Why I Fly Fish

“With My Silken Line and delicate hook,
I wander in a myriad of ripples
And find freedom.”

Emperor Li Yu, 6th Century

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I get a wide array of responses when people find out that I am a fly fisherwoman. I have had other women tell me that I am an inspiration. I have been told that I motivate other women to get outside, try new things, and seek out adventure. On the other hand, I have been told that I am weird for getting into fly fishing. A lot of women don’t get the appeal of the sport, or of the great outdoors at all for that matter. To them, my behavior is deviant; strange even.

I can’t really explain why fly fishing has captured me the way that it has. At best, I can try to put into words what draws me to it and what thrills me about it. It has something to do with the art and the science of it; of being outdoors in some of the most beautiful places that are inaccessible to those who are not willing to get their feet wet. It is the feel of a rod, swaying gracefully with every forward and backward motion of my forearm, and the elegant curve of line arching overhead. It’s something about how it requires me to read the various movements of the river, and how it forces me to think like a fish, targeting it with a precise and calculated deception. It has to do with the feel of the river flowing against my legs and the cool chill of the water, emanating through my waders. It’s the firm, slick rocks under foot that I must carefully maneuver over in my deliberate trek upstream. It’s the way my muscles ache and my palms burn at the end of a long day on the river. And of course…it is the sudden tightening of the line that comes simultaneously with the shattering eruption of a trout breaking the surface from somewhere deep below and grabbing hold of that fly that I placed ever-so intentionally overhead for him.

Fly fishing is a muscle burning, life changing, soul rejuvenating, gut wrenching, exhilarating, freedom finding, beautiful sport. I’m hooked.

Rocks, Ice, and Fog: First Hike of 2014

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No hangover here!

My husband, Ben, and I spent our New Year’s Eve a little differently than most 25 year olds probably did. We had an early dinner at my parents’ house and then headed back home where we proceeded to spend the evening packing feverishly for our first adventure photo 1of the new year. We meticulously laid out our gear, inspecting it with great care. Ben’s new Kuiu [www.kuiu.com] pack was filled with water, Cliff bars, and extra layers for us to throw on if needed. Our hiking boots were set out side by side. We had the New York New Year’s Eve coverage playing on my laptop in the background and at 12am Eastern time (9pm for us), we watched the ball drop, shared a New Year’s kiss and then called it a night.

We awoke early before the sun. While other people were in bed, recovering from the night’s festivities, we filled our thermoses with hot coffee, grabbed some protein bars, loaded up the truck and hit the road with our little dog, Gunner, heading East. There wasn’t much snow on the pass as we made our way through the mountains. But towards the top we noticed a thin sheen of black ice shimmering ever so slightly in the emerging sunlight. A sneaky, deadly thing, black ice.

We pulled off at the top of the pass into a deserted parking lot. No black ice there – instead, it was covered in a thick, obvious layer of ice, coated in a fine blanket of frost. The truck skidded over it’s surface as we came to a stop. We wanted to let Gunner out for a break from the car ride. Ben, Gunner, and I each took our turn wiping out on the ice as we tried to walk around a bit to stretch our legs. Laughing, we all piled back into the truck and proceeded on…

East for Adventure!

We stopped for a quick breakfast before heading into the Swakane valley near Chelan. Winding our way back into the valley, we passed through mountains that rose up majestically on either side of the windy dirt road. The tops of the mountains disappeared into the dense fog that blanketed the valley high over head, allowing only a pale, filtered light through from the sun.

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Fog filter.

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Ben ascending into the fog with his Kuiu pack

Finally, we saw a place on the south side of the valley where the mountain split and a type of ravine offered access deep into the mountains. We parked the truck, checked our gear, and let Gunner loose, letting him lead the way. The ravine was rocky, icy, and foggy. We picked our way carefully over the ground, climbing up higher and higher. Our hiking boots skidded on the loose rocks that would have been hazardous on their own, even had they not been covered in slick ice and snow.

