Tag Archives: trout

Hydro Flask: Not Just Another Water Bottle

One of my favorite new pieces of equipment is my Hydro Flask. I, like most outdoors people, get thirsty on my adventures. I always bring plenty of water with me the problem is that when I arrive back at my vehicle it is less than refreshing having sat in the sun all day. Hydro Flask has solved this problem with a whole line of products that will keep your beverages cold all day.

I know you might be saying, it’s just another water bottle, I did myself, but when I saw the Growler Sized Hydro Flask I thought I would give it a try. The results: amazing! I have come back to my vehicle after a day of fishing to find my Hydro Flask too hot on the outside to hold but when I take a drink, whatever the beverage, it is still ice cold! Now I have several at home, in the vehicle, even at work.

The other really cool thing is that the insulated walls are much thinner than any other insulated product I have ever come across so Hydro Flask is much less bulky and will accommodate much more liquid.

The pros are simple: Superior insulation for long term cooling, variety of sizes & colors, variety of tops to suit your preferences

The cons are much harder to find. I do find that I “need” more of the bigger sizes. Having cool beverages around I am much more inclined to drink so I run out when I use the smaller Hydro Flasks

On a scale of 1-5, I would definitely give all the Hydro Flask products I own an emphatic 5!

You don’t need to take only my word for it; I have yet to find a person who owns a Hydro Flask that has anything bad to say. Most are just happy to know at the end of the days there will be something cold waiting for them before the drive home.

To check out the rest of the Hydro Flask Line Click Here

Grayling Beached

Tundra Trout

Editors Note: To catch lake trout in the summer, you generally need very deep water and very heavy jigs – maybe even down riggers.  But not necessarily..

Myself, Dad, and our friend Ben squeezed into what used to be a 10 seater Cessna.  Today it was a 5 seater with a lot of gear and supplies.  Even though there was no flight attendant, the food service promised to be superb; a big cooler sat in the middle of the plane – full of sandwiches, chips, cookies, soda pop, and maybe even the odd beer.

We were flying from Thompson, in northern Manitoba, to Keith Sharp’s Arctic Outposts in southern Nunavut.  The word southern is a relative term because the Canadian territory of Nunavut stretches to the north pole.  There were no trees at our destination, just Arctic tundra.  And even though it was mid-August, the water would be frigid and the lake trout would be shallow.  Did I mention that the lakers would also be ravenous? They only enjoy about 3 ice-free months each year.

I thought the cooler stuffed full of food would be the highlight of the flight but it turned out to be the caribou.  Shortly after crossing the treeline, the pilot was scheduled to land at an old air strip at an abandoned fishing lodge.  There was a fuel cache there; he needed to top up and maintain his emergency reserve.

However, a herd of caribou was lounging on the gravel air strip.  “No problem,” said the pilot.  He had obviously dealt with this before.  “We’ll just give’em a bit of a buzz.”  He lowered the plane to about one hundred feet and roared past.  Lazily, the caribou ignored us.

With the next pass, I’m pretty sure I heard an antler the plane’s underbelly.  The caribou bolted onto the tundra and the pilot landed.  He filled up the plane and the rest of us cracked open a beer and toasted the caribou.

Caribou SwimmingWe also got our first look at the tundra. The bareness of the landscape actually shocked me.  Pictures and video didn’t prepare me for the reality of all that nothingness.  As far as the eye could see, there were no trees – not even shrubs.  Nothing, except for the odd boulder  – and that herd of lazy caribou – was higher than your ankle.

In another hour, we landed on a gravel air strip built by Keith Sharp, our outfitter for the trip. Again, there was nothing higher than your ankle all the way out to the horizon.  The air strip serviced his main facility, Ferguson Lake Lodge.  Although Ferguson Lake had top notch fishing, we transferred our gear over to a float plane destined for a much smaller outpost on the Kazan River near Yathkyed Lake

After twenty minutes in the air, the plane drifted into the dock at our home base for the next 6 days.  It looked like a big, ugly plywood box but it held bunks, a fridge, and a propane stove.  Most importantly, it was right on the Kazan River and there was a boat with an outboard parked at the dock.

