How I Got Skunked and Why I’m OK With It!

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Weekend Adventurin’

This past weekend, my husband, Ben, and I sped over to the family cabin in Montana for four days of studying, relaxing, and – of course – fly fishing. We were hoping desperately to time it just right so that we hit the big October Caddis hatch. Unfortunately, the hatch didn’t happen during our stay. Ben had a few great bites and even kept one on the line for a little bit of a fight. But me? I got royally skunked. The fish completely ignored every single thing I threw their way. I got nothin’ – no bites, not even the faintest sign of aquatic life lurking somewhere in a distant deep pool…NOTHING. All I had to show for my time on the river was a huge new blister. I should have been discouraged. I should have been pissed. But you know what? I couldn’t stop smiling a huge stupid grin the whole time I was out there. Yep, I got skunked this weekend, and here is why I am OK with it:

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Heaven.

Even though I wasn’t catching any fish, I was having the time of my life! I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world on a blue ribbon trout fishery; my husband – the love of my life- was just up stream of me; aside from the sound of the rushing water in which I stood, submerged up to my waist, the world was silent around me. I was surrounded by mountains and Aspen trees. A soft wind blew gently through their leaves. Gorgeous blue birds flew over head. The sun beat down, its rays just warm enough to keep me a comfortable temperature, despite the frigid waters of the river pouring against my legs, clad in my Frogg Toggs waders [www.froggtoggs.com]. Yes, despite the lack of fishy conquests, I was content. More than content. I was happy. I was enjoying myself. I was breathing in the fresh, crisp, fall, Montana air. I was with my best friend, fishing in an extraordinary river that runs right by our family cabin…I realized how blessed I am.

See, that is the best part about fly fishing. It allows you to be present in the moment. It allows you to be with someone you love, and yet, alone in a sweet isolation – just you and the river; just the motion of your rod and the gentle, deliberate ‘C’ of your line, swooping overhead. It allows you to feel each rock beneath your booted feet (my boots are from Redington and I love them [www.redington.com]). Fly fishing brings you to some of the most breathtaking places, and lets you see them from a point of view that not many people get to experience – from the middle of a raging river or from a distant shore.

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We still had the best time together!

As Ben and I clambered up the river bank, on the eve of our trip’s end, we smiled at each other. We walked back up the dirt road towards the cabin. Blue birds flitted in the trees and the shadows grew longer as the sun sank lower and lower behind the mountains. Yep, we got skunked. But we still had a damn good time.

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You win this time, Montana!

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.