There was no view from the top other than the sides of the mountains that rose up around us, but those were awe inspiring enough. As we paused for a breather somewhere near the top, surrounded by quiet and stillness and crisp air, we couldn’t think of a better way to start a new year, together, just the two of us in this peaceful place. We breathed in the mountain air, took in the uninterrupted silence, and basked in the ice cold breeze. We watched Gunner sniffing around, exploring his surroundings, equally as entranced with the place as we were.

We made our way back down the ravine, through the frost coated grasses of the valley, and back to the truck. We drove back over the mountains in bliss, laughing and recounting the beautiful day that we had had and the amazing new adventure that had kicked off 2014. A successful exploration that set the tone for the rest of the year to come – one full of adventure, pushing our limits, and grabbing life by the horns; and most importantly we started the year off together, doing what we love with the one we love…and with our little dog too.

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Me and Gunner

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Ice

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The ravine

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Me and the love of my life!

3 Ways to Keep Up Your Summertime Momentum!

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It’s easy to fall into a gloomy funk once the warm, adventure conducive days of summer begin to fade away. How is an outdoor enthusiast supposed to survive an icey, cold winter, deprived of camping, hiking, or backcountry adventure?

Well, the answer is that you don’t have to, my friend! Outdoor exploration is possible in the cold winter months. You have to be a bit more hardcore, but snowy adventures can be the most magical and can make for some of the best stories.

Not everyone is into the idea of camping or backpacking in the snow. I don’t blame you. It’s cold. But there are other ways that you can get your nature-boost in the wild during the winter without sleeping on icy ground.

So, bundle up! Here are 3 ways to keep up your summer time momentum all the way through the coldest of months:

  1. Lace up your boots, throw on an extra layer of wool socks, and hike! Don’t let a little snow stop you. One of my husband’s and my favorite hikes was an entirely new experience when we did it in the snow. The hike winds up a steep, switch-back path to the top of a mountain. At the top, there is a beautiful lake, surrounded by jagged peaks. When we did the hike in January, the way up the mountain was completely empty. No other hikers dared to attempt the snowy, icy climb. When we made it to the top, the lake had been transformed from when we had seen it last during the summer months. It was magical, and it became a fond, special memory for us. [I’m not like most bloggers…I’ll let you in on a secret: if you live in Washington, check out Lake Serene off of Highway 2 for a beautiful, challenging day hike.]
  2. Snowshoe… cover snowy ground in a fun, efficient way. Explore a new silent, snowy world, blanketed in white. Snowshoeing is great exercise and it is such a good way to wander over otherwise tricky to traverse, snow drift covered land.
  3. Sled…and I don’t mean that little old wooden thing from when you were a kid. I’m talking about snowmobiles, which are often referred to as sleds by those who are in the know. And now you know. You can rent sleds at many different resorts and shops during the winter time. They are an excellent way to get a fix when you have the need for speed. You can also cover a lot more ground than you can on foot or on snowshoes. My husband was a snowmobile guide one winter. We took sleds out together for the first time a few years back and it was such an incredible rush! There is so much power in those machines and you can glide over the snow and charge up icy mountains like it’s nothing. I highly recommend giving it a try. You’ll be hooked.
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One of our favorite hikes was transformed in the snow!

Don’t let the shorter days and cooler temps keep you huddling, defeated indoors. Try something new! Go have a chilly adventure and breathe in the cool, fresh air! It will thrill you!

Why It’s Good to Get Off the Trail!

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Get off the beaten path and see what’s really out there!

Trekking it up a well-beaten path, brushing shoulders with an endless stream of hiking-stick-wielders and finally making it to the top of the trail, only to be lost in a crowd doesn’t do much for me as far as getting my zen on. It’s hard to be one with the wild and revel in the sweet rawness of nature when there are multiple groups of hikers munching on picnic lunches at the top of the mountain.

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Pick a wide open space on the map and go!