The fishing for the next six days was amazing.   The Kazan River at that particular place is more like a narrow lake.  Our box – or cabin – sat right on a severely necked down portion, where the current quickened and swirled.  A few miles downstream, there was a large set of rapids.  We didn’t have a guide; there was absolutely no need.  The rapids held fish, and so did the eddies and riffles beside the cabin.   Both lake trout and arctic grayling…

Lake trout smashed streamers at the base of the rapids and in the deeper eddies beside the cabin.  As long as it was at least 5 inches long, the lakers liked it.  My favourite patterns were purple or grey Deceivers.  I liked to think that purple imitated a grayling and grey imitated a sucker but the lakers were likely more starving than cerebral.  A floating line was all that was needed.

Since three guys in a fishing boat can be a bit of a disaster, we generally just waded.  And there was no bush to crash through alongside the river!  The boat was mostly for transportation.

Regardless, we put on neoprene waders right after breakfast and didn’t take’em off until supper.   There was a good reason for the lakers being so shallow, and a layer of neoprene felt good in the water and out.   Forget about breathability! When it rained, out came the old-fashioned yellow rubber rain suits.

Wading along the shallow riffles beside the cabin, or beside glides and pockets within the rapids, was prime for Arctic grayling. They gobbled down any dry fly or nymph.

A few lakers terrorized these spots and several unfortunate grayling linked angler and trout in tugs-of-war.  Sometimes the trout won; sometimes they didn’t.

The trout that lost these tugs-of-war were not good losers. They were definitely fired up; we learned pretty quick to have a big streamer handy so they could vent their frustration.

The sheer size of the lake trout made them fun to catch.   Most were 6 to 10 pounds but a few heavyweights were closer to 20.   All of them put a saltwater size bend in a beefy 10 weight and a few even exposed the backing. They were thugs that smashed your fly and brawled among the boulders on the bottom. They definitely didn’t like skinny water; just before landing they invariably flew into a thrashing, twisting rage.

The grayling were just as fun to catch, but for different reasons. Although most topped out 14 to 18 inches, their big dorsal fin, purple hue, and aerial tendency made them consummate entertainers on the end of a 6 weight.

In many ways the tundra is fly fishing utopia; there are no backcast-hungry trees, for example.  But the wind tends to howl with no respite from it.  Truth be told, we sometimes used conventional gear to cut through the wind and reach juicy holding water far from the bank.   Any thigh-high boulder became prime real estate during lunch breaks, and all three of us would try to tuck in behind it.

The wildlife was another reason to brave the wind. We saw cranes, geese, article fox, caribou – even a muskox and a grizzly. The caribou were pretty camera friendly but the muskox and grizzly looked way too grumpy to stalk with a camera.

If you’re looking for a technical, match-the-hatch experience, the tundra might not be your place. But the fun factor is huge and so is the adventure quotient.  It’s the kind of place that makes you think you’re first person to walk on it. I think it should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Note:  This article is based on a trip to the Yathkyed Lake camp of Keith Sharpe’s Arctic Outposts. However, in the accompanying photos, there are shots from different trips to Keith’s Kaminuriak South and Corbett Inlet camps.  Unfortunately, Keith is no longer in the fishing trip business but a quick search of the web yielded one lodge which would likely offer a similar experience:  Tukto Lodge (www.arcticfishing.com).   There are also outfitters who offer guided wilderness canoe trips down the Kazan River.  One of these is Wanapitei Canoe (www.wanapiteicanoe.com/trips.asp?ID=19).

Green Grass and Dry Flies

Fly Fishing the Driftless

Over the past two years, it’s been fun to see the increasing interest in fly fishing the spring creeks of the Driftless region of the Midwest. Those of us who live here and regularly fish this area have known of its natural beauty and incredible angling for years, but as the allure of small stream fishing has taken off around the country, media has helped uncover this rich fishery in the agricultural Midwest.

