Native Americans have all kinds
of stories about Coyote, because the Trickster, an often
malevolent spirit, can take Coyote's form and bedevil humans.
If you spend enough time, alone,
outdoors, you will meet Coyote, they say. The first meeting
is always unexpected, and unimaginable events follow that
span millennia and make the pursuit of a fish little more
than conduits to an introduction.
thing about Coyote is that you never know what's going to happen when you meet
him. The outcome of an encounter can be good or bad, or both. The thing is, when
Coyote appears, something unusual is happening.
is no better place to meet Coyote than at the foot of Baronette Mountain where
Soda Butte Creek flows through Yellowstone National Park. That's where I first
met Coyote, in September, 1994.
Late September is late fall in Yellowstone.
Morning temperatures had been edging lower. It was 18 degrees
(F) on the morning of the day Coyote appeared, but by 3
p.m., bright sun beat into the creek valley to produce a
perfect 65 degree afternoon.
Huge clouds had formed, and the
sky was brilliant white against the Big Blue Sky. It was
windy, but not impossibly so, because it was easy enough
to fly cast that day. The breeze was just stiff enough to
cover downwind sound.
At the spot I now call Coyote Hole,
the creek makes a 90 degree left turn. A mass of limbs and
logs had piled up there, and a deep hole was washed out
beneath the log pile. This bend forced a lot of fast-flowing
water to change its course, creating a complex, churning
hydraulic formations. The water crashed and sloshed. The
din was constant.
It was impossible to get much of
a fly drift, but Hars Haugen a Silver Gate denizen ties
a wet fly I call Hars' Special, and he had sold me one.
first time I tried one of these, I kept looking around for a Ranger, figuring,
hey, this fly is too good. Someone's going to come and take it away from me,"
Haugen told me later.
The first time I dropped the fly
into the log pile, I hooked a fat, 16-inch cutthroat and
released it. On the next cast, an even larger fish rolled
at my fly, but missed. I hooked it on the third try. After
a dicey battle where the fish actually ran under the logs,
a 17-inch cutthroat, all blazing gold and bright orange,
came flopping and gasping to my feet.
didn't release this one. I could see two big fillets in that fish, and it was
legal to keep two trout a day from the Soda Butte in 1994. Still, guilt's sharp
point stuck me as I ran a stringer through its gills. I was killing this beautiful
fish, and I felt the entire valley watch me do it.
wrapped the stringer around a rock and laid it in the water at creek's edge where
there was little or no current to wash my catch downstream.
The sun was dropping quickly, and
the lower angle produced that golden, atmosphere-filtered,
late afternoon light that photographers love. Dark shadows
of trout were still darting into the hydraulics, rising,
rolling, flashing their sides. Three, four fish were rolling
at same time, just in front of the log pile.
watching the fly drift, seeing the trout rise and strike, feeling them pull, landing
and releasing--one after another they came. I was lost in the sport, hypnotized.
All my attention focused on the
water and fish, but there was something, some movement and
that feeling of something watching, behind me.
I turned my head a bit and caught
a quick flash of gray. My heart raced. I had seen two grizzlies
in this area on previous trips. I turned toward the movement,
very slowly, hoping there was no bear.
There wasn't. It was a coyote. It
was a coyote with my prize cutthroat in his mouth, my stringer
dangling from one side, the fish's tail from the other.
He trotted the coyote trot--not running, not walking--and
at about 20 feet, he turned and looked at me. Coyote then
disappeared into the forest. I did not know it then, but
it was Coyote with the capital "C."
I told this story to
Sue Glidden (her and her husband Ralph
owned the Cooke
City, Montana General Store) at breakfast in Joan &
Bills' restaurant the next morning in Cooke City. I included
the fact that, perhaps, I shouldn't have killed that beautiful
fish, that I felt pretty guilty and was surprised at the
no, you participated in the food chain. The coyote got the fish," said Sue,
perhaps sensing my unstated appeal for absolution.
Maybe that one trout would make the difference for that coyote. Maybe, that bit
of extra protein would mean survival over the winter.
It was a tough winter in Yellowstone
in 1994-95. There was more snow than there had been in recent
years, and snow cover lingered through summer in the high
country. By late July when I returned to fish the Soda Butte,
near the place where the grizzly bears hang out, there was
still snow on top.
gale force wind blew up the creek from the Lamar Valley, carrying the scent of
elk and bison and wolves and wild mountain lupine into the mountains.
approached Coyote Hole from the woods. It was a relief to get out of the wind,
the roar of it. The pine woods was silent in comparison, and the wind covered
any noise I made, swept away my human scent and carried it with the bison's.
is why Coyote didn't hear me or smell me.
I saw him right away when I stepped
out of the tree line--standing, looking downstream, away
from me, ears up and alert. I figured that was about the
same spot Coyote stood when he sized me up before nabbing
the cutthroat last September. He looked like a smallish
German Shepard, but there is no mistaking Coyote.
I took slow, easy steps, barely
moving, and still Coyote gazed downstream. I crept to within
15 feet when his head turned, slowly, just as mine had turned
last fall at this spot.
Coyote did a double-take. He seemed
surprised, but he didn't run or even flinch. We were frozen
there, together, for a moment before Coyote made the first
move. Without taking his eyes off me, he trotted into the
woods and vanished.
It was over in a few seconds, but
in those moments we had locked eyes and said "I know
you" to each other. Were I native American, I would
have sat at a fire in the night with an elder and asked
him or her what it meant--my two meetings with Coyote. Since
I am not, I am left to wonder and conclude that Coyote is
not finished with me yet.
Two Of DJ's Coyote Saga