to the surface, sprout wings, fly into the air over the river and mate. After a few hours of flight and finding a mate, the Salmon fly fall back into the river where the females deposit their eggs and die. The big trout wait all year to feed on the emergers as they float on the river’s surface and again as they cascade back down to the water and die. The feeding frenzy continues along with the hatch and all the river’s biggest trout seem to rise to the surface to gorge on the floating bugs.
A few years ago, we caught it perfectly! Josh and I were floating down Rock Creek with our guide, John at the oars in his Mackenzie River boat. A Mackenzie River boat is a motorless dory, or drift boat, characterized by a wide, flat bottom, flared sides, a narrow, flat bow, and pointed stern. Drift boats are ubiquitous wherever trout fishing abounds. Rock Creek is only fishable from a boat for a few weeks each year and John is one of the very few guides with access to the permit required to float this river. The remainder of the year, it’s wade fishing only. A float trip (fishing from a boat) is very much advantageous for the fishers in that you cover a vastly larger stretch of river (8+ miles in a day) and fish from a higher platform, allowing you to see the water and to make significantly easier and longer casts, better targeting the rising fish.
On this day we would float the upper river from the forks down. Over 15 miles in total. The scenery on Rock Creek cannot be described as anything but spectacular. This smallish river runs through a tight valley along the Sapphire Mountains wilderness area and although its not devoid of people fishing, access makes fishing the river a full day event and not for the squeamish. The only road along the river is a two-lane affair which starts out as paved asphalt on the lower river. About halfway up, the road changes to gravel and dirt. It’s a switch back without guard rails or signs or lights and drop-offs that are high enough to get anyone’s attention and keep it. If the road hasn’t been groomed within the last few days, which is almost always, and after its rained, which is every week in June, the road turns to a rutted, potholed, muddy mess. For almost the entire two hours or so of driving, your teeth chatter from the incessant vibration. But the inconvenience is always worth it.
On this day, Josh was in his usual seat at the front of the boat and I was in the back. He’d have first look and I could clean up what remained. To say we caught fish on this float would be redundant. During the next several hours we boated over 100 trout, rainbows and cutthroats and browns. If you could cast the fly within 4 or 5 inches of the shore, it was devoured almost instantaneously. As usual in fishing, we missed more fish than we caught, playing the line until the fish broke off. I’m often-times asked why we practice catch and release. Well, if everyone kept even half of the fish caught, it wouldn’t be long, even in prolific rivers like Rock Creek, before the stockpiles diminished and the fishing suffered.
During one stretch, while looking up to take in the majesty, I noticed a gaggle of Raven flying upriver as we floated down river. While wildlife is ubiquitous in the valley and we’ve seen Big Horn sheep, Elk, river otters, eagles, osprey and bear along the river, these Ravens were unusual. There were roughly a dozen birds and they were flying in a “V” pattern as geese do while flying south. Although I’ve seen many Raven, I had never before or since seen these birds fly a “V”. My interest was stoked and as I continued to watch this unusual sight, I noticed the lead bird was carrying something large in its talons. Again, this seemed out of place. I have seen many birds of prey, osprey, hawks, eagles carry prey in their talons, but never before a Raven. As the birds came closer into view, I noticed it was a smallish animal that the Raven was carrying, about the size of a ground squirrel. I also noticed that our guide, John had become fascinated and was watching skyward as well. When the birds were about 30 feet ahead of us, the lead bird dropped the prey it was holding in its talons and it was headed directly for Josh. John and I started to chant “heads-up, Heads-up” louder and louder each time. But Josh was engrossed in the fishing and tuned out our screams as the small animal, dropped from 100 feet overhead, reached terminal velocity and was on target to pummel Josh. The animal landed in the water within inches of Josh, creating a wake large enough to splash river water in Josh’ face. Josh was caught completely off-guard and it was several minutes before John’s and my gut splitting laughter subsided and we explained to Josh what had transpired.
Josh and I have been fishing with John for almost 10 years now and each time we meet we recount that day. It always brings a smile knowing that a day like that can never be repeated. The markets ascent in 2019 was similar and like that day on Rock Creek will never be repeated. I’m not saying that we can’t have solid returns going forward or that the markets will never again achieve the same performance. They can and likely will. I’m simply saying when we think back to how the markets and how our portfolios performed in 2019, we smile knowing that the same events will never be repeated exactly the same.
As always, we thank you for your business and for your continued trust.
Jack P. Cannata