The Driftless region is an area of land that encompasses Southeast Minnesota, Northeast Iowa, Southwest Wisconsin, and Northwest Illinois. It’s named for an area of land that millions of years ago, avoided a glacial drift, flattening the surrounding landscapes into fertile cropland that is stereotypically thought of when you think of the area.  The result is a pocket of land that geologists refer to as karst topography- land that is characterized by sinkholes, towering limestone bluffs, ridges, deep valleys, caves, and coldwater springs. The region is a stark contrast to the area that surrounds it, the landscape changing abruptly as one travels into the area from the flat farmland to the rolling hills then deep bluffs as you near the Mississippi River valley. Historically a farming region, the area has given way to a host of “locally-grown” tourism options, recreational opportunities, cultural and art events, organic farms, wineries and microbreweries, and unique businesses.  The cold water springs, numbering easily in the thousands throughout the region, feed streams that maintain temperatures in the low 50s, supporting a healthy environment for trout, making it a year-round destination trip for those who love fishing spring creeks.

Throughout most of the Driftless region, 3 major species (brook, brown, and rainbow) of trout are to be found. Iowa has over 50 streams in the Driftless region that sustain trout and many other “put and grow” streams where stream-raised fish grow and mature. This makes for a variety of fishing options dependent on location, physical ability, and skill level. Many of these streams rely on a stocking program with the hard work of the DNR, with an increasing number of them sustaining wild populations of trout. Groups like Trout Unlimited and other conservation organizations work to increase public awareness of these fisheries, help with project workdays, and promote conservation education. The result is world-class fishing in our own backyard.  It’s been said that skill-wise, if you can effectively fish spring creeks, you can effectively trout fish anywhere using techniques that allow the angler to break-down water, cast to difficult areas, and get a fly to where a fish is feeding on the surface or below.

Fishing spring creeks during spring in Iowa means some interesting water conditions and new opportunities. Like waters in other places, snow melt, run-off, and rains mean varying water levels and clarity. This can be a challenge sometimes, but carrying streamers, bwo patterns, hendricksons, adams, and some attractor nymphs is almost always the answer. Streamer fishing almost anytime the water is off-color can bring up big fish, and the flashes of yellow or silver through the cloudy water is nothing short of exciting.  Easier walking and wading without the lush grasses that make casting and negotiating streams in the summer a little more difficult makes up for the uncertainty of weather in the spring.

Summer and fall are one the best times of the year to fish due to a variety of different hatches and bugs on the water. Caddis are a staple of trout diet here throughout the summer, but as the season rolls along, terrestrials like beetles, ants, crickets, and hoppers offer some of the most exciting fishing of the year. These are sometimes simple patterns but offered in the right environment and time can mean explosive takes and beautiful fish. A personal favorite is a foam cricket pattern skittered across pocket water on some of our wooded streams. A dark seam of water comes alive when a brown trout keys in on a well-drifted terrestrial. Even mouse patterns, a fly that swept the fly fishing world after the epic fly fishing film Eastern Rises was released, fished at dusk in late summer can produce some hungry brown trout. Be warned: big fish on quiet water in near darkness is not for the faint of heart when a fish decides to eat.

Because the streams remain a constant temperature and flow, fly fishing the Driftless (in states that permit it) is possible and fruitful through the winter. Granted, telling folks that you are going fishing on an 18 degree day with windchill takes some explaining and maybe some convincing. However, fishing the streams in the winter has been some of our most productive time on the water, with brilliantly colored, eager to eat fish. During this time, nymph fishing is the way to go, with small midge nymphs and attractor patterns. When the sun pops out and temperatures warm to the 20s and 30s, some risers can be taken on small dry patterns with accurate casts and light leaders. Even on a bad day, and we’ve all had them, winter fishing with the cold and breaking ice out of the guides if for nothing else makes you appreciate the warmer weather that is inevitably ahead.

What makes fishing these places in the Driftless special isn’t always the fishing, but the scenery and sometimes journey to get there. The local charm of out-of-the-way restaurants, casting beneath towering bluffs, watching the fog roll off a cool stream or through a valley during a humid day in summer, or fishing under the watchful eye of a Holstein cow adds to the experience as much as catching fish

Epic Hatches and Other Rural Legends

Results

“The hatch is just above the bridge!” said the voice from the phone.  While this may be a rather innocuous phrase to the non-angler, in me, it induced an involuntary fist pump, a silent whoop, and a sudden onset of Steve Martin’s Happy Feet in the middle of my office cubicle.  I was calling the fly shop in Ashton for the sixth consecutive day, asking about the salmon fly hatch.  Ignoring the strange looks from my fellow office workers, minutes later my friend and I were escaping the gopher farm and racing our way across the Idaho desert toward an afternoon of casting orange bellied behemoths, more akin to miniature Goodyear blimps, than the delicate creations normally presented to Henry’s Fork trout.

