Day One & Two: The Imperfect Storm
Day Three Show-Me...Thanks, I Have Seen Enough Day Four Crossing Over Day Five Camp Pelican Day Six Miracle at the Mile Day Seven Return to Gray Reef Day Eight Pushing Westward Day Nine Snakes and Million Dollar Cowboys Day Ten Yellowstone & Beyond
Day Thirteen Five Rivers Lodge Day Three, On to Beaverhead 22
Day Fourteen Five Rivers Lodge Day Four, Full Throttle 25
Day Fifteen Bozeman
Day Eleven Five Rivers Lodge Day One, Spring Creek Trout 18 Day Twelve Five Rivers Lodge Day Two, The Drift Begins 20
Day Sixteen Livingston, Montana Day Seventeen West Again Day Eighteen Back to the Stream Day Nineteen On to the West Coast
Day Twenty Two Past the Volcano
Day Twenty Three Pilgrimage & the Lunar Side Trip
Day Twenty Four First Chance at Last Chance 38 26
Day Twenty Fourth of July
Day Twenty One On to Idaho
Day Twenty Five Into the Shadow of the Valley
Day Twenty Six Overnight on the South Fork of the Snake River
Day Twenty Seven Last Leg
Day Twenty Eight Home Stretch
Thanks to Sponsors
As I begin this journey in the summer of my 28th year I am overwhelmed by profound gratitude. I am driving from coast to coast to ﬁsh and write and travel and live. Fifty-nine years ago, my grandfathers, both 28, were leaving on a trip of their own. One was heading west to ﬁght the Japanese and the other east to ﬁght the Nazi. They both left their wives and families to do what they could to drive back the darkness that was invading humanity. They both told me, privately, that they did not expect to return. But humbly, each knew something greater than themselves, their families, and their personal interests was at stake.They were ﬁghting for something they could only imagine and hope for, the life that their children, and now their grandchildren might someday enjoy: The chance to grow up free of tyranny, the chance to be educated and prosper, to speak, think, travel, write and yes, even ﬁsh, without fear. This trip and this journal are dedicated to you, Sergeant Leonard V. Waldron and Captain Feaster A. Norwood, and the men and women of your generation who selﬂessly answered freedom’s call. Without you, none of this would be possible.
This trip is the culmination of several years of dreaming, planning and negotiating. It has been a dream of mine cross this great land and to ﬁsh the mountains of the American west. For whatever reason, be it ﬁnance, education or military duty, the opportunity had never presented itself for such a trip. Now ﬁnally, after all these years of reading stories, watching television shows, and hearing stories of other people’s trips it time.
Traveling with me is Joe Johnston of Wilmington, North Carolina. He is a good friend and a consummate outdoorsman. Joe T, as he will be referred to from here forward, has had the same dream of traveling to the west so all of this experience is new to both of us. We are traveling in a 1998 GMC Yukon. It proves to be an ideal craft for such and adventure. It has the
cargo and passenger space for two fairly large men and one months worth of gear. We are both camping and staying in hotels and lodges so we are equipped for most anything. We hope you readers will follow our adventures as we head across the country. Your comments, tips, and feedback are always welcome
We departed from Winston-Salem at about 12:30 p.m. on June 15. The Casting for America party left for the coast of North Carolina with more than a few extra crewmembers. Joining Joe T and me were Ronald Rimmer of WinstonSalem, Alan Carter of Lexington and my youngest brother, Charles. Today’s plan was to drive to Manteo, where we would meet Hap Royster at his house in Pirate’s Cove. Hap is the owner of the Haphazard, a 56-foot Buddy Cannady custom offshore ﬁshing boat. We are to meet Hap at his house tonight and depart for the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center at ﬁrst light for the gulfstream. This appears to be a simple plan. As I was taught in infantry school, though, no plan survives ﬁrst contact, this would be no exception. Alan called to say that he was running late and could we meet him at an obscure gas station in central North Carolina. Grudgingly, we agreed and turned the Yukon eastward on Interstate 40. The interim travel took us through possibly the worst trafﬁc area on the face of the planet. The only east-west thoroughfare in North Carolina (I-40) has been woefully inadequate between Winston-Salem and Greensboro for years, and now it seems that one parttime crew is attempting to widen the bridges and roadway along its route. We were able to ﬁnd Alan at the speciﬁc gas station but learned he had to drop his vehicle off for his sister at the RDU airport. He left as we gassed up, and about an hour later, after three laps around the airport, we picked him up on the side of the road.
For the next four hours, we watched the terrain change from the Piedmont, to the Sand Hills and then to the coastal low country. The trip down was relatively uneventful, save for a near pileup of onlookers slowing down to gawk at a Roanoke Island black bear foraging on the side of the road. We arrived at Hap’s house, unpacked and then set off to ﬁnd dinner. We crossed over to Nag’s Head beach, passing all the neon strip malls that attract tourists like so many mosquitoes to a bug zapper. The crew decided on dinner and drinks at Kelly’s, a seafood restaurant and tavern. Returning to Hap’s, we cracked into some beer and attempted to alleviate the anticipation of the next morning’s trip. Rising at 4:30, we headed to the Oregon Inlet ﬁshing center and pulled in behind the row of ﬁshing boats. We are late, but the all the boats are still there ... the ﬁrst sign of bad luck. Upon opening the Yukon’s door, I was nearly pushed back inside the cab by the wind cutting across the inlet. A quick survey of the boat crews told the tale. It looked like a hospital waiting room. A few people were talking; most were walking about, shufﬂing their feet and taking an occasional look at the sky. Some began to cut bait and reorganize coolers to kill some time before the captains made the call on the day’s ﬁshing. The boards of the dock creaked under the steps of the pacing ﬁsherman, and diesel fumes ﬁlled the air as the big engines were started, checked and restarted.
The Oregon Inlet ﬂeet is one of the best in the world and a tight-knit group. Most of the experienced captains got together to discuss the weather and the prudence of making the 30-mile trip to the Gulf Stream. This is no small decision, as no trip means no money. But a trip to bucking seas and no ﬁsh usually leads to vomiting ﬁshermen, a tarnished reputation and no return customers. The ﬂeet decided to stay in. Two boats decided to leave, but the general consensus was that the captains of these boats were younger and poorer than the rest. Neither of the crews on the departing boats seemed overly enthusiastic about leaving. In fact, they looked as if they were on their way to a funeral. We cursed our luck with the weather and headed to Sam and Omie’s, a local restaurant that serves hot coffee in the morning and cold beer in the afternoon and evening. It is nice to see the smiling faces of the waitresses as we arrive. These Carolina girls knew how to cheer up a group of guys who looked and felt as if they have been whipped like a stray dog by the weather. After breakfast, Joe T and I decided that each moment we spent here wringing our hands is one we could spend ﬁshing in the West, so we made the decision to leave early. We thanked Hap and the crew of the Haphazard and made a tentative plan to catch them again on the backside of the trip. We return to Winston-Salem, drop off Alan, Ron and Charles, and jump back on I-40 westbound.
Today was our ﬁrst full day of travel. Last night, we stopped in Maury City, Tenn., at Joe T’s sister’s house. She and her husband are both Methodist ministers in the local church. They were both out of town but left a key to the parsonage, and we ﬁnally got some rest at about 2:30 a.m. As we loaded the car the next morning, I began to notice all those things one misses upon entering a town after dark. It seemed that the parsonage was near the largest motorcycle graveyard I have ever seen. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that it is a private residence and moved along.
The terrain changed from billiardtable ﬂat to rocky, rolling hills. The dynamite drill holes could be seen in the rock walls lining the sides of the highway where hillsides were blown away to make room for the road. We made a left turn in St. Louis onto I-70, and the landscape changed to gently rolling plains. As we crossed into the Missouri River valley, the scenery became dramatic. We were driving into the western sunset as a massive storm system built on the horizon. The setting sun blasted the back of the thunderhead with contrast and color.
The highway followed the rolling plains, the Missouri River and some of its snaking tributaries. The trees grow mostly along the edge of the river with the exception of the occasional pothole, which is really a large pond created in the low-lying areas. The sky sent a metallic shimmer to the water as we crossed the Missouri River, leaving the Show Me state and entering Nebraska. We decided to stop there for the night and found an old hotel named the Apple Inn.
We crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri at Caruthersville. Big Muddy was over her banks but about the same as I remembered. I was born in southeast Missouri. We pulled off for gas and lunch in Cape Girardeau. It is a strange thing, being an ex-patriate Missourian. We crossed over into the corner of the state that was formerly a swamp. It earned southeast Missouri the name “swampeast” before the diversion channel project controlled the runoff of the Mississippi. We proceeded north on Interstate 55, past Jackson, where I grew up and attended high school, and on to St. Louis. Joe T got the “Everything I Never Wanted to Know About Missouri” tour from me as we passed familiar sites.
