How to Bond While Chasing the Hatch with a Purple Haze Trico

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Travis and I roughing it on the Madison River on our first fly fishing adventure in 2008.

I think it was about 10 years ago when Travis suggested that we go on a father/son fly fishing trip.  This caught me by surprise.  To my recollection, Travis’s childhood was pretty much bereft of any kind of fishing;  I don’t recall him having ever held fly rod.   So his request brought on a flood of guilt.  Wasn’t sharing the manly pleasures of fishing something that “good” fathers shared with their young sons?  (I know; you’re thinking that it is rather chauvinistic to not include daughters in this discussion, but it wasn’t Sara who suggested a fly fishing trip). 

Sara&Travis with fish 1981

OK –  growing up Sara and Travis did occasionally do some fishing, as this 1981 photo shows.  However, these fish were caught with spinning rods in a stocked private pond belonging to friends of Ann’s parents.  To my mind this falls way short of a true fishing socialization experience for children.

My own  childhood ambivalence about fishing with my dad (see Why I Sometimes Carp about Fishing in an earlier blog) might explain some of my reluctance to introduce our kids to the world of fishing.  But when Travis made the suggestion, the opportunity for some after-the-fact father/son bonding was appealing.   

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Travis dug up this 2008 annotated photo of me gearing up in Glen Ellen for our upcoming, first-ever fly fishing trip to Montana.

It turns out that my earlier experience with fishing did not prepare me for what we found in the Montana hard core fly fishing environment.  It was akin to visiting a foreign country with an incomprehensible local language, distinct native attire, and rigid set of baffling rituals and customs.

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An essential part of the fly fishing guide’s attire is a fully equipped lanyard.

For our maiden trip we booked a fishing lodge on the famed Madison River.  It didn’t take long to realize that we had landed in a different universe.  I’ll never forget our first morning when I overheard a group of fishing guides, with all kinds of surgeon-like paraphernalia hanging from their necks and chatting amongst themselves as they waited for their clients (i.e., us).   They may as well have been an assemblage of astrophysicists discussing the quantum physics of how photons, electrons and the other particles make up the universe.  Here is somewhat of a reconstructed snippet I overheard:

  “A Hopper-dropper with a cold-ribbed hare’s ear nymph was getting a lot of attention in the morning, but with the  mid-afternoon hatch we switched to Purple Haze Tricos.”  

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Miles is untangling our lines as we float by the lunkers on the Madison.

It turns out that for us newbies a fishing guide makes all of the difference.   Our first guide, Miles, was a high school biology teacher who did guiding in the summers.  He was great.   He started us out with a  brief lesson on how to use a 9 foot rod to propel a very small fly attached to the end of a long monofilament leader to land in the vicinity of a trout which may or may not be suckered into thinking that something good to eat had just landed. 

Following that lesson we boarded the drift boat.  I’d be the first to admit that it is not pretty to watch me clamor onto any kind of boat,  but I did manage to settle into the swivel seat on the stern (or was it the bow – I always get them confused) without falling overboard – for the time being at least.  OK, it’s show time!

It didn’t take long to learn that fishing guides earn every penny they make, especially with the likes of Travis and me. Our very first cast revealed what I consider to be the most admirable trait of a guide: a bottomless reservoir of patience. 

Miles had pointed out a spot we were approaching that he knew would have some big trout.   You could tell he was very excited.   “Andy, when I say ‘go,’  cast just to the left side and below that big rock –  and Travis, you lay one near the bank on the right side…. Go!” 

Wade and Lucy in boat

Our guide Wade from the Big Hole Lodge manning the oars on the Montana Big Hole River with his begoggled sidekick Lucy.  The goggles were to protect Lucy’s eyes from errant fly hooks from the clients.

You can imagine the adrenaline pumping as we concentrated on getting our first cast on target.  Of course, as you might also imagine,  our attempt resulted in a hopeless tangle as Travis and I caught each other’s backcast in midair. 

While we drifted silently by the spot where the lunkers were surely lurking,  Miles was hunched over untangling the mess of our lines, assuring us that these things happen and not to be upset.  He had to repeat this assurance at least 12 more times during the float.   It must be unbearably frustrating for an accomplished fly fisherman to witness novice boneheads blow opportunity after opportunity to get that fly in the right place at the right time.  My hat goes off to these stoic fisherfolk.

Over the years since that first experience Travis and I have graduated from being novice fly fishermen to being “somewhat experienced” fly fishermen.  That means that we have gone from about  10 knots per hour in a drift boat to about one or two knots per hour.  I’m not talking about nautical speed here. 

Travis fish with Wade and Lucy

Wade holding a facebook-worthy brown trout landed by Travis (Big Hole River, Montana 8/14/2018)

Of course, technically speaking, the object of fly fishing is to catch fish.  Landing a brownie worthy of a Facebook post certainly is a thrill.  But Travis and I agree that catching such fish is only part of the allure of fly fishing.  My dad always said that anticipation of catching a fish is what keeps fishermen going (how else could he justify making me sit on the bank of Puddingstone Lake for hours without even a nibble).

It turns out that he was on target with regards to fly fishing.  Each cast (at least the ones that don’t end up in a tangle on the tip of the rod or get caught in a overhanging limb or snagged on the back of your hat) has the potential for that sudden swirl around your fly and the guide yelling “hit it” resulting in an  adrenaline-driven yank on the rod causing the line to come zinging  past your left ear (if you’re lucky and it didn’t nail you in the face) while the bewildered trout swims for cover.

The bottom line (see nymphing for an alternative meaning of “bottom line”) is that fly fishing has indeed been a bonding experience for Travis and me.  Whether reminiscing about  that lunker Travis pulled out of that riffle on the upper Bitterroot or about the time on the Beaverhead when I fell out of the drift boat, we have common memories that only we can appreciate and relive.  And we treasure those shared moments.

We are currently planning our excursion for next summer.  I can hardly wait.  Let’s hope that the fishing guides’ reservoirs of patience remain bottomless.

Lucy says it all with her tail as we headed to do some fly fishing on the Big Hole River in Montana.


  1. sara deseran says:

    Dog butt shot! Btw, I do feel like maybe I really want to go with you guys for some fly fishing bonding.


    Though I wouldn’t mind just floating down a river. Skip the fish.


    • theRaggedys says:

      I knew you would be offended by being omitted from this ritual. But you are welcome to come along any time. We give it a good try to skip the fish, but occasionally we do manage to land one.


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