The guy in the shop answering the phone each morning understood completely and likely would have had a similar reaction to mine if the roles were reversed. Surely he had been tolerating the daily inquiries, in anticipation of the fulfillment of the unspoken agreement that we would be stopping into the shop to purchase a few of his handmade creations in exchange for the information we anxiously pursued.  It is my adherence to this type of arrangement that helps to explain the many boxes of “local flies” that continue to fill every pocket, pouch, and sleeve in my fly vest.  Indeed, you can never have too many flies. You just don’t have to carry ALL of them with you everywhere you go. Last year, I consolidated some of these into boxes that would only be inserted for a trip to that specific locale.  The alternative being a vest more suited for combat training than fly fishing.

Eventually, every angler decides to target a specific hatch of insects.  Sometimes it is on local waters; sometimes great distances are traveled in hopes of fishing the often finicky, always ephemeral, and like most things in nature unpredictable, and yet potentially epic insect hatches.  I once shared a flight home to Idaho Falls with a couple from New Zealand who were targeting the Mother’s Day hatch on the Madison.  We all found it amusing that we both wanted to circumnavigate the globe to fish each other’s home waters.

Some believe that these epic hatches are nothing short of urban legends; or perhaps rural legends as it were.  My wife has yet to experience a true dry fly hatch of any kind.  Last June, in an effort to remedy this situation, I scheduled a guided trip for us in Yellowstone National Park.  The week preceding our trip it rained nonstop causing the rivers in the park to swell well beyond their banks.  I still remember the look on our guide’s face as he implored us saying “please don’t make me take you into The Park today”.  We gladly changed our plans to float the Madison and had a fantastic day throwing rubber legs.  While my wife landed countless trout that day, an insect hatch remained in the same category as our elusive friend Sasquatch.

Trout Food...I find it interesting that while trout play a critical role in this pursuit, the primary focus is on a species of insect. This change in focus allows anglers to tolerate what, under other circumstances would be considered unbearable conditions.  Combat fishing; which is normally avoided by all but the most oblivious, some might say imbecilic, of anglers, is suddenly kosher.  It seems that when the fish are eating flies as if they were a bunch of skittles that have been strewn about the floor of a day care center, an occasional tangle with another angler is abided by all.  The solitude so often sought in our sport becomes a party where proximity is only limited by the propensity to catch each other, wasting precious fishing time.

Ed and I had a blast splashing down sofa pillows that day on the Henry’s Fork.  Despite having wings, salmon flies are clearly not designed for flight, especially in the windy conditions of Eastern Idaho. I have to admit that having giant bugs crash land into your head and proceed to crawl up your body in search of who knows what, is a bit unnerving.  Eventually I discovered that the brim of my hat is their preferred vantage point.

Whether it be cicadas, green drakes, salmon flies, bikinis, stones, or sallies, chasing something that may or may not happen when and where you end up adds another dimension to an already fascinating obsession.   I just heard that the green drakes are coming off on the Middle Provo and my happy feet are shuffling toward the truck…

Desert Trout Oasis

The Plight of a Desert Fly Fisherman

Nothing short of “ironic” describes the situation that I find myself in. I am a fly fisherman and I live in the desert. I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, home to the heritage brook trout and the fabled waters of the Ausable River that were haunted by the likes of Fran Betters. Although I spin fished the lakes for pike and bass, I curse myself now for the years I wasted not fly fishing, while living in that East Coast trout-Mecca. After bumping around the States for a year or two after college, I settled in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, married, and put down roots…then I discovered fly fishing.

Finding myself in this predicament, just means that I have to get creative. Arizona is a large state and despite popular opinion, is not just a giant sandbox with saguaro cacti and rattlesnakes. Here are a couple of fly fishing options that feed the insatiable hunger that most fly fisherman are afflicted with.

