The dog days of summer have passed east of the Mississippi. Although heat, humidity, and lots of sun have defined the past few weeks, I've been making plenty of time to chase tail, even during the most "unfishinglike" weather of the year. I guess you could say that I've been busy, although the sense of that word in this context doesn't quite ring true. Regardless, there are fish out there, and over the past couple months I've been damn lucky to catch some of them.
To be honest, I don't even know where to begin the story of this summer. I guess it started last fall, when, after many wonderful summers in Wyoming, I loaded up my Jeep, and left the 10,000 acre ranch in Saddlestring that had become a second home. I didn't, and still don't think that this would be the last time I'd live out there, but I had a feeling that the short term future was going to be a bit different.
You see, my Mom was from the cowboy state, and since long before I can remember, we'd visited my grandparents - in a overlooked town, in an overlooked state - just south of big sky country. Among those mountains, those rivers, those hay fields, and those canyons there was, and still is, lots of water. I don't know how or why, but those early trips changed my life. I never imagined that someday I'd call myself a fly fishing guide, and live out there doing it every day - but that happened, too.
Every summer when I return it feels like I’m home - coming back to a place where the air is cleaner, the water clearer, and the fish more plentiful and willing to take a dry fly with no regard for their own well-being. It’s the birthplace of my passion, where exposure to fly fishing started me on a trip that hasn’t ended, and I doubt ever will. People asked me all the time how I could possibly go to such a desolate place, and put the rest of my life on hold every summer just to to chase a couple trout. But when I was out there in Wyoming, dropping my drift boat in to a world-famous tailwater, or walking down the banks of a stream that few have ever heard of, nearly shaking in anticipation for what the day’s fishing might bring, I couldn't help but wonder how I could possibly be doing anything else. My life is different now, but that feeling hasn't gone away, and it's becoming more and more apparent to me that it never will.
I lived the dream. I owned a drift boat, had "adopted" a feral cat, and had earned the yellowish, leathery, and dry calluses on my hands from countless hours casting a fly rod, netting, or long miles on the oars. At times, I even rocked a 'stache.
This May was different. I didn't head west. Instead, I earned a master's degree, and took a job working on defense, foreign affairs, and national security issues on Capitol Hill. I'm now on to my second gig, still working on that same stuff, but in a little more relaxed setting at a think tank a few blocks from the White House. Life is good, but it's not Wyoming and my backyard isn't quite like it used to be. Being separated from a place that is so important to me is like a daily punch in the gut.
Still, I've been fishing my brains out every chance I get. Some of the places I've been are well known, while others - let's just say you won't be seeing them mentioned on this blog. In the past couple weeks, I've been on trips through Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Michigan, and all over the province of Ontario. During that time I've crossed over, or wet a line, in every one of the Great Lakes' watersheds. The odometer on my Jeep says it's been over 3,000 miles - but the diversity of the fish, the country, the water, and everything else makes it feel a whole lot longer than just a number on my dashboard.
Not surprisingly, most of my fishing has been solo. My catch line of, "listen, we just have to drive 850 miles overnight, fish for a couple days, and make it back to work by 8:30 on Monday or Tuesday morning" hasn't produced a lot of biters. You're probably pushing it a bit too hard when your own family asks you to take a weekend off - sorry, I love you guys, but I just don't know how to do that.
No picture ever tells the whole story, and looking through this montage even this many falls woefully short of telling this tale. Still, here's a sample of the fish, critters, creeks, rivers, streams, and lakes where I've found myself in the past couple weeks.
In all seriousness, just looking back through these pictures and thinking about all the time spent on the water is absolutely exhausting. And to think that most of it was done on my own, just makes me even more tired. Still, I wouldn't have had it any other way.
I guess I've been having this lingering sense all summer that I should be out in my usual haunts in Wyoming, doing what I think I do best, in places and with people that have become a pretty significant part of my life. Quite frankly, it's been difficult to talk about, and something I've only discussed with a few close friends, and haven't yet mentioned on this blog. Maybe I can only talk about it now because I've finally made the plans to go back out there - it's finally happening, and it's real.
For all of us, it's hard to decide if you're doing "it" right. I've been burning it on both ends, just fishing. This past Monday night, speeding along on another all night drive back from another breathtaking trip, I knew I was.