Sow Some Seeds!

Westslope Cutthroat trout – USGS photo

It snowed this morning, or it did on the morning last week when I started writing this column. Nevertheless, after a noon meeting, I stopped at a local store and bought seed potatoes, onion sets, carrot and pea seeds. 

 It’s an act of faith. It snowed in the morning. We just had the coldest first half of April on record. Yet it’s spring and it’s time to sow some seed. The climate is screwed up, the nation is bitterly divided in political matters, and a senseless war is raging in Europe.

 It’s time to sow some seeds.

 The German theologian and preacher, Martin Luther, who launched a Reformation in the 16th Century, famously said that if he was told the world was coming to an end, he’d plant an apple tree. Our old friend, the late Merv Olson, the pastor at Gold Hill Lutheran Church, here in Butte, in the 1990s, would quote Luther, and occasionally add, “Paul Vang would probably get another Lab puppy.”

It’s time to sow some seeds.

 While early April was unseasonably chilly, we did have a few nice days and on the nicest day in early April, when it got into the 70s, it also happened on a day when I was able to get out again for a day of fishing on the lower Madison.

 I’d like to say that the fishing was red hot, and I had to occasionally step out of the river just to get a break from catching fish. Sorry to say, the fishing was kind of slow, but as it happened, in a half hour period, the fish seemingly turned on and in that half hour I caught three trout.

 The first fish I caught was a cutthroat trout and that brought back all sorts of memories of a controversy from some years back, when Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, with support of media mogul Ted Turner, owner of the Flying D Ranch, came up with a plan to poison out non-native fish from Cherry Creek, a Madison River tributary, which is mostly contained on Turner property, and restock the stream with westslope cutthroat trout, with hopes that Cherry Creek cutts would spill out onto the Madison.

It seemed like a good idea to me, back in 1997, when the project was supposed to get underway. A lot of people disagreed and it would be an understatement to say there was a bitter fight that played out in the press and in the courts. The project finally got going in 2003 and by 2010 the initial phase of eliminating the existing fish was complete and FWP began stocking the stream with westslope cutthroat trout. Within a year or so, biologists found that the native trout were thriving and reproducing.

 That little cutty I caught is one of several cutthroat trout I’ve caught in the lower Madison in roughly the last five years. While it’s not like cutthroat trout are taking over in that fragile, yet productive, fishery, it’s clear that the plan is working. Native trout are thriving in Cherry Creek and some of them are slipping over a barrier that prevents upstream migration from non-native trout such as rainbow and brown trout. Through pure luck and happenstance, several of those cutthroat trout have blundered into a stretch of water where I walked into the river and taken one of my flies. The odds are against that happening, but, nevertheless, it happens.

 Like buying seeds in the spring and planting them in the ground, even in the decomposed granite soil and challenging climate of Butte, Montana, good things can happen, and we harvest a crop.

 For whatever it’s worth, in my first two angling outings, I’ve caught a total of six fish; one westslope cutthroat, three rainbow trout, and two mountain whitefish. All six fish took the same fly, or pattern of fly, a beadhead soft-hackled pheasant tail nymph.

 I think I’d better tie up a few more, just in case.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, and The Corner Bookstore, or online at

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