Popular trails can be beautiful. They can offer a very fulfilling and rewarding experience, and often time the destination is spectacular – that is why they are so popular, after all! But I’ve developed a deep curiosity for what lies beyond the beaten path. I think about how many hundreds, even thousands of hikers have walked the busy trails and paths.  I wonder then in comparison how many people have seen what lies over the ridge off to the left, or if anyone has made it to the top of the far, snow-capped mountain off in the distance. Those are the places that draw me in. That is what I crave; that solitude in nature and to see places that not everyone has been to and not everyone could make it to.

To get off the trail is a whole new type of adventure…one that you are in control of! You don’t know where the path will take you because there is no path. You determine where you end up and how you get there. It’s a thrill and it is a great way to really separate yourself from the craziness of the crowds.

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Beauty awaits you!

It can be harder to find the path less traveled sometimes, or to know where to even begin blazing your own trail. Take time to do some research. My husband, Ben, and I use Google Maps to find large areas of wilderness without a trail  or road running through it. We’ll drive back into the area as far as we can and then ditch the car and take off on foot for miles and miles, creating our own experience in the back country, away from the crowds and headed for new, untainted destinations.

When ditching the trail, make sure you are prepared. Always bring enough food, water, and shelter, and make sure you’ve got yourself a good dose of flexibility, because when you get off the beaten path, you never know what might happen or what you might find…and that’s the fun in it!

Five Ways to Get Outside – No Excuses!

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Pull on those adventure-boots and get outside!

I am all about getting outside, doing something adventurous, trying new things, staying active, and pushing my limits. I think everyone should! The world is such a big, beautiful place just waiting to be explored. There is so much out there in nature that we can (and should!) take advantage of.

Now, I know some people who are used to watching tv on the weekends and going to the nearest mall for entertainment might not know quite where to start when it comes to getting outside and enjoying the great outdoors. Six years ago I wouldn’t have known where to start either. Outdoor activities seemed fairly unattainable and, frankly, undesirable. Too much work, dirt, and risk. However, over the past few years I have learned that getting outside is not only GOOD for a person’s mind, body, and soul, but it can be easy and oh-so-fun!

So, for those of you who just need some ideas of where to start, here you go. Five ways to get outside and enjoy the bountiful playground of the wild!

1. Go hiking! Such great exercise, AND you get to breathe in the fresh air of the great outdoors. Get away from the hustle and bustle of the malls and the crowds; get off your couch; grab a friend, or go alone… There are so many trails out there. Just Google hiking trails in your area and I guarantee you will find some great options, regardless of your skill level. Whether it’s a short little walk through the woods, a 5 mile trek up a mountain, or a 3 day backpacking trip in the back country, getting moving and exploring in the great outdoors will do you good.  I would argue that there is hardly anything better for you than getting out into nature, walking through a forest or up a mountain, connecting with the wild, breathing in the pure air, and getting some exercise. Plus, making it to the end of a trail is such a rewarding experience! You will be proud of yourself AND the view from the top is almost ALWAYS worth the sweat.

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Go climb a mountain!

2. Ride a bike! If you don’t have one, rent one! Pick your desired level of intensity and gogogo! Go for a nice, level ride on a paved path, or pick a mountain and charge it. Get out there, test your limits. Put the pedal to the metal!

3. SUP! Stand Up Paddleboarding is one of my new favorite things to do. It is an excellent source of exercise for your whole body, AND it allows you to get out on the water anywhere there is a body of water near by. There is something so relaxing and grounding about being out on the water on a paddleboard. Whether you are catching waves in the ocean, or cutting across a glassy lake, you will get a good work out AND get outside. You can paddleboard all year round too. Just bundle up in the winter time and hit the lake. I love being out on the water on a clear, calm, winter day. You can rent paddleboards all over the place. Again, just Google SUP rentals in your area. My board is from Perfect Wave Surf Shop [www.perfectwave.com].

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SUP!

4. Bouldering! What is bouldering, you might ask? Well, it is a form of rock climbing that does not use ropes or harnesses. Raw, baby. Just you, gripping a rock wall with your bare hands. Talk about extreme. This is a great way to test yourself and push yourself to new limits. Conquer your fear! I’m terrified of heights, but hey, what better way to get over that than to climb a rock wall with no safety net? Best part about it: no gear required! Worst part about it: no gear required!

