We were finally there. Paradise Valley in Montana and a nouveau rustic lodge with a view of the Yellowstone River from our front deck. It’s a legendary location for fly fishermen, like the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, the Beaverkill, Ausable, Battenkill, Yellow Breeches and other hallowed waters where I have been humbled and skunked. The resident trout must have posted “Tourist Alert” warnings on their fishy websites while snickering at the thought of inept long-rod slingers from New Jersey. But, it’s like golf snobs might say, “It’s not how you played, but where you’ve played.”
After a brief layover in Dallas, TX we flew into Jackson Hole where the Tetons meet the tarmac. I detest airports and commercial airline flying, but it’s a long hands-on-the-steering wheel trip three quarters of the way across America. I drove to Idaho once, and that was enough.
Hitting the highway to go fishing usually means passing by perfectly good “fishy” waters much closer to home to get somewhere legendary and sometimes several time zones away – or is it just wanderlust and another chance to warble “On the Road Again” along with Willie Nelson on the radio player? One reason is the eye on the prize in faraway dreams; I can’t catch cutthroat trout at home in the Northeast. Another is just a “We Gotta Get Outta this Place” hankering for a change of scenery.
Thus when the spirit of adventure haunted antsy minds on the whimsical wings of youth it was launching off to Ireland, New Zealand, Hawaii and such far-flung locals that required boarding the aforementioned scary flying machine, rather than a slow boat. But behind the wheel of my own transport to another adventure having to do with still, running and tide-influenced waters, it was “fill ‘er up” and get the wheels turning from Maine to the Keys, the Poconos, Catskills, Adirondacks and every seashore fishing spot in between before setting eyes on Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho and Montana.
Somehow I managed to pencil in a fly-in Quebec walleye trip on my dance card. I know, I can fish for walleye near home along the upper Delaware, but my French-Canadian ancestry lured me to the Gouin Reservoir. And flying? For some reason I have no qualms about strapping myself into a 60-year-old single-engine Beaver piloted by a kid barely old enough to shave.
The first time I got the family car to drive solo it was off fishing to Shady Side Lake near Dallas, PA. Most teenage boys clutching the keys to the house buggy had ideas of getting Mary Elizabeth Jenkowski into the back seat, rather than a date with a bass pond. Clearly I had warped priorities at the time.
First time I was in South Dakota was for the governor’s Canada goose hunt for a select bunch of reprobate outdoor writers. We clambered onto a state house bus at zero dark thirty and headed for an Indian reservation and assigned goose pits with shotguns in hand. On the way back there was a keg of beer and snacks for the ride back to Pierre. I shall now pause and let you imagine that happening, ever, in today’s world. Pheasant hunting in South Dakota is the only place I ever saw roosters and hens get up in coveys, 20 birds at a time at least; and of course only cockbirds were legal. Picture that challenge, a rattling, clattering bevy of birds flushed out of a waist-thick milo field in front of 20 “drivers” and somebody shouts “cockbirds only!” Can we get a couple of practice drives here?
Meanwhile I was admiring one of our guide’s cowboy hats, so I bought one for the trip home; made by the American Hat Company out of Houston, established in 1915. With that came the cowboy boots. Dunno where from, but remember they hurt like hell. I still have the hat, the boots are long gone. With that, I flew back east looking like somebody out of today’s cast of Yellowstone, which of course meant I looked ridiculous. Plus, I was tossing around phrases like “I reckon” and “you bet.”
But of all those times and places there are a few that stand atop my pedestal of memories. My son’s first fish, a tiny perch at Twin Lakes in Milford, PA. A first bonefish when we were first married and drinks on the veranda of the Bermuda Yacht Club. Fishing with my father in Lake Champlain; my brother in Lake Placid. And the Florida Keys; there are no bad times in the Keys.
Years passed and we spread the ashes of one of our trio of best pals and Marine Corps buddies in the Big Flatbrook, and went back to the bar and talked of good times gone.
Yesterday, when we were young.