What a Mountain Lion Taught Me about Fly Fishing

A chill surged through my body. I was standing on a high ridge in Montana’s Beartooth-Absaroka Wilderness area with a compound bow in one hand and an elk bugle in the other. Moments before, I tried my best to sound like a young bull elk as I blew on my bugle. The sound echoed off the peak to the north. Then silence.

“Turn around and look,” whispered Jeff.

I was hoping to see a six-point bull elk, but the sight that sent a chill through my body was a mountain lion sitting on its haunches. It was about 35 yards away. What struck me was how still it sat and how it blended in with its surroundings. I had seen mountain lions before while hunting, but it was only a glimpse as the big cats bounded away through the timber. This image was uncanny.

Jeff and I looked at each other, and I remember saying, “I think we should get out here!” I had an idea what to do if a grizzly bear showed up, but a mountain lion? Besides, I knew that shooting a mountain lion, even in self-defense, could land me in more trouble than if it attacked us.

Jeff and I began walking back down the game trail we had been following. So did the mountain lion. When we stopped, it stopped. This continued for about a quarter of a mile, and it was unnerving. Finally, the big cat seemed to vanish. That was even more unnerving. Was it circling us for a surprise attack?

But about thirty minutes later, we made it down the mountain to the trailhead.

I’ve thought a lot about that encounter over the years. Jeff and I figure that we got close to a den, and the mountain lion was making sure that we left the area. Whatever the case, I learned a bit more about the predator-prey relationship. The mountain lion saw us first. It blended in with its surroundings and didn’t make a sound.

Months later, it occurred to me that those same “predatory” behaviors work well for fly fishers. We improve our chances of catching trout when we see them first, blend into our surroundings, and move soundlessly.

Perhaps most impressive, though, was its patience. The big cat did not seem in a hurry to chase us out of its area or “confront” us, though if we had inadvertently walked on top of the den, its behavior may have changed dramatically. The mountain lion’s patient, non-anxious character is a trait to emulate.

There is a romantic notion tied to fly fishing. It conjures up images of fly fishers moving leisurely through the water making artistic casts.

If that’s what you’re thinking, stop it! At least if you want to catch more trout. The best fly fishers are predators. They move stealthily and purposefully, staying hidden and keeping quiet until they are ready to overtake their prey.

Just like a mountain lion.