Of course the thrill of a bent rod and tight line is on every angler’s mind when they hit the water. But I believe fishing isn’t just about the fish. Don’t get me wrong, the thought of catching a hammer is the only thing I can think about when I’m sitting in class "listening" to the importance of MLA format. But the endless pursuit of fish on flies is really what it’s all about. As the old saying goes, “Trout live in beautiful places”. I believe exploring the world’s most beautiful water with a rod in hand and your foxhole guys next to you is the true thrill.
A summer ago my family and I road-tripped up to Melrose, MT, a few hours West of Bozeman (one of the fly fishing capitals of the world). Now, Melrose is not exactly a vacation hot spot for families, or anyone for that matter. However with one restaurant and a fly shop, the town draws anglers like moths to a flame. But, this trip was one that meant the world to the whole family, including my mom who isn’t exactly one for piecing together a 5 wt. The fall prior to the trip, my grandfather was diagnosed with severe lung cancer. The cancer spread so violently, three weeks later he tragically passed away. He would have loved nothing more than to come up to this mesmerizing fishing sanctuary and spend time with his family, while catching life’s most beautiful gift to the river. Nearing the end of our last day on the Big Hole river, my dad did something none of us expected. He tied on a fly that was tied by my grandfather’s grandfather in the 1930’s, not exactly the recipe we had been using on this trip. As if my grandfather had placed the fly in the trout’s mouth himself, the first cast my dad threw out he had a fish on. After an emotional fight with that magical rainbow trout, the moment we all shared holding up that full net was even more unbelievable.
Leaving the river, I threw in one final cast with the 1930 money fly at a beauty brown trout feeding near the surface. Soon getting snagged on the willow tree behind me, the line broke and the fly was stuck in the bark. Complete heartbreak came over me, as I had just lost a priceless treasure that would have probably gone under glass in our household. But, then my brother Adam said something that I’ll never forget, he said “hey, a piece of grandpa will stay here forever, right on the river we all love".
To many anglers, fishing is all about catching the most fish. But, I believe fishing is about more than catching fish. Henry David Thoreau said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after”. The pursuit of trout, the beautiful places you visit, and the memories made with your buddies are the priceless gifts all fisherman can appreciate, even during the toughest days on the water. But, it only takes one bend of the rod to keep us trout junkies coming back.
Before you think I am the biggest wuss that ever walked in a river, let me preface the remarks you are about to read. I am unapologetically, Midwestern old school. You hand the ball to the referee after you score a touchdown. You don’t steal second base when you are up by double digits. There’s a pretty simple set of rules for me. I was told by my Dad years ago that you were born with only two things in this world, your good last name and your word. If you lose either one of those, you have nothing. I try to remember that every day.
I try to apply these principles to my fishing life as well. To me, it has truly never been about the fish, it’s about the experience with my sons. I freely admit that I am not the world’s greatest fly fisherman and likely won’t ever be, but there is no one that enjoys the experience as much as me. One of the other things I love about fly fishing is I have never met someone on the water that is a d-bag. I have fished in Saratoga, Wyoming, Melrose, Montana, Dutch John, Utah and plenty of the rivers in our home state of Colorado. Honestly, I can’t recall running into anyone that I would not otherwise want to spend the day throwing a line in the water with.
The other day though, that changed. Got up real early on New Year’s Day with my sons and headed out to one of the boys’ favorite honey holes. I shall change the name of the location to protect the innocent, so let’s just call it Reckers. Personally, I am 0 for Reckers. Never actually caught a fish there. Plenty of LDR’s, plenty of close calls, but no color in the net. Funny side note, I did catch my own net one time after it slipped out of my belt and I found it a mile down the river, but I digress.
My kids fished at Reckers the day before, and were struggling. A saint, sent down by the fishing gods, who apparently was a former guide in Alaska, took pity on them and offered some key advice. In fact, our hero changed their rig entirely, switched up their bugs and gave up the secret spot on the river to my kids. The boys were flabbergasted at this fishing saint’s generosity. They had met Mother Theresa, and they knew it. Almost immediately, they began the steady climb towards a slay-fest. They got home and could not stop talking about what Mother Theresa had done for them. I just loved the fact that Mother Theresa had taken time out from slaying trout to help my boys. They talked this up all night and convinced me to hit Reckers with them the next morning, with assurances that they had been taught the recipe to success at Reckers. I needed those assurances, because as stated above, Reckers blows in my eyes.
