Never in my life have I woken up so sore. It’s like I’ve gone to hockey camp for two weeks, only now I’m 30 years old and overweight. After making sure my body is functioning properly, I realize the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky. It’s a perfect day.
As I drink my coffee, I look over our maps and plot our course for the day. I can’t be satisfied with the distance we have traveled or the fish we can catch 100 yards from my tent. I want to go “just a little bit further.” George is of course onboard and we figure a short 2-hour hike should put us just above Salmon Lake, and what is rumored to be the best fishing on the entire river.
Chow and Luke reluctantly agree to go along. So we pack as light as we can, clean up camp, and once again we’re hiking down the trail. The terrain changes from tall full pines and shade to dead burned over land. The sun begins to cook us. Montana doesn’t have New Jersey humidity, but it feels like we we’re walking on the sun itself. It’s miserable. At this point, I believe if they had the energy, Chow and Luke would have put their previous threats to kick my ass in to action. I force us all on, promising the best fishing is just a bit further.
Instead, what we come upon is grand fucking central station. We look at a mile and half of prime river, with a fisherman in each pool. My perfect wilderness fishing trip is looking like a complete failure. I’m furious. How could we have traveled so far only to find so many people? I contemplate throwing my rod into the river, giving up fishing all together, and walking back to New Jersey.
Instead, due to my frustration and Pops will to make the best of the situation, we decide to go a little further down the trail in search of open water. We come to a spot at least 100 yards above the river. We decide it’s here or nowhere in order to save the day. Our only path is a steep slope filled with burnt timber, blowdowns and brush. My father is always warning us about being careful when we are out in the wild, but when the time comes, he doesn’t seem to give a shit and throws caution to the wind himself. As we barge our way down that hill I keep thinking how bad our descent could end. We’re days away from a hospital, and the descent down is the most treacherous action I’ve yet to attempt in the wild. Heather, my mother and my mom-mom would have a heart attack as we slid, jumped and climbed over all kinds of shit. Each of us blazing our own path.
We eventually all meet at the bottom, and waiting for us along this perfect stretch of river is more fisherman! Obviously, we couldn’t see them from our vantage point when we began our descent. We’re now bloodied and exhausted. I feel completely defeated. The perfect wilderness I had promised is nowhere to be found and it’s all my fault. Everything I had promised evaporates. I sulk on the ground, trying not to snap my rod in two and drown myself in the river. It’s an ultimate low for me. But instead of drowning myself, I pick my head up to the sound of Chow and Luke laughing hysterically. “Look at him…He’s gonna cry!!!! BAHAHAHAHA!!” I can’t help but begin to chuckle myself and say, “Well fuck you guys. Let’s get outta here.”
We’re all pissed. But because of Chow and Luke’s ability to make fun of me, and subsequently find the lighter side of our situation, our spirits are high. We come to the realization that this place just is not as “wild” as advertised, and devise a plan to hike the hell out and fish a different part of Montana.
As we begin our 2-hour hike back to base camp, all we can do is laugh some more when it begins to pour rain on what started as a perfect sunny day. The trail is a slop of horse shit and mud. Chow’s feet get so bad that my Dad trades boots with him. When the boots get too bad for George, the crazy old man decides to walk about a mile of the trail barefoot back to camp. I’ve never seen someone on so many occasions put his own comfort or safety aside and press forward. The three of us can barely finish the hike, our feet are so bad and our bodies so sore, yet here is the old man trudging along barefoot.
Before we make it back to camp, the rain stops and the sun has returned. When we reach camp only two hours of daylight remain. We then realize that we never bothered to put the tent fly’s on before leaving that morning. Everything we had is completely soaked and once again, we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. While the day was blistering hot, night time temperatures would dip to about 40 degrees. George gets pretty serious as he instructs us to gather as much wood as we can find. He begins rigging up a clothes line so we can dry our bags. Luke, Chow and myself gather firewood and then proceed to drink any bit of alcohol we can come up with.
It’s the worst sleep of my life. Chow and I share a sleeping bag while wearing every dry item we have. My dad once again shows sacrifice and perseverance. He sits up burning wood until 2am until every bag is dry, before he climbs into his tent. Maybe when I have children of my own, this instinct my Dad has will just appear within me. I doubt it, but seeing him in action I at least know it’s possible.
