Drear and loathing in Anaconda 

Finding a rainbow in a frozen fishing funk

The 47th of Marchuary broke like most days belonging to that godforsaken two-month pustule on the ass-end of winter: cold, wet and aggressively gray. The barometer in my head had been stuck in a low-pressure pattern for the better part of a month by then, so the bleak scene outside the window matched my mental landscape perfectly. It could have been the winter blues, it could have been work-related stress; hell, it could have been disgruntled biorhythms. Whatever its source, this black funk possessed serious juju, persevering on a day in which no funk should ever find purchase. For this was to be the first fishing day of the year.

click to enlarge CHAD HARDER

Missoula attracts and nurtures a freakishly diverse set of outdoor enthusiasts. For a significant subset of that group, winter is a destination unto itself, a snow-covered playground of intense adrenaline rushes and/or serene beauty. I do not count myself among them. As a hunter and fisherman I loathe the time from the December lockdown until the rivers open up in earnest in April. That loathing reaches fever pitch during the months of February (so short in length, so long in feel) and March (the cruel, false promise of official "spring")—a seemingly endless series of days flattened by the boot heel of inversion.

The never-ending winter of 2010-2011 being particularly interminable, the prospect of a fishing trip should have been a bracing tonic for the soul. The particulars of location should have fueled optimism and confidence: The water in question carries the reputation of breaking out of winter's cocoon sooner than most, and the last and only time I had fished it I landed a slew of trout, punctuated by the stark heft of a 24-inch, football-shaped rainbow. In short, I should have had sunshine beaming out of my ass as I grabbed my gear and headed out.

But it was with the aforementioned funk in tow that I headed east, a late start under my belt, riding the wake of a storm that left a full inch of frozen snot pasted to the north side of every standing structure in sight. In the early, ugly twilight I drove straight past the river access and into town. The fish would be there in the morning, and I needed a warm burger and a cold beer.

In addition to being one of the longest small towns conceivable, Anaconda may well be populated by aliens. As I began drifting along the long one-way straightaways that bisect the town, the otherworldly sight of the Club Moderne sucked me in as if with a tractor beam. A 75-year-old legacy of Bozeman architect Fred F. Willson, the curvy, bulgy Streamline Moderne-style building houses a fine bar and friendly folks. But when asked for a burger recommendation, neither the affable young lady behind the bar nor the kindly gentleman on the stool next to mine could name one.

That's the first time it occurred to me these people might be the front wave of a Martian invasion. Most legit Montana towns have numerous "best burger" joints and all have at least one—Potomac, for example, is barely even a town and it spawned the Ugly Burger. It's exactly the sort of detail extraterrestrials would miss as they stealthily replaced townsfolk in their scheme of total domination. And the people—they were all so strangely nice.

click to enlarge CHAD HARDER

Things got no less weird at the Classic Café, where my burger quest ended. A 50s-style diner with two tables up front modeled after Herbie and Millie of "Love Bug" fame—engine blocks and leaf springs serving as the tables' foundation—the Classic was staffed that evening by Evelyn, the bartender, and Connie, the cook. Despite her occupation, Evelyn confessed to finding tap beer too messy for her taste and pronounced Corona as "Cor-ee-na." She hooked me up with a one-dollar Rainier and Connie served up a damn good burger, though due to incomplete data I cannot say if it was the best in town.

When I mentioned I was in the area to fish in the morning Evelyn assumed I meant ice fishing on Georgetown Lake, and when I told her my intention was to fish a local creek she said, "Oh, that kind of fishing," pantomiming a fly rod cast, and it was unnecessary to expand further. Over the course of the evening Evy—we soon reached nickname terms—relented to repeated requests and playfully let the hair she had corralled behind her head down to her waist, the great mass swinging behind her as she grabbed another Rainier.

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