Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Just returned from the Denver Fly Fishing Show…I drove with Steven. We had shit roads going down there which ended up making it a14 hour trip and crap roads today following a meeting in Denver making it a 12 hour drive. Show was alright, probably had more fun than was productive business wise. Have a couple days home and then heading to Boston on Thursday morning.
Most significant of things at the show? I ran into two guides that, together created one of the more influential days of my fly-angling life. I believe the day was July 5, 1992 (maybe 1993) but the destination was definitely the Dolores River in SW Colorado. I had been seriously committed to fly-fishing for a year or two at the time and this was the first guided fly-fishing trip. I had gashed my ankle the day before with a hatchet while cutting firewood the day before and remember having to call the local urgent care on July 4…thus I remember the date mores than the year.
Mom, dad and myself headed off somewhere and met up with the guides on the morning of the 5th for a an hour or tow drive for a day of wading with Telluride guides John Duncan and Frank Smethurst. The day was significant for many reasons, but what impacted me mostly was the enthusiasm and love for the sport that the guides showed. Honestly, it probably inspired me to want to do what I do more than any other experience in my life.
The river was high and dirty, we spooked a rattlesnake at the rivers edge on the first hole. I fished the morning with my mom and John. I don't know how many fish we got, but I know that I landed a massive 22"+ cutthroat that morning which took us way downstream, screaming with excitement the whole time. We landed and it, celebrated wildly, and fished on until lunch with a few more fish here and there. No camera in those days, but I can still remember the sense of shock we all had when that fish first showed itself in that muddy water.
After lunch, the guides split us up with my parents going with John and me with Frank. I could tell Frank was feeling some pressure, as John had got me on a big fish in the morning, while he his morning was slow. Frank spotted a Smallmouth in a back eddy, I cast at it, missed it. That was to be the highlight, I could tell. he put a San Juan on for me and had me fish some in between us laughing and smoking Camels along the bank. At some point that afternoon, I hooked another big fish, this one had a 14" rainbow which was just barely partially digested poking out of it's mouth when it came to hand. I remember he was all jacked up about that rarity of seeing that and the fact that the fish we landed was still willing to eat a worm, despite having a fish that was half it's length hanging out of it's throat! No camera again, but I remember the feeling I had as if it were this morning!
Anyway, it was an amazing day in terms of fishing and understanding what fishing means to me. To experience those moments with those fish on that day with a couple of other anglers that appreciated it as much or more than me changed everything for me in terms of where my life was headed. From that point on, I knew that there was much more to fly-fishing for trout than just catching a few fish and telling stories.
Now, fast-forward to 2013, mid-July in Las Vegas. I ran into John at a trade show, introduce myself and watch as the recognition comes across his face. He instantly retold our experience 20 years earlier on the Dolores down to the fly we had used and stretch of river. He recalled the day as freshly as it has sat in my brain for 20 years or more.
I had not seen Frank since that day on the Dolores until this past weekend, but I have followed him here and there as he has become a bit of fly-fishing celebrity. He's done some movies (Running Down the Man), hosted a FF TV show, and is generally considered one of the modern-day ambassadors of the sport.
I walked up to Frank this past Friday, and gave him the "do you remember?" It took a few seconds, but the recognition came quickly along with the fly, regurgitated fish, and stretch of river we shared that day on the Dolores.
The thing with that day, and the reason I thought the tale worth retelling lies in the fact that some days really are golden. For me, it was one pivotal day on the water during which I came to appreciate that there is very little in life that gives me a sense of connectivity to the world like a day spent fly-fishing for trout in cold water. I learned that there is much more to this simple sport than simply the "tug being the drug." I learned that there is much more to being a good fishing guide than teaching techniques and regurgitating natural history BS.
The gift of seeing Frank and John this past weekend was not lost on me. The realization that something about that day rooted itself into our "fishing-souls" in a way that became truly unforgettable, yet it really was just a day on the water, fishing for trout. I'm thankful to Frank and John for that day on the Dolores and the lessons learned. More importantly, they showed me what happiness could look like at a time in my life during which happiness seemed so utterly unattainable to me.