Here's a picture of me proudly holding an impressive Brown Trout I've just caught on a fly on the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon last year. My friend Keith took the picture, and within seconds of this snap, I'm returning this noble beast to the water whence he came. I forget which fly I took him on, but it was undoubtedly smaller than a size 16 hook, which meant that the leader was probably a 5x tippet, and the effort to land him was a dialectic with jeopardy. But what redblooded flyfisherman would have it otherwise?
I didn't come by my interest in flyfishing in quite the usual way. My stepfather, Harry Faville, had grown up in Wisconsin. After his first marriage ended in shambles in the early 1930's, he wandered about disconsolately, working at various jobs, never staying long in one place. He bought an old black jalopy and drove West over dirt roads through Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, stopping sporadically along the way to fish and acquaint himself with the local flora. Years later, when I was a young boy, he would tell stories of his exploits on the Yellowstone River, the Madison, the Missouri. In these years before the Second World War, fishing in the Rocky Mountains was a real adventure. Roads were poor, settlements were sparse, the country was untamed. Camping and nature-going hadn't become the national pastime it is today. There were no limits on fishing, and streams were loaded with wild trout, and the fishing pressure was almost nil. Hiking off road for an hour would put you on water that hardly ever saw a fisherman. 20" fish were common, and 30" fish not unheard of. Flyfishing as a sport, as a science, was still relatively in its infancy. Methodical streamside entomology, and ecological knowledge about fish habits and conservation were decades away.
Unfortunately, Harry had kind of given up serious fishing by the time I was a young boy, circa early 1960's. He talked about old split-bamboo flyrods, and casting, and tying flies. But we hardly did any fishing. Except for a couple of trips to back-country lakes, I had almost no experience of fishing. After I went away to college, I forgot about these memories, and Harry died in 1973 in an automobile accident near Dillon, Montana.
In 1976 I began reading some of the literature of flyfishing. I soon discovered the work of Roderick Haig-Brown, the dean of fishing writers. Also Robert Traver, who was also a popular fiction writer (Anatomy of a Murder, etc.), who wrote about Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Haig-Brown, a Brit who'd emigrated to British Columbia in the 1930's, had established himself as a competent back-woodsman and naturalist, and eventually published dozens of books of fiction and non-fiction, most of it devoted to fishing and natural resource issues in his adopted Canada. I credit him particularly with reawakening my sense of interest in fishing.
In 1976, my wife and son and I packed up our gear in a rented Ford Van and drove up to Southwestern Montana, and Yellowstone Park for a month-long exploration of flyfishing country. I took with me a brand-new Gary Howells bamboo fly-rod, and other assorted paraphernalia. We drove up into the headwaters of the Big Hole River, and camped beside a pretty lake. There were Cutthroat Trout, Brookies and even a few Grayling, a trout-related species which only survives, outside of Alaska, in the lower 48 in a few high-country alpine waters. I'd camped before, as a boy, but had never seriously fished. I knew almost nothing about technique, but gamely went about wading and casting in the pristine landscape of Montana and Wyoming. With a few lucky casts, and beginners' luck, I managed to land a few beautiful small to medium sized Rainbows. Brook Trout were easier, but they fought just as hard. One day on the Madison above the Varney Bridge, I hooked too powerful Brown Trout in succession, each of whom fought me to a draw, breaking off in swift rapids after 75 seconds of blood-curdling action.
In the years that followed, we went back again and again, and I tried other places. Hat Creek, Fall River, Hot Creek, Silver Creek in Idaho, The San Juan in Northern New Mexico, the Madison. I was definitely hooked.
A few years ago, I met a fellow locally who shared my love of the sport. Keith now lives in Sun Valley, near the Big Wood River, and not far from Silver Creek, the stream made famous first by Ernest Hemingway (in the days when he lived nearby), and later his son Jack. The Nature Conservancy purchased most of the best water at Silver for preservation and public access.
This is a picture of Silver Creek on a sunny day--I think from up near the old fisherman's cabin overlooking the upper portion of the Nature Preserve. The landscape looks a little barren; there are wheatfields in this wide, flat valley, and sagebrush, and other kinds of dry-country vegetation. The ecology is "alert"--and the fish are wary. Beautiful Rainbows, requiring size 18, or 20 or 22 (hooks as small as an pencil eraser), deftly tied to resemble minute aquatic insects, and "leader" (filament tippet) as fine as a human hair. Perfect casts, with no drag (the "drift" of the line as the current pulls it back and forth between you and the fly (lure). It's tough!