Urban Water – The greater Phoenix area is spotted with scores of golf courses and housing developments that have urban ponds full of warm water species of fish from bass, bluegill, tilapia, and even some roughfish for those interested in brownlining. The Arizona Game and Fish stocks their urban ponds with trout in the wintertime, which offers a great opportunity to introduce a young angler to the joys of fishing.

The Warm Water Lakes – Several rivers have been dammed up in a couple areas to create reseviors of water to keep Phoenix hydrated during the long hot summers.  These lakes include Lake Pleasant, Roosevelt Lake, Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, Lake Mead, and Lake Havasu just to name a few. These lakes are pretty amazing ecosystems with a plethora of warm water fish most notably the big strippers that often grace the pages of the Arizona Game and Fish website.

The Mogollon Rim – One of my favorite places to run to on a weekend is the Mogollon Rim. Not only are the cold water lakes, like Woods Canyon Lake and Willow Springs Lake, growing big trout, but the Game and Fish stocks several small streams that can offer the small stream nut some remarkable views and fishing.

Oak Creek – This little creek that flows cold and clear through the Red Rock country of Sedona is full of willing stocked rainbows, but has an impressive population of brown trout that are as spooky and smart as any trout you are likely to find. As long as you wait till the summer crowds are gone, a day on Oak Creek will offer an amazing day of fly fishing in one of the most unique settings in the United States.

The White Mountains – The White Mountains of Arizona are home to some of the most beautiful and magnificent waters in the Southwest. A mixture of tribal and public land, the White Mountains suffered from one of the worst fires the state of  Arizona has ever seen. Although the Wallow Fire ravaged a good chunk of this area and priceless timber and ecosystems were destroyed, there is still hope for this area and many of the streams and lakes were spared. When you hear of big trout being caught in Arizona, 9 times out of 10, they were caught somewhere in the White Mountains. Apache, Rainbow, Brown, Brook, and Cutthroat trout along with Grayling are present in different waters in the White Mountains and gives the angler a wide range of fish to present flies to.

Although being stuck in the desert is most likely a fly fisherman’s worst nightmare, all hope is not lost. If you know where to look and are willing to put some miles on your boots, fish, even trout are findable in Arizona.

Map

Maps

Living in the state of Arizona, most people don’t think about trout fishing. Truth be told, there is more than rattlesnakes and saguaros in this desert state, and with a bit of work, some very respectable fish can be found.

The one key tool that any respectable fisherman needs when exploring in Arizona is a good map. A good map can take many forms, and often times, the best type is a topographical map. Topos are worth their weight in gold when trying to find an access points into the rugged canyons through which Arizona’s creeks flow. That same map that was beneficial accessing the creek can be a lifesaver when trying to get back out to the truck, as steep rock walls seem impenetrable.

Although the topographical map is arguably the most accurate, it may not be the best tool for the job. The most valuable maps are often drawn by hand and exchanged with a solemn oath to never spill their secrets. Typically, they include hastily scribbled odometer readings, forest road numbers, and notes that read “if you see burned tree next to the dinosaur-egg-rock, you’ve gone too far.” These hand drawn diagrams are treasure maps where “X” marks the spot full of hungry trout ready to gobble up a well-placed fly. Fly fishermen don’t share these readily and typically after a trip or two, they are left in a safe place at home, lest they fall into the wrong hands.

Every state and locale has their honey holes that only the locals know, but it seems in this digital age that more of these locations are being leaked.  I married an Arizona girl and will likely be here for life, and I can tell you quite easily, those hastily scrawled maps are tucked away in the safe next to car titles, birth certificates, and the rest of the other valuables only to be passed on to the next generation of Smiths.

Green Brown

Guides

When I first started fly fishing I really didn’t have much use for a guide.  Given my age at the time, my macaroni and cheese, top ramen budget would not have allowed me to hire a guide anyway.  I learned how to fly fish using the scientific method; effectively identifying almost every way NOT to catch fish.  My lack of stealth coupled with a tendency to always find myself standing in the place to which I should be casting, and using tippet heavy enough to reel in a Land Cruiser, often times left me wondering why on earth I had given up the night crawlers and Balls of Fire that were so successful in my youth.  I looked upon guides as unreachable gurus who sold the experience that I so desperately pursued.  On occasion, I would come upon a guide carefully instructing a client, and sit on the bank just within earshot hoping to poach a word of wisdom or two.  While this made me uncomfortable, a feeling likely shared by the guide and his client, I was fascinated by a person who could verbally instruct someone from snapping flies off into the bushes all the way to the point of actually landing a trout.  Typically, it only took one sharp gaze from the guide for me to get the message and move on.  A couple of years later, a brother-in-law who was always gifted at catching a lot of fish became a guide.