We got up at 6 a.m. and began the trek to Reckers. We were the second car in the lot, good sign for the day ahead. We started through the brush and headed in the direction of the boys’ newly christened honey hole. But unfortunately, there at the spot, was an interloper. No big deal though, he got there first. As he took a drag on his cancer stick and cast his line, we tried to make casual conversation. “Any luck”, I said. “Already caught 4”, said the Marlboro man. “Wow, that’s awesome, I have never caught a fish at Reckers”, I said. “Well, maybe today is your day,” said Smoking the Bear as he returned to slaying.
The time of our initial conversation was roughly, 8 a.m. No big deal. We did not want to be dicks and fish right next to the Smoking Bandit so we moved down the river, figuring, we’ll come back when Tobacco Tim moved on. I could see him as the hours passed, while I fished down river, and he just sat there and snagged bows, one after another. No pictures. No celebrations. No shouting. No yuks. He caught every fish, scooped it up in his net, lit another cig and unceremoniously tossed the unappreciated fish back in the clear river. This guy was a chain-smoking, fish-snagging machine. I was jealous and pissed, all at the same time.
Me and my boys continued on down the river for the next 4 hours. It was a pretty typical Reckers outing for me. Got one on the line, lost it. Got too far out on a rock in the river, and fell in the icy water. I watched with pride as my sons’ caught several fish. The excitement of watching them and trying to help net the big browns was awesome. You cannot replace watching your boys reeling in a hammer. We took some great pictures (my only real contribution) and laughed our asses off. But one of my kids had just had arm surgery (he was nicknamed Lefty for the outing) so we were going to cut our outing off at around 5 hours. As we headed back to our car, who did we walk by, but Mr. Menthol himself. Still in the same exact damn spot he was at day break. There he was, in all his smoky glory, in the honey hole we came for and that he had squatted in, and never relinquished. Let me reiterate, he never moved. Same exact spot. Over 5 hours, like a frickin statue, equipped with a chimney. Pulling fish out by the bushel full.
I was fuming. I get it buddy, it’s a good spot. But in the name of RL Winston, share the river. Share the good fortune. Not just with me and my boys, but with anyone. Is my opinion slanted by jealousy? Damn right. But you know what, the cool thing about fly fishing is the people. At my local fly shop, the guides I have met, fellow anglers I have just sat and bullshitted with, I have never met someone I wouldn’t otherwise want to have a beer with.
But this time, on this New Year’s Day, I did a slow burn, not unlike the nicotine stick dangling from this tool’s pie hole. Dude, you had a ten run lead on the river in the 8th inning and you just stole second on it. That was bush league. How about calling off the dogs. You catching your 20th fish of the day in the same god damn spot is like calling an onside kick when you are up by 30. Call me a wuss, call me a spoil sport. But there is a comradery amongst anglers who share the passion and addiction that is a tight line. I love sitting and talking with other fishermen who have been everywhere and seen everything. They love sharing their experience and expertise. What’s the first thing you ask someone when you get on the river, “any luck?” Second question, “what are you using?” Real anglers answer those questions readily, almost as if they are whispering the password to their brethren. My guess is that if I had asked the Marlboro Man what he was using on this day, his response would have been muffled by a puff of smoke and the splashing of his 30th fish of the day.
I guess the moral of the story is that the river needs more Mother Theresas’ and less Marlboro men. To the Sel-Fish Bastard that caught the Yeti full of fish on New Year’s Day, good for you bro. Just remember, the fishing gods don’t like running up the score on the river. Toke on that for a while.
As a Nineteen year old college student like myself, waking up at 6:00AM on your day off is like a swift kick to the balls. But at 6:00AM on this Saturday morning when my alarm blares Taylor Swift’s hit “Shake It Off” (My alarm since I was a Junior in High School) I sprung out of bed with a smug grin on my face… Today was the day.
It was a restless night for me. My dreams the night before were full of buttery browns, bodacious bows, and that high feeling you get from a bent rod and a tight line. I opened my blinds and see the Rocky Mountains off in the distance taunting me, freshly dusted with powder. I sit on the end of my bed and start putting my armor on for battle today. My trusty wool socks with a hole in the left big toe, my lucky sweatpants that have what used to be a silver nike swoosh on them, and finally my gently used quarter zip north face...Best combination in the game. I walk down the stairs from my room to find my brothers already geared up and waiting for me in the dark. “You’re late cat,” my little brother PJ whispers to me. I look at the microwave clock in the kitchen that reads 6:17AM… Late? Piss off. The three of us shared a moment of silence, but in that moment we all knew exactly what the other was thinking. Not the early morning, not the negative temperatures outside, nothing was going to stand in the way of our voyage today. Not today… Today was the day.
