The Snag Hole

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on Thursday, 30 March 2017
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   Dexter Prescott looked out over the vast creek bottom and didn’t like what he saw. Sure, it was 5000 acres of Montana meadow with braids of prime spring creek full of fat trout winding through grassy banks, bear grass and scrub willow. It had natural beauty. But something was not quite right.

   Prescott had just purchased the property from an old-time Montana rancher for 10.6 million dollars. He snickered to himself when the deal closed…in his home state of California the place would be worth twice as much. But his dream of owning a ranch in Montana had finally come true and he vowed to make the most of it.


   The first thing was to get rid of all those stinking cows. After all, everyone knew cows and spring creeks don’t mix…cattle knock down the banks and silt up the stream beds. Plus he really didn’t like cows. Never did, just pretended. Yes, he would sell the cows.


   Next, he would bulldoze the creek beds and build ponds. Ponds! He always dreamed of owning his own, private ponds. Ponds, ponds and more ponds! He would stock them with trophy trout and feed ‘em pellets to make ‘em fat!


   In his mind he was already picturing how to bring in back hoes and dozers to carve up the landscape. This Mother Nature thingy only went so far. He had his own idea of how nature should look.


   And a house! Not just any house…an 18,000 sq. ft. mansion positioned on the bench, looking out over his empire, with pillars! And flag poles! And a swimming pool, bowling alley, movie theater, and a huge room for his stuffed animals. And a helicopter pad!



   Rumor had it there were some old Indian camps on the site that might have to be dug up. So what? The Indians ain’t around no more.


   Yes, Dexter Prescott’s California dream was becoming a Montana reality.


   Research, he had done a lot of it. Found out he could do just about anything he wanted to the spring creek as long as he called it “restoring wetlands”…”creating new habitat”…or “conservation easement.” Yep, he could tear the place up all he wanted and not only that, SOMEBODY ELSE WOULD PAY FOR IT.


     Government institutions, conservation groups, land reliances, trusts, endowments, foundations, environmentalists…they would pay for it…all of it…he would see to that.

   He had a plan. He would carve out his empire here…re-work the creek to his liking, stock the ponds with huge trout that people would pay big bucks to catch.



   The natural world would become Dexter’s world.


   As he rode the perimeter of the new project in his big, new, all black custom Hummer H2, his mind was churning. He knew high tech business and corporate associates back in California that would pay handsomely to fly fish on a place like this. How would he charge? By the day? Week? How about a yearly lease? Yes that was it, just like an exclusive country club. Charge a hefty initiation fee then annual dues. Electric gates would be installed with secret codes. $100,000 to join with a $10,000 yearly fee. Limit to maybe 30 memberships. As he rode the ranch property he did the math. He could make millions!
   And he could re-arrange nature for free!

   The rutty ranch road wound around the creek and wandered toward the Madison River. The  water broke into a Y… one channel leading off into an S curve with several inviting undercut banks, deep pools and bouncy runs, eventually meandering down and emptying into the Madison. Down further, another smaller, similar channel broke off into a gravelly riffle and likewise led to the river. Dexter Prescott slowed the Hummer to a stop under the shade of a willow.



   As he watched upstream, he saw a drift boat with three figures floating down the Madison. As they grew closer they pulled over to the near bank. A man and a woman got out of the boat, fly rods in hand and they worked slowly up the side channel, one casting, one watching. The third figure stayed in the boat. Prescott watched as the woman laid long, graceful casts out over the glassy spring creek, landing her fly delicately, poetically…it was mesmerizing.
   Her partner watched as she crouched low and stripped in line, then a splash, a bent rod and a wild trout of size came rocketing out of the creek. The woman deftly turned her body 180 degrees as the fish burned line and headed straight downstream toward the Madison. She followed methodically and worked the fish back to the bank, sliding it up on the shallows, reaching down, gently removing the fly, releasing the trout without touching it and watched it swim away unharmed. The man and woman put an arm around each other’s shoulders and walked back to the boat. The figures reached into coolers extracting cold beverages, popped caps, made a three-way toast, and continued on downstream.



   Dexter Prescott watched the whole scene with great interest. He was well aware of Montana Stream Access laws. He knew these anglers had legally accessed the spring creek he now owned via the main river and everything they did was totally within the law. They never set foot on his property, never ventured above the high water mark and never trespassed.