We wake up miserable and hell bent on getting out of this “wilderness” as fast as our feet can take us. We begin hiking back in the direction of the car, passing more pack trains and people as we go. About six miles in we come to a spot we had passed two days before. It looks very fishy, and most importantly, there isn’t a damn person in sight. We take a vote and decide to spend our last two days in Montana fishing this stretch of river.
We pitch our camp and catch trout after trout out of a large bathtub pool 25 feet from our fire pit. As it gets dark, we decide to keep a few fish for dinner to supplement our Ramen noodles.
About five minutes into those fish cooking over the fire, Chow insists the fish are “fucking done” and slides one of the trout out of our pan and onto his plate. George and him pick away at that fish while Luke and I wait for ours to cook a bit longer. We’re full and tired. As we lay down in our tents on what was apparently the most clear night sky we had yet encountered on the trip, we’re all blown away by the stars. I’ve never seen anything like it, it seems there were more stars than sky. This is almost worth the trip alone.
We wake up with our batteries recharged and head down river to fish for the day. We fish over some amazing water, catching trout from every spot a trout could wedge itself. All dry flies, all averaging 8-16 inches.
About halfway through the day, Chow heads back to our camp. He’s having some pretty bad stomach issues and goes tent bound. I check on him, make sure he has water, and go back to fishing. Alone on a nice stretch catching fish after fish when out of the corner of my eye on the opposite side of the river come more goddamned fishermen. They keep creeping up closer to the hole I’m fishing. I want to say something, or wade across and knock their fucking teeth out. But I’d just caught and released a picture perfect 18-inch cutty on a hopper. Satisfied, I concede the hole and leave to search for George and Luke.
The two of them had wandered further down river and were catching fish on nearly every cast. To see them so content and happy with the fishing makes my day. The three of us take turns on a pool and decide we should head back to camp to check on Chow. As we make our way back, we pass the fishermen that had crowded me earlier. From what I can make of them, it’s a father and his two sons. Only the one son, looking about my age, has a prosthetic leg. An hour ago I wanted to kick all of their asses for crowding me, now I realize that the guy was probably a Veteran and out here to find the same peace and wilderness that we had come for. I feel humbled, and foolish for getting angry earlier over a stretch of water. I tried then, and still do now, to draw up a witty “life lesson” to take from the experience. Frankly, the situation engulfs so many possible revelations that I cant sum it up in one. But regardless, the guy deserves to fish that water more than me.
Chow on the other hand, had no such revelations back at camp. He can hardly move from his tent, and when he does, it’s only to our makeshift bathroom. While we begin to set up camp for dinner, floating down the river come another group of fishermen. Shocker! However, these clowns decide to set up camp directly across river from us. They wave as if we’re best friends out fishing together. They even began chopping and sawing down stream side trees and brush to make way for their elaborate camp. I again thought about ripping someones head off. But knowing how wrong a fight could go in the wilderness I took a deep breath and moved on mentally. That was about it for me. I’m sick of seeing so many people in “the wilderness.” Content with the fishing we had experienced, we decide to get up with the sun and hike out.
When we get up the next morning, Chow is still sick, and now George has joined him. The only link between the two illnesses is the fish that two nights ago Chow had declared “fucking done”. I make sure to mention this to him multiple times during our hike out. Luke and I attempt to shoulder as much of the load as we can, and we all trudge up the hill and back onto the trail. With six days in the wilderness wearing on our bodies, the hike out is worse than the hike in and I worry about Chow and Pops. We pass party after party of people heading in the direction we’re coming from. Solidifying our frustration with the Bob Marshall Wilderness population.
Two years I spent planning my perfect trip. Paradise in the Montana Wilderness. The trip tried our patience, our companionship, and pushed us to the limit physically. I put so much pressure on the outcome of the trip. I wanted everything to be perfect, I saw the trip as a stepping stone, which upon return home would have better prepared me to become a grown ass man. In this respect, the trip fell short of my enormous expectations.
On the hike out, I finally realize that life is not broken up into steps, we don’t move on from one milestone to the next, passing or failing. As cliche as it may sound, I’ve come to believe that I will just continue to roll, flow, and tumble on like that crystal clear river that flowed 100 yards below me for a week as I hiked through Montana.
Most importantly, I think about how I’d frequently advertised and sold this as the “trip of a lifetime”. I realize that there will never be THE trip of a lifetime. Every trip will be challenging and at times not worth the frustration. No trip will ever be perfect. And it’s high time I stop burdening myself and the rest of the world with expectations. This will not be the last trip my brothers threaten to kick my ass (they can’t do that anyway). But I will still drag my father and brothers through bogs, blowdowns and logging roads. Because that’s what we do. It may not make sense to other people, I’m not sure it even makes sense to me. But we have to keep pushing, keep exploring and keep living this life.