We loaded up my 2007 FJ Cruiser with enough Fly Fishing gear for a small army of people. The trunk was packed to the roof with rods, waders, boots, and turkey sandwiches we made the night before. Finally at 6:26AM we were off... Today was the day.
The drive from our house to the South Platte River in Deckers, Colorado is full of two lane canyon roads and tremendous wildlife outside. Inside the car, our ride was full of wishful comments, pleading with the fishing gods to bring us a “hog” or a “horse” or a “buick” or my personal favorite to let us meet “Barry Bonds.” Every group of people who has ever been fishing together surely has their own metaphors for describing the fish, my brothers and I just have more than usual. We talk strategy of what “sauce” we are going to put on the end of our lines, we joke about the temperature gauge in the car displaying a balmy 1 degree, and we talk about the “honey holes” from previous fishing trips where happened to have some luck. As we laughed our way through the canyon, we started to catch a glimpse of the sun. I find there is something incredibly peaceful about watching the sunrise… Today is the day.
After heavy debate the three of us decide on a spot, hoping that it happens to be the home of some hungry river monsters. As we step out of the car the cold Rocky Mountain air fills my lungs, and the new fallen snow sneaks into the cracks of my Birkenstocks, my shoe of choice on the water no matter the season. We waste no time gearing up our rods, tying double surgeons knots in the brisk wind and joking about what combination of flies is going to attract the buttery bruisers we all desire. Waders on, rods rigged, boots tied, and spirits high thinking of the endless possibilities today brings. The busier our lives get the more I learn to appreciate these trips with my brothers. The busier our lives get the more I learn to appreciate being out in the unknown, exploring new water, and the endless pursuit of fish on flies. In this moment I count my blessings, and smile. Just as it crosses my mind, my brother Adam says… “Today is the day!”
In my opinion every great fly fishing career starts with a double surgeons knot. Both ends through the loop and you’re essentially on your way. I learned my double surgeons about one summer ago. A family vacation to Montana spurred the urge to learn how to fly fish and in the year since then the unrelenting urge to feel a trout tighten my line has taken me all over the place, and then back again. I hooked up to a stubborn little rainbow on the Big Hole in Melrose, Montana and prayed that my newly learned double surgeons would hold on. That littler sucker didn’t know it but he hooked me more than the other way around. I spent an entire semester of college researching tail waters to fish over Christmas break and learned that mysis shrimp equal big fish. On Christmas morning I was no longer a rod renter when I unwrapped that slightly used Winston. I strung it up right then and there, then went out and whistled some casts into the snow. My Grandma bought me a fly-tying kit, DVD included, so I whipped up a few San Juan worms before christmas dinner. I convinced my dad that Alcolva, Wyoming is beautiful in mid December and we were the only drift boats on Gray’s Reef that day. Landed my first big bow when he decided to sample the purple size 22 Mcgruber and the new Winston brought him home. Then I found out how hard fly fishing really is. The outlets section of the Blue river humbled me, a lot. I found out how to take a shut out, I got pretty good at it actually. Started to loose faith that fish even ate flies anymore. I raked up more shut outs in one season than Nolan Ryan ever did. I learned the true meaning of persistence. I passed on Panama City, Florida for spring break and opted for Deckers, Colorado. I finally broke the streak and landed a 10 inch browny, damn it felt good. Over Easter I broke the 20 inch mark milestone on the Roaring Fork with an ugly looking rainbow or maybe it was a cutthroat? Who knows. I couldn’t have cared less. Capped that night off with the prettiest brown I’d ever seen. He took the RS2, works every time. Summer came and I battled my first run off, the San Juan worm kept the fish happy. In my first weekend off of my summer job I dead headed it out to Dutch John, Utah and traded hats with one of the coolest guides in the game. Hauled in 9 “best fish I’d ever landed” right in a row. Watched my first cruising fish run down my Wolly Bugger in a mountain pond and finally got the Parachute Adams working off of Y-camp road. I fished the famed Au Sable in Grayling, Michigan and learned even a 6 inch brooke trout will hammer a dry. Then had some killer guides let me in on “mousing”. I spent the next 4 moonless nights trying to find the Jaws of trout who would rip on a mouse pattern. I got shut out but I also became addicted. I still haven’t met one bad person on the water and I still haven’t been to an ugly trout stream. I spent more time with my family than any summer before and had more fun while I was at it. They say fly fishing is a life sport and to that I’d say you’re damn right it is. One full year in the books and I’m already planning my next excursion. In year two I want to land a bass on a fly rod and get into carp fishing, maybe even land a brown big enough to be put on the wall with pride, but in all honesty I’ll appreciate any fish that will test my double surgeons knot.