A decent night’s sleep made all the difference as we left the Apple Inn for an all day trek across Nebraska. We left the Missouri river valley and Nebraska City behind and headed west across towards Lincoln, the capital city and home of the University of Nebraska. Even in the summer, everyone here is clearly a Cornhusker fan...but still quite hospitable. Lincoln is the last oasis before one sets sail across a sea of waving grass. On the way out of town, we stopped by the Prairie Peace Camp for a look at the psychedelic façade and children’s amusement ride made from bomb casings, but we discovered it is only open on weekends. We ﬁnally stopped at Tracie’s in Grand Island for lunch. As one might imagine, Grand Island is a curious name for a city in the geographic center of Nebraska. Tracie’s sits on a very small lake, but no island is visible. The food is classic greasy spoon. One thing that was consistent here was the wind. Joe T and I found ourselves searching for rudder pedals in the ﬂoor of the Yukon as the wind mercilessly blew our car all
over the road. I saw the ﬁrst road signs warning drivers of high winds on the overpasses. The state was not kidding. More than a few recoveries had to be made and not always without trafﬁc. A bit shaken, we continued our trek across the prairie once again gaining altitude all the time. Our next stop was the Mecca of retail hunting and ﬁshing outﬁtters: Cabela’s in Sidney, Nebraska. Cabela’s is 75,000 square feet of hunting, ﬁshing and outdoor gear heaven. Inside it’s arched ceilings one can see mounts of game animals from every continent on earth. Cabela’s sends out over 65 million catalogs a year to outdoorsmen of all types and is of
particular pride to this area as it employs 2,000 of Sidney’s 6,000 residents. We narrowly escaped cashing in our IRA’s for things we never knew we couldn’t live without and pushed on for Wyoming. In western Nebraska, things began to change dramatically. The altitude continued to increase and without warning we passed over the crest of a long rolling hill to see the snow covered peaks above a wide valley. We were now in Wyoming, and in the West. The Sherman Mountains were the ﬁrst groups of peaks we encountered. They are a large but rounded set of peaks and stacked boulders that are the result of three
geographic formations pushing together. To the south, we could see the Rockies of Colorado, and in all directions are wide-open blue skies. We stopped to see the famous tree growing from a rock that has fascinated and perplexed travelers since the pioneer days. It is still there and still growing from the same rock. Shortly after leaving the tree, we saw two pronghorn antelope grazing in green ﬁelds along the highway. They seemed to be eating so I cannot speak to any noticeable playfulness. Our destination for this evening was Laramie, Wyoming, a relatively small town and home to the University of
Wyoming. It is a bustling little town and very friendly. We checked into the Travel Lodge on Third Street and were greeted by Tareq and his dog Ralph. Tareq is a vibrant and polite young boy who appeared to be about twelve, about the same age as his dog. I tried to trade my hat for his dog, but he was good-natured and would have nothing of it. His parents run the Travel Lodge and recommend Altitude, a chophouse and brewery for dinner. We drove a very short distance to the restaurant and see the signs which read: “Cold Beer Served at 7,600 feet.” We were already a bit light headed, but a pint of their Alpine Air did the trick to bring a pleasant end to a long day.
The early morning breeze was crisp and cold as we left Laramie; but the sun was warm, and our anticipation of ﬁnally getting on a trout stream pushed us up the road. Just on the west side of Laramie we stopped at the West Laramie Fly shop for some local advice and local ﬂies. This shop was one of those, “If we don’t have it, you don’t
need it” sort of places. They sold gas, food, guns, clothing, rods, reels, bait, ﬂies and just about anything else. It was a strange mixture of an Old-West general store and a modern convenience store. They were helpful in supplying us with ﬂies for our upcoming destinations, and were also able to replace a broken rod tip on Joe T’s rod.
We headed west out of Laramie, through Medicine Bow and past Elk Mountain, a solitary tree covered mountain in the middle of the open plains. To an Easterner, this terrain is somewhat of a paradox. It is dry here, there are few trees and the wind blows constantly, but wildlife is abundant. Joe T and I realized that we had quickly had our amateur cards punched as western travelers yesterday. Our excitement over seeing two pronghorn antelope the day before became a constant chuckle, as they now were almost as common a sight as cattle. As we moved further, the terrain changed to high desert. We passed through the city of Sinclair, home to a massive reﬁnery and not much else. Rawlins was just down the road, and evidently the only place within 100 miles that sold beer and ice. We provisioned out, drove back to Sinclair and headed north to what is referred to as the “Miracle Mile.” The mile is actually 5.5 miles that, during high water can be as much as 15 miles long. The miracle mile is actually the portion of the North Platte River that ﬂows between the Pathﬁnder and the Seminoe Reservoirs. We enter a steep and massive area known as the Seminoe Valley. Seminoe is a phonetic spelling of a French trappers name who ﬁrst worked this valley. The two reservoirs sit between two sharp ridgelines that open into a massive high desert plain. We pushed out of the Seminoe State
Park for a twisting, dusty 15-mile drive around to the valley ﬂoor to meet the stream. The terrain changed every mile or so, and sometimes with each bend of the road. We drove through red-rock valleys, massive sand dunes and then past feeder streams that support small aspen and cedar groves. We exited this surreal trail and reached the valley ﬂoor where the Miracle Mile opened up like an oasis on the valley ﬂoor. We chose a campsite upstream from the dam (the water here ﬂows south to north). We were about 20 yards from the stream in between two ridgelines of some small rounded mountains. Taller, sharper mountains ran parallel to this valley on the horizon making this a valley within a valley. The area is rich with wildlife. Ducks buzzed up and down the river. Joe T stepped on a rattlesnake. Small birds swooped about feeding on small insects rising off the water. There were two small islands in the middle of the river as well as
a large white rock upon which a pelican is perched. Four more joined him throughout the afternoon. Although it was late in the day, we decided to ﬁsh for a while. The water was high and we had no instant success. I waded out to one of the islands to ﬁsh the eddy behind it. The island was covered with thick green grass about waist high. As I stepped up onto the island I heard a snort and a thrashing of the grass. A young mule deer had been feeding on the island and bolted across it. This island is only about thirty yards wide and eighty yards long, so there was no-
where for him to go. I stood perfectly still as he turned and sniffed the air. He was to my side and the wind was blowing upstream. Keeping his eyes on me, he moved around to get into the wind. I watched him as he moved. He was a young spike buck with the characteristically large ears in between which grow the beginning of his ﬁrst set of antlers. He moved around behind me, snifﬁng the air and licking his nose. When he got downwind of me, he realized that he is staring at a human and bolted across the stream. He bounded through the shallow water. He hit deeper water and swam to the opposite side. He then turned to see if he was being followed. Seeing me still on the island, he then ran off towards the small mountains to the west. We returned to the campsite with no ﬁsh, but we were happy to be in this place that leaves a person with sensory fatigue from all the beautiful sights. We cooked hamburgers by the stream. Then, after one beer in the high altitude, we barely made it to the tent before falling asleep.
We awoke the next morning to see the water in the river down about four feet. As Ken Retallic wrote in his Flyﬁsher’s Guide to Wyoming, “The water rises every time someone in Denver turns on his or her air conditioner.” He was right. The water had dropped and small stones could be seen where yesterday there was barely a ripple in the water. We ﬁshed at the Pelican Camp for a few hours and decided to move downstream. We broke camp and stopped at the only store for miles around. It was a small cinderblock building situated on small ranch behind several corrals made from pine loges. The folks there operate it as a side business for weary and thirsty ﬁshermen. We picked up some ice and other sundries and moved down the river. We were heading north, but upstream as we passed a sign for the Chalk Bluffs. We pulled in and decided to ﬁsh the portion of the stream just about the bluffs. The Miracle Mile is said to be crowded on weekends but this day, there were only a few people ﬁshing in the area. We are ﬁshing nymphs, which
are subsurface ﬂies designed to imitate the pupa stage of the waterborne insects. We are using what the guys at in West Laramie call an “Orange Slicker.” Joe T was the ﬁrst to hookup. The ﬁrst catch was large and we were both a bit surprised. I dropped my rod to come help land the ﬁsh. What appeared at ﬁrst to be a Rainbow Trout, was actually a Cutthroat Trout. Its throat, gills and head had an intense, blood red coloration and its body had a copper hue. This ﬁsh appeared to have talon marks on its back and side that had since healed... rough country I guess. We released the ﬁsh back into the water and returned to ﬁshing, having ﬁnally done what we came here to do... at least Joe T had. He says it is because of the good karma he developed giving a panhandler $20.00 in Tennessee. Joe T hooked another larger ﬁsh, also a Cutthroat about ten minutes later. Maybe there is something to charity. Where is a Salvation Army bell ringer when I need one? Although normally catch-and-release
ﬁshermen, we were living on the land, so we decided to keep this ﬁne ﬁsh. We ﬁshed for another hour until both the sun and the water level begin to rise again. We then decided to pack up and go look for a particular spot a gentleman had tipped us to while we were visiting Cabela’s in Nebraska. The ride to Alcova was no less interesting than the rest of the country. It is a dusty 30-mile trek across free-range country where cattle and antelope roam about over mostly fenceless country. There are many antelope, and prairie dogs crossed the road constantly. Along the road there were signs for ranches, with only a single power line to gauge the direction to the main house. Alcova Dam lies on the North Platte River just north of the Pathﬁnder Reservoir. It is a small dam next to a ﬂat less scenic community. We wound around and found a small ﬂy shop next to the stream. Gray Reef Outﬁtters is a tiny aluminum hut with a small garage for drift boats, the high-sided boats used to ﬂoat up and down the sometimesshallow rivers. We talked to two local guides working the store, Trent Tatem of Beaumont, Texas, and a local man, Seth Kapust, about the area. There is a trapper’s trail that runs along the river where wade ﬁshermen can enter. Wyoming trespassing laws are fairly speciﬁc and it is a $210.00 ﬁne to be caught in the stream connected to private property. Property owners here own the streambed and both banks.
It is illegal to even drop anchor in a non-public access area. They refer us to a public area along the trail that provides some good ﬁshing. We also bought a few ﬂies they recommended. We found the trapper’s trail entrance about a mile and a half up the road and walked down a small but steep hill to the stream. The water there is very swift, but a small slice up the center of the stream provides some relief from the current. We began ﬁshing the cut between where the water drops off to a deeper faster current. Success was not instant, but when it comes it is sudden and violent. The ﬁsh we were hooking there were massive and belligerent. Their behavior was nearer to that of a tarpon or a boneﬁsh. They made surging runs both up and down stream and shook their heads furiously when they neared the surface. One ﬁsh Joe T hooked took his line all the way to the backing (the nylon, non-ﬂoating line usually about 200 feet that attaches the ﬂoating ﬂy line to the reel). It then jumped out of the water and threw the hook in the air. I broke two #20 hooks trying to hold these ﬁsh. The combination of their size and the current made this incredibly challenging ﬁshing. Normal techniques such as following the ﬁsh downstream or working him into shallow water do not apply because we were surrounded by water that would quickly sweep us downstream. The only successful tactic was to work as a team, one man working as the ﬁsherman and one as the tender of
the net. This proved to be impossible, as the small nets we brought from North Carolina barely even ﬁt around these western ﬁsh. The closest we got in about ten hook-ups is losing one ﬁsh at the net. We returned to the Grey Reef store, frazzled but exhilarated, to tell our tale to the guides. They laugh and tell us, “Welcome to Gray Reef ﬁshing.” Feeling a bit better about the situation we returned to Camp Pelican to camp and cook the magniﬁcent cutthroat trout. There is little better to eat in the world than fresh trout cooked in the cool, mountain air.
