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Rainbow on the Big Horn
by Peter Kohlsaat

Fort Smith, Montana, The Big Horn River-

"If you happen to receive an invitation to fish the Big Horn River and if it should happen to be your very first fishing trip ever, you may want to decline the offer on the grounds that you will undoubtedly be spoiled on trout fishing before you even get started!"
-
The Montana Angling Guide.

This introduction is what has buoyed me while driving around the back roads of South Dakota for five days. The Big Horn River was first on my itinerary of Montana trout rivers to fish. So imagine the supreme elation that accompanied me as I drove to the river to launch my canoe, and resulting disappointment when I found the parking lot full, two dozen very dapper-looking trout fishermen waiting their turn to put in, mingling like they were at some trout fishing accessories trade show. The river was packed. A quick glance down the river noted another dozen fishing boats meandering back and forth, from one trout holding area to another. Hah! I turned around, went back to the campsite and did cartoons for two hours. I then returned.
The parking lot was still full, but there was not one boat to be seen on the water. I must have hit rush hour. Tomorrow I would avoid the 10-11am bottleneck. At one time the river cut through the rugged Big Horn Mountains, but now it is impounded behind the Yellowtail dam. It flows rapidly, but uneventfully, through cottonwood-shored bottom land. A quick visual survey of the downstream water showed no white-water, boulders, or submerged structure. The perfect water for one guy fishing in a canoe with only his dog. Let the boat turn sideways, spin around, go backwards, I don’t care.

Within the first half mile of the three mile float I had boated three small rainbow using a spinning reel and a small blaze-orange Panther Martin. Along the way I passed dozens of wading fishermen like abundant wildlife. It was a great day. Ninety degrees, blazing sun, gentle breeze. Along the way I often stopped to wade gravel islands. I was the only fisherman I saw without waders, (my 15 year-old, blown-out, Nike canvas low-tops, with black shoelaces in the bottom three eyelets and long cotton pants serving as my river walking garb) I was very comfortably wet and cool all day. I was able to get in a much-needed, abeit chilly bath at one not-so-secluded deeper pool. It was a great day.

The next morning I awoke early, even for me, and was in the water before six. There were two cars in the lot and not a soul to be seen on the water. Leisurely drifting, using only the fly-rod, unleashing long, graceful, very innovative, artistic casts, dropping #12 pheasant-tail nymphs directly where intended, I owned the river. I caught and released several small rainbows and fought one dandy for about a minute until he untied my knot. It was a superb christening for the next week fishing in Montana, where it won’t always be the weekend.

S
o, what’s going on around here. Fishing. Fly fishing shops. Guide services. Boat rentals. Shuttle services. The park rangers sit around tying flies. At the market they tie flies. Flies so tiny I can’t even see the hole in the hook. The town of Fort Smith is at the end of a dead-end road 50 miles from Hardin, the nearest big city. You drive its length to go fishing. That’s all they do here. So, for today’s dispatch I take you to Hardin, compliments of the Big Horn County News:

Pedistrian Interferance ordinance passed by Hardin City Council

"As of Friday, Aug. 15th, people will no longer be able to sleep it off on the streets of Hardin, but nobody-including the man who is bound to enforce the new law- knows whether anything will change." The sheriff, Larson Medicinehorse is concerned about

the waning manpower of his department.

Hardin emu rancher claims harrasment. Birds missing, dead.

"’The trouble started about a year ago,’ Virginia Bowman said. ‘We’ve had eggs and feed stolen, fences broken, eggs painted with some kind of varnish, and four birds killed- including one large adult female worth about$1500.’"

The Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department is investigating, but doesn’t have the manpower to stake out the property.

In Random Notes, columnist Steve Devitt issues his quarterly bozo alert.

"The award this time goes to a federal magistrate who fined a Red Lodge woman $1350 for shooting a grizzly bear that was chasing her horse around the pen. . Twenty-eight year old Juanita Swanke, killed a 220-pound male grizzly with a .22 rifle. The magistrate said she should have called a wildlife official to deal with the bear." Mr. Devitt goes on to tell of a related story: "I used to know a guy who lived up in the Beartooths and he was attacked twice by bears. Both times the bears charged him. The first time all he had, like the woman from Red Lodge, was a .22, so he knelt down and aimed his rifle for the bear’s eye. When the critter was about two feet away, he pulled the trigger, then jumped up and emptied the rifle into the bear’s ears. He was fined for ‘hunting bear out of season.’ The second time, he buried the bear."

And finally some stuff I bet you didn’t know.

From a recent survey taken by the Montana State University Extension Service:

-average amount invested in a cow: $1,1737

-average market price for a cow in 1995: $3,379

-average amount per 100 pounds (cwt) of cattle marketed that producers had to sell to break even- $436/cwt

-average debt/breeding cow- $865

-average return/cow- 6.7%

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