5. Go fishing! Fishing is a huge passion of mine. I am a fly fisher-woman myself, but there are all different kinds of fishing that you can learn. Whether you hit the nearest lake with a spinning reel and some PowerBait, or go squid jigging off a pier in the ocean, you are bound to have a great time, especially if you bring a buddy along. But seriously, try fly fishing…it’s the best.

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Fly Fishing on the Yellowstone!

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Squid Jiggin’ with buddies!

So, no excuses! There are so many things to try and so many ways to get yourself outside! Go! Have the adventures that you have been yearning for! Make them happen! Push yourself, conquer your fears, and make yourself proud!

The Start of a Beautiful Obsession

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On the road again…the start of our 11 day fly fishing trip.

We had 11 days set aside and a wide open road ahead of us. My husband, Ben, and I took off before the crack of dawn on a fly fishing trip that would take us all over South West Montana. It was my first fly fishing trip and I was more excited for it than I could ever begin to explain. I had spent the past year practicing casting in the backyard. I had taken an excellent fly fishing class through Creekside Angling Company [www.fishcreekside.com]  and I had been avidly following the incredible April Vokey of Fly Gal Ventures [www.flygal.ca]. I was ready.  Armed with my new Redington rod and reel [www.redington.com] and Fishpond chest pack [www.fishpondusa.com], I expected to step out into the river, throw out one of the nifty new casts I had been taught in my class and land a monster.

Ben has been fly fishing all of his life and he is (and I’m not being biased here, I swear) nothing short of exceptional. He has a gift and I have watched him weave magic with a rod, reaching far out into the flowing expanse of a stream, laying the fly just so on the slick film of the surface. Nothing is more thrilling than that moment when a trout, drifting against the current deep below and upon gazing upward sees the fly that was so intentionally presented before it, acts upon it, surging up and seizing that fly in its mouth. It has taken the bait. It has been fooled. I have seen Ben do this time and time again. He had coached me and encouraged me and helped build my excitement. Now was my chance. It was my turn to show off my new skills and join the elite league of dry-fly fishermen.

We reached our first destination, the family cabin,  around dinner time. The cabin sits off the beaten path, way back in the mountains outside of Missoula. My father-in-law and mother-in-law live at the cabin for about six months out of the year and they were waiting for us when we pulled up. We were ready to pass out from exhaustion. It is about an eight-hour drive from our home in the Pacific Northwest to the cabin and we were beat. No fishing for us that night. We scarfed down a home cooked meal, courtesy of my mother-in-law and hit the sack.

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Blisters.

The next morning we woke up bright and early. My excitement was through the roof. This was it. We geared up and hit the river. The family cabin sits on a blue ribbon fly fishing river. I stepped into the water, all April-Vokey wannabe and began unfurling my line in the way that I had practiced so many times back home. I tried desperately to imitate what I had seen my fly fishing instructor do; what I had seen Ben do; what I had seen April Vokey do in her videos. Nothing. My line kept getting tangled, I kept hearing Ben and my father-in-law yelling at me from down stream, “Keep moving!”. Cast, pull in line, take two steps up river, repeat. After a few hours the sun was high over head and it was beating down with an intense heat. My father-in-law and Ben had each already caught several fish and I was still 0 for 0. My hands were sore and blisters were starting to form. I was getting a sunburn on my arms and I was starving. My bubble was completely burst. Ben made his way up to me and asked how it was going and if I was about ready to head in for the day to await the evening hatch. I felt tears stinging my eyes (I know, I know, pathetic) and I looked at him and said, “I don’t think I have what it takes!”. Ben smiled and laughed at me gently. He put his arm around me and reassured me that I did have what it takes and that we would try again that evening. Reluctantly, I allowed myself to be led back into shore and we began the long hike back down along the riverbank towards the cabin.

