Big fish stories
We were just in Wyoming, our annual summer trip to a little-touristed spot along the North Platte River. We discovered it in 1985, and that’s where Alec and I learned to fly fish. Late in the day we went out to a stream that diverted from the river for a couple miles before returning to the main channel. My dad, an experienced fly fisherman, gave us each a beer to tuck into our vest pockets, and I remember thinking, what a great sport! We both caught fish – nice-sized 18-inch rainbow trout – beginner’s luck.
You can learn a lot from fly fishing.
Just as you can never step into the same river twice, you can never fish the same stream twice. The next year, my dad and I took a guided float. We put in at what has become our usual spot, rowed across to a nice deep pool on the opposite side, and threw our lines into a fish feeding frenzy. We pulled in fish after fish, rainbows and brown trout, some over 20 inches, which are big fish on those waters. After catching and releasing at least 15 in that one spot alone, we finally proceeded downstream, where we continued to catch fish at practically every bend in the river for the rest of the day. My dad said to me at the time, “Remember this because it may never happen again.” And I thought to myself, “Of course it will!” But it never has. Listen to your elders.
We’ve had good days since then, of course, but no one fishing day has ever been like the next. The stream that’s full of brook trout one year is muddied up from cattle grazing the next. One year we caught over 100 brookies at an alpine lake, and the next year thunder and lightning came up and we had to hightail it out of there after maybe an hour. Be prepared, and be flexible.
This year it’s been very hot and dry, and the river is low and the water warm. There are times when it’s hard to keep track of how many fish you’ve caught (this year wasn’t one of them) so we give them names, starting with A and going through the alphabet. I caught A, B, C and Dennis. A, B and C were too small to deserve names, but Dennis was a decent-sized brown trout. Our daughter Elizabeth caught Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, C, and Death. She named it Death because it swallowed the hook too deep and we’re pretty sure he didn’t make it after we returned him to the water. Have a sense of humor, even if it’s gallows humor.
Elizabeth and I were in a boat with a female guide, which is pretty unusual. Kelly was strong, smart, and determined to give us the best possible fishing opportunities, which means rowing upstream and re-fishing good riffles, pushing through low water, and stopping a lot to try new fly combinations. Since the fishing was slow, we had some interesting discussions about how men react to women guides. Most are okay with it, but Kelly had one she described as “a real peach.” He complained about everything even though her boat out-fished the others that day, the ones with the men in charge. And the same was true on this day, when our all-girl boat out-fished the boys. Judge people by what they do, and how they behave, not by their title or what they look like.
Trout don’t live in easy-to-access places, and you have to get up early and put in a lot of effort to get to where they are, so even when the fishing is bad, you’ve always been somewhere beautiful and peaceful. You spend a lot of time watching the water and the sky. You may not get the fish, but you’ll see bald eagles, pelicans, ducks, marmots, otters, mink, deer, antelope (pronghorn deer), even moose. Be patient, and appreciate what you do have.
And, of course, wear a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses, and throw some beers in the cooler for later, when you’re telling your big fish stories!