It has taken me so long to attempt to tell this story, our Montana story. Every day for the past few months I have fought myself to just sit down and get it out on paper but I could never decide where to begin. And if I were to begin, how I could possibly get it all in? I once heard Jim Babb, one of my favorite authors say, “Tell a story just like you were telling a friend over coffee at a diner.” So, get your coffee and order up 6-8 eggs over medium.
We arrive to find the Meadow Creek Trailhead parking lot filled with cars, trucks, and horse trailers. This was not what I had hoped to see. Optimistically, I proclaim that “People use these trails for all kinds of stuff, most of ‘em ain’t fishing.” We load up the packs, hide the car keys, take a long deep swig of George’s peach brandy, and head down the trail bear bells banging away.
About two hours into our hike, it becomes painfully obvious that we have over-packed. The weight of the packs on our shoulders is nearly unbearable. It feels like we we’re carrying a bag cinderblocks on our backs, just a heavy dead weight that never stops burning the shoulders and back. The pain is relentless. For the first time, I wonder what the hell I have gotten us into.
Up until this point in our trip, I have been in charge of navigation. Along the trail, we pause to allow a few lesbians and their dog pass. As we exchange what I assume is typical trail banter, one of the woman reveals to us that we’re headed in the wrong direction. The lesbians kindly take a look at our map and point us back towards the direction from which we have come. At this point, George has had enough of my internet maps and instructions. He grudgingly gets out his old compass and takes over all navigation responsibility. This is also to be the first of many times Chow and Luke inform me that they are going to kick my ass.
As we finally begin in the right direction, maps are no longer needed as we realize that simply following the endless piles of horse shit would lead us to our destination. I have no problem with horse shit. I’ve even seen Chow eat some when we were kids, I just never expected to see so much of it on a Montana wilderness trail. Gang after gang of horses pass us along the trail, both coming and going.
Lifting my eyes from the horse shit trail, I realize we’re marching along the most picturesque river I’ve ever seen. At most points, the South Fork of the Flathead is only 100 yards below me and I still can’t believe I’ll be fishing this beautiful river. It doesn’t feel real, or possible that I could come upon something so perfect.
The horse shit eventually leads to people. Nearly every spot that look camp-worthy is occupied. Forcing us to hike an hour longer than our bodies want to take us to find a camp site. Eventually we come upon a vacant sand bar a mile or two past Bear Creek, right along the river. Pitch the tents, make a fire and hang our packs in trees to avoid bears. We eat our freeze-dried meal and wash it down with bourbon and brandy. My body aches, and I lay in the dirt staring at my fly rod tube. My body longs for rest, but the river screams for my attention. In my exhaustion, I hear my Mom-moms voice bantering me with her well-worn phrase, “Dougie, shit or get off the pot.” Charming yes, but I get up, rig up, and head towards a fishy-looking hole. The river is not as picturesque as it had looked earlier. I’m shocked when I raise a trout, as I can’t believe they are actually here. I don’t land what looks to be a decent cutthroat, but my tank is refueled with enthusiasm just before it gets too dark to see. Get back to our camp and crawl into my “two man” tent with Chow. Sleep comes quick.
The hiking continues. We’re all sore and our feet are severely blistered. We’re again passed countless times by pack trains. Despite how battered and tired we are, I keep us moving. Occasionally, we stop mid-trail to drink water or eat a Cliff bar. Pops always seems fine, Luke the most energy, while Chow deals with some harsh blisters. “This is ridiculous. What the hell is wrong with all the spots were passing?” I try to ease Chow’s rage with some jokes. This only prompts him to state, “I’m gonna kick your ass.” (For the hundredth time today.) I try to stay positive, but as the day wears on, I want to kick my own ass.
Around 6pm, we come to a perfect campsite and decide we have walked far enough. We set up base camp and will move up or down the river from this point for the remainder of the week. After we set up camp, I rig up and walk back down river to a 60-foot pool within a small canyon. I’m still dealing with bear anxiety, and constantly looking at the ridge above me for grizzly bear.
Trout begin rising to my size-12 hopper as soon as it hits the water in the most beautiful piece of water I have ever stood in. I land my first 5 or 6 cutthroat trout within 25 minutes.