   This disturbed him greatly.

   As the three anglers drifted slowly downstream, disappearing below a bend in the Madison River, Dexter Prescott hatched another plan.

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on Sunday, 26 March 2017
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   The dusty road to the Lone Vista Dude Ranch was a winding, gravelly , washboard affair, twisting up the canyon about 10 miles from town. Smitty told me the couple from San Francisco, Dexter and Harriet Prescott, had booked two months at the ranch, along with some friends (bartenders know everything). I had called them on the phone, introduced myself as a fly fishing guide and asked to talk to them about guiding them this summer.

   I drove through the ranch gate and met Otis, the handyman.

   “Can you tell me where the Prescott’s are staying?


   “Yessir, cabin four.”


   I drove up to the cabin. The white drift boat with the rainbow peace sign was parked in the driveway. Even before I got out of the truck, Dexter Prescott came out to greet me.


   He was a tallish, sun-tanned man in his late 40s. He was dressed in khakis, tassel loafers, no socks and was wearing a robin’s egg blue polo shirt with Yellowstone Club embroidered on the pocket. He had a gold chain around his neck but the pendant was hidden.


   Word was he had made a fortune in Silicon Valley building up his high tech company from scratch and selling out to Google for zillions. He extended a bony hand:


“What can I do for you?”


   I told him the real reason I was here was because of the fire along the river and I was there that day and I saw his drift boat and his party leaving the scene and I checked out the fire and I found this laying on the ground:


   I opened my back pack and showed him the mangled hunk of charred metal.


   “This is what’s left of a Phantom 4 Pro Quadcopter Aerial Drone we found at the fire scene. We traced the serial number back to a Fry’s Electronics Store in San Jose, Ca. It was purchased in March of this year. The price was $1499.00. The buyer was a Mr. Dexter Prescott.”


   Prescott’s tanned face turned a whiter shade of pale.


   “Look, it was an accident. Me and Harriett along with our friends, Jack, Muffy, Gilbert and Claire…we stopped for a shore lunch. We popped open a few bottles of wine, spread out the charcoal and soaked it with lighter fluid. I emptied the whole can because, you know, we wanted it to start FAST."


   "I touched it off and POOF! A big ball of flame blew up and the wind was blowing real hard and the dry grass caught on fire and it spread really FAST. Harriet and I were stomping out the flames while Gilbert and Claire were taking phone camera video and posing for selfies. Jack and Muffy thought what a great chance to start up the drone and take aerial video. So we had the drone flying and the camera phone going and wind was blowing and the fire was spreading and then more flames and more smoke and somebody ran and got the Coleman cooler full of water and dumped it on the fire but too late the blaze was out of control and then the drone crashed and we all kind of panicked and dashed to the boats and got out of there as fast as we could.”


   “Mr. Prescott, you should have fessed up on the spot. The sheriff is pissed…he thought my crew started the fire. The mess cost the Town $28,680.”


   “You know, I am truly sorry about this. Me and my wife and my friends, we are all avid outdoors people. We support Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, Turkeys Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Save The Whales, Save The Rain Forest, Save The Dolphins, Save The Sea Otters, Save The Spotted Owls, Save The Penguins, Save The Pandas, Save The Puppies, the Gorillas, the Orangutans, the Tree Frogs, the Yangtze Finless Porpoise, the Black Footed Ferret, the Black Spider Monkey, Save The Starving Little Kid In Africa with the Fly on His Nose and we give generously each year to The Big Riffle Foundation. What more can we do?”


   “Mr. Prescott, write the Town a check for $28,680, that’s what you can do.”


     Back at the Wagon Wheel, me and Skeeter and T-Bird had beers with Butch the Game Warden and the sheriff and the Volunteer Fire Chief. We had a good chat and a few grins and I handed over a check for $28,680.


   Skeeter looked at me kinda funny.

 “No tip?”


   “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon was playing on the jukebox.



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on Saturday, 25 March 2017
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   bobbers_2       Ran a trip with T-Bird the other day. We were at the boat launch at the wrong time ‘cause everybody else was there, too. Must have been fifteen rigs gettin’ ready. People everywhere, forty or fifty of 'em.

   The guide next to me in the parking lot was setting up fly rods for his anglers. He was youngish, trim, early twenties, groomed facial hair, hoop earring in the left ear with a tiny gold fly reel dangling, had the paisley face mask around his neck even though it was cloudy and gray. Had the bonefish up-downer hat on even though the nearest bonefish was 3000 miles away.

   He was yakking it up to his clients, an elderly couple in their seventies, a white-haired gentleman and his attractive wife. They were watching their young guide rig fly rods standing next to the boat on trailer behind a brand new black Toyota Land Cruiser SUVwith enough rod racks on the roof to outfit a 30 day fishing safari up the Amazon and back.

   The entire rear portion of the truck was covered with bumper stickers…Tie One On, Got Trout?, Trout Hunter, Trout Stalker, Trout Slayer, Trout Snagger, Fish Whisperer, Fly Guy, Fish On, Strip It, Rip It, Hump It, Twitch It, Tease It, The Best Way To A Man’s Heart Is Through His Fly, A Life Without Fly Fishing Is Not Worth Living and "Bite Me."

   I thought, this dude has a strong desire to be noticed.

   As he rigged the rods he brought out a large, clear plastic box with rows of compartments, set it out on the boat seat and laid it open.

   Inside were bobbers, lots and lots of bobbers, hundreds of bobbers, bobbers of every color imaginable…red ones, white ones, red and white ones, yellow ones, green ones, orange ones, light blue, turquoise, sky blue, Carolina blue, hot pink, fuschia, lavender, chartreuse, blaze orange, lime green, deep purple, candy striped, pin striped, tiger striped…round, egg shaped, quarter inch, half inch, three quarter inch, plastic, cork, balsa and bubinga.

   I had never seen so many bobbers in all my life.

   The guide was explaining to the couple and to anyone else in earshot:

   “ This bright red one here, I use it when the fish are really biting, on cloudy days I go to the hot pink, blaze orange or fuschia. To get the fish excited I use the lime green and candy stripe…I use deep purple for sunny days, barber pole for foggy days, turquoise for rainy days, and this sparkly one here I use just before a storm rolls in.”

   “I will usually start with the half inch and work my way up to the three quarter inch.”

   “I have experimented with the fuzzy bobbers made of sheep’s wool, goat wool, mohair, cat hair and the hair from my Golden Retriever. But a few of my clients are allergic to fur so I went all synthetic all the time.”

   “Because of the extensive research I have done, Fly Fisherman Magazine has asked me to write an article on bobber fishing but I said no way! Don’t want my secrets getting out there.”

   “Fly Fishing The Universe” wanted to do an hour TV Special on me and my bobbers but they couldn’t pay me the money I wanted. I have turned down a lot of offers.“

   “People ask me all the time if I have ever taken any famous people fishing, you know, celebrities. I am a modest guy and don’t like to brag, but I have taken…well I almost took Lindsey Lohan once but she had to cancel at the last minute. Of course she sent me a nice check. Justin Bieber’s people are talking to my people…next summer is looking REAL good for me and The Beebs. Oh, and Mylie Cyrus is interested.”

   The white haired man and his wife’s eyes were beginning to glaze over.

   “ The word of mouth is definitely getting around about me and my bobber fishing. There is a loud buzz surrounding me in the fly fishing world. I am

so busy, so tired, so in demand, so popular, so special, booked solid...you guys are lucky to have me today."

   I noticed by now the lady angler had gotten back in front seat of the Toyota and was dozing off.

   "The thing about this bobber fishing, you can't give up, don't quit, stick with it -  if the red isn't working go green - if the green can't cut it go yellow - keep changing it up - just follow my lead, I'll show you how it's done."

   By this time the guide was pretty much talking to himself.

   “ Well that's about it folks. Enough about me and my bobbers. Any questions”?

   The elderly gentleman cleared his throat,


“Yes, I have a question, can we go fishing now”?


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on Wednesday, 22 March 2017
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    It was one of those rare Montana summer days, bright sunshine, warm temps, no wind. Me and One Fly and Lonnie were guiding a group of retired business execs from St. Louis. Fishing was pretty good in the morning…me and Lonnie were doing well using trudes and yellow Sallys, while One Fly’s angler caught a couple of beauties using a #8 Prince Nymph, 2X, no dropper, no bobber, tumbled not twitched.