Suddenly, I knew “one” which seemed to make them more human.  He and a couple of other guys took me on trips to places like the Madison and the Green, etching indelible memories on my very being.  Several years later I moved to Green BrownIdaho and met a coworker who quickly became a friend.  It turned out he was married to a guide who also became a friend.  Fishing with him in his drift boat was akin to fly fishing graduate school.  I learned how to read currents while floating on them, spot and identify raptors overhead, use the wind instead of fight it, how to row, the ever important skill of making a sandwich fit for a drift boat, and the value of a good straw hat.  Slowly I began to realize that guides are not riparian leprechauns fleecing the dollars from the wallets of unsuspecting, yet all too willing Sports.  These people are Sages of hard earned knowledge; passionate protectors of the very waters from which they have been taught so many valuable lessons. I recognized that they have forged a connection with the river that only dog owners can approach in understanding.

Most start guiding for a variety of reasons; the mystique, to get girls, chasing dreams, trying to find themselves, etc.  Most only last a few seasons before they either accomplish their goals, find that there are not many girls to be gotten (re: MANtana), or just get sick of what ultimately is a lot of very  hard work.  Others find themselves watching the years blow by like exit signs on a kamikaze cross country road trip.  I guess that is the point, they find themselves.  They become part of an elite group of our species that “just get it”.  No longer encumbered by the hollow or vain pursuits which infect and distract so many of the rest of us.  They take great joy in helping their clients to feel the joys of angling; appreciate the precious resource that make the art of fly-fishing possible, and form a personal connection with those who will allow themselves to drop the firewall for a few hours.

At the end of a day with a good guide, you feel like you have made a friend; having shared something that is truly special.  Good guides seem to have achieved something that is truly God-like; the ability to enjoy the very passion that drives them, vicariously.  To laugh, cry, cuss, and rejoice with a client as if they were the ones holding the rod is something that I am only beginning to understand as I guide my family in their angling experiences while seated on the sticks of my own drift boat.

To Mark, Ed, Leslie, Brian, Monty, Mike, Jimmy, Pete, Shawn, Marc, Steve, Dustin, Dave, Brian, and Craig; I thank you for your guidance both on the river and off. My angling journey continues to be a source of strength, humor, and inspiration as I navigate the turbulent waters of life.

The Mend

The Mend

The MendThe mend.  A correction of the fly line as it is impacted by different currents in the stream.  I am not the greatest at this, yet it is vital to obtaining the perfect drift…and the reason for my blog name.  Underneath the surface of any given trout stream is a flurry of activity.  Trout and other aquatic creatures move and dance with a current that is constant yet ever changing.

The need for the mend in your drift is to keep the fly line from presenting the fly in a way that does not look natural.  For success in most cases, the drift is the single most important and often overlooked portion of a cast.  Get it right and success is at hand, botch it and your fly either skitters across the surface like a water skier or jumps over every fish in the stream.

Each stream in any particular area has multiple hydrological issues that the fly line is moved, bellied, bowed, or in some cases, sank completely.  It is the Zen of the angler to detect these things and move in accordance to what the water dictates.  This is a part of our craft that never changes.  We are always in hot pursuit of the perfect drift.

Life is much like this.  As our life moves downstream, we are often impacted by currents that are not under our control.  Frustration comes easily when we do not read the current of our days leading to an unsuccessful attempt or missing the mark.  Often we dream of victory that seems to be right under the surface, but we go dancing unnaturally across the surface leaving these amazing life events behind.

I am often very opinionated, most likely a habitual offender of faithless living, and assuredly a man who allows his pride to block obvious blessing.  All of these occur because I have lost the drift.  I have not allowed myself to relax, see the flow, and make adjustments as needed.  But thankfully I now recognize the correlation and have reached the point where the light bulb is flickering.

John Buchan is quoted as saying, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”  Much like the rest of our lives isn’t it?  The big hurdle comes when we are faced with actually making life application out of our sport.

You may not agree…and I am fine with that, but I firmly believe that every area of our lives is intertwined to the point that one part will teach us something about another.  That there actually are life lessons that can be learned in everything from a person we work with, watching a football game, or standing in a river waving a stick.  It is all about how we choose to perceive small snippets of our lives.

So, in light of what I know to be my own shortcomings, and the desire to reach that unattainable thing we call perfection, I will try to learn from the river; that babbling cacophony of change and potential.  I will seek to apply elsewhere that which I have gleaned from time spent watching a floating line being moved by a current that was moving before I was born, and which will be moving long after I have gone.  Maybe, just maybe, I will have learned enough to get a few other things right.  I can’t ask for much more than that.

Montana Thunderstorm

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 6 of 6

The passage of time is a peculiar thing. It seems that if we are involved in something we don’t particularly like, the seconds pass thick and slow with now rhythm or pace, everything is laborious and clunky. Then there are days when we are so full of what we enjoy and what we love that it is as if time were racing away at warp speed. It was with this thought in mind that I found myself looking square into the last two days of the tour. I had completely abandoned any concept of time to the point that most days it could have been Tuesday or perhaps Sunday and it would have made no difference. Light and dark, awake and asleep…that pretty much summed up existence in Yellowstone, and by the time I had realized what was happening, I was looking into the face of the one thing I hadn’t taken into account. The trip was coming to an end.

 

After leaving Slough Creek, we drove across the amazing chaos that is Yellowstone and up into Montana. One thing that never ceased to amaze me about this National Park was the quick change of the geographic, geologic, and topographic nature of the landscape. Drive a few miles in one type of terrain, cross a hill, and it is as if someone has plucked you out of one place on the planet and deposited you in another location thousands of miles away. Surreal would be an easily overused word here in this majestic location.

So with the disorientation of time and the sensory overload of the terrain, Bruce Smithhammer and I drove west…our destination was to be the last stop on the trip. We would be spending the next two days in Big Sky Montana and fishing the Gallatin River. Basing my expectations of Big Sky upon what had transpired throughout the week was not wise. Every second of rustic living, every moment of wild and unpredictable environments, every old building and historic structure were in another world altogether upon our arrival in this small Montana locale. We were staying for two days in a two story penthouse of Big Sky Lodge, a place in which the President had stayed a few months earlier. I don’t know the exact square footage of our sky high lodging, but I feel very safe in guessing that we had at least three thousand square feet of living space to enjoy. But, just so we didn’t think we were completely removed from the wild, a big bear was wandering around the parking lot as we were unloading our things. It is moments like these that will enamor you with this part of the world.

After gawking at our dwelling for a while, I hit the rack and fell into the kind of sleep that can only come when the perfect bed meets unreal fatigue. It seemed that I had only closed my eyes and it was morning, and with the rise of the sun we headed out to fish the Gallatin.

The Gallatin is a meandering river, much smaller than I pictured it, but an excellent fishery…with one problem…the fish were nowhere to be found. Six anglers, all accomplished in their craft, were pretty well skunked. My only fish on this day was a complete accident. I was fishing a hopper up against the far bank without luck. I misjudged my distance; hit the bank, pulled it free, and bam…a ten inch rainbow smacked it as soon as it hit the water. My only fish.

Back to the lodge. We were all beyond tired. The week that was had begun to catch up with us. Gathered around the television that evening, we watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, laughed, and told stories until late into the night. We had started the week as strangers, just names, people who for the most part only knew of each other from what we had read. I looked around the room and was amazed at who I was with. Kirk Deeter, Chris Hunt, Bruce Smithhammer, Rebecca Garlock…Field and Stream, Trout Unlimited, The Drake, Outdoor Blogger Network. Wow. But the cool thing about it is that the accolades and accomplishments of these people were secondary to the fact that Steve Zakur and I were hanging out with friends.

Often on trips like this, when the people don’t know each other, the potential of a train wreck of interpersonal issues is always a potentiality. However, on this particular trip, we just hit it off…everything meshed. It was as if we had done this trip together for years. To say that lifelong friendships were formed would be a gross understatement.