I was beat. Defeated. Discouraged. Disillusioned. I felt betrayed by April Vokey. By anyone who made fly fishing look easy. It was NOT easy. I had been as fooled as a fish buying into the illusion of a fly drifting peacefully on the surface of a creek. Dumb. I ate a big lunch, tried to take a nap, but ended up laying awake for about an hour dreading having to face defeat on the river once more that evening.

The air got cooler, the sun got lower. It was time. We trekked back out to the river and I will admit, my attitude was less than positive. But, upon entering the waters nestled between the mountains in a quiet, tranquil valley…something felt different than it had that morning.  It was just me and Ben on the river that night. My father-in-law had stayed back at the cabin with my mother-in-law. Ben let me get up-stream of him a ways. All I could hear was the sound of the river rushing around me. The sky took on a pinkish hue as the sun set lower and lower. I cast my line out, pulled it in, took two steps up-stream, repeated. I felt myself beginning to relax. I was enjoying myself. I was still not catching a dang thing, but I was loving the feel of the rod in my hand and the pull of the smooth line against my fingers. A bald eagle soared lazily overhead, low enough in the air for me to see every detail of its beautiful body and the contrast of its stark white head. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, took two steps upstream and cast out my line.

*Bam* The next bit is a tad fuzzy, it all happened so fast. The thrill of feeling a trout hit the line, the rush of the dance, wrangling that powerful, squirming body out of its watery lair. I was squealing uncontrollably and hysterically.  Ben began making his way as quickly as possible upstream towards me shouting, “Stay calm! You’ve got this, bring the fish in close to you!” Well ladies and gents, after a few life-changing minutes I was sliding my hand down the line, grasping that dear, blessed Purple Haze [a type of dry fly] and lifting a 13-inch rainbow trout out of the water. I took the fish in my hands, grinning stupidly from ear to ear while Ben laughed and congratulated me. I have never seen him so proud of me and THAT alone was the best thing in the world. I removed the fly from the trout’s mouth and stared at it, gripping it (undoubtedly a bit TOO tightly) in my shaking hands.

The start of a beautiful obsession.

The start of a beautiful obsession.

Ben snapped a few shots of my first conquest and then I gently lowered the fish back into the river, facing it up-stream, holding it loosely until it found its strength and powered its way out of my hands and out of my sight. It was the start of a beautiful obsession and a damn good fly fishing trip during which many more fish were to be caught and now I officially have the fever. The fly fishing fever, that is.

Good Ol’ John Muir

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Taken on the banks of the Gallatin river by yours truly.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
John Muir

I like to think that this quote by John Muir sums up my thoughts about nature and the importance of getting back to one’s native, primal roots.  We are creatures built for fresh air and great expanses of open country beckoning to be wandered in. It is crucial for us to find a place that is filled with nothing but uncluttered, crowd-free, slow-paced, wind-whispering solitude. Quiet.

I find myself becoming so overwhelmed, and at times I will admit underwhelmed, with the hustle and bustle of modern life in a society that values a job quickly done. I personally just don’t buy into the hype – the so-called “beauty” of a busy city street lined with sky scrapers and spattered with chewed and discarded gum.  While some find that they are most at home in the grey, steel and concrete jungle, I find a part of myself that is repulsed by what has become the “norm”. I tend to shy away from crowds and from things and places that I identify as being so far removed from the natural world in which I feel that I belong.

John Muir speaks truth. Not only was he a great naturalist and an advocate of the preservation of America’s wilderness, but he was wise in his understanding of the essence of human need for open spaces and the wild country. I need to disconnect from society and from the pull of modern life at times. In fact, I may be so bold as to say that we ALL do.  There are weeks that I look ahead to the coming weekend with a giddy excitement like a child awaiting a much-anticipated gift from a beloved parent.  When the sun shoots its first rays of light over the horizon, I am ready with gear packed into the back of a black F-150, speeding towards the mountains and the chance to just simply BE in the great outdoors. I seek a place in which I may wander for days without encountering another human being. I search for a breathtaking view and the feel of a mountain breeze of fresh air blowing against my skin. An uncluttered landscape. Very few sounds to fill my consciousness.

Yep. John Muir had it so right.