Eventually Pops and Luke join me. The old man has no trouble catching fish as soon as he gets going. Luke has trouble with the currents and getting a decent drift. I want more than anything for him to hook a fish. I know that Luke, like Chow, is still a little pissed about the two-day death march I’d just drug him on. So I approach with caution and offer some instruction on how to mend line. As his drift gets better, the fish take notice and it’s not long before he’s tight to his first cutty. Luke happily releases his fish and the three of us continue catching until dark.
At first I was using my graphite Winston 5wt and considering that perhaps graphite rods aren’t for the devil. Then at some point Pops handed me a rod of our own making, a 3 piece Leonard 50DF taper. It feels as if the line wants to soar itself across the river with just the smallest amount of motion from my right arm. Yet the big foam hopper lands softly in the current with each cast. As I hook and play a decent 12 inch cutty, its once again clear why my allegiance lies with bamboo. To fly fish and not use bamboo, is like driving a 68′ mustang with a Hunda four cylinder under the hood, your just not doing it right.
We’re all pumped and finally enjoying our trip as we hike back to camp. To my surprise, when we arrive, Chow is now also in high spirits. Upon further investigation, I realize he has finished off his supply of Jack Daniels. We cook our two trout, and Luke heats up our evening feast of freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff. It becomes known as “Beef Stroggie” and is damn good.
*Will be posting rest of the trip report and a video of all photos this weekend. Come back!
*Decided to break this trip report up, want to cover a lot. No need to rush.
I awake to noise coming from our bathroom down the hall. The bedroom light is still off, and outside the sun has yet to rise. My alarm hasn’t gone off yet either, allowing for a little more time to catch some precious sleep.
Moments later, Heather comes back to bed and I look at her for a sign. “I’m not pregnant,” she says, and I can hear the sadness in her voice. She’s only a day late, so I actually thought she was taking a test basically for the hell of it, but that’s not Heather’s rationale. She is so worried about me getting eaten by a bear, she wanted me to know that I would be a father before departing, if that were to be the case. She is so distraught with me potentially meeting my demise by said bear that the night before, she even mentioned having to regretfully name the child “Doug” in my memory.
I sigh, kiss her and tell her that, “it will happen when it happens.”
I sigh again, this time with some relief and excitement. It’s Montana time baby.
Get what little gear that isn’t waiting for me at Dad’s, and Heather drives me over. We hit the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru for my coffee and bagel. Heather’s pretty upset. She knows I’ll have no cell service for a straight week in bear country (She has yet to trust my survival skills).
When we pull up to the old man’s I assure her everything will be fine and I’ll call whenever I can. Give the old lady a kiss and head in to see who’s up and ready to go.
Walking in to Dad’s at such an early time of day is always a tentative approach. I walk slowly through each room assessing damage from whatever drunken debauchery my brothers had taken part in the night before, checking for any decent beers that may have survived for my confiscation, and always spare bodies. Friends always seem to be tucked on undersized couches in that uncomfortable sleep of a college kid, of which I’ll never miss.
George is of course up and still packing. Never have we gone on an excursion and not been packing well into the night before departure. Knock on wood; we have yet to leave anything important behind (credit the old man for that). Chow is fairly easy to get up. Luke on the other hand, when he finally does arise from bed, is still drunk from the night before. He doesn’t seem to care that he got home from the local bar at 2am and drunkenly threw clothes directly from the dryer into his pack. For the millionth time, I warn him of the trip we are about to embark on and how he should take his packing seriously. In response he grabs my bagel and takes a bite. The little bastard hasn’t even brushed his teeth yet. My frustration now begins to manifest. I abandon my breakfast after Luke just slobbered all over it, and begin to pack the truck for our ride to the airport.
Fifteen minutes passes with all of us but Chow sitting in the truck, ready to go. As we’re all walking out the door he decides he has to take his morning shit.
After Desimone’s 23rd beep of the horn I’m ready to explode. (Desimone is our chauffeur to the airport. I typically tell people he is my step brother just to make short work of a conversation I don’t feel like having. Truth is he is Luke’s fat Italian friend who has lived with us for over 10 years and if hard pressed I’d give him the title of brother, no step. Emphasis on hard pressed). So here we are, packed in the truck and an hour away from boarding our flight to the Promised Land and Chow is taking a shit. I want to kill him. Finally he comes jogging out. Wearing my gym shorts.
