April 28th, 2008

The Good Old Days
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

With gas prices pushing the four dollar a gallon mark, and no end in sight I am certain we will hear more and more people wishing for the good old days. Not the least of these will be those of us who love to spend our free time in the outdoors.

For most folks it is an unfortunate reality that they live far away from where they can hope to find quality outdoor recreation. Now I am not talking about jogging, throwing a Frisbee, golf [as if that's recreation], bike riding, or any of the other various outdoor activities that one can entertain oneself with at a local city park. If you're an angler, especially a fly-fishing angler that desires to fish for wild trout or a hunter, it is likely that you have to travel some distance to find a place to participate in your sport. Guess what, the game just got a lot more expensive.

Filling up your four-wheeled drive SUV for a weekend jaunt may set you back a C-note or more, and that's just enough gas to get you there, if you're not going too far. Gas in most recreational areas will be higher priced than at the corner gas station so be prepared to dig a bit deeper when you pull into the gas station at Out-Back Corners.

If gas was the only issue it might be somewhat palatable, but a trip to the gas station is only the beginning of the pain. Groceries to keep you fed while pursuing the wily trout will make another substantial dent in your wallet, propane for your barbeque grill or camp stove, ice for your cooler, in short anything and everything even remotely connected to the necessities of life has increased greatly, except of course your discretionary income.

Since this situation is unlikely to change anytime soon if your recreation centers around hunting and fishing and you live in Los Angeles, or some other place equally remote from anything that might resemble a bit of wild country, you have two alternatives; take up organized Frisbee tossing as your recreation, or consider the following suggestions.

Spend more time planning your trip. Fortunately today we have many resources available to help the traveling sports person find quality recreational opportunities. The Internet is a tremendous source of information about stream and weather conditions, hatches, and all sorts of other information that may determine the success or failure of your trip. U.S. Forest Service websites, websites hosted by state agencies, and national weather data bases can provide you with information about stream closures, fire restrictions and other pertinent data that could adversely affect your trip. If possible, consult with friends or acquaintances who live in or near the area where you are going getting the latest on the spot report of current conditions. Information from friends or acquaintances who live in the area probably will provide you the most unbiased information.

Try to take fewer trips but plan to stay longer. You should have been here yesterday, or the fishing got really good right after you left are comments we all have heard. In recent years the trend has been to take shorter but more frequent trips, but in the present economy this may not be the best option. For the trout angler this may mean skipping the Mother's Day caddis hatch that may last only a day or so before the rivers are blown out by spring runoff, and planning a trip later in the summer when there will be multiple angling opportunities. Longer trips will allow you the luxury of being able to wait out less than desirable conditions that might result from an unexpected weather system. By making fewer trips but staying longer you maximize the benefits in relation to the cost.

Try to select a location where there are several recreational opportunities in close proximity. Even the most carefully planned trip can be ruined by unexpected weather conditions. Rivers and streams can be blown out by an unexpected downpour, but most lakes, especially larger ones, are rarely adversely affect by those conditions. An early or late season trip into the high country may be ruined by a snow storm, so it pays to be in an area that has other opportunities nearby.

Get some friends to join you. Years ago JC, Ole Olson, and I pooled our resources and took a dream trip to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. At that time we all lived in Michigan and none of us had been to those places. With three drivers available we did not have to stop to sleep which enabled us to arrive sooner, we divided the cost among us, and we had someone else to share in the fun. We spent ten great days fishing waters that we had only previously dreamed about, we caught some great fish, and we did not break the bank. A similar arrangement might make your summer fishing trip a reality rather than just a dream.

If you're one of the fortunate ones that live near prime fishing and hunting places you don't get off with a free ride. The Yellowstone River is within walking distance of my summer home, and several top quality spring creeks are just a short drive away, but several of the other venues where I like to fish require a road trip. My old 1994 Suburban fishing car gets 12 miles per gallon on a good day with a tailwind, and if I drop the trailer on the hitch the mileage drops below 10 mpg! That 40 gallon tank can swallow my entire retirement check in a couple trips, so you can bet that I will not be taking many trips very far from home base this summer unless I can stay for a considerable length of time. If gas is four dollars a gallon in most places I don't want to think what it will be in West Yellowstone!

It is very unlikely that the current situation will improve anytime in the near future, and while this economic situation may not spell the end of life as we know it it is unlikely that we will ever return to the 'good old days.' Prices are unlikely to decrease substantially, and those of us that love the outdoor experience will need to become increasingly creative if we hope to continue to enjoy our recreation. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

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