The red-white-and-blue runs down the brilliant flanks of a rainbow trout.
And the sky is exploding not with fireworks, but with silvery, jumping trout and salmon.
Is there anyone who doesn't love the mountains in summertime?
There's no more gorgeous time to smell the alpine air, enjoy the brief flourish of blossoms, but especially the mix of wild fish in wild places.
And it doesn't really matter if it's the arid Sangre de Cristos of northern New Mexico, the Absarokas of Montana, the Tetons of Idaho, or the Chilkat of Southeast Alaska.
Why July Fourth? Maybe because there are those brief few weeks around the Fourth when everything is clicking.
Or maybe because I've spent so many glorious Fourths with a fly rod in hand, wading or floating a ribbon of crystal water alive with beautiful and wild creatures.
There was my first real day of fly-fishing, ever, on a July Fourth when my long-time hunting partner Jim Wilson and Idahoan George Miller introduced me to drift-fishing the South Fork of the Snake in eastern Idaho. It was glorious when the morning chill burned off to brilliant afternoon, bringing a huge hatch of salmon flies. And huge cutthroat trout swarming to feed on the giant orange bugs.
George guided his drift boat down the deep and twisting Snake, keeping us a short cast from the shoreline willows where most of the trout lay in wait. We caught just enough big old trout to demand a return visit.
So the next year we were back. This time Jim and I fished with legendary guide Spence Warner at the oars. And the hatch was even heavier. We caught dozens of 16- to 20-inch cuts. But the highlight of the trip was my last trout.
Drifting past a dead log on the shore, I shot the big Sofa Pillow back into the pocket of water behind the log and it disappeared in a huge swirl. Within seconds a huge fish had stripped all my fly line and was deep into my backing before I slowed it.
For 10 minutes or more, the fish stripped line back and forth across the river, following our drift boat downstream.
When I brought it to the net, Spence dipped out 25 inches of silvery-gold brown trout, the biggest trout I've ever caught on a fly outside Alaska. I held her up as Jim snapped two quick photos, then returned her to the cold deep Snake.
Another Fourth, Jim, Idaho Falls' Ron Lee and my son Will joined me in Ron's boat on Lake Yellowstone, the huge and deep lake in the legendary national park. We came to catch the lake's incredibly abundant cutthroat trout. We've been snowed upon twice on the Fourth of July in Yellowstone, but this day was also bitterly cold. We caught almost a hundred cuts-admittedly all on spinning tackle-in a couple of hours, until the snow, wind and 30-degree temperatures ran us from the lake. It was one of the most incredible, most miserable days of fishing I've ever enjoyed.
Another July I escaped to Idaho to fish with Jim, and to get away from the pressures of dealing with my dad's failing health and his mounting financial issues. We caught some huge cut-bows on Henry's Lake, had some near-misses on the Madison, and again smelled the cold, clean mountain air.
Three weeks later my father died.
Wild trout are a glorious anomaly. It doesn't matter if it's a fresh-minted rainbow, a golden cutthroat, a yellow-spotted brown, a clown-spotted brookie or a steel-spotted Dolly Varden. They're all beautiful.
Can you imagine a more all-American way to celebrate our country's birthday than with a few of our All-American wild things?
Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire.