Middle Fork trip a highlight of ‘18

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My most memorable fishing trip in 2018 was a rafting/fly fishing trip on the Upper Middle Fork of the Flathead River with my son Kyle.

I was in good hands, as Kyle had not only rafted that stretch with friends but had also professionally guided groups for Glacier Raft Company.

A fly-in wilderness rafting trip was bigger than any outdoor adventure I’ve ever done. I did Boundary Waters, but this was in a higher league.

And being able to do “The Upper Mid,” in our own backyard, made it even more special.

I was awed from the time the gal weighed us and our stuff at Red Eagle Aviation until we dragged the raft out of the river four days later at Bear Creek.

The flight to Shafer Meadow was unforgettable, especially when the pilot had to circle to gain enough altitude to clear a ridge in the Swan Range.

I’m sure I lifted my feet off the floor of the Cessna to help.

Wolves howled as we packed our gear from the grass air strip to the river. I carried the oars and pump. Kyle did all the heavy lifting.

We secured our food from wild critters, filtered river water, ate good food, and camped on sandbars that caught the early morning sun.

We avoided deadly rocks. My only contribution was to pretend to look for rocks.

Between casts, I thought about how special it was to be basically alone, deep in the Great Bear Wilderness on its 40th Anniversary even.

Kyle hit the right lines through rock gardens and nasty chutes. I always wore a life jacket, then donned a helmet when Kyle suggested it.

The Upper Middle Fork of the Flathead River is no place for inexperienced rafters.

Most memorable image of the trip from the river was spotting a reddish-brown spot on a high cliff, then having it turn into a bull elk as we drifted closer.

Oh, we also caught a few fish.

Jerry Smalley’s Fishful Thinking column appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.

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