A tale of three fish, wading boots and bear spray

Published 10:56 am Friday, August 19, 2022

There is fishing, and then there is fishing. You can do it one way, then there is my way.

Our long-awaited fly fishing vacation experience has come and gone. I caught on to the system fairly well in my own way. I had encounters with three fish over the course of the week. Each has its own tale to tell.

We arrived at camp with virtually no equipment. Our friends assured us the camp would have all we would need for our introduction into the mysteries of fly fishing. I did purchase a pair of wading boots.

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If I never venture into a stream again, these stylish items can double as exercise weights.

As other campers arrived, the sheer volume of stuff they unloaded from cars, campers and vans was overwhelming. What on earth were we thinking? Nevertheless, on Monday morning we reported to breakfast as instructed wearing clothing we didn’t care to get wet, layers of socks and the wading boots, hats and a bag slung over the should to hold something in, a water bottle and the camp issued can of bear spray.

Near the camp, there is a lovely mountain stream just like the ones in the movies. The water was an easy walk down a path from our cabin and the shore was wide with a nice rock base to navigate in or out of the water. Key to this fishing session was the absence of trees and shrubs within casting distance.

Learning to cast like the guys in the movies is a whole lot easier when you aren’t concerned with catching leaves and twigs behind you instead of fish in front of you.

Following a bit of instruction, I was left to my own devices. Ignorance is bliss. The sky was clear blue, the water was gurgling pleasantly over the rocks and my boots. If nothing else, it was a beautiful place to spend a morning.

I had been gifted with a fly for my first day’s experience. What I was going to do if I lost the thing didn’t really occur to me as I wandered along the stream. Lo and behold, as I rounded a curve into a stretch of light rapids, I caught a fish. He practically jumped up to snatch the fly.

To this point, my instructions were about the fishing, not the catching. There is actually a proper way to catch a fish and then what you do with it once you have it on the hook and line. No one was in ear shot as I yelled for back up. Instinctively, with literally no net, I swung the thing toward me in the open air, grabbed it with my bare free hand, gently removed the hook from the now inert fish, and carefully put it back into the water. He was pulled slowly by the current into a rock, not moving.

I felt terrible. Wyoming is mostly a catch-and-release state with some notable exceptions to be discussed later. Catch it alive, put it back alive. Here, on my first day, I so inhospitably killed an innocent fish. Just as I was thinking I should wade in and rescue it, it wiggled, gulped and fled.

It wasn’t a big fish, maybe seven or eight inches long. But I caught my first fish on the North Fork of the Shoshone River in Wyoming and I still had the fly. Day One. I was duly applauded at dinner in camp.

Day two we traveled over two hours to a stunningly beautiful mountain lake for that fishing experience and then lower down the mountain to another gurgling stream. Suffice to say that if you aren’t going to catch a fish, there is no more beautiful place than in the mountains of Wyoming.

Day three was the iconic trip to Yellowstone. Armed with my official Yellowstone fishing license, I was ready. So I thought. Our destination was a lovely meadow with a gentle stream winding through it.

We were instructed that wading boots were not necessary. All fishing activity could be managed from the bank.

I caught a fish. By this time, I had been coached on what to do if in fact I did such. The missing step was the scooping with a net from a position within reach of the fish. The bank was three feet above the water’s edge. I had no net to reach the poor thing humanely.

In Yellowstone, one is required to catch and release certain fish and catch and kill certain others. It’s a good thing the fish got away, I have no idea which fate awaited it as I don’t know one fish from another unless it is labeled in the store.

Day four our little group traveled to a stream with access, and according to the experienced among us, plenty hungry fish.

I strolled and cast, waded and cast. I glanced down and right there was a fish. I could have scooped it up with my bare hands. It just didn’t seem sporting to claim him that way. So, I didn’t.