I love to fish. Done it all my life. Something almost hormonal about springtime and fishin'. It's early morning and I'm headed out from West Yellowstone with one of thee great fly fishermen and guides, Bob Jacklin.
Try as I may, what Bob doesn't know is that no matter who I fish with, I put a hex on every fishing trip I've ever been on. Always have. We turn onto the road that runs along the Madison River. Elk, deer and moose graze looking-up with little interest. There's so much wildlife I feel like a trespasser.
Bob's been helping tourists fish Yellowstone for 30 years. But he's more than a fishing guide. He's an interpreter in the language of wilds. We pull off and descend to the river. Bobs hands me a pair of hip waders and pulls out two rods. He puts on his fishing vest -- a portable workshop -- scissors and pliers hanging off strings and a dozen pockets full of fishing stuff. Then comes the tackle box, layered in hand-tied flies of every imaginable color and size.
I realize, for the first time, Bob's fly collection is more than the tools of the trade. It's history. Every fly represents a lifetime of fish stories. And strangely too, it's art, Bob's tribute to God's handiwork in nature.
The trick here is to float an artificial fly exactly the way a real one would sweep down the river. Hopefully, the fish grabs for it and the fisherman has a split second to hook the trout before he spits the nasty impersonator out.
I remember as a kid looking through Field and Stream at the dentist's office. I loved those romantic illustrations of the fisherman -- plaid coat, pipe clenched between teeth, reeling in the big one as a grizzly bear paws at the air across the river. Bob must have looked at those same magazines growing up in New Jersey, but he was serious. He made a pact with himself that after the Army he was going to fish Yellowstone.
After that halcyon summer in Bob knew he couldn't go back to the East. So, he moved out to Montana and hooked up with some of the great old-time fly fishermen of Yellowstone.
He's too kind. My casts are so clumsy. In his hand the rod is a magic wand -- a perfect line setting each fly with total precision. This ancient dance between man and fish is full of tradition, part of some notion we hold that we want connection with nature, with wildness. And to Bob that's what Yellowstone embodies.
But the fish are playing hard-to-get this morning. Bob hasn't had a strike, and I've succeeded in hooking everything but a fish.
Thankfully, Bob's luck has changed.
After a day fishing people come back to the bar and they're sitting around talking. Have you ever come back with a story that was true that you knew your friends weren't going to believe?
As usual, the story's better than reality and besides, we have to get back to town. I make one final useless cast and I can just imagine the fish down there laughing at me. We climb out of the river to the car. But Bob has one last place he wants to show us. It's a spawning ground for brown trout.
Bob's excitement is contagious and even though I got skunked, once again, its been fantastic fishing with a man who, like the trout, considers the river his home.
Going native from the Open Road, I'm Hal Cannon for The Savvy Traveler.
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