There has always been a romance with Texans and the great outdoors. Here Austinite Rose Betty William embarks upon her own angling adventures in the US and Canada and fishes her way into new territory.
Photography by Rose Betty Williams, Archival Photography
Those who fish are of a different breed. They may differ in what, where and how they fish, yet all fishermen seem to share certain bonds: a love of the outdoors, a passion and curiosity about nature, and a patience, respect and intrigue for the sport. Plus, anglers love to share their observations of fish habits and habitats, information about the insects fish find attractive, types of rods, lines and techniques to use, where to fish, when and why.
Bill Mason in his must-read book, Fly Fishing: Learn from a Master, directs his comments to fly fishermen, yet his comments are equally applicable to all anglers. “A good fly fisherman finds himself becoming an amateur ichthyologist studying fish, a hydrologist analyzing water, an entomologist identifying insects, and a meteorologist recognizing weather patterns,” he says. “All these subjects require a lifetime of attention and study, but the quest for knowledge is one of the sport’s continuing attractions.”
My own quest had begun long before. Perhaps the appeal and what “hooks” every fisherman is the camaraderie with other fishermen. Their fish tales and their “lore” are part of the allure of the sport. Anglers everywhere love to share incredible fishing experiences, including memories of the fish that got away and the fish caught that seems to get bigger with every telling of the story. I am no different.
My fish tales are about trout, salmon and halibut fishing in North America. For nearly 20 years, thanks to friends who have homes in Idaho and are avid anglers, my family and I have fished the Snake River. The pristine scenery, the abundance of wild life, the vast skies, the quietude and the communion with nature have all drawn us to return to this special place again and again.
We usually fly to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and drive over the pass to Idaho with a stop at either the Victor Emporium in Victor for a huckleberry milkshake or Warbirds Café in Driggs, for a great dinner where we admire the views of the Tetons, as we enjoy live music and the vintage planes on display in the hanger attached to the restaurant and the private jets landing and taking off from the Teton Aviation/Driggs Reed Memorial Airport’s runway of 7,300 feet. A 50 mile, 45 minute drive later, when we arrive in Warm River, Idaho, we feel ourselves unwinding, relaxing and letting all “back at home concerns” dissipate in the currents of the river. There is a kind of suspension of reality when we are here because we immerse ourselves in the spectacular landscapes, the timelessness of the mountains and the river, and the anticipation of the fishing.
One of our friends prefers wading and fishing on his own. He does that by walking out the back door of his house that is located on the scenic banks of the Warm River. However, often he likes to hike and explore new places. That has its benefits, but also pitfalls. To carry a rod down a steep hill with slippery rocks, weeds and bushes with stickers or into a river with depths that vary from knee deep in one step to over your head in the next or into swiftly changing currents is no small task. Add to that the possibility of moose or bear nearby, and the difficulty of the challenge increases exponentially. Nevertheless, the remoteness of the location and the difficulty of getting there can make for a day of fishing without anyone else in the river. It is pretty wonderful and quite rewarding, but you have to know what you are doing. No one is going to help you tie a fly, untangle a line, point out best spots to fish or help you if you fall or slip in the river.
Our other friends prefer guided fishing. Despite the expense (and it is expensive), I share their sentiment. Guides row drift boats on float trips to spots on the river that otherwise would be inaccessible. They know the conditions, hatches, where the fish are, what the fish are biting or striking and correct techniques. They also often have equipment that might be better suited to you than your own. Guides do the hard work of rowing, steering and guiding so you can fish for the biggest and best fish. From experience and training, they know the river and many of its secrets. There are novices who foolishly think they have the strength and smarts to take a boat out on the river without a guide. Not a good idea. Quite a few have paid the ultimate price. The river demands respect.
There’s tremendous research about types of rods, reels, lines, leaders and flies to use to optimize your fly fishing experience. Do the research. Ask the experts and the locals. Learn how to cast and how to hook a fish. There is a YouTube video called Fly Fishing Made Easy that I recommend watching.
Remember that good sun screen, polarized lens sunglasses, a fishing hat with visor and brim, rubber soled wading shoes, cleats or boots, rain and wind jackets, insect repellent and chap stick are essential to protect your skin, eyes, neck, ears, feet and lips from sun, wind and insects. An antibiotic ointment and Band-aids are advisable in case of a scrape, cut or if you hook yourself (or someone else does) with a fly. If you want to learn how to remove a hook, watch this graphic YouTube video that is not for the squeamish, How To Remove A Fishhook.
A fishing vest is also necessary. It not only keeps as dry as possible such items as your wallet, fishing license, keys and camera, but it provides places to attach needed fishing tools, including scissors, needle nose pliers, surgical forceps, clippers and more. Remember to stay hydrated and be aware of your surroundings. A mother moose might take exception to your presence or a bear might be attracted to what you are eating, or an elk might consider you a threat. Anything is possible in nature.