It takes two of us to unload our community suitcase. A large blue case that contains all of our food, knives, rods, flies, reels and everything else that’s not allowed in a carry-on bag. Getting charged an overweight fee is no shock. As we hand it over I take a long hard look at that blue bag, trying to will its timely and safe arrival to Montana. That damn case has everything! If the airline loses it or sends it to China, our trip is fucked. We tip the baggage handler for some good karma, and head to check in.
Despite Luke’s drunkenness, Chow’s shit, and my overall frustration with the two, we have some time to kill. This of course grants Chow and Luke satisfaction. “Told ya plenty of time.” “Take a zanny and relax.” These Clowns seem to think you can walk up to your terminal and waltz onto the plane. We’re lucky to have 30 minutes before boarding so I head to the bar for a drink. The bartender, a typical, stocky Italian with a South Philly accent to boot, comes around and asks for my order. Order the breakfast special: vodka and orange juice. “Double?” Well shit, what kind of man is going to say no? Excellent sales tactic by the airport bartender. Subsequently, the double proves to be a good suggestion. Back in the terminal, Chow and Luke text while George and I scan the other passengers for fly fishing paraphernalia. I pay close attention to rod tubes, searching for fellow bamboo fisherman but all seem to be carrying plastic. Poor guys.
Our first flight is uneventful, exactly how you want your flight to paradise to be. Turbulence, sitting next to a fat guy, or crashing, are things you want to happen on the way home. We land in Minnesota and I text the wife. We have just enough time to get our bearings and take a seat before the next flight. A hostess comes over to our table and asks about my magazine. Huge fan of the Drake magazine and I carry it with me daily, not just on long trips. This girl, however, thinks the magazine is based on the rapper, Drake. Needless to say, that was an awkward conversation and only heightened my urgency for arrival in Montana.
This flight does not go as smoothly as the last. We’re all seated in the emergency exit row. The attendant comes over and asks the standard question, something along the lines of, “Are you willing to open this bitch up and jump out if need be?” Sure lady, whatever keeps me in this seat with all the leg room. She goes down the row, getting the politically correct answer of ‘yes’ from everyone until she gets to Chow. Meathead stares at the woman for what seems like an hour. She has to repeat herself and in unison Luke and I yell at Chow to reply “YES!” Who knows how long he would have continued to stare blankly. After Chow, it’s George’s turn. He doesn’t hear her and with that, the flight attendant thinks we’re all high or stupid or both and says something about learning English and storms off. My anxiety rises and I search for the damn drink cart to make its way down the aisle.
We arrive in Missoula on time and ready to roll. I’m anxious to see the inside of the airport. Heather just watched a recent Housewives of New York episode where the women all went to Montana and were amazed at the amount of dead animals on display in the airport. I share in their amazement as I walk through and see my first grizzly mount. Jesus Christ, they are monsters. The 4.5 inch Randall knife and bear spray I brought for protection will be reduced to scraps if I encounter one of these beasts. Luckily it’s dead, and in an airport, so I make way to baggage claim.
Outfitters and clients with fishing gear are everywhere. I bump my way up to the front and await the pending arrival of the big blue suitcase. After a short period of waiting with some strong anxiety, the bag tumbles down and I snatch it up. Relief finally comes over me. Good thing I made my way to the front. After they saw I had the bag, Chow and Luke disclosed their plan to grab the bag, hide it and watch my heart attack.
We meet Pops at the rental car station. He was told the wait would be about an hour long. Chow and Luke gripe. I, on the other hand, could care less. We’re in Montana and we have the gear, the car will come, and our trip will be unimpeded. Only 20 minutes of waiting and we’re led to our economy car in the lot. It has AC, the sun is out, and we have a map and plenty of time. This journey is about to officially kick off.
I have not written anything in months. By a show of hands who gives a flying flock? (Mom-mom put your hand down). No one? Good because all that matters right now is MONTANA!!!
In 24 hours the crew and I will board our flight to fish one of the most remote regions in the United States as we hike in to Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. This week leading up the trip has been crazy. Final planning, trips to REI, printing google maps at work and reviewing the seemingly endless amount of lists I have composed over the last 5 months.
This trip is on the bucket lists of men who’ve accomplished much more than I have in the pursuit of trout, and probably life in general as well. Honestly, I have trouble believing we have made it to this point. Planning started two years ago and the destination was simply “West”. After some researching and debate we decided that if we we’re going to head West we might as well go big or not go. Only advice I can give to make a trip like this happen is to say you’re going to do it, and do it.
