Tuesday, July 20, 2010


This past week-end I had the privilege of participating in what had to be one of the finest float trips that occurred on the continent this year. It was like fishing on Mount Olympus in the company of the fly casting gods – a week-end I will never forget.

Kyle Kosovich of Longboat Outfitters asked if I would serve as commissary for a trip he was hosting for Zach Matthews, a contributing writer for Fly Fisherman magazine. Zach is a world class writer, photographer, and fly fisherman. He wanted to write about fishing the North Fork of the White River, so Kyle called in Brian Wise, guide for River of Life Farm, Bryan Yates, a past flats fishing guide in the Florida Keys, and Randy Hanner, a member of the U.S. Fly Fishing Team who finished 22 in world competition last year.

My job was to paddle a 20’ longboat loaded with gear, set up camps, help cook and clean up, and play a little after-dinner guitar. When one of the guys asked why I wasn’t fishing I just told him that I wouldn’t pick guitar if Doc Watson was there and I wasn’t about to show my butt by fly fishing beside guys like him. All told, I did my best to stay in the background. My reward was watching those guys work.

Bryan and Zach dazzled me with their mastery of what to me is the mystery of fly tackle. They casually threw beautifully bending loops in 60 foot casts as handily as I can cast a spinning lure. Brian and Kyle wowed me as always with their abilities, too, but Randy was the man to watch if you wanted to see fish landed. A fine caster himself, his style, though personally more flamboyant, was in sum much more refined and subtle. It was as if he could catch fish on command.

Schