Readers Cast


Neil M Travis - Jul 11, 2016

I read a variety of fishing literature; from how to books, fly tying manuals, angling fiction and posts on a variety of fishing websites. Since I live in trout country we also have an assortment of local publications that deal either directly or indirectly with outdoor recreation. Recently I picked up one of the local free publications that are prominently placed at the entrance of all the local businesses. Though they are mostly filled with advertisements for local businesses, they contain stories of local interest, history and occasionally what I describe as a "mood piece." This particular publication contained an article that the Ladyfisher thought was interesting and encouraged me to read it. It was a piece on a subject that I have previously raised myself; "Why Do We Fish?" The author's conclusion was that; while many men/women fish not many know why.

I think that the answer to the question about why people fish is as varied as the participants. Increasingly I think that many people try their hand at fishing because it's the thing to do. Around the greater Yellowstone area I have witnessed an exponential growth in the fly fishing outfitting and guiding business. I can remember when I could count the number of guides and outfitters on my two hands and still have fingers left over. Today I don't have enough fingers and toes to count all the guides and outfitters that are in our area. When I talk to some of the people that have been in the business of guiding anglers for a number of years they tell me that many of the people that they are guiding today, with the exception of some long time clients, are increasingly social anglers. Social anglers are people that fish as a part of the total experience. A day of fishing is just one facet of the day which includes a streamside lunch and dinner reservations with friends at one of the local 'must do' restaurants. Its banker's hours angling, on the stream at 9 and off by 5.

Back in the 70's I spent a few summers guiding anglers in the greater Yellowstone area. In those days I knew all the fishing guides that worked in the area, and most of them had been doing it for many years. As the new guy I was the exception rather than the rule, and since I did not have a reputation or an established clientele I picked up the anglers that dropped into the local fly shop and were looking for a guide for a day or two. Interestingly, I don't remember every having a beginning angler or someone that had never fished. People that hired a guide were people that were anglers and they came here to fish. We got on the water early, fished hard all day, and normally came off the water when it was too dark to fish. The 'must do' restaurant was the local beanery where the visiting angler rubbed shoulders with cowboys and railroaders eating a chicken-fried steak smothered in brown gravy. Tomorrow they wanted to do it all over again. They came to fish and everything else was ancillary.

I remember a particularly older gentleman that I guided early in my guiding stint. His name was Francis, he was a retired executive and he came to Montana to fish. The first day I took him to Yellowstone National Park and we fished the Yellowstone River at Buffalo Ford. [Nez Perce Ford these days] It was just after the river opened for fishing in mid-July and the river was high but definitely fishable. We waded across a small side channel over to the island that is just above the ford, and the water was above our waist. I was a young buck in those days and somewhat fearless, so I just told him to hold on and we would make it across. We made it without incident and he caught several nice cutthroats during the course of the morning and early afternoon. When it came time to cross back to the main land the river had risen slightly during the day and it was a bit more of an adventure getting back to the other side without taking on water. As we were driving home that night we were making small talk and he told me that he had always wanted to fish the Yellowstone in the Park. Then he told me that he had just celebrated his 86th birthday. I swallowed real hard when I thought where I had just taken him. "I had a great day," he said. "Where will we go tomorrow?"

We had three great days of fishing and I hoped to see him the following year. He said he would be back but I never saw him again. We fished some of the best places that I knew at the time, and I did everything I could to see that he had a good experience. Was his Yellowstone trip part of a "bucket list," a must do trip while he still could, or just another fishing trip?

But does it really matter why we fish or even how we do it? Some of my fondest fishing memories were made when I knew practically nothing about how to cast, or what flies to use or how to use them. I just went out, picked out a fly that looked good and thrashed away. I fished in the early morning, I fished during the heat of the day and I fished until it got dark. And I caught fish; in fact I caught lots of fish. I didn't have a clue about correct casting form, tippets, hatches or anything else that in a short time I would come to consider of the upmost importance. When I watch some anglers today and their casting is nothing short of a comedy performance I remind myself that it really doesn't matter if they are having fun.


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