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.