The last day of the tour started with a trip to a local fly shop and an event that will forever define the attitude of Big Sky Country in my memory. After a night of libations and more than one David Allan Coe song being sung loud and out of key, I was parched. Just as you walk in the door of this particular fly shop, there is a soft drink machine. So I stopped there and started digging in my pocket for a buck to feed. I drop in my money, select my favorite citrus laden beverage…and out came a Pabst Blue Ribbon. It was then that the guy behind the counter told me that he could not remember the last time that machine had soft drinks in it. I looked at him and smiled, then I spotted some fly shop hats…one had a PBR style logo with the fly shops name on it. Sold. I still wear it with pride.

Another tough outing on the Gallatin as storms moved in from the west with a ferocity that put every fish in the river down for the day. So we spent the remainder of the morning just hanging out by the truck and talking. Perhaps that was the best way for things to end. In conversation with people who had become friends and may see years pass before their paths would cross again.

This trip and the amazing events that I experienced have forever changed me. It did not make me a better angler, but it did change the way that I go about the craft. The skillset remains, but in some ways the philosophy behind it has been forever altered by this great bunch of people.

Roughly five months have passed, and I am still in consistent contact with these folks. Sometimes it is business, and sometimes it is just to say hi. In the early part of the fall, Steve found himself in my neck of the woods and I took him to the South Holston. I told him where the trout would be, and what they were likely to be keyed on, then I stepped back, cast into water that has never yielded fish, and watched as he pulled multiple fish from the water. It made me happy to play guide for my friend, and in a way it was my gift to him. As we left that afternoon to once again go our separate ways, we said goodbye as if we would be together the following week…because we both knew that eventually we would meet again on a river somewhere.

Madison River Wildflowers

The Madness of Fly Fishing

“Sometimes I caught fish – sometimes I didn’t. …….I lived merrily, mindlessly, uncomfortably on the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” – Nick Lyons, The Intense Fly Fisherman

There was a time in my youth when I chased fish with all the passion I had within me – with all the force and vigor and excitement I could muster. I would get up two hours before dawn and drive four hours just to reach the first available trout water. I’d fish all day, stopping only to eat a quick lunch or move to another spot on the river. When darkness fell, I continued to fish – pushing the limit of effective fishing and the legal limit of fishing regulations. A four hour drive back home would end with me dragging myself into the house, leaving all my gear in the truck to be cleaned out the next day, or the day after that perhaps. I was “on fire” for fly fishing and I ate it – drank it – obsessed over it – loved it – was consumed by it. 

 

This went on for some time. Years passed, then decades and then one day I experienced a great tragedy in my life when my father passed away suddenly. At the same time, I lost my job. I was devastated. I stopped fishing almost completely. I think I may have spent time fishing, just a few hours each time, only twice that year. In my salad days fishing happened every other weekend for years and years. I fished only twice in that most terrible year and thought several times that I might give it up altogether. Over the next few years, there were times when I felt like flinging my rod and reel into the lake or river. No, I’m not kidding. I just couldn’t get that passion back, even though when I wasn’t fishing it was still there and as strong as ever.

 

I still consumed fishing articles, photos and chat like they were going out of style. I loved to talk about bass on poppers and trout flies that sit just so, right in the film. I’m still a sucker for hearing  another angler talk about a river that’s new to me. Last year I even took my very first trip out west to fish in Montana and Wyoming. I’m fishing more now – probably twice a month or so when I can get away and I’d fish more often if I had the time and money. So, I had to ask myself – what happened? How did I come back from the brink of leaving the sport behind me for good?

I think what it all came down to, was that I had to realize two things: that I didn’t have that 24-hour-7-days-a-week passion that I had in my youth, and that not having that passion was OK. Once I stopped worrying about the fact that I didn’t go fishing as much (and frankly didn’t catch as much either) I was able to begin to enjoy my time outdoors again. These days it’s not so much about the fishing. It’s more about being outside and enjoying time spent around the water. It’s the feel of the river on my legs and the fleeting glimpse of a deer on the drive home. Now that I’ve had a couple of years of this relaxed fishing life, I think I rather prefer it to living on, as Nick Lyons so accurately put it …the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” Maybe someday you’ll be there, too. Maybe you already are?