It all started one soft June day when I packed my old lunchbox and drove up the Big Blackfoot River to catch the main ingredients of a ﬁsh-fry. I parked my rig and hiked in to a beautiful pool on a relatively inaccessible stretch of river. Now, I know this is going to shock you ﬂy ﬁshing purists and I’m ashamed to admit it, but, well…..I was ﬁshing with worms. Yes, it sounds crass and unsporting (and it was) but I was ﬁshing for dinner. And I didn’t know any better.
Anyhow, there I was, standing on a grassy bank next to a deep clear pool, with a spinning rod and a can of worms. Now these Blackfoot River ﬁsh were used to ﬁsherman ﬂailing the water with ﬂy lines and bits of feather. My offering of worms was something new and they fell for it hook, line, and sinker, so to speak. I was catching ﬁsh on each cast, as soon as worm hit water. So fast were they biting that I got carried away with the ﬁsh fever madness. (Again, I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.)
As soon as I took a ﬁsh off the hook I simply tossed it into the grass behind me, baited up, and cast again. There’s no telling how long my madness might have lasted had something not happened to break the spell. One of the ﬁsh in the grass behind me, a ﬁne twelve inch cutthroat, was actually walking on his ﬁns back toward the Big Blackfoot. Helped along with vigorous wags of his tail, he was walking surprisingly quickly (for a ﬁsh) back to the water. Of course, I snatched him up and tossed him back up the bank. Twisting in the air like a cat, he landed on his feet, I mean his ﬁns, and started back for the water. Now, he was my best ﬁsh and I didn’t want to lose him so again I tossed him up the bank. And again, he headed for the water. Only by now he was beginning to stagger a little, his gills laboring painfully in the dry air. By now my madness was passing and I began to see things from the ﬁsh’s point of view. Quickly ﬁlling my lunchbox with river water I gently placed him inside and hovered over him as he slowly recovered. I know what you’re thinking: I should have released him back into the river. But I just couldn’t do it. He was my best ﬁsh, a walking ﬁsh, a brave ﬁsh and I just couldn’t part with him. Gathering up the rest of my catch (now deceased), I freshened the water in the lunchbox and headed for town.
As soon as I got home I ran a bathtub of cold water, put my amazing cutthroat in it, dropping in a couple worms just in case he was hungry. Over the next few days I fed him and changed his water regularly. Sometimes I’d take him out of the water and put him on the ﬂoor just to watch him walk. I named him Johnny Walker. As time went by I realized he was becoming more tolerant of being out in the air, spending more and more time walking about the house. Eventually he progressed to the point he was following me around the house all day, only returning to his bathtub at night to sleep.
———To Be Continued——-
Such was the life of Cutthroat Johnny Walker. Next time, I’ll tell you more about his amazing life and relate the circumstances of his tragic death. I can’t write more now as I have to get ready to attend the Little Shell Chippewa Powwow at the First People’s Buffalo Jump near Ulm, Montana August 29-30th, 2015. Look for my booth at the powwow.