The legion of Pelicans returned and we watched the sunset as we reﬂected upon the exciting day. Just before dusk, we saw a beaver the size of my black Labrador swim across the river. We were educated this day about the sheer scale of the animals and ﬁsh that populate this land. This is what we came here to see. The sky was clear, so as the darkness covered the horizon we were treated to a show of what has to be millions of stars. One forgets what they really look like with no artiﬁcial light. Tomorrow we will return to the Gray Reef.
Having been thrashed about by the trout of Gray Reef on Day 6, we returned with a new plan to ﬁnally land one of these demon-like ﬁsh. Having broken off most all of the ﬂies the ﬁsh were taking the day before, we stopped at the small brown aluminum shack that is Gray Reef outﬁtters. Trent was working again and tied up eight of the tiny black #20 midges that had been so successful the day before. Our only hope is that he uses stronger hooks. We headed back down the dusty road to Gray Reef and slid back into the stream to the exact location we had been the day before. Unlike the Miracle
Mile, this section was relatively stable, as far as the water level, so we were back on the same playing ﬁeld. Joe T and I fanned out on the shallow shoal that separated the two deep and heavy ﬂows of the section. I hooked up ﬁrst within the ﬁrst ﬁve casts and the ﬁght was on. The ﬁsh made a strong run upstream, taking line all the way. It then quickly turned and headed straight for me, forcing me to reel in the slack to maintain the pressure on the small hook. The ﬁsh then ran down stream but turned again towards us, thrashing his head as he broke the surface. Joe T was standing by with the net and made a move
to net the ﬁsh. He lifted the small net underneath the ﬁsh but it wasn’t large enough to capture this it. The ride on the rising net caused the ﬁsh to ﬂip out of the net, breaking free and falling back into the swirling current. We were frustrated, but we were much closer than we had been the day before. I made about four more casts and had another hook up. This ﬁsh took a down stream run, but I was able to turn him upstream and force him to ﬁght the current and the line. For about ten minutes I worked him back and forth through the current, praying that the line would not break and the hook would stay in the ﬁsh. Joe T was ready with the net and made an aggressive sweep from the front to lift the ﬁsh from the river. Finally, a Gray Reef trout. We then released the ﬁsh back into the river. I attributed my good fortune to karma generated from the prairie dog I had swerved to miss on the way in. Sadly, I did hit another later, but he zigged when he should have zagged. Now both students of the philanthropy method of ﬁshing, we netted one more ﬁsh each and then broke for lunch. On the way out, we stopped by the Gray Reef Outﬁtter to tell them we ﬁnally netted a ﬁsh and then turned down the road to Casper, Wyoming, for a hotel and a shower.
A steak and a shower do wonders for a weary traveler. We stop for some biscuits and turned the Yukon northwest toward Jackson, Wyoming. We take a route that leads us north through the Wind River Range, most of which is an Indian Reservation. The landscape is taller high desert. Our path is lined on both sides by steep mountains and at times arid valley ﬂoors covered with scrub and rock. Pronghorn antelope and the occasional deer herd can be seen grazing along the streams that drain the valley. On the horizon we can see the peaks of the Grand Tetons. A quick look at the map tells us they are still over 100 miles away. We gain altitude as we cross out of the Wind River and pass over the continental divide. The temperature goes from 92 degrees in the high desert to 75 in the spruce and ﬁr lined mountains and then back up to 85 as we enter the Snake River Valley.
The Snake River is a large, cold and fast ﬂowing river that cuts along the base of the Grand Tetons. Glaciers and this river formed the valley and its massive ancient banks can be seen for hundreds of yards on either side. The eastern bank actually forms a large plateau upon which the highway into Jackson is built. The National Elk Refuge is on our east side for several miles and is surrounded by tall wire fences. Several thousand Elk come down from the mountains each year to winter on the lower plains. We arrive in Jackson, Wyoming and ﬁnd a room in the nearby Teton Village Hotel. The room is Spartan but more than adequate for ﬁshermen looking only for a bed and a shower. Jackson is a tourist laden ski town full of building with wooden facades and
trendy shops. We drive just outside of Jackson for dinner at Calico’s, an Italian restaurant and have a chance encounter with Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts. After dinner we drive over to a local joint called the Stage Coach Bar and Grill. Stage Coach is an escape from the tourists where we can have a cold beer without the need for a second mortgage. We meet six local ﬂy ﬁshing guides there ask for some guidance on the many local streams. This is a unique crowd as three of these guides are women. They all work for a company called Reel Women Outﬁtters, and all female ﬂy ﬁshing guide service. They provide us with several suggestions and so we say goodbye and return to the Hostel.
We start the day with a quick trip to the West Bank Anglers ﬂy shop near Jackson to update our out-of-state ﬁshing licenses and to pick up some local ﬂies. Today we will be ﬁshing the Snake River at the Schwabach Landing. The landing is simply a wide spot in the road with a small gravel parking lot where hikers and ﬁshermen can access the Snake River valley ﬂoor. The scenery at the landing is breath-
a strange and famous place with saddles instead of barstools. We have dinner and a talk with the bartender who tells us not to miss the mounted grizzly bear in the glass case that was killed by a man with his bare hands. According to the placard, a famous
trapper and hunter was attacked by the bear and the man stuffed his arm down the bear’s throat and biting his neck, rendered him unconscious, and then ﬁnished him off with a clubbing to the head. Fact or ﬁction it makes for a good story.
taking. We are ﬁshing at the base of the Grand Tetons and are inside the massive walls of the ancient western bank of the river. We walk through several groves of large cottonwood trees before setting out across the smooth loose stones of the river bottom. This ﬁshing here is tough. This section of the river is ﬂowing at 10,000 cubic feet per second which makes casting a ﬂy from the bank very difﬁcult as the swift water sweeps it away almost the moment it hits the water. We try various patterns and set ups but only hook a few ﬁsh. This river is most commonly, and more effectively, ﬁshed with drift boats. While we ﬁsh, about a dozen boats ﬂoat past casting to pools we could only hope to reach. Humbled by our lack of a drift boat and size of our catch, we return to Jackson just after lunch. Jackson is an eclectic sort of place. It is an odd mixture of a cow town, ski village and tourist trap. Joe T and I decide it is time for a beer and a burger so we mosey over to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. This is 15
It is strange how a bit of isolation and good ﬁshing can turn one off to crowds, especially crowds of tourists. Our plan this morning is to get a very early start so as not to get bogged down on our drive to Montana via Yellowstone National Park. We leave the Hostel about 7:15 and reach the entrance to Grand Teton before 8 a.m. Wyoming Highway 20 winds north through the Grand Teton National Park, across the Rockefeller Parkway and into Yellowstone. While we have not programmed a great deal of our time to the park or the ﬁshing therein, being this close we feel like we should at least make a passing look the America’s ﬁrst and most famous national park.
The ride begins quite peacefully as there are very few cars on the road. We pass by several Alpine lakes and through thick spruce groves and move out of the Tetons onto the Rockefeller Parkway, 24,000 acres donated by the Rockefeller family to connect Grand Teton to Yellowstone. The entrance to Yellowstone approaches on the horizon as well as numerous signs warning us not to molest the wildlife...somehow Grizzlies and Bison do not seem so attractive anyway. 16
We enter Yellowstone and sadly, the most notable feature of the landscape is the burned mountainside from last summer’s ﬁres that ravaged parts of Montana. Yellowstone lost 9,700 acres to the ﬁre but signs of life have already returned as small pine trees about six feet tall have grown amongst the tall burned skeletons of the mature pines. Entire hillsides were reduced to gray stubble but just past the entrance we see a small herd of elk grazing in the green grasses that have grown up from the ash. We wind around past lakes and chasms and green meadows to the entrance of the Old Faithful geyser area. As we turn right we can see plumes of steam rising over the tops of the trees. The geyser ﬁeld at Yellowstone is the largest in the world and consists of a series of spouts, mud pools, and steam vent areas called fumaroles. A trail loop of over seven miles wraps around the geyser area. We arrive about 15 minutes before Old Faithful is set to pop so we get a front row seat and wait for short while. As throngs of anxious tourists ﬁle in, the geyser begins to bubble and a small spout spews upward at precisely the time the park service estimated the eruption. We nearly left thinking we had arrived just in time for a really big joke when a thunderous plume of steam and water blasts into the air. The geyser pulses skyward for almost two minutes and the spectators broke into applause. We return to the Yukon as a legion of new tourists arrive to ﬁll the parking lot that less than an hour
earlier was barely occupied. We drive out past many more small geysers and the multicolored hot springs that spill their steaming contents down large ﬂat rocks and into the Firehole River. We turn west and head towards West Yellowstone when suddenly a tour bus comes to a screeching halt in front of us. There was no oncoming trafﬁc so we assume there has been an accident. A few seconds later a massive bison appears, totally unfazed by the vehicles
on the road. He walks past the bus and appears to be at least as big as the Yukon and at his eye level passed my window on the passenger side. Thankful he did not put one of his massive horns through our door, we drove on towards the west gate and into Montana. Montana, we had ﬁnally made it. Wyoming had been incredible but for me, and I suspect Joe T, nowhere in the west holds the mystique of Montana. We stop at Bud Lilly’s Fly Shop to chat and have a look around. The shop has been in West Yellowstone since 1950. We had a talk with owner, pick up a few odds and ends, play with the shop dog and turned up the road to Dillon. We pass through the massive Gallatin National Forest beside Earthquake Lake formed in the 1950’s when half of a mountain face tumbled into the Madison River, damming it, and ﬂooding the valley. The Army Corps of Engineers quickly blasted a hole through the rubble for the water to escape but the
lake remains along with the faded tree trunks of the old ﬂooded Lodgepole Pine trees. We then observe some Montana natives stealing riprap from the side of the road. As they load the large stones into their truck we wondered what the ﬁne would be for stealing roadside retention rocks or whether each Montana resident had an allotment and if so, how many stones each was authorized. We stopped for lunch at the Ennis Café for a Bison Burger and fresh strawberry pie. We really like the looks of Ennis as this town has 600 residents and four ﬂy shops...a favorable ratio to be sure. We passed through the mining town of Virginia City and at the crest of a large rise sat our destination, Five Rivers Lodge. We are greeted by our host, Jay Bergin and taken inside for a cold drink and a tour of the facility. This is a long way from Camp Pelican. Five Rivers Lodge is a spacious and luxuriously appointed lodge situated in the heart of blue-ribbon trout ﬁshery
surrounded by the Beaverhead, Big Hole, Ruby, and Jefferson Rivers as well as several spring creeks and private ponds. As it is now late afternoon we walk down a small hill in front of the lodge to the lodge’s spring ponds to ﬁsh for an hour or so before hors d’ourves and cocktails. We hook a few rainbow trout as a heavy wind begins to blow and the ﬁshermen and guides who have returned from the day’s ﬁshing turn into the entrance of the lodge grounds. We decide to return to the lodge and hear how the ﬁshing went. The ﬁshermen here are mostly from the east, as far south as Georgia and as far North as New York. Solid reports come in from all parties. We all move into the dining room for a ﬁve-course dinner and conversation about tomorrow’s plans. Joe T and I are convinced we actually drove our car off a cliff and somehow drove to heaven. 17
Everyone at the lodge awoke without a wakeup call just after sunrise. The buzz of anticipation was in the air as we all ate breakfast and packed our lunches from the buffet in plastic Rubbermaid boxes. Joe T and I are one of eight pairs of ﬁshermen leaving today for the streams. The guides arrived at about 8 a.m., and we all quickly loaded our designated vehicles and headed to our ﬁshing locations. After a short stop to buy a Montana license, we arrive at 1,200-acre ranch that sits at the base of the Pioneer Mountain Range. It overlooks an expansive green pasture divided by a serpentine spring creek, which are fed by several smaller feeder creeks that keep the stream ice cold in the summer and unfrozen in the winter. The air is cool and crisp, but the wind is gusting down across the plain.
The education in Montana ﬂy-casting is about to begin. For all of the conﬁdence gained from prospecting locations and catching ﬁsh in Wyoming, the chapter in Montana has a very different beginning. In North Carolina and most of the Southeast, the streams are small and often densely wooded. One develops a casting style that can shoot a line around trees, over logs and avoids the same in the back cast. While obstacles, these features generally provide a barrier of sorts from the wind. Here, there are few such obstacles and the casts must be made into high winds, from long distances to very skittish ﬁsh. This spring creek is full of such ﬁsh, and they are massive. The feeder springs bring a constant supply of waterborne food, and millions of insects grow in the surrounding prairies,
giving the ﬁsh a constant bounty of nourishment. These ﬁsh are thick and strong and require a stealthy presentation...my casts are anything but. My line bundles and piles and tangles. Each cast seems to hit the water with decreasing delicacy. Pat, our guide, tries to help, but the frustration builds on itself as large ﬁsh ﬂush from one pocket to the next. Slowly, I begin to place ﬂies in front of ﬁsh and the action begins. Joe T, while challenged by the wind, seemed to have much less trouble and was uncharacteristically reticent about my lack of productivity. About this time, one of the most incredible natural phenomenons I have ever witnessed began to occur and continued for the next seven hours. A Pale Morning Dun (PMD) hatch began over the entire length of the stream.
the PMD continued to ﬂoat and tumble against the green Montana mountain backdrop. After lunch, we approached a more narrow section of the stream that required a stalk and a cast to single ﬁsh lying partially hidden in the shadows of the midday sun. This was no small task as the wind was still pushing insects and ﬂy lines all over the river. However, the morning’s lessons began to pay off as my casts became much more accurate and delicate than my early morning circus show.
PMDs are small moth-like insects that hatch in and around water. They ﬁll the air like snowﬂakes and ﬂutter back down or are blown down onto the surface of the water. This sends the trout into a shark-like feeding frenzy. The ﬁsh line up and make passes up and down the lengths of the stream pools snatching four and ﬁve bugs per pass. We quickly tie on ﬂies that closely resembles the PMDs hitting the water, but it is tough to beat the real thing when there are dozens per square yard. Trout would break the surface to snatch the insect ﬂoating within an inch of our ﬂies and move onto another. It was as if the ﬁsh were lazy and would wait until four to ﬁve lined up before they would move to eat each one in succession. Infuriating!
We stepped down into the stream to grab some of the ﬂies ﬂoating on the surface to get a sample for a near-perfect artiﬁcial match. With the correct ﬂy and some practice casting into the wind, we began to hook the swirling trout. The fat, strong ﬁsh streaked up and down the creeks when hooked, while their brethren simply continued to gorge on the falling insects. The action was furious.
While a slower-paced ﬁshing, this sort of stalk was incredibly challenging and enjoyable. Joe T and I were able to catch several more ﬁsh throughout the afternoon by creeping around bends of the creeks and crouching behind its sometimes steep and rocky banks. We returned to the lodge just after six to for cocktails, another ﬁne meal and story-swapping with the other ﬁshermen.
Within and hour, Joe T and I each had caught and released more than ﬁve ﬁsh and still the hatch continued. We moved to other sections of the creek and met the same success, but the ﬂy had to be directly in line with the three or four other insects the ﬁsh would line up behind to eat. We ﬁnally broke for lunch and watched as 19
Day two began with a different twist. Doug Swisher, the world famous ﬂy ﬁsherman and casting instructor arrived at the lodge last night with his wife, Sharon. Doug would be ﬁshing the rivers and streams here and coaching the lodge’s guests before they departed with their guides. Having Doug Swisher coach your ﬂy-casting is like Ted Williams teaching you how to hit a baseball. Doug is a living legend who is remarkably down-to-earth and can dissect ﬂy-casting into its most fundamental elements and communicate them with succinctness and clarity. Doug and I brieﬂy discussed various approaches to dealing with the wind and spent some time working on tightening my casting loop and what is called a reach cast. A reach cast essentially puts the ﬂy line upstream from the ﬂy, allowing the cast to cross swift water and drift naturally for longer distances. On this day and for the rest of the trip, this cast would prove to be a productive technique. Our approach to the trout changed today as we ﬁshed out of drift boat. Drift boats are designed especially to carry three ﬁshermen and to ﬁsh rivers that can change dramatically in depth and speed. These boats are somewhat of a cross between a rowboat and a canoe. Drift boats are wide in the center and narrow on the ends with oars mounted midway. They have a ﬂat bottom and can ﬂoat in very shallow water but can also be guided through heavy white water. 20
The guide generally rides in the center, using the oars to direct the boat and control the speed of the drift. Fishermen ride on seats in the bow and at the stern and can stand to cast by leaning against leg supports that rise in front of each seat to about mid thigh and curve inward for stability. An anchor is mounted to the stern of the boat and can be released by the guide by using a foot pedal. This works to stop the boat in front of productive holes that could not be reached from the shoreline, thus allowing ﬁshermen to make multiple casts rather than one pass with a ﬂy. The boats are fairly light and pulled on a trailer behind a vehicle. Prior to launching, shuttle arrangements must be made to move the guide’s
vehicle and trailer to the designated take-out point. Our destination was the Big Hole River. The Big Hole begins just south of Jackson, Mont., as an outlet of Skinner Lake at about 7,300 feet of elevation. It runs for more than 155 miles, bordered on the north by the Anaconda Mountains and on the south by the Beaverhead Mountains. It is the home to the only native population of grayling in the lower 48 states, as well as rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout. The river is a scenic and natural wonder as it has been watched over since 1989 by the Big Hole River Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving the Big Hole as a free-ﬂowing (undammed) stream and ﬁshery.
While we were rigging the rods and loading the boat at the state owned river launch, we witnessed what must have been the most unorthodox approach to ﬂy ﬁshing yet. A white-haired gentleman, who appeared to be in his 60s, waved good-bye to his wife in their pull-along camper and walked over to a Honda dirt bike. He lashed a ﬂy rod tube to one side of the motorcycle, donned a white crash helmet and kick-started the bike. He wound up the engine and drove away with the ﬁshing gadgets attached to his ﬂy vest blowing in the wind. We saluted his style as he departed. We launched the drift boat, and I immediately hooked a ﬁsh. However, this was not a trout or a grayling but a whiteﬁsh. They are slimy and stinky and considered a general nuisance, but they are the native residents of this river so I released the ﬁsh back to the water. We were ﬁshing mostly nymphs today through the upper sections that are mostly wide and shallow. We met with steady success throughout the day, nothing overly hot or large, but constant action.
On one particularly high cliff, a golden eagle has built a nest and circles the river valley. Golden eagles are massive birds, much larger than their bald cousins. Its nest of intertwined sticks looks to be about the size of a picnic table. We ﬂoated along and saw whitetail and mule deer grazing on the grassy edges among the cottonwood trees. They don’t pay much attention to a boat, but any sharp noise or motions sends them bounding back into the brush. The weather was a bit erratic today. The morning began cool and overcast, and the temperature dropped again as it began to rain. So much of the weather here depends on the sun and the clouds. One large front can provide a quick reminder of just how
far north we really are on the northern hemisphere. A forty-degree temperature swing from the night lows to the daily highs is not uncommon. By the end of our ﬂoat, the sun was out again and we were back to shirtsleeves. We left the river about 6:15 p.m., having caught about twelve ﬁsh each, a slow day for the Big Hole. Upon our return to Five Rivers Lodge, Jay, Mary and the lodge staff greet us warmly. We unload our gear, tip our guide and retire to the large dining room for cocktails and hors d’ouvres to hear the stories of the other parties. Folks from all over the country are here. Most notably, there are two groups of three generations of fathers and sons. Five Rivers has become a traditional destination for them. We enjoy a leisurely ﬁve-course meal and listen to stories of ﬁsh missed, landed and hoped for. Another ﬁne day in Montana.
The scenery along the Big Hole is breathtaking. Large red cliffs rise up from the river’s edge and, at times, throw shadows over the entire width of the river. Within the nooks of the cliffs, swallows make their melon-shaped dirt homes. They use the cliffs to swoop down over the water and feed on rising insects. These small nimble aviators buzz us throughout the day. 21
Five Rivers Lodge sits directly across a small state highway from Beaverhead Rock, a large light-colored outcropping that looks like, you guessed it, a beaver’s head. When viewed from a distance it really looks like a beaver is swimming through the valley. This rock is particularly notable as it is the ﬁrst terrain feature Sacajewea recognized as she and Lewis and Clark returned to the land of her people, the Shoshone. Sacajewea had been captured by a rival tribe and taken as a slave. She later married a French trapper who signed on to the Lewis and Clark expedition. Upon her return, she found that her brother was now chief. This was a fortuitous turn of events for Lewis and Clark, as the Shoshone were not altogether kind to outsiders, whether white men or Native American. The surrounding county and the river we ﬁshed today are named after this rock. Doug Swisher and I worked on casting for a short time this morning. I am becoming fairly proﬁcient with the cast,
and he moved me on to higher back cast that allows a longer, more accurate forward cast with less of a back cast. We had French toast, fresh melons and ham for breakfast. I was running behind so I poured my coffee into a paper cup and met Joe T and our guide, Pat, in the large gravel loading area behind the lodge. We jumped into Pat’s jeep, and after a short stop for a shuttle arrangement, we pulled into the launch area. The launch area was at the base of Clark Canyon dam. It was rocky, hot and stark. The launch is really no more than an 8foot steep bank from which the boat is dropped. The Beaverhead River is truly one of the most unique rivers in the U.S. Jay Bergin tells us it has more wild 24plus-inch ﬁsh per mile than anywhere in the country. In fact, the Beaverhead hosts more than 1,500 such ﬁsh per mile, a number some could not maintain with all their trout combined. There are several reasons for these
large numbers of big ﬁsh. The ﬁrst is the abundant food supply and proper management of the river. The most realistic is probably that the Beaverhead is not a particularly easy river to ﬁsh. It is not a lazy meandering river. It is a swift river with tight pools that require perfect presentation and accurate casting. As we began down river, the Beaverhead looked like the epitome of the nightmarish stories one hears of crowds on Western rivers. Boats were stacked up in the turns, and wading ﬁshermen were spread out along the rifﬂes, creating linear obstacles. We passed them, ducking their back casts. What looks to be a slow day of waiting on and casting around other anglers cleared up in about a half-mile of stream. We were drifting through mostly private land, so wading accessibility was virtually non-existent. We were sharing the river with only a few boats and set about ﬁshing the eddies and drop offs. Pat pulled us over to a gravel bar, and we waded up to a fast pool with a swirling hydraulic. Looking down through pool, I could see the large dark shadows of the Beaverhead trout feeding in the pool, catching the insects swept downward into the pool. This drift is tough. A long cast will put the ﬂy out into much faster water and sweep it downstream before the ﬂies can descend to the trout. A short cast will result in the ﬂy being pushed back into the slower water and a non-natural drift.
Additionally, the surface of the crease in between the slow and fast water continually changed as the hydraulic pushes varying amounts of water and air through the gap in between two large boulders just upstream of where I stood. After about four casts into this hole, I hooked and landed a beautiful 18-inch brown trout after several trips in and out of the swift water. Joe T hooked one down steam as we doubled up on two nearly identical stretches of water. This new-found luck was short lived however as the next several hooks-up were lost as the ﬁsh made violent runs into the swift water. We managed to land one more ﬁsh each over the next hour.The timing and touch required to hit the drift at just the right moment as the water changes became an obsessive, almost neurotic challenge. I landed my largest ﬁsh of trip of thus far as a 23-inch rainbow made his run into the shallow water, making it possible to land him quickly. After what seemed like 90 more casts, I hooked
into the largest ﬁsh I had seen since the trip began. This rainbow looked to be near 30 inches long. He made one swift loop through the pool and took off on a tarpon-like run in to the swift, heavy water. I could only hold my rod high over my head and let the drag work to keep pressure on this ﬁsh. Joe T and Pat looked my way as my ﬂy line ripped out of the water with the sounds of tearing canvas. The ﬁsh then made an aerial leap, snapped his head and broke free. Exhilarated but a bit disappointed, I began to reel my line in. Although I have hooked and landed some large ﬁsh, I knew I had no chance with this ﬁsh. To add insult to injury, I looked up to ﬁnd my ﬂy rod snapped in two small sections toward the end. Bittersweet. We continued down the river and pulled into a small, calm spring channel that feeds the Beaverhead. Joe T spotted a large brown trout lying under a grass bank and casted to it
with a dry ﬂy. The brown snapped his head to take the ﬂy, and the ﬁght began. Joe T and Pat maneuvered about the channel, working together to get the trout into the net. The tout was more than 20 inches and bright golden yellow with dark black spots along its back and sides, a ﬁne ﬁsh to be taken on a dry ﬂy. The ﬁshing slowed a bit and clouds rolled in, so we switched to streamers. Streamers are larges ﬂies made to imitate baitﬁsh or even small riverside mammals. We casted aggressively for about the last hour of the trip and landed a few more before taking out just above Pipe Organ Rock. We headed back to the lodge for cocktails and another ﬁve-course meal. Tomorrow, we will return to the lower half of the upper Beaverhead. 23
This morning began like the previous three, but with a bittersweet twinge: This was our last day of ﬁshing with Five Rivers Lodge. We had become strangely accustomed to this lifestyle, and I doubt if we will ever truly readjust.
red mountain that looks like the peaking pipes of a cathedral organ. I found this more than appropriate, as we were in a different kind of cathedral– one not made by man, but for man to preserve and return to for fulﬁllment.
I awakened early, around 6 a.m., to walk down to the west lawn to get a few ﬁnal pointers from Doug Swisher. We had a short chat and worked on a few adjustments to my vertical back cast. I left him coaching several of the other residents and then met Joe T and for breakfast. Bacon and eggs were the fare this morning, along with fresh melons, and berries and, of course, hot coffee. We wished good luck to other ﬁshermen as we packed our lunch and met Pat for the trip through Dillon and onto the Beaverhead.
We rigged our gear, launched the boat and passed under a small bridge. We rode for only about 400 yards to where the river opens up into a series of wide rifﬂes. Pat stopped the boat on a nearby shoal, and we climbed out to cast to some large and swirling pools. I moved upstream, and Joe T moved downstream. I was ﬁshing with a small nymph array and attempted to survey the water as it rippled and popped around me. I hooked up on my third cast: My reel screamed and line ripped out of the water and headed downstream.
The put-in today was very near the take of the previous day. We were ﬁshing the lower half of the upper Beaverhead. This river is the lifeblood of this area, as most all of its farmers draw upon its waters to irrigate their crops. Our ﬂoat path will end just before the Beaverhead is dammed and sent to the surrounding area, making it shallow, narrow and virtually impassible for most drift boat. The day was clear and warm. There were virtually no clouds in the Montana sky after the thunderstorm of the previous night. We were anxious to get to the river. We arranged the shuttle for Pat’s Jeep and drove to the Barrett’s exit off Interstate 15. We pulled off near what locals call Pipe Organ Rock because of the rock formation on the
The furious start continued as Joe T hooked a ﬁsh downstream. We fought our own battles as Pat tried to gauge the ﬁght of the individual ﬁsh as he moved across the stream with the landing net. After a short ﬁght, I landed a slap-sided 18-inch rainbow trout. Joe T landed his brown trout. We stayed in this spot for about another 30 minutes and caught two more ﬁsh each. This pace will be hard to maintain and, if nothing else, we will never make it down the river to where the truck is parked. We continued to ﬂoat downstream for a few more hours and had good success in the slower pockets that line the river. We dropped the small
anchor of the drift boat next to a gravel bar and stopped to eat lunch next to a large pool. We all took turns casting for the large brown trout feeding on very small insects. Not unlike the rest of the Beaverhead, this hole required delicate casting of a dry ﬂy in between the fast water in the middle of the river and the slower pool next to the bank. While all rotating the roles of ﬁsherman, unsolicited coach and heckler, we each managed to catch large brown trout on dry ﬂies while two other drift boats ﬂoated by in disbelief. A bit further downstream, we pulled off into a slow spring feeder stream that is shallower than the rest of the stream but is lined with bright green moss strips through which dark shadows cruise slowly in the midday sun. Joe T managed to tempt one out with a dry ﬂy. With a ﬂash and a swirl, the brown trout came out of the shadows to take the ﬂy. It was large and strong, and we all worked to get the trout into shallow water. We landed the trout and load the boat once again. The dry ﬂy catch had begun, and we ﬂoated for several more hours, taking more than 10 large ﬁsh each on dry ﬂies. This was what we came to Montana to experience. She did not disappoint. For the next four hours, we were treated to the best ﬁshing of our trip. Haggard but elated, we pulled the drift boat out of the water and load the jeep. We returned to Five Rivers Lodge for cocktails, dinner, and a slide show on Jay’s Paloma Lodge in Chile. This would be a difﬁcult day to top. 25
With some sadness, we left the Five Rivers Lodge, crossed the Beaverhead River valley, and headed northeast for Bozeman. Bozeman is an odd place. No one there seems to be from Bozeman. Most seem to be from New York or Hollywood. I think the wide-open spaces have gotten to us, as the trafﬁc at the ﬁrst congested stoplight made us want to turn around. We booked a room at the Bobcat Inn, which turned out to be a halfway house
for screaming children and temporary housing for vagrants. We stopped at a local ﬂy shop to pick up some tippet material and received some decent advice for dinner. The Montana Ale Company serves massive burgers on French rolls and brews eight varieties of beer. A good call. We walked around town for a while, and it seemed that most of the people out for the evening were trust-fund hippies who wore $5 outﬁts and drove $40,000 land rovers. We returned to the Bobcat Inn and spent the evening
hoping some drunken crackpot would not kick the door and initiate a ﬁght. We were ready nonetheless. Thankfully, the morning arrived without incident, and we quickly departed for Livingston.
but clean local establishment, and walked about the town. There was a buzz in the air because the rodeo is in town. We learned there will be an outdoor concert with a dance contest and a barbeque. As it is early afternoon, we wandered about the local bookstores and shops. Joe T bought a cowboy hat from Bob’s Outdoor Wear, and I set about ﬁnding the localities of the scenes from Rancho Deluxe. For those not familiar, Rancho Deluxe is a movie made in 1974 starring Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston. It is based
So won’t you listen to the sound of a hot country band, Boot heels shufﬂin’ on the dance ﬂoor Sam, Sing a song, play some pong, shoot a little pool, Hittin’ on the honeys right out of high school. Yeah, ﬁfteen may get you twenty, but that’s all right, Cause they’re rockin and a rollin’ on a Livingston Saturday Night – Jimmy Buffett Livingston is a splendid time capsule of the American West. Unlike Bozeman, big-box retail has not reached its city limits. The streets are lined with bent neon and ﬂashing bulb marquis, and the downtown is still truly the center of activity. Upon arriving in town, we were slowed by the pre-rodeo parade and the citizens out in the street preparing for tonight’s hoedown. We checked into the Country Motor Inn, another small
on a story written by Thomas McGuane (a local), and the soundtrack was written by his brother-in-law, the then little-known Jimmy Buffett. We were saddened to ﬁnd out that the bar where Jimmy does a cameo performance is now a Chinese restaurant. But little else has changed, and there seemed to still be plenty of places to ﬁnd a drink in town. We had dinner at the Rib and Chop House as the streets began to ﬁll up and the hoedown music began to play outside. After dinner, we made our way to the Whiskey Creek Saloon for a beer that we carried out into the street and listened to the band. Boots and cowboy hats were the rule here. It seemed tie-dyed clothing had never come into nor gone out of fashion. The town seemed to be quite happy until a local youth is invited onstage to accompany the band and did a punk/grunge cover of CCR’s Bad Moon Rising. He ﬁnally ﬁnished butchering Fogarty’s classic and departed to more than a few jeers, but
the crowd’s mood swung as the band played Johnny B. Goode. A local couple won the dance contest and swung their hard-earned ﬁrst-prize T-shirts in the air as they departed the stage. The hoedown began to break up so we headed to the Maury Hotel where another live band was playing R&B covers in the bar. Joe T and I met some locals who enlightened us further on the nuances of life in Livingston. One woman told us she is looking for “clean, pencil-pushing men.” Joe T told her that we were wandering ﬁshermen and did not qualify.
We left the Maury and took a short walk down the street to the Hyatt House (another bar with a band) for a few more cocktails. This band was not so good, but I vaguely remember the bar’s theme had something to do with a parrot or macaw, which seemed to make all the difference. The night ended up much later back at the Maury Hotel Bar, where the three-man brass section was tearing into a James Brown tune just before the bartender rang the last-call bell. We make it in before the sun comes up ... I think Jimmy would approve. 27
Cold blue mornin’, day is done Nobody lost and nobody won Shufﬂe the cards up, play ‘em again It really don’t matter none, if we lose we still win, Yeah, we gonna try and ﬁnd a way, We’re gonna dance, gonna sing, gonna play, Just bouncin’ round the mountains day to day – Jimmy Buffet, Theme from Rancho Deluxe We rose slowly Sunday morning and made our way back downtown to a local coffee shop that serves large coffees for 75 cents. The street was clean and the residents seemed chipper, as tonight will be the ﬁrst night of the rodeo. We grabbed a light breakfast and headed west, leaving what was our favorite town thus far behind. Our route took us through Butte, home of the massive Anaconda copper mine and a former seat of extravagant opulence from the wealth brought by the ore’s demand in a growing country. As we continue west, we began to gain altitude and again cross the Continental Divide. The divide is not a straight longitudinal line, but rather a jagged and twisting demarcation point between continental water ﬂows, so we have crossed it several times over the
past several days. This time, however, we crossed it and continued west. This made a great difference as the mountains became greener and more tree-lined. Tall Ponderosa pines and then ﬁr trees in the higher elevations lined the roadside. Our luck held on the weather as we continued northwest into Missoula, driving into blue skies all the way.
Missoula is the home to the University of Montana and sits in between the Bitterroot and Clark’s Fork River. We decided to make this day one for a bit of rest and maintenance. I had to catch up on some writing and some sleep, so we made the short three-hour drive and checked into the ValuInn, the best hotel for the money we have found thus far.
After a good night’s sleep, we headed about 20 miles west of Missoula on Interstate 90 into the Lolo National Forest to a place called Rock Creek. We were parallel to the Bitterroot Range, and the mountains became more steep and green as we continued. As well pulled off the road, we saw a large yellow restaurant and store covered by paintings of caricatured bulls which is home to the Annual Rock Creek Testicle Festival. Evidently, folks come from far and wide
have been offended if we did not buy at least a few ﬂies and stay to chat a bit. When I told them I was writing a travel journal, several people strolled over to tell me where the moose have been seen last and where the bestproducing access points have been. Nice folks here, we thought, we’ll see if the ﬁshing is any good.
to be served Rocky Mountain Oysters here during a three-day festival every September. We pulled into inquire but found the doors locked.
public and private land within the park. Several small herds of deer grazed carelessly in the meadows and some children were riding horses. We pulled off the road at a small trailhead to change into our wading shoes and rig our rods. A small grassy trail led through a pine thicket and then opened up at the stream. Rock Creek sits at the base of a steep-sided valley. The tree-covered cliffs seemed to go straight up. Rock Creek is smaller than the streams we have been ﬁshing over the past several days. This would be much more technical ﬁshing but similar to our home streams in North Carolina.
We continued up the road past several green pastures to the Rock Creek Provision Company. This place is a country store that looks to be pulled right from a storybook. As we enter, there was a table full of old men having coffee, and we were greeted at the door by one of the female employees. We enquired about which ﬂies were working, and with a step to the side and a Vanna White sweep of the hand, she directed us to a large sectioned bin of ﬂies labeled aptly, “HOT FLIES.” This seemed a bit too obvious, but these folks seemed to be in the know and might
We drove for another six miles up a single-lane road that passed both
After lunch, we decided to head up the trail to explore more of the valley. We walked into another trailhead with a suspension bridge across the stream where a trail over the mountain into the Bitterroots begins. We moved to another access point further up the road and were greeted by a drunk wearing tennis shoes and carrying a spin-cast rod and a can of worms. They are illegal here (worms, not drunks), but in his condition we ﬁgured he was a greater danger to himself than the trout. Our suspicions were conﬁrmed when he walked about 50 yards downstream and fell ﬂat on his back in ankle-deep water. He got up and waved to us, and after a belly laugh, we left his care up to God. We stayed to watch the sunset in the valley and watched a small hatch of insects come off the water. This has been another ﬁne day in a magniﬁcent place.
Rock Creek proved to be a truly enjoyable stream. The ﬁsh here were not large, but we caught a mixed bag of rainbows, browns, whiteﬁsh and cutthroat. We found a stone ﬂy attractor with a small nymph dropper to be the most effective. The more productive holes took a bit of walking and wading to get into a safe, castable position, but most all the eddies and rifﬂes brought out a ﬁsh or two. 29
We got an early start and headed west out of Missoula on Interstate 90 across the Idaho border through Coeur d’Alene and into the state of Washington. Our destination was Ft. Lewis, Wash., a military post south of Tacoma. We were traveling to visit two close friends of mine stationed there, as well as to ﬁnally reach the West Coast and to celebrate the Fourth of July. The mountains ended after about 200 miles, and we were once again traveling through vast plains of grass and being buffeted by crosswinds. The east Washington prairie is a bit different as it is pock-marked with potholes. Potholes
are large waterholes spread sporadically throughout the countryside and home to hundreds of ducks and birds. Farther west, the country changed to a dark green because of the constant irrigation of the miles of crops. For the beneﬁt of the agriculturally impaired, large signs have been hung on the fences denoting the crops planted within their borders. The crops varied every few miles but continued on for about two more hours. Things began to change as we suddenly came upon a massive gorge and the Columbia River. The Columbia’s
waters begin in Canada and cut through the Gingko Petriﬁed Forest in front of us on their way to Oregon and the Paciﬁc. We crossed over the river with the Saddle Mountains to our south and the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to our west. The sky was clear blue, and we could see the snow-covered peaks of Mount Rainier from more than 100 miles away. We turned southwest on Highway 18 to bypass Seattle and make Tacoma before rush hour. We rolled past Ft. Lewis and Tacoma and headed south on Interstate 5 and into Steilacoom, a small community south of Tacoma on Puget Sound. We are staying with my friend, Lt. Tom Wood of the Second Ranger Battalion. A large trafﬁc jam stacked up as the ferry to Anderson Island was about to leave. We weaved through trafﬁc and stopped at the Steilacoom Pub and Deli for a sandwich. The cars took some time to load the ferry, ﬁnally clearing the streets, so we got the oil changed on the Yukon. We have traveled 4,500 miles. We met Tom and his roommates, Al and Matt, and headed into Tacoma to Engine Room 9, a converted ﬁre station that is now a Tuesday night hot spot. It was a nice place, but they only seemed to be serving drinks at one spot on the bar and the queue was 30 people deep. This slowed the action a bit, but we managed to wind down and make plans for the Fourth.
