Outside: At the outlet of Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald, a lonely dock stretches into glassy water over kaleidoscopic gravels, framed by the reflection of fearsome mountains. The lake is only a few steps from a major parking lot, so it draws legions of tourists. It is not, however, the place to find cutthroat trout in late June.
I’d been trying for over a month to set up an outing with Ryan Zinke, the freshly minted secretary of the interior, who was born and raised in nearby Whitefish, Montana. I’d already met him once, at Alaska’s Denali National Park, but his harried schedule didn’t allow for anything more than a cursory walk on a trail that might as well have been paved. I wanted to see my former congressman, who has always billed himself as an outdoorsman—and who now oversees more than 400 million acres of federal public land, 700 million acres of subsurface mineral rights, and thousands of offshore energy leases—in his natural habitat. In Denali last May, I’d floated plans to take horses into Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness, but in the end all I could wrangle was this 45 minutes of casting practice.
Zinke’s crew of aides and security people were assembled under shade trees by the shore. The secretary was wearing a tan fishing vest, slacks, and a pair of Keens. Absent his entourage, he might have passed for anyone’s unusually fit uncle: his hair has gone gray, but at 56 the former Navy SEAL still holds his tall frame plank-straight, and his shoulders are broad and athletic. He already had his rod rigged. As soon as I walked up, I checked out the fly hooked to one of his guides—a black foam-bodied number with a puffy white wing and rubber legs, segmented with purple dubbing.