Trout Bums, Fly Fishermen, Feather Chuckers, Fly Anglers, whatever it is that you may be labeled on your homewater there are always a handful of those peculiar people that are just a little…too involved with it. Take any western river (but really anywhere anglers chase fish with flies), from the Hoh to the Gallatin, from the Dechutes to the Elk River B.C. you will find those anglers that live that way of life so many of us seek and are envious of.
They come in all forms. I’ve met many in my travels to trout filled places. I remember when I was in Steamboat Springs and I was introduced to that Colorado mountain town hospitality at the local guide hang out. Sunpies if I recall. Amazing little bar and eatery. Great sliders, loud and boisterous crowd the night we were there. I remember talking with a handful of local guides from competing shops. A thing they laughed off. They didn’t compete, except how some guides will while riverside of course, but at the end of the day when the trip was over, the client back at the hotel, and the pressure was off, the guides were just colleagues. Fellow river rats, trout bums united. I was in Steamboat to pick up my Hog Island Drift Boat in order to chase my own dreams of becoming a guide. I was ecstatic. My own driftboat. Telling these much older and seasoned gentlemen why I was in town was one of the coolest things of the trip.
There was no jesting, no jokes, no newbie bs, there was just a congratulations on a new boat, a welcome to the fold, and a drink bought for me with the days tip money. A different experience than I was accustomed to on my homewater or in the local bar when the guides came off river. It humbled me, it made me realize that this business was about people, the stories, and the trout met. It was a brotherhood of river stewards that put their life’s passion into trout and the rivers where they lived; and the people that enjoy them.
I left Colorado with a new sense of what I was becoming a part of. I never understood why my homewater had so much tension between those that worked the river. Granted it was quite a bit worse back then, and worse before I even knew what fly fishing was. The Yakima is a much different river these days. It has its moments of testosterone driven stupidity but what activity with a bunch of dudes doesn’t. But I remember a lot of BS thrown around when I started floating the river in my big hog. Haters gonna hate. They hate us cause they ain’t us.
When I traveled to Montana for the first time the trip turned into an epic failure. Broke my boat trailer, limped out of Rock Creek and back to Missoula on the frontage rd at 8 mph with a busted spindle and a guide trip in three days. Good times. But before the shit hit the fan I was cruising around a dirt road on the backside of some field with the Bitteroot in sight. I wasn’t really chasin’ trout, I was more trying to get lost in Montana. I ended up in Darby. One of the quirkiest and coolest little towns in MT for me. I walked into one of the many fly shops looking for a map and maybe a place to float. Talked to this older lady tying flies in the back asking about the usual. She asked where I was from. We got to talking, and she showed me the flies she was tying up, simple prince nymphs, but elegant and perfect. Then she showed me the flies that she had tied and that were on sale. Got some of the best salmon fly dries ever from her. I remember the creak of the floor under my feet. The dust on the unpopular flies in the bin. The old photos, some with a younger version of the fly tier and beautiful trout. The country music in the background, old school, I remember the end of a Willie song when I came in. Old clangy bell on the door. She asked me about my boat, saw my guide permit at the counter and asked me where I guided. Told her the Yak. She knew it, knew it wasn’t the kindest river. I chuckled. She sold me all the flies for $1 a fly. I told her the total wasn’t right. “Nah hun, you’re here to get away from guiding, you go enjoy the river.” I thanked her and left for the Bitteroot.
I visit that shop when I go through Darby every time now. Just in hopes I might see her again and hear another story and see what she’s tying that day. There is a genuine and very human connection that can happen with anglers. Even anglers that don’t know each other or meet in passing. Its something that I began to crave almost as much as trout. The people the stories, that shared experience.
When I was in Wyoming I remember talking loudly over a football game at one of the many bars in Jackson Hole. We met up with a guide after his trip for dinner. We had fished a side channel near Black Tail Ponds that day. Was one of the best days I have ever had fishing. Big techy cutthroat slapping big ol late season mayflies. Grand Tetons in the background. A grizzly bear was prowling around, my friend hooked a monster brown trout that broke him off, huge fish. I was relaying the day to the local guide, I remember it being one of those conversations that turned into a back and forth of fishing stories from Canada to Louisiana. Talking about the things that drive us nuts, when burnout hits, bananas, how we do lunches. Just guide stuff. That stuff we all get to talking about if you let us.
I started to realize during that trip that that peculiar group of too involved angers on my homewater…may include me. It solidified that last day before we made the long melancholy trek back home. It was cold. Rock Creek in late September will be like that. We had just finished our second day on the MO. It was grueling with 30mph winds, which is nothing for a couple of guides that work the Yakima, but we did a 15 mile float like frattadas. I rowed most of the day as I had already took the cake in terms of browns the previous day with a DECENT 25 inch male all spawny colored and hangry. We stripped streamers in that wind and killed it for most of the day. Then drove all the way to Rock Creek. We were beat. I remember curling up in my hammock, smoking a fatty, and falling asleep to the faint sound of the river and the Montana night sky.
The morning was frosty. Heavy low wet fog was stuck in the pines above my head. My fishing partner, which for all I knew had died in the night of exhaustion or was hauled off by a bear, was not having any of the morning. I pulled myself into stiff waders, grabbed my satchel and fly rod and made for the river. I was first on it that morning. There were small mayflies and sneaky cutthroat. By 9 am I was joined by a fellow angler. He waved and walked by while I was tying up another fly. Of course he asked how it was. I told him they were sipping small para adams in the seams but were light lipping the fly. We got to talking. His camp was just next to ours. He mentioned the swanky boat we were using. Not mine, a flashy adipose, not my style. Asked where we were from and why we got in so late. Told him about the MO and where I guided and lived. He was from Pennsylvania, loved Rock Creek, grew up fishing it with his Dad. Was camping with his family and trying to get a few casts in before his kids got up. He hadn’t even cast yet and it was 10 am when we finally parted ways with a handshake and a few stories exchanged.
Tricking trout as the sun rose, waking with rivers, not the guy sleeping off a hangover, being exhausted after fishing for 6 days straight, driving over 1200 miles, listening and talking with a complete stranger and sharing that common fly fishing passion…that connection. I knew it… I was finishing up a week long fishing trip, fished 8 different rivers, caught fish everyday, did the whole trip on a budget of less than $500 bucks, tied all the flies except those sex dungeons on the MO, almost died in a class 4 rapid, guide trip the next day after I get home. Trout Bum…yep.
On my homewater. I find myself in these situations that remind me constantly that what I do, how I live my life, the stories and moments I share with others…they make up as much of this life as the trout and the wild places they live do. Fly fishing facilitates that connection to nature and other humans that we seem to be lacking these days. In a world filled with FB posts and picture filled feeds of fish conquered and products to sell; the essence of what makes fly fishing such a uniquely rich, natural, and human experience is hard to pick out of the scrolling. I live a rich and happy life because of fly fishing. I am a steward for the trout and their home. It’s my home. I learned early on that money really doesn’t make you happy. Because if it did I should be miserable all the time. Money is not necessary to live a rich and happy life. The stories and people I meet, even if its only for a few minutes of riverside conversation, are worth more than any amount of money. I found my passion, put myself into it fully, my family has followed me around that bend, and we live and breath rivers and trout. As the offseason comes to a close I am anxious. I love my work, cannot wait to share that passion with others.
I also cannot wait to dive back into that world fully. Not for profit, not for clients, not for anything or anyone other than myself. To be out on the river, listening to it, hearing its stories. Meeting trout. Meeting people. Those early spring anglers…the ones who sleep in their waders, who are at the coffee shop before it opens, gear already strung up, boats with ice in the cup holders, each breath a visible puff. The anglers that all know each other because they all share the same level of insanity in some form. The ones not on a guide trip in February. That need, the tug, that handshake, the release, that entrance into the world of trout that we all chase. It changes some. To their core. To the point that it is part of their everyday lives. Those trout bums, feather chuckers, full time river rats, they’re out there, and if you find yourself in the company of them more often than not…you probably are one.