True or false: All the fish you catch, you can keep.
False. In Idaho, for example, the rule is mostly catch and release. Learn and honor limits in the interest of conservation and the law. Trout that are released properly may live to be caught again, providing anglers more pleasure, or they may spawn and provide the valuable breeding stock necessary to ensure future fishing.
True or false: Anglers primarily fly fish for trout.
False. Trout, salmon, bass and bonefish are classic fly-fishing quarry. However, trout probably are the main reason fly-fishing was first conceived, and trout are the most sought after fish by anglers. The most common species of trout are rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and golden. The brook trout is actually a char, which is a trout like fish. Trout average 8 to 12 inches (a half pound) but 15 to 28-inch fish (two to eight pounds) are regularly caught on flies.
Salmon and halibut fishing is an entirely different experience, as I soon learned.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Our next fish tale starts in Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We meet our Island Outfitters guide at the crack of dawn with steaming cups of hot coffee. We have been warned that it may be windy, cold, wet and that the water could be very choppy. Luckily though, it is warming up. We have mild temperatures, sunny, clear skies and satiny smooth water for a good part of the day. Our 25-foot boat takes us to a spot in the Juan de Fuca Strait between the Canadian and US/Washington state coastlines. En route, we pass seals, sea otters, dolphins and cormorants. Our guide points to a diving duck. “I’ve put bait on my line and caught a diving duck at 140 feet down,” he says, adding that they dive to 300 feet to get food.
In British Columbia, there are six species of Pacific salmon: Coho (AKA blueback and silver), Chinook (AKA spring, tyee and king), Chum (AKA dog salmon), Pink (AKA humpy), Sockeye (AKA red salmon) and Steelhead. Sockeye salmon and Coho are listed as threatened or endangered species in Canada.
Our guide equipped me with a rod and told me to pay attention. I was not sure what to look for, but that did not matter. My rod started to bend and I felt the pull and weight of a fish. The strength of the fish surprised me. I had to be careful not to lose my rod or my footing. We played a kind of white knuckled tug of war until the guide called for me to reel it in. He netted it and after what seemed both instantaneous and forever, handed me my Chinook to hold for a photo.
He showed me that it was a hatchery Chinook, meaning that it had a healed scar in place of the adipose, pelvic or pectoral fin. He then measured it. The length of a fish is measured from the tip of the nose to the fork in the tail. My fish weighed 14.5 pounds and measured 28 inches. I was indeed a proud angler at this point.
My husband and daughter then fished. He also caught a hatchery Chinook, and our 100-pound daughter was almost pulled out of the boat by something gigantic and powerful. My husband grabbed her by the waist to hold her in place as the guide yelled to her to hold on and let out some line. She caught the biggest fish of the day – a 34.3 pound, 42 inch halibut. What an experience for us all. The adrenaline rush, the sport of catching it, bringing it in and the big smiles and satisfaction afterwards were beyond fantastic.
We learned that halibut are the largest flatfish species in B.C. As larvae, flatfish resemble other fish in having an eye on each side of their head. However, when they become young adults, the skull changes so that both eyes are on one side of the head. Both eyes are on the dark colored side of the body, while the other side is eyeless and white. Flatfish lie on the bottom with the dark-colored side up.
Our fish tales keep getting embroidered with more facts and some fiction – such is the nature of a fish tale. Here’s to your tales and may your fish and tales be big and fine.
CATCH & RELEASE
Fly Fishing Outfitters and Guided Float Trips in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming:
Henry’s Fork Anglers 3340 Hwy 20 Island Park, ID 83429 208.558.7525. Henryforkanglers.com
Three Rivers Ranch P.O. Box 856, Warm River, Ashton, ID 83420 208.652.3750. Threeriversranch.com
Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop 39 Madison Avenue West Yellowstone, MT 59758 406.646.7801. Budlillys.com
Grand Teton Fly Fishing (formerly Jack Dennis Fishing) 225 West Broadway Box 12471 Jackson, Wyoming 83002. 307.690.0910 Grandtetonflyfishing.com
Island Outfitters 3319 Douglas Street Victoria, British Columbia Canada, V8Z 3L2 250.475-4969 or 866.915.4254. Fishingvictoria.com
Books To Inspire:
Sports Illustrated Fly Fishing: Learn from a Master by Bill Mason
The Fly Fisher’s Illustrated Dictionary by Darrell Martin
The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide by Tom Rosenbauer
L.L. Bean Fly-Fishing Handbook by Dave Whitlock
Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders: A John Gierach Fly Fishing Treasury by John Gierach
Trout and Salmon of North America by Robert J. Behnke
How to Catch Trophy Halibut: Proven Tips Techniques and Strategies of the Experts by Chris Batin