I had been working for the Jack Dennis fly shop for just over a month when my boss at the time, Jeff Currier, invited me to go fishing with him. It was a slow day in the shop; I believe at the time I was restocking hoppers in the fly bins, trying to look busy. For those who don’t know Jeff, he is a seasoned, world traveled fly fishing bum to the maximum degree. He has caught more fish species on a fly rod than anyone I know—a pure animal. Needless to say, I was stoked out of my gourd when he asked. As we began to nail down the details, my curiosity got the best of me and I started asking where our destination was; mistake #1. He claimed that we would be doing a 12-mile float down a foggy stretch of water on The Great Shoshone River…me, Jeff, and our good buddy, Sparks. It was on.
A week later, I find myself at our meeting spot (the local grocery store parking lot) at 4am with nothing but my fly rod and a peanut butter sandwich. Jeff and Sparks show up soon enough, drift boat in tow, with a cooler full of beer and every other essential piece to a good fishing trip. At 20 years old, I can’t buy beer yet, so that cooler is a heavenly sight. I hop up in the truck and Jeff tosses me a Buff headband…aka my blindfold for the next 2 hours. We twist, turn, and bump our way down the road until 2 hours later, the truck stops and I am allowed to take off the blindfold. I get out of the truck to unlock the gate blocking our path and admire the scenery, and am immediately bombarded my some of the most aggressive mosquitoes I’ve ever witnessed. Mistake #2: no insect repellent. I’m out there cussing, swatting, and getting eaten alive, all the while having no idea where we are. Wyoming? Montana? Idaho? No clue. It goes without saying that Jeff and Sparks are laughing their tails off by this point. After we finish rigging up and packing the boat, the time comes to draw straws to see who rows first. Having never rowed a drift boat before in my life, I naturally draw the short straw. Trying my best to hide the fact that I’m terrified, I get on the oars and we pull up anchor. Jeff coaches me as I over-correct, bounce us off rocks, and zigzag the boat down the river. Among the coaching, there is plenty of heckling and light hazing coming from the two old guys. “We’re going in circles!” “Row harder!” “Can’t catch fish when we’re 3 feet from the bank!” Stuff like that…all in good fun though. Eventually, I get a feel for the oars and they lighten up. Let me also just throw it out there, that one of the perks of rowing first is getting the honor of drinking the first beer. Mistake #3: cracking beers open at 7am.
We get into fish early on streamers, with Jeff sticking the first nice brown on a big, black sculpin pattern. Sparks is having a rough time in the back of the boat, but fishing behind Jeff is never an easy task. An hour flies by and my turn comes to rotate to the front of the boat. The sun is getting higher by this point, so I make a bold move straight to the dry fly with one of my favorite combos: double Chubby Chernobyl. Within the first 10 casts at the bank, I have a nice brown on. Then another one. Then one after that. Then a double. The day is shaping up to be one of epic proportions.
Lunchtime comes and goes, and I realize I am getting sunburnt to a crisp. Mistake #4: forgetting to bring sunscreen. Luckily, one of the other guys has some and is a good sharer. As the afternoon progresses, everyone is catching fish, enjoying cold beverages, and life simply can’t get any better. I still remember a particular cutthroat that Sparks caught that was so perfectly colored and speckled, it looked like a gift from the gods. We fish hard all afternoon, catching browns and cutthroats big enough to make your arm sore. As the sun begins to set, the day just gets even more fantastic. Wildlife begins to appear, as animals like to come to the river in the evenings to drink. This included a too-close-for-comfort run-in with a moose and even the sighting of a bobcat!
Cigars come out and cap off the day perfectly as we row toward the “boat ramp” in the pitch black dark. I say “boat ramp” because all this boat ramp was, was a 5 foot drop off where the river had blown out in high water. After unpacking and getting our land legs back, we hook the boat to the trailer and attempt to crank it up the drop off. That’s when the wench breaks. Great. Mistakes #5 and #6: don’t assume every boat put-in is going to be in ship-shape, and don’t try to fix a broken boat trailer while intoxicated. Long story short, in about an hour, we were able to pull the boat out with some creativity and a good bit of elbow grease. Battered and exhausted, but happier than a bucket of clams, we were finally on our way home.
The next day at the shop was full of stories. I was still under the impression we had been on “The Great Shoshone” the whole time, so when Jack Dennis (THE pioneer of fly fishing in Jackson Hole) came up and asked me about our trip, I replied, “The Great Shoshone”. He thought I was totally jerking his chain and wasn’t going to tell him where we had fished! As if there was any secret fishing spot in the Greater Teton Valley that he wasn’t already aware of. He shook his head and walked away, annoyed. Jeff and Sparks still love bringing that up. The bottom line is that one good trip down the river can be a life changing experience. Besides being a great fishing trip, I learned lots of lessons along the way and secured lifetime friendships with my boat mates. Memories like this one stick with you forever and can shape you as a person.
By Charles Lacy.