Today was quite an exception as Tom and all the Rangers were off duty. As part of one of America’s most elite ﬁghting forces, time off is not something to which they have become accustomed. We took a short drive to a place called Bur’s, a local diner where the coffee was steaming and the omelets were massive. This is a local’s sort of place, complete with a woodgrain Formica lunch counter where one can ﬁnd a small assortment of newspapers to read or an opinion on anything not covered in print.
routine, boredom and politics that each cadet must endure on his or her route to commissioning. Tom and I recalled the slow torture of our own experience and wished Charles the best -- and the worst -- as we passed by an old barracks area ... go get ’em little brother. We were glad to be on this side of the fence. We made a pass through main post and the Ranger compound, and then went out through Tacoma, where the entire city was out in the streets for
The night’s agenda was to make the 45-minute drive to Seattle to watch a concert and ﬁreworks display on the water. We arrived and luckily found a place to park. Seattle’s downtown is clean and modern and belies its newfound economic success. We grabbed a quick dinner at one of the pier-side restaurants and made our way to Pier 63 for the Super Diamond concert. Super Diamond is a cover band that plays only songs written or recorded by...surprise coming...Neil Diamond. They are good. They certainly have the costumes, music and vocals down. It is an interesting crowd, lots of peoplewatching to do.
After breakfast, Tom guided us up the road through Ft. Lewis, and we gave a chuckle and a wave to the area where, coincidentally, my youngest brother Charles is currently being held for ROTC Advanced Camp. Advanced Camp is a summertime tradition of
a holiday festival. We drove down to the waterfront and past a uniquely designed high school with a stadium cut from the rocks of the cliffs that overlooks the water. Every restaurant seemed to be packed, so we returned to the Steilacoom Pub and Deli for lunch.
They had the same problem as Engine Room 9 in that there was only one line for beer, and it was about an hour wait for an overpriced Dixie cup. We settled for a cup of coffee that unlike beer, seems to be available in multiple Italian varieties on every corner, in
bright golden sparks and smoke on every turn. About 20 minutes later, the ﬁreworks began and continued for about an hour. Seattle put on a good show. We returned to the car for the ride home, not knowing that the best show is yet to come. The drive home takes us south along the top of a high every gas station, and even pumped from special backpacks of peddlers in this part of the country. We can only surmise the misty weather makes everyone tired. After the concert, the crowd assembled on the waterfront to watch the Seattle ﬁreworks display. A Mig-15, evidently owned by a local pay-to-ride company, conducted a low-level ﬂying demonstration, showering the sky with
valley. It seemed that each of the small communities, as well as hundreds of private residents throughout the valley, were ﬁring off rockets, ﬂares and ﬁreworks of all kinds. The valley ﬂoor looked like a scene from a nighttime air raid over Baghdad. The show continued for the entire trip, and we arrived home safely in Steilacoom. Happy Birthday America!
We returned to Bur’s Restaurant for breakfast, then left Steilacoom and headed south. We passed what used to be Mount St. Helens before the eruption. Only a portion of the mountain’s face can still be seen, and we continued south into Oregon. A quick look at the map showed that there were few towns in central and eastern Oregon. It seemed we were going to have to stop short or drive all night in order to ﬁnd a place to stay. We decided The Dalles (pronounced like Gals), Ore., will work for us.
The route into The Dalles proved to be one of the most scenic of our trip. We passed the snow-covered peaks of Mount Hood at the northern edge of the Cascade Range and passed into the Columbia River Valley, where the
water once again cuts a deep gorge through high rock walls. The contrast is profound between the rocks and light as the sun sets on the day and we move further east to The Dalles.
We left The Dalles and continued east through some terribly desolate country. We were in the high desert, and it seemed no one had made any attempt to grow anything or even put up a fence. The terrain grew starker as the water disappeared. I just hoped we didnâ€™t run out of gas.
Things began to change as we entered the Blue Mountains and the Unatilla Indian Reservation. The Powder River runs through this area, bringing water that turns the hillsides green again. This area is rolling hills with intermittent pine trees and small streams in the valleys. We moved back into the Mountain Time Zone and into Idaho. Boise appeared on the horizon, and we heard the unfamiliar beep of the digital phone that has not worked since eastern Nebraska. We continued through the Sawtooth Valley and past the Sawtooth Range and into Twin Falls for the evening.
We left Twin Falls and headed north and then northeast past Jerome and through Shoshone to link up with Highway 26/93. We decided to make a pass through Ketchum and take a look at Sun Valley. After about an hour, the Sawtooth Range could be seen pushing up from the horizon. It continued to serve as a landmark for the next hour of driving before we pulled into Ketchum. Ketchum is another resort ski-town replete with quaint little shops and boutiques. I was here for a pilgrimage of sorts, as this is where Ernest Hemingway is buried. The Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer took his own life here in 1961 at age of 60. His home is now owned by the Nature Conservancy and is closed to the pub-
lic. I made a phone call to make to attempt admittance but found the place closed because it was Saturday. We proceeded down Main Street and out to the Ketchum cemetery, where two large, ﬂat stones are inscribed with Hemingway’s name and that of his wife. The grass was worn thin around the stones, and pennies were scattered across the top of the two stone slabs. I added a few more for good measure, and we moved up the road to the Hemingway memorial. The memorial is about two miles outside of town and located in a grove of aspen and willow trees. There is a bronze bust of Hemingway on a stone pedestal that sits just behind a small rock-lined creek. The inscription on the monument is drawn from a eulogy Hemingway had written in 1939 for a hunting friend. It reads: Best of all he loved the fall The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods Leaves ﬂoating on the trout streams And above the hills The high blue windless skies Now he will part of them forever.
It was peaceful and ﬁtting place. We loaded the Yukon and headed south and then east again. There was no direct way to get to our Island Park, Idaho, destination, so we chose a route across the Snake River Plain that took us past the Craters of the Moon National Monument. We wondered how geographic phenomenon such as volcanic parks become monuments -- maybe to inspire lava ﬂows everywhere -- so we decided to pull in for a look. The story behind the Craters of the Moon Monument is that the region was discovered by two men (Robert Limbert and W.L. Cole) and a dog as they were walking through this area. The terrain was so rough that it tore the feet of the dog (it had to be carried) and shredded the boots the men were
wearing. The ground was so rough that they could not ﬁnd a place to sleep, so they just kept walking all night. The porous lava allowed no water to stay on the surface so they followed dove ﬂights to a deep lava ﬁssure where they found snow to melt. The story is just bizarre enough to be believed as we began to see the ground change from rocky scrub to what looks like piles of asphalt chunks. We crested a small rise and saw the park before us. It was a dim, cloud-covered morning, so the scene looked even more surreal. The place looked like, well, the moon, or maybe more like Mars. Actually, it looked like the kind of place that Satan would go for vacation. In truth, this area is the eastern end of a volcanic crescent whose path can be traced by what is now the Snake River. The park just happens to be a spot
where the moving earth left tremendous deposits. The active area cut its way eastward across southern Idaho and then north into Wyoming. The geysers of Yellowstone are current limit of its progress. We walked around the park and gazed into the deep ﬁssures and saw the various types of lava ﬂows that vary from a reddish-black powdery dust to giant cones formed by lava exploding upward and cooling as it piled in vertical towers. As we explored the area, we began to think that Limbert and Cole must have thought they had walked into some sort of purgatory on earth and the inspiration for a monument must have been for the best-
tasting handful of melted snow ever tasted by man. We loaded back up and headed northeast on Highway 22/33 past a U.S. Department of Energy compound reminiscent of an X-Files episode and then past the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station ... who knows what goes on there. Southern Idaho is truly a diverse place. We rolled into Island Park, Idaho, and the Last Chance Lodge just as the ﬁrst rainfall in three weeks began to fall.
Our guide for the next two days is Luke Thompson from Asheville. Today, Sam Dixon of Idaho Falls was conscripted to row an extra boat so we could take some additional pictures. Sam has just graduated from high school, and we were jealous of such a cool summer job. I think my own ﬁrst post-high summer involved something closer to a mop and bucket than a drift boat and a ﬂy rod. Some early morning talks with the other guides and groups put some pressure on the North Carolina contingency to compete with the Westerners. We are staying at the Last Chance Lodge in Island Park, Idaho. The Hyde Boat Company of Idaho Falls, a maker of ﬁberglass and aluminum drift boats, bought the property ﬁve years ago when it was a ﬂat-roofed, white roadside motel. Today, it is has been renovated and expanded to a 13-room, 12-cabin lodge with a private dining facility. The lodge also has a well-outﬁtted ﬂy shop and employs eight core guides and as many as 20 during the summer. Philip Chavez, the lodge manager, has overseen the continuous development of the facility for the past four years and walked us about the facility, detailing the expansion of the rooms and rustic accents like the hand-ﬁtted lodgepole pine steps and railings. We are staying in one of the property’s two-bed log cabins that each has a small front porch and, more importantly, comfortable beds. 38
We were ﬁshing the Box Canyon area of the Henry’s Fork River today. The Henry’s Fork is actually a portion of the Snake River. It ﬂows for 117 miles to where it joins the main stem of
the Snake River near Rexburg, Idaho. Unlike most rivers of the west, the Henry’s Fork is not a snowmelt watershed but one mostly fed by springs, which gives it a more constant water ﬂow. The elevation of the watershed area ranges from 10,000 feet in the mountains to 4,800 feet near the river’s mouth. The Henry’s Fork is also a working river, which is to say that local agriculture heavily irrigates its certiﬁed seed potatoes from the lower sections of the river. We put in both boats at the Box Canyon landing. The river ﬂows out from a small dam, slowly at ﬁrst and then more quickly as it rounds a bend past as protruding rock wall. We began ﬁshing with sub-surface nymphs but after about thirty minutes, Luke suggested
a change to streamers. The weather had turned heavily overcast, and the large ﬂowing ﬂies were more successful under these conditions. Streamers are large, weighted ﬂies with long tails made of feathers or thin strips of hide-covered hair that simulate smaller ﬁsh rather than insects. They generally scare smaller ﬁsh, but those that take them are larger and more aggressive. Aggressive is the word for this type of ﬁshing. There are no lithe, blissful presentations of tiny ﬂies on hair-thin line; streamer ﬁshing is direct hard casts to the bank and structure daring the ﬁsh to attack the ﬂy. Strikes on streamers are sudden and violent.