   We floated past the Rail Fence Hole and tucked back in a side channel is a white drift boat with a man and woman sitting there having a snack. I get closer and they wave. I wave back. It is the couple from San Francisco who were in the Wagon Wheel the day of the fight.


   Their boat had a rainbow peace sign stenciled on the bow.

   I finished the trip and headed for the Wagon Wheel and called Butch the Game Warden-asked him to come down for a cold one.

   The Shewmaker fire was still the hot topic around Town. The final tab came to $28,680… the landowner, sheriff and the county wanted answers and wanted someone to pay. Butch the Game Warden met with me and Skeeter at a back table in the bar. He told us the sheriff was convinced that we set the fire and he was ready to come down with charges and lock us up for arson. They had evidence; the fire starter can, the cooler lid and they knew we were on the river that day. Also, supposedly they had “eye witnesses.”


   I told Butch, “Look, our crew had nothing to do with this. Give me 24 hours. I have an idea.”









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on Sunday, 19 March 2017
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   One August day me and Skeeter and T-bird were guidin’ a party of three husband-wife couples from Chicago. Nice folks. We had a decent morning of fishing…everybody caught something except for one of the husbands, Chuck. He wasn’t real chipper ‘cause his wife outfished him five to zip.


   Anyway, we cruised on down below McAtee and pulled over in a shady spot for lunch. Dang, it had been a hot summer! 90 degrees every day and the country was drier than a popcorn fart. And windy! Had a nice lunch talking about the Cubs and Da Bears. T-Bird brought his guitar and sang “Big City” by Merle Haggard and then did his own version of “Doo Wah Diddy” by Manfred Man’s Earth Band.


     Looking down river by the Shewmaker Ditch and off to the east I saw smoke…lots of smoke. Smoke billowing up in cream colored clouds, thick smoke, smoke fanned by a stiff south breeze and wafting down valley in a huge ball of white haze.

   I looked at Skeeter and he was like “WTF”? I looked at T-Bird and he was like “OMG”! We decide to pack up and fish down and check it out.

   A couple bends downstream we came around a corner and spotted several stick figures running in the distance…running fast, carrying large objects, headed for drift boats that were anchored up along shore, jumping in, thrashing oars, rowing downstream in a big hurry, gettin’ outta Dodge.

   We pulled over, got out, and wandered up the bank, worked our way through the bushes. The smoke was so thick it was hard to see, eyes watered and burned. We looked out across the wide area, the entire field was ablaze…a huge grass fire the shape of a gigantic circle was burning and spreading fast, headed toward the highway or anywhere else it felt like. No dwellings were in the area except for an old sheep shack and acres and acres of burning prairie grass and black rocks. As I walked I saw a large campfire ring with charcoal glowing in the center. A large can of Kingsford lighter fluid sat crumpled off to the side. The lid off a Coleman cooler lay nearby, burned black and partially melted. I wandered around through the burned area and over near a charred cottonwood stump I noticed something odd. I saw a crumpled hunk of charred metal with struts and gizmos and gadgets in a tangled mess, looked kinda like a wrecked kids Erector Set toy. I called Skeeter over.

“Hey, Skeeter, check this out. Careful, it’s still hot. Bring a water bottle, douse it, bag it and throw it in the boat.”



   Watching the several-acre fire burn out of control left us helpless. What could we do? As we left the scene, we could hear the sirens… the first fire engine was coming off the highway and on its way. We jumped in our boats and finished the charter.

   Back in Town, the fire was already the buzz topic at the Wagon Wheel. It had consumed 1300 acres, no injuries, just a bunch of burnt grass and toasted rocks. The volunteer fire department did a great job with limited resources… they only had two out-dated fire engines and a pumper.

   No one seemed to know how it started.
A couple guides from the other fly shop were giving me and Skeeter the stink-eye from across the bar. I walked over to them,

“Whats’ up?” I asked.

“Did you float today?”


“Did you see the fire?”


“How did it start?”

“Not sure.”

“Did you guys start it?”

“No… it wasn’t us, bro, but I think I know.”


   I remembered seeing one boat leaving the fire scene that caught my eye …it had a large rainbow peace sign logo on the bow.

























































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