Happy New Year!
No, don’t turn on your TV looking for a football game, and don’t set off any more firecrackers to welcome in the Year of the Dog.
No, tomorrow, March 1, is the first day of a new Montana license year, which means that when we finally get some nice weather and you feel like going fishing, you’d better get your 2018 fishing license, and while you’re at it, you’d might as well buy your upland bird and waterfowl licenses. You’ll have it done with.
I always get a bit excited when I get my licenses for another year. It’s an affirmation of life, and I’m getting to the stage where those affirmations mean more than they might have a few years back. That piece or two of paper is a tangible sign of my intent to get out and enjoy some of the wonderful outdoor recreation opportunities we have here in Montana.
This year marks 30 years since I did my last job transfer in my career with the Federal government. My wife and I had hoped that my job would take us back to Montana, and hopefully an area with trout streams. That transfer to Butte in 1988 couldn’t have worked any better.
I think it was in March of that year that we had some mild, spring-like weather and I went out on my first outing of the year. I had to buy a non-resident fishing license that year, as I wasn’t going to skip fishing until I satisfied the 6-month residency requirement.
I found a place to fish on the Ruby River and I think I might have caught a whitefish that afternoon. Still, I had to pinch myself a couple times as I took in the reality that I was fly-fishing in Montana. It was March and I wasn’t on vacation. I live here!
That summer I had to fly to Denver for a meeting and as passengers got on board in Butte and in Bozeman I couldn’t help but notice how many of them were carrying fly rod tubes, heading home after a week or a weekend of Montana fly-fishing. I felt a little smug. I’d been fishing, too, but I’d be back before the next weekend and I could fish most every weekend, fishing a river or stream within a relatively short drive from our house.
Of course, Montana isn’t the be-all/end-all of fishing. Over the years, especially the last 20 or so years after I started a second childhood career as an outdoor writer, I’ve had the good fortune to fish in a lot of states, from Florida to Alaska. I’ve caught salmon on the west coast, monster pike in Canada, and smallmouth bass in Virginia, Minnesota and North Dakota.
Still, my home waters are here in western Montana. Here in the headwaters of the Missouri and Columbia River systems I can find about as much fishing as I can handle, and then some, and with Montana’s stream access laws, just about all of it is there and open for anyone, rich and poor alike, to step into the water and become part of Montana’s rich fishing tradition.
I don’t take it for granted. Too many people have fought and litigated and lobbied to secure and protect public access to our waters, just as others have worked just as hard to protect and improve the quality of those waters. It’s a long campaign that never ends, as people and forces that would restrict our public access or degrade our waters have deep pockets and lots of political influence.
Still, we the people find continuing affirmation that fishing and hunting are values sacred to the people of Montana, and that public access is too important to give up to anybody or anything.
So, as I go online to buy my Montana fishing and hunting licenses for another year I’ll happily spend those few dollars it costs, with gratitude for the opportunity to live here and call it home.