Fly Fishing’s Wilder Side

The wild places are not a kind and gentle world where Bambi lives in perfect harmony with nature. One reason I love fishing in the America West is that I often come face to face with fly fishing’s wild side.

I grew up on the windy and barren plains of the Dakotas, lived in the West during much of my twenties, and then settled in the Chicago suburbs to raise a family.

So much of how my suburb is organized paints over the harsher reality of the true nature of life. Fly fishing gets me into the outdoors where I encounter a different reality.

In the suburbs, my 15-year-old can’t shoot his bow or pellet gun in our backyard. He can’t take out the raccoon in our attic or the skunk under our deck. The neighbors might see him and call the police.

Instead, we must call “wildlife control” and pay $200 to solve our wildlife problem. I love fly fishing because it takes me back to what I remember growing up in the wilder places of America. A recent fly fishing trip reminded me how the cycle of life actually works.

Mama’s Not Happy

Last summer, Steve, another friend, and I were fly fishing on a remote Montana stream. We divided up among us about a half mile of the creek: Steve went upstream, and the other friend and I headed downstream.

A half hour into the day, while I was kneeling on the bank to tie on a fly, a duck burst out of the brush beside me, complaining loudly as she flew away. I thought the duck was mad at me. I suspected she had a nest nearby. After swallowing hard to get my heart back into my chest, I went back to the tedious task at hand. I wasn’t catching anything on a hopper. I decided to switch to nymphs.

A minute or so later, I heard some rustling behind me. I turned to see a mink dragging a baby duck backwards into the brush. The duck looked to be a couple months old and almost the same size as the mink. The mink had the little one by the neck, the duckling’s wings still flapping as it died.

The mink had raided the nest. I wondered if my sudden presence on the stream a few moments earlier had distracted Mama Duck, and the mink took advantage by stealing her young one.

Mother’s Darker Side

The picture above is up close with the mink and the duck. I wish the photo had turned out better. I was a bit rattled. I should have tried the video, but didn’t think to do so. The lighting against the bush was poor, and the mink kept backing up farther and farther into the brush.

The mink was less than five feet away when I first turned around.

It appeared unafraid, fiercely determined not to let go of brunch.

I fumbled to click a picture, followed the mink as it backed up into the brush behind me, slowly. Belligerent, it refused to let go of the baby duck and escape, even though I had an iPhone in its face.

It was one of the great moments of fly fishing in one of the most gorgeous remote valleys of Montana. The enounter was a bracing reminder that Mother Nature is not at all benevolent, not all love and cuddles, something I can easily forget living the good life in my Chicago suburb. Mother Nature is no a protector of wildlife. In fact Mother Nature is not really like a mother at all.

At least not like my mother.

I love the offbeat lessons of life from fly fishing. The sport adds color to my white-picket-fence view of the world.