Earlier this summer, I had occasion to sit in on a Rock Creek community meeting concerning the revision of the Granite County Growth Plan. The meeting was held in the parking lot in front of the Rock Creek Mercantile, where the crowd of permanent and seasonal residents and a few others like me gathered about on lawn chairs to listen and air their concerns and hopes for the future of the lower end of the valley.
I have been to countless meetings regarding Rock Creek over the past three decades. They have almost always been well attended. People who live on the creek and people who recreate there have strong feelings for the place. They pay attention to what's happening.
When I scanned the crowd, I saw many familiar faces. I suspect that some of them have been at every meeting I have attended. But one face was absent that night. Doug Persico, who, with his wife Carolyn, had built the Rock Creek Merc 20-some years ago, and graciously made it available for the meeting that night, had stayed home. He was ill, and nearly everyone in the crowd knew that Doug was counting down his days.
So, last week, when Doug passed away, the news traveled fast up and down the creek and out to the community of fly-fishers who have come to think of Doug as the unofficial ambassador and maitre d' of Rock Creek.
Like many others who are addicted to the pleasures of fly-fishing, Doug and Carolyn found Rock Creek way back in the 1960s. I don't know this for sure, but I suspect it was the legendary early summer hatch of giant salmon flies that first got their attention. Whatever the case, that first trip also hatched a dream that they realized when they made the move from California to build a home and open up a fly shop that has since become something of an institution for anglers, guides and many others who make their way up the creek from time to time.
Rock Creek is full of one-of-a-kind characters, and Doug was surely one of them. He was opinionated, that's for sure. And there were plenty of times when we didn't see eye to eye. But he was also smart and well-informed, and he understood the issues that matter to folks who love the creek.
He could be crusty. Carolyn would be the first to label him as something of a curmudgeon. But she would smile when she said it. When Slats and I would stop in to chat on our way up the creek, Doug would often greet us with a gently sarcastic, "Well, if it isn't Tweedledum and Tweedledee!"
Like all who make a living off the land or water and what it provides, he watched the weather and would readily complain about the vicissitudes of nature.
"It's just too hot. Nothing's happening on the creek right now."
"I wish it would it warm up. That would get the bugs flying."
"The water is too low."
"The creek is still just too high."
At times, it must have seemed to Doug as if the term "next-year country" was coined to describe Rock Creek.
"Just wait. Things are really going to bust wide open tomorrow."
And, on other days, you were just too late.
"You should have been here yesterday."
But when the bugs were flying and the weather was good, he would be the first to admit that life is almost too good to believe.
"Caddis flies are coming off in clouds right now. Fishing is just amazing."
"You couldn't have picked a better day to throw a fly."
Rock Creekers aren't comfortable with change, and sometimes they are a little irked at the crowds of non-locals who flock there. Doug was among those, too, from time to time. But what irked him even more were all those vehicles he saw heading up the creek that didn't pull into the parking lot and step through the screen door with some change jingling in their pockets. He was a businessman, after all.
He never charged a cent for advice, though. He was generous with it, perhaps to a fault. When I overheard him telling a visitor exactly where to find fish on the creek,
I would sometimes
"Doug, did you have to give him quite that much detail?" I asked him once.
"Hey, I'm in business here. If he catches some fish, he might come back in and buy some flies," he responded.
As to the good of the creek, Doug was always ready to pitch in what he could. Over the past two decades, there was rarely a fundraising event for organizations that work to protect Rock Creek's water and fishery that did not have a fly rod or box of wonderful flies to auction off, donated by the Rock Creek Merc.
Those who love Rock Creek will miss Doug Persico. His memory will endure, and so will the Rock Creek Merc. When I talked with her the other day, Carolyn was quick to let me know that the shop is open for business, information and coffee are still free, and the hand-tied flies are still top notch.
Last night, as I drifted my fly through a shady run not far from Doug and Carolyn's home on Rock Creek, I smiled just a bit thinking of Doug, when that first trout rose to take the fly.
Greg Tollefson is a freelance Missoula writer whose column appears each week in Outdoors. He can be reached at email@example.com.