INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Craig Fellin, “Marlboro Man,” owns and runs the Big Hole River Outfitters Lodge in Montana, and at 65, knows every little hole in that Big Hole River. Tonight he has kicked over some logs on the river’s shore, made note of the insects that are hatching, and is tying flies to prepare a picture perfect breakfast for a German Brown.
To watch Marlboro Man fly fish is like watching James Marshall gazing into the waters of the American River. He sees a living gold sliver shimmering in the shadows where nobody else sees it, and that living gold is going to be his for one precious moment, before tossing it gently back into the shallows. Each new dawn for Marlboro Man is like a dawn at Sutter’s Mill, and it’s always the first time with him; he never tires of it and never will.
Then there’s Ginzo. When Ginzo arrives at the Big Hole Lodge you can hear the fish chuckling in the stream. “Hey, Guys ... Ginzo’s back ... we’re safe for the rest of the week!”
When Ginzo wades into the Wise on those slippery rocks it is not like watching Jesus walking on water, but the opposite. The trout gather ‘round, and prop themselves up on the rocks to watch. Upon Ginzo’s first misstep they start to grin, upon his second, where his pole goes airborne, they begin to snicker, and when he finally succumbs and goes under, well, they nearly drown themselves with laughter. As a matter of record, the only thing Ginzo would catch in a week of fishing would be Marlboro Man’s vest upon his first cast.
But the good news is, mosquitoes take no interest in Ginzo whatsoever, for he drinks so much cheap whiskey and smokes so many cheap cigars, and swears so loud that everybody in his immediate company is safe from mosquitoes. And his swearing is not of the common variety, no, just when you think he’s got a perfect ripper going, he shovels in an expletive of his own making that feels like a shoe that is one size too large.
Marlboro Man, on the other hand, can swear like Barbra Streisand can sing. He brings the blue jays out of the trees and they land on his shoulders when he swears. His cursing is a symphony to anybody who has the pleasure of hearing it, and I don’t imagine there is anything quite so calming in all of God’s green acre.
So what are these two malaprops doing fishing together? Well, there was another river, in another time, in Quang Tri Province, when they paused in the current while crossing, to stand in awe of the schools of fish surrounding them. Marlboro Man lit-up a cigarette, turned to Ginzo and said, “Ginz, if we get out of here alive, we’re going fishing in Montana and have ourselves one-merry-hell of a holiday.”
So that’s just what they did this past week, 46 years later. They went fly fishing on the Big Hole River. The trout, meanwhile, contented themselves in watching them drift by in their little dingy, smoking cigars, sipping whiskey, and sharing stories that may or may not have ever happened.
— Learn more about McAvoy Layne at www.ghostoftwain.org.