The Henry’s Fork delivered. Luke’s adjustment proved accurate as Joe T and I lay into large ﬁsh that hit the streamers like sledgehammers and thrashed about the moving water. Our three weeks of casting is paying off as our conﬁdence has improved to the point that we are making casts into the sides of felled trees and rocky banks that would normally result in a snagged line. But such places are where the ﬁsh live, so we ﬁred the ﬂies in one after another. Much to our
The day seemed to ﬂy by as we both ended the trip with just less than 10 ﬁsh, all exceeding 20 inches. The fury of the weather seemed to build along with the pace of our ﬁshing, and a thunderstorm broke as we made it to the end of the ﬂoat. This was a loud, battering rain, whose massive pelting raindrops moved in a white cascading sheet across the water like whitecaps on an ocean. We pulled the boats out, soaked but joyous.
delight, our luck was better than most, and we passed other boats both from our lodge and others outﬁtters with either ﬁsh on or hooking ﬁsh as our boat passes. There would be no harassing the Old North State this night.
This day was big fun. We made plans with Luke for tomorrow and returned to the Last Chance Lodge for some dry clothes and a steak dinner.
After a hot breakfast, we meet Luke and decide to ﬁsh a section of the Henry’s Fork below Mesa Falls. This section is unique because of the difﬁculty involved in getting to the river. It sits below two massive waterfalls, the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. The Upper Mesa drops 114 feet and dumps up to 967 million gallons per day. Lower Mesa is a slightly smaller waterfall that drops off 65 feet and sits just downstream. We stopped at the crashing falls to take some pictures from an overlook built by the Idaho parks service. The ﬂow was immense as the water careened off the cliff and ﬁlled the air with a thin mist and a constant boiling thunder. A rainbow arched out of the giant pool below where the mist rises up to create a bright green, rainforest-like microclimate on the cliffs surrounding the
pool. We got some good pictures and moved down the river to launch the raft. We were going to be ﬁshing from a twin pontoon raft that had to be pulled down a steep rock-covered trail that offered little more than some scrub trees to break one’s fall during the descent. A quick check of the GPS showed our altitude at 5,894 feet. Luke stepped in front of the 17-foot raft and began to run downhill with the raft. Earlier, he told us that two weeks ago the raft overtook him and drug him face-ﬁrst down the hill. We are not surprised. The drop was extreme, and we decided Luke was doing more than his fair share to perpetuate the myth of the Western Trout Guide. After a series of slides, bumps and bounces, Luke arrived in a cloud
of dust at the bottom of the canyon. He earned his money today. Another check of the GPS showed 5,420 feet, a drop of more than 460 feet. The canyon walls were even steeper than the Box. They climbed almost vertically from the river’s edge, and we slid with the current in and out of the shadows they created. This stretch was full of bird life as we pushed several herons downstream and eagles let out their high-pitched whistling screams while they circled overhead. We stopped to ﬁsh at a few rifﬂes, but most of this section was lined by steep walls and was only ﬁshable with the drift boat. The ﬁshing here was slower than the Box, but the ﬁsh here have seen fewer ﬁshermen and ﬂies. They thrash madly about when hooked and spook easily when the boats drifts too close. We saw some early action, a mixed bag of rainbows and cutthroats.
The day began to heat up, and the ﬁshing slowed down. Joe T and I had boated about 10 ﬁsh each of varying sizes. We stopped beside a natural hot spring that bubbled out of the cliff wall to a small pool adjacent the stream. The water was quite warm, but not hot. It would surely have felt better on a day colder than this. The river bent and we passed through some rapids that bounced us around a bit and caught a few more ﬁsh on the other side. After a short stretch downstream from the rapids, we reached the take out and returned to the Lodge. It was prime rib tonight.
After dinner, we walked across the street to what is referred to as the “A” bar. It is a large A-frame building with red neon lights highlighting the outline of the letter. At night, that is about all one can see. A local road construction crew had taken over the place, and since Joe T and I have a rule against drinking with women wearing helmets and blaze orange, we decided to walk a short distance down the street to join some of the other guides at the Angler’s Retreat. We met Luke for a few beers and met Bryan, who will be our guide for the next two days. After about an hour, we called it a night and returned to Last Chance. 41
We headed south with our new guide Bryan McCabe through Idaho Falls en route to the South Fork River and take a short diversion at the Hyde Boat Company headquarters and manufacturing facility. LaMoyne Hyde, the founder and owner of the company took us on a tour of the grounds. Hyde manufactures ﬁberglass, aluminum and combination drift boats here as well as custom trailers. The Hyde family began their family business designing aircraft, speciﬁcally crop dusters. This aerodynamic design experience quickly transferred to drift boats. The underside of the Hyde drift boats are shaped like a wing and the ﬂow of the river creates lift giving the Hyde boats unique maneuverability in the current. Hyde has been in business for the past twelve years and commands a 50% market share in the drift boat industry. LaMoyne takes us through the assembly area and describes the various boat design types and then shows us the rows of ﬁnished boats in the outdoor lot. We mill about in the ﬂy shop in the front of the facility and then loaded up for the South Fork. The Snake River is known as one of the top three ﬁshing destinations in the country. It is home to Snake River cutthroats, native Yellowstone cutthroats, rainbow and, of course, the ubiquitous mountain whiteﬁsh. It stretches for over 60 miles from Palisades Reservoir to its conﬂuence with the Henry’s Fork. The Nature Conservancy owns the property just below the reservoir that protects endangered peregrine falcons, gray owls and trumpeter swans. The nearby 42
forests provide also habitat for Idaho’s highest concentration of bald eagles. This trip, sadly our last of the adventure, will be a two-day overnight drift with a stop at a campsite about ﬁve miles down from our put in. The ﬁshing is slower here than on the Henry’s Fork. We drift through what looks like prime rifﬂes, braided water and across large holes with no success. The weather is changing and a large white front is moving in across the horizon. We land a few ﬁsh in some small rifﬂes but the ﬁsh are few and far between. This would normally be a tremendously frustrating way to spend and afternoon but this stretch is one of the most beautiful we have seen thus far. Massive aspen groves line streamside and bald eagles circle overhead. We cruise into the camp and meet one other party who strangely enough, lived for a time in my hometown. John Winders, the camp chef, had hors d’ouvres and cold beers ready for us upon our arrival.
The camp was located amongst yet another Aspen grove at the base of volcanic cliffs whose jagged but swirled volcanic cracked sides looked like a massive Monet landscape. We stowed our gear in one of the large white square camp tents and walked back down to the river to travel just a bit upstream and ﬁsh a rifﬂe we had passed coming in. Joe T and I both caught ﬁve or six more ﬁsh as we moved leisurely through the large rifﬂe. The sun began to descend so we returned to the camp for dinner. John had grilled two salmon ﬁllets in a molasses and ginger sauce over open campﬁre coals for dinner. A sudden but brief thunderstorm forced us into the kitchen tent to ﬁnish but no one was really upset. We all just laughed and rolled with it. We spent some time around the campﬁre and then headed to the tent for the night.
Morning came early as Jaxson, the camp dog, brought his cold-nosed alarm clock into our tent to wake us. Bacon and eggs were ready for us as we shook out the sleep and gathered our gear to load the boats for the last waterborne stretch of the trip. We waved good-bye to the John and Jaxson and ﬂoated downstream. We hoped the change in the weather would improve our chances but this day was as slow as the last. I guess our luck had to change sometime. I took a turn rowing the drift boat, which is far more difﬁcult than it looks. Hidden currents and underwater obstructions force an oarsman to constantly adjust the boat and ﬁsherman as the speed and texture of the water changes. After a period of time, I got the hang of it, and found it almost as much fun as the ﬁshing, at least on a slow day.
We caught about eight ﬁsh each on our trek that ended at the largest take out facility we had seen in the West. Streams are big business here and this launch provided for incoming and outgoing boat travel. We loaded the boat and turned north for the Last Chance Lodge. A bit worn out from the rowing, I managed to sleep the entire way in the back seat of the Bryan’s Jeep. Prime rib was on the menu tonight at the Last Chance Restaurant. We dove in and toasted our last real meal. It had been a ﬁne stay. 43
We woke for our ﬁnal day and loaded the Yukon for our ﬁnal trip home. I had one stop left to make. I had so much fun rowing the boat I could only think of trips on North Carolina’s so I bought a Hyde Drift boat to pull home. After the rigging and formalities, we loaded some of our bulky gear into the boat so we would have more room to sleep on the return trip. Joe T and I decided to push hard across the country so we drove straight through from Idaho Falls to Maury City, Tennessee to his sister’s
house. It was a bit of a marathon. Joe’s sister, Nancy Elizabeth, treated us to a home cooked meal that was a wonderful treat to weary travelers. We got our ﬁrst real rest in two days and then made the ﬁnal push back to North Carolina. We made a weary, but thankfully safe, return to WinstonSalem in the early afternoon. Casting for America was truly the trip of a lifetime. Thanks for sharing the adventure.
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