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Catch and Release

I sat at a bar in Park City, sipping an Old Fashioned. An attractive older woman sat down and after ordering her drink, began a conversation. Soon, we were talking about fly-fishing. Why do you like it?” She asked. I immediately replied, “Everything that is important comes into focus and everything that is ancillary is out of focus, or not even close to being in the frame.”

This is more true than anything else I believe. I also believe that it is the reason I am here today. Not fly-fishing per se, but the mechanics of the act of fly-fishing. Breathing, the search for tranquility, focus, rhythm, the egalitarian meritocracy of the sport and the elegance of the equation between fish and man. And, more than anything, the ability to flee, far and deep into the wildest places.

It is impossible to be at odds or agnostic, when one is holding a cutthroat trout in the shallows of a river. It is impossible to square the idea that the spots on their dorsum, like a snowflake or a star or a human’s iris, are not and never will be made the same. Each is uniquely different. While at the same time, understanding that the infinity of possibilities for their dorsal coloring holds similarly- the idea that there are infinate amounts and types of galaxies that may be identical to our own. This chiral thought is so mind boggling that it would only make sense that a divine artist crafted, with the most delicate brush, the elegance and grace that Cutthroat or Brown trout hold on their perfect bodies. Catching a trout in a high- mountain stream is the most spiritual I have ever felt.

I drove over Lick creek saddle with my bike in the back, a new batch of olive elk hair caddis, Parachute Adams, pmd, Klinkhammer attractors and two hoppers. On the east side of the summit, grey, half-dome escarpments appeared. Because of smoke or sun angle and haze, the canyon that fits through the several thousand feet high andesite peaks, appeared ethereal and infinite- as though it went on through Montana and opened up into Iceland.

The road was pocked. Boulders sat fat and lazy in the middle, and on the sides there were places washed out, looking 1000 feet down to the river. My half tank of gas, suddenly became closer to a quarter tank and I began to think of what I would do if I flatted. No cell bars and further and further away and deeper and deeper into the real back country of the most remote place in America, I began to have pause, but more than that, I felt free and at peace.

Many argue that the east side of Yellowstone in the Absorokas or the Thoroughfare are the most remote place in the lower 48. I would argue that the very northwestern part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, including, the headwaters of the Lochsa and Clearwater, over to Frank Church wilderness should be considered the wildest place in America. There are, after-all, populations of Grizzlies, Wolverines, Bull Trout, Chinook and Kokanee Salmon, vast open spaces that are only accessible by foot (bike) or plane, and huge amounts of land that humans never touch.

I parked at the gate for the South Fork Trail and unloaded my Niner gravel bike. I strapped my 9 foot, 4 weight rod to the seat post bag, loaded in my vest, sandals, sunscreen and a turkey gobbler sandwich that had already squished. I rode north along the turquoise river, further and deeper away from humanity than is possible anywhere in America.

After catching several beautiful fish, I drove south, looking at my gas gauge and starting to worry. I hit a fork with a bullet riddled sign- Warm Lake right, Yellow Pine straight. Fuck it, coin toss. I went south to Yellow Pine because I had never seen it. I went into the general store, first making sure to put shorts over my bike shorts. “I am lost,” I said to the mountain man and the clerk. “Shit son, your’e in Yellowpine- Wer’e all fuckin lost.” He said with a smokers cough.”

They sent me back along Johnson Creek, home and I made it with more than enough gas- it read zero and the gas light had been on for miles, but I think that means I had 25 miles left? Or not. I made it, at any rate.

The focus I spoke of in the bar is real. I drove over Deadwood Reservoir from Cascade Idaho to fish a small stream that feeds the Middle-Fork of the Salmon. I stood at the confluence of two streams, threading tippet into the tiny loop of a small post on an Elk Hair Caddis. It helped that I had readers on, but the focus and clarity for the task at hand was exacting and perfect. I saw a juvenile bald eagle fly over-head. In my left ear, heard a meadowlark and in my right, the far-off chortle of Sand Hill Cranes. I had no cell coverage so no emails, no texts or reminders, no bills or dings or rings or pings. There were no bosses and no expectations.

The only expectation is that the elegant dance between fisherman and fish be played out with dignity and respect. I promise to play fair and when I best you and you are tricked, I will bring you in quickly and hold you under water, releasing you with deference and care and the gratitude that, at that moment, in that place we came together, looked each other in the eye and parted ways forever.

A few years ago I was adrift. I did not know what to do. Then one day, a dart hit me squarely in the forehead. Do what you love. It is oft parsed wisdom, but it is true. I saw a Mathew McConoughey talk where he said, do the work you love and focus on the thing, don’t worry about accolades or money. That will come. Like, fly-fishing, focus on the thing right in front of you and keep casting, get better, learn, but keep casting. Do you love it? Are you in love with it? Then keep casting.

I wrote huge notebooks of notes, I started an LLC and created logos. I started a business doing what I love to do. Just like with fly-fishing, I was awful at it. I tore it down to the studs and built it back up over and over. I tried this fly and that fly, tied hopper droppers and nymphed, looked under rocks for insects. And then I got fewer tangles and my cast unfurled like a wave. I caught fish and then more fish and bigger fish of different and more beautiful species and varieties. I became an expert in my field and my brain knew, that I knew that, and so it sent signals to my body to let others know that my vibrations were real and authentic.

Just like fly-fishing. A lot of knots and tangles with zero fish….. for years. Then, just when you have a wind knot and are about to pack it in, you hit paydirt. A stream with a honey hole, the right advice, a fly that turns lucky. You start to feel comfortable and in that comfort there is success. I have found my honey hole, my fly shop for advise and the right flies. I am, for once, comfortable.

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