Sometime around 1984 in Ray Killian’s Orvis Tackle Shop on Main St, Ennis, not too long after it changed hands from Ed Curnow, I was rooting around the fly boxes waiting for my anglers of the day, and a short-ish sporty looking gentleman wearing a khaki fishing shirt, librarian glasses and an Indiana Jones hat snuck up behind me.
“Excuse me, are you Randy Brown?”
“Why yessir I am, how’s it going?”
“My name is Vadney Murray. I am from northern
California…Quincy.,..North of Sacramento…near Chico…up in the hills.”
“Yessir, some fine duck hunting around there, I hear.”
“Anyway, my knees are giving out and I really can’t wade the river like I used to and I am wondering if you would be able to take me float fishing on the Madison? I’ve floated with Pat Barnes in the past but don’t hold that against me!… ha, ha…chuckle, chuckle, yuk, yuk!”
“It would be my pleasure.”
And so it began. K. Vadney Murray and his family and friends had for years camped up on the Frank Shaw property by the Three Dollar Bridge back in the halcyon days of heavy caddis hatches and 5000 rainbows per mile. Vadney, being the conniving, smooth talking, plotting and scheming type, had worked out “a deal” with Frank Shaw that involved whiskey and a little cash…and Frank let him camp right there, amongst the old buildings, a short walk to the river, next to the fire pit, under the moonlight. What a set up!
When the knees gave out he migrated down to town at The Silvertip Lodge and set up camp in the condo in the back for years.
Vadney could fish. He favored a Winston green graphite with a fish ruler measuring tape decal on the rod.
” You know, Randy, I never lie about my fishing. Some do, but when they try to bullshit me I just show them the fish ruler and ask…”Did you measure it?”
Ha, ha…chuckle, chuckle, yuk , yuk.
We had some great times…once Tom Morgan set me up on the Red Rock River above Dillion before Ted Turner bought it and I took Vadney over there. Each run had large, oversize trout finning in the clear water. As soon as you took a backcast all you saw were dark shadows shooting all over the place, spooked like bandits, heading for cover…petrified, panic-stricken. It was a frustrating day in the bright sun and as we headed to the truck I froze in my tracks.
“Psst, Vadney, I just saw a flash in that riffle. A large fish is nymphing in there. Go try for him”
“No Randy, I’m worn out, You give it a shot.”
I tied on a size sixteen pheasant tail nymph and snuck around to get an angle on the fish. I just flipped the fly upstream from where I saw the flash…no strike indicator…watched the fly line float back towards me and…the slightest twitch…a huge rainbow came barreling out of there and the downstream race was on.
“C’mon Vadney, follow me…and bring the camera.”
I finally subdued that beast of 22 inches or more and slid it up on a gravel bar.
Vadney had my old Pentax.
“Get a good shot now Vadney…you got it?…you got it?…you sure?”
“I got it, I got it.” I watched the great fish swim slowly back up to the riffle.
It took a week or so to get that roll developed and when I flipped through the prints, there it was…half a trout…from the belly to the tail, with one human hand cradled about, no fish head, no human head.
Ha, ha…chuckle, chuckle.
I told Vadney the film was bad.
Many more tales and so many good times. The Anchor-Caught-On-The-Rock story. The thirty fish day when the largest was 10 inches.
One day we were floating down the river and Vadney brought along a guest who was a neophyte fly fisher.
“Now Randy, this guy doesn’t know squat about fly fishing, just be patient with him.”
We’re cruising on down and the guy hooks a really nice fish and the thing takes off downstream. The angler is up front and has his back to me so I can’t see what’s going on but what I can see is fly line and backing peeling off way downstream and I’m yelling “reel, reel…reel faster.”
“I am, I am, I’m reeling as fast as I can.”
But the fish is now on it’s way to Canada so I stand up and look over his shoulder and yes he was reeling as fast as he could…THE WRONG WAY.
He had wound out all the fly line and backing and was down to the bare spool. Yikes! It was a slow grind getting all that line back be we eventually netted the fish.
Ha, ha…chuckle, chuckle.
Vadney usually fished dry and we had some wonderful days but of course in the back of your mind…the big boy lurks. He always had a good time fishing…wasn’t overly concerned about “a fish of size” but in the back of your mind…
One day we were running the Varney stretch and we were getting close to the end of the float, near the campground. I normally fish the same runs but for some reason that day I rowed away from a usual spot and lined Vadney up for a very shallow riffle on the left. To be honest, I don’t remember ever throwing a fly in there, ever.
“Try that riffle on the left.”
Vadney laid it out there sweet…size 12 parachute hopper with the mottled turkey down-wing. It floated about a foot.
Slurp! A beauty of a brown trout comes flying out of there headed for the willows. Vadney never flinched. He steered that fish and worked it and finessed it and it stayed on there. I beached the boat and waded down below, snuck up and slid it into the net. A titch over 23 inches. And we had the fish ruler to prove it!
Even if your knees are giving out and the days grow shorter and the Big Bend is a distant memory…sometimes…some way…it just all comes together…in the back of your mind…and a new chapter begins.
Gonna miss you, K. Vadney Murray!
Knees are fine. My minds giving out along with some other body parts.
Randy, that was great. Thanks for remembering Dad. He was very specific in requesting no services of any kind, but he never said we couldn’t roast him, er, I mean tip our caps to his fishing considerable fly fishing skills online! See ya in a few months.
Thank you Randy, Vadney was 16 years older than me so he was more like a father than a brother. I learned to Fly Fish with his rods. Vadney was left handed so I reel with my right hand. Vadney took me to the Madison as a Graduation present from college in 1965. Thank you for being our friend.
Thank you Randy. Even though my father was From Montana, I had never been fly fishing until Vadney took me back in ’86. A few years listening to Frank conjugate the F-word in ways he’d never heard (courtesy of my Dad) on the Shaw property before moving to Ennis set the hook in this California boy. We’ve spent many weeks most summers in Ennis and on the Madison because he took me there and taught me to appreciate and love fly fishing. As you know, Tanya and I did the best we could to pay it forward, and we continued to go to Montana with Vadney and Jean long after his traditional fishing group ended. We have had many wonderful times on the river and some included Vadney!! Seriously, I’ll never forget his and Jean’s last trip up with us in 2011. He struggled to get in/out of the boat but he was itching to go and tried to finagle his way into the front seat once we arrived at the put in. I’m sure I shared the story with you but he asked me for several years after about going again. He was a one of kind guy as Johnny knows but he shared his loves (duck hunting and fly fishing) as freely as he could. He should have been a member of the Ennis Chamber of Commerce for all the people he introduced to Madison County.
As Tanya said above, we are looking forward to seeing you in August and bringing the whole Sullivan crew to enjoy God’s handiwork there in Montana and share a few memories with you and nature. God speed KVM…..