My friends have no clue where I’m headed. They know the State but where Ill actually be venturing off into they would not comprehend. My wife doesn’t really understand the idea of “Wilderness” either. She is scared to death, and when I take a step back and look at this crew of jersey boys heading into the Montana woods I cannot blame her….
Most likely to die via hypothermia or starvation: Chow
Chows typical day goes like this, wake up 8am go to gym. Back to couch, nap. 3pm head to rink where he coaches Ice Hockey for 2 hours then home and back to bed. He is not a professional hockey coach. He coaches underprivileged youth from Camden NJ. Very touching stuff, however his monthly paycheck lands him in the underprivileged adult category. Do to this chows had trouble allocating funds for gear necessary when hiking into the back country. His pack was our Aunts, a 1970’s contraption that George trash picked months ago unbeknownst to our sear Aunt Anne. His sleeping bag is Georges 25 year old “goose down”. His hiking attire exactly what he wears every single day my old gym pants and a t-shirt. When asked how he planned on eating with no mess kit or utensils, he replied bluntly “my hands, duh.”
Positive spin: His everyday gym and ice rink regimen finds him in exceptional physical condition. This plays in his favor if encountered by bear or Mountain lion. He will only have to outrun one of us.
Most Likely to Thrive and elect to remain in Wilderness as a hermit: Pops, aka George Costanza
George loves this shit. Guy once spent an entire summer in the Maine woods by himself. Had a garden for vegetables, chickens and a set of brass balls to stay in those woods alone. Pretty sure he killed his first deer at age 12. He’s part of a generation that officially announced its retirement the minute reality Television was conceived. The outdoors is the old man’s sanctuary. If the bathroom is occupied at home he has been rumored to grab some paper and head off to the woods to take a shit. That’s fuckin outdoorsy.
Positive Spin: Neither one of my brothers, nor myself will survive at home without him. We will drag his skinny ass back to civilization with us.
Most likely to get stomped in tent by a grizzly bear: Peck aka Luke
The young gun of the group, he actually may prove to be resourceful in the woods. He is a self-proclaimed gear nut and the weight of his pack reflects this. Claims he wants everything needed for survival on “his person” in the event he gets separated from the group.
Luke can be expected to be carrying 4-6 knives, one of which is Randall and a wide array of gadgets purchased from REI. Why would a man so prepared be considered at risk for Bear attacks you ask? Luke does not always brush his teeth. From what I understand a grizzly bear sense of smell is strong enough to get a whiff of the evening’s dinner if he were to stumble upon camp.
Positive Spin: Time saved not brushing teeth can be used for fishing and general prospecting.
Most Likely to get lost: Me
I get friggen lost all the time. That IPhone map app is just the worst. For this my wife’s concerns are legitimate. Few other things I may fall under “most Likely’ would be as follows; most likely to assault and FAA employee if our luggage is lost. Most likely to drink too much and attempt some moronic athletic feat in the wilderness resulting in injury. Most likely to not sleep at night due to Bear anxiety. Most Likely not to venture more than 20 yards alone due to bear anxiety.
Positive Spin: I’m going to MONTANA!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now the threat of being attacked by a grizzly or mountain lion is apparently real. Hiking into a designated wilderness area is not something to take lightly. Honestly I have drug us all way in over our heads. In case I do not return I have to get sappy and mention my wife.
Heather and I have been together since I was in the 10th grade. We have never had a break in our relationship. Over the course of those 16 years my advice to kids younger than me was always the same. Rule number 1: Get with as many chicks as possible, do not follow in my footsteps. That rule remains number 1 and I will continue to divulge that advice when called upon. However, at this time I would like to officially announce an addendum to rule number 1. Rule 1 (a): If you are going to spend the majority of your youth and the unforeseen future with one woman, make damn sure it is a woman that will support you taking a trip like this.
Heather has been awesome. She has not nagged me on my countless planning sessions at my dad’s, my rod building days, and has made sure we had the funds for me to travel comfortably. Most importantly she understands how important a trip like this is to me and has made sacrifices to make it happen. She gets nothing out of it. Her ability to be so selfless and giving to a fishing clown like myself is uncanny.
So now I prepare to leave my wonderful wife and accomplish something we set out to do over two years ago. Writing this just a few hours before I depart hasn’t afforded me the opportunity to strive for “good writing”. I don’t give a flock. I’m flocking pumped!!!! Full report will be posted when we return!
So who is ready for the excuses? It has been nearly three months since I have posted anything to my blog. My free time and mental well-being were compromised when I was sent to Baltimore for nearly two months courtesy of my employer. Ill skip the gruesome details and move right to the present. I’m home, I have rods to finish, this horrendous weather is finally starting to turn and I’ve kicked my season off in extravagant style. Sunday George and I drove to Coburn PA to attend the Feathered Hooks “Extravaganza”. It was a fun event and has me primed to crank out rods and spend more time fishing this year than ever before. A few things stuck out to me during the day and I thought presenting them in a list format would help accentuate.
Jonas Price, the owner of the Feathered Hook fly shop. I’ve only visited the shop 3-4 times a year over the past 4 years. Jonas still manages to recognize me on sight each time and recall the details of my life. As much as I drink, I don’t have that kind of relationship with bartenders around my home town. Jonas held this event, got speakers to come, and on such a hectic day I witnessed him approach every single person that walked through the door. The passion Jonas exudes for his shop, the river and his friends is something very rare and inspirational. More importantly his shop is stocked with bamboo fly rods, classic reels and a ton of new Simms gear.
Jeff Wagner. So George and I decided to walk over to Jim Downes shop and say hello, when we walked in Jeff Wagner was posted up at Jim’s bench shooting the shit with another guy. “Jim ran to the hardware store, he’ll be back in a half hour but you can hang with us if you want.” UH, hang with Jeff Wagner, living rod making legend, yes please. Jeff got up walked over and introduced himself. I’ve been told by my wife and close friends I can be awkward when initiating conversations. So after introductions I nervously blurted out that I owe Jeff $4 for a tip top guide that he and his wife had generously sent me free of charge the previous week. Luckily there was no awkwardness, Jeff erupted in laughter. He was awesome. He would totally be a good guy to have a few beers with. The other guy Jeff was talking to eventually asked if we had seen the rod Jeff had made him and handed it over. It was the nicest rod I have ever held, one of Jeff Wagners Classic series. I’m not going to shame the rod and its craftsman by attempting to describe its detail and beauty but suggest you check his website for photos of the rod series. Bottom line another down to earth rod maker who has crafted the finest rod I have ever laid eyes on.
Customer Service. I’m one of these internet guys. I make purchases via the internet, I google answers to questions and it has instilled a need for immediate satisfaction. My generation scours the internet for the cheapest prices on items we want and expect perfection with every transaction. Quality has eluded us. It is our own fault; every day I and others my age are willing to sacrifice quality and customer service for immediate satisfaction. Shortly after Jim arrived to his shop Sunday I witnessed something foreign to my internet consumer experiences. An older couple came into Jims shop to check on a rod they had order for the man’s wife. Jim had the blank done and ferruled allowing the customer to wiggle her soon to be rod alongside him in the shop. Jim noticed some discomfort as the woman wiggled the rod, her hands being smaller then Jims typical clientele he suggested that he turn the cork grip down to better fit her hand. He walked the couple over to his lathe and began turning the grip as they watched, stopping periodically for a test fit. Think about that. You’re buying a rare handmade fishing rod, the maker allows you to stroll into his shop, and then stand alongside you to ensure complete satisfaction. You do not see that when you walk into Dicks Sporting Goods or another place I’ve gone to make a purchase of any kind. Maybe to some people this isn’t a mind blowing observation, but it was for me.
Alright enough talking up those guys. I’m ready to embark on what should be an amazing fishing season, upon returning from Baltimore Pops, Chow, Luke and I all booked our flights to Montana. The trip is an absolute reality and I cannot wait. I’m also doing a lot to ensure I use my free time fishing locally as well. I hate to do it, but I have decided to put a numerical goal on my fishing days this year. A modest 50 days, farms ponds for bass, long drives to Pa, Montana, hopefully Maine, they all count. Putting a number on a hobby could prove stressful but my thinking is that a little extra motivation won’t hurt me.
Rod making will also get a strong push this summer. Most makers take time off from making during the spring and summer, I have no interest in doing that. We need 4 three piece rods done by July for Montana. This week I should finish up the butt strips on a George Maurer Bitch Creek taper and then begin our Montana rods. Below is George Costanza is unwinding string from the binder; right before I snuck this photo he proclaimed “I’ve reused this same string 16 times now.” Thanks god, we only have 600 more yards of the stuff left.