A good fishing partner is something that can be monumental in an anglers life. When I first started chasin trout I was selfish in my endeavors. In my early years of angling I spent all my time solo. Discovering and exploring every blue line and running water way I could find from valley to mountain peak. I searched out the sources of my beloved rivers, hiked miles and miles, bushwhacked and cut trail to forgotten and unnamed streams and creeks. Nothing but a box of flies, a cheap fly rod, and an insatiable hunger for all things trout and wild.
It wasn’t until I had fished myself silly and I got a little older that my solo time on rivers and with trout became a lonely adventure. I had kids at home that were too young to chase trout with me, being very young with kids left little room for friends, especially when I spent all my free time fishing. I recall even back then when I was in college and working the 9-5 to pay for shit that the few people I did know through angling were always too busy to keep up with my appetite for rivers and trout. A good angling partner is not easy to find. There is always someone ready to go fish…but just taking someone for a float or hiking into secret waters isn’t what I was looking for. Yes I wanted another angler, with fresh eyes, different instincts, someone who matched or exceeded my own technical and physical skills to chase trout. But damnit…I needed a friend and a person that had passion and respect for rivers that was in line with mine.
I’ve mentored anglers, fished with people and friends, but interests change, life takes people away from the river. I’ve shown my secrets to some…only to have it bite me in the ass later. Nothing worse than showing an angler a treasured spot that is still secret or ‘locals only’ and to find them guiding in it or talking too much about it at the local shop and causing it to lose it’s luster. I still keep a lot of places close to the chest. Areas that I still only visit solo…some places I haven’t seen in years over fear that they will be discovered by others and parts of me are still not ready to let them go. Not many of those places are left for me…but a few.
My pursuit of a good angling partner came about as I began guiding more. Meeting new people everyday, many of them lifelong angling partners, some married couples that have fished for decades, college friends that chased trout together in between classes, river side acquaintances that turned into life long trout aficionados. I wanted that. The chemistry angling partners have is a unique and interesting connection, as different and as varied as the people that frequent my driftboat. It wasn’t until I had been fishing for almost 10 years that I found a fellow angler that shared in my interests, skill, and passion, for these wild aquatic animals and the places they frequent.
I shared a brief time with Casey, we fished almost everyday I wasn’t guiding. Exploring the high reaches and rapids of the mountain rivers, floating the big water tricking trout, discovering more about each other both as anglers and people every time we ventured out. Tying sessions at the house, dinners with the family, always talking trout and life. That connection to the person formed over the catching and releasing of trout. Learning about another person, where they come from, their perspective on life, where their passion is rooted, the desire to chase trout and why it is so fervent in them. Those intricate things that tie a person to a river, and to the others that are woven into the riffles and runs are the part of angling that is lost when fly fishing is a job; and something that I was very grateful to have found with Casey.
I lost my angling partner to suicide. A veteran, and man who suffered from intense PTSD, angling and sharing the river with me was his cure, his coping mechanism, the thing that allowed him to lose himself in the waters and disconnect him from the events in his life that brought sorrow and pain. I miss him everyday. I still have not visited a particular section of river in the mountains since his passing because of fear I will disrupt his memory. Every now and then I hear his boisterous cackle of a laugh over the sound of our favorite riffle “Drake Alley” on the Upper Yakima and I catch myself looking behind me every time I float by. Like the large wild trout that makes your heart sink when it frees itself from your fly and severs that connection, I still feel that phantom tug in my arm. Haunting…but I feel privileged to have been introduced and spent however short amount of time with Casey riverside. It changed me, had a profound effect on me and left me with questions, doubt, anger, sorrow, and a new sense of loneliness and longing that I had never felt before.
I spent some time solo fishing again…wishing I was sharing these fish and places with another. I threw myself into angling and tying throughout the off season. The void left by losing Casey filled me with emotions and loss that I had never felt before. A lot is shared riverside between two people. Something that is hard to explain to those that haven’t shared a river with others. He was my brother, uncle to my kids, someone I talked to everyday. And not being able to share life on and off river with him was and is super shitty. As the season after his passing approached I focused all my attention on honing my skills further as a guide and angler. I worked constantly, spent every free minute I had wrapped up in trout and rivers. My work doubled that season, and I was fortunate to meet a fellow angler through my work that sought me out as their angling partner.
As many who follow me on social media or have seen me on a guide’s day off recently riverside, Ross and I fish a lot together. And while you never replace the people you lose, somehow the universe puts people in your life that just need to be there. I must have done something good in my previous life, or have stacked up karma points, because I have been fortunate to have people in my life that share a passion for trout and rivers. Sometimes the river presents an opportunity at another large wild trout. Finding another angler, or having an angler find you, that rivals your passion and need to explore and seek out trout is the golden ticket.
Being able to look at a run or riffle and pick it apart and have a counterpart do the same and arrive at completely different approaches both equally successful in their ability to trick wild trout is one thing. But to be able to share in that often unspoken deep connection to nature, wild animals, and people is something else entirely. Its that one thing that I think a lot of anglers who I take on trips are searching for but don’t know it. Its something I see from time to time with life long angling partners when they reserve a day with me. I have moved past the need to catch every fish, the want to catch the biggest fish, or the desire to be the best. For me its about that connection to everything that is happening above and below the surface of the river. To try and understand and decipher how its all connected and how I as an angler can be a part of it. Ross shares that passion. And while many of the things that pop up on social media are the weird, funny, and sometimes stupid moments that can fill a day on the river. The days that you don’t see, the days I write about, the days that are discussed over dinner, the ones that are never even talked about…those are the ones that matter, that make up a life on the river. For every dancing video, hoot and hollering trout encounter, every photo posted to keep butts in driftboat seats so I can pay the bills; there is a silent morning watching the river over coffee, enjoying the peace of the wild and the pleasure of another anglers company.
While its referred to as a bromance, and Ross is my Biden. Its more than that. A brother, a friend, a person that shares in my passion for trout and life. A good angler requires a constant honing and fine tuning of the skills. Being able to share in the chasing of trout with another equally but differently skilled angler is a key component of that in my mind, a fortunate byproduct of a good angling partner…because it’s not really about the trout at the end of the day is it? Outside of angling people make connections with each other that last their lifetimes. The connections that are made with people through shared passions are the ones that stick. The ones that change your life, enrich it, fill it with the things that make us human. All those intricate things that make up what it means to human. Watching Ross and his lovely wife married in the woods, Thanksgiving dinner, my children excited to see them when they come to fish or hang out, the things that happen off river that make up the juicy parts of life and friendship. They mimic the juicy parts of a day of fishing. As I find myself getting older, watching my children grow, and spending more time riverside than I ever have, I chase the off river life as much as I chase the riverside one.
A testament to a good angling partner indeed. When your entire life revolves around trout its nice to have another person knee deep in the run with you from time to time. Not because they paid to be there, not because they want to know all your secrets, not even to learn from each other, but because damnit…fishing with them is bitchin’. When the hatch is over, the river is quiet, and the boat is parked back in the driveway, and you still can’t pull yourself away from the conversation or the people you’re surrounded by…you know you found a good angling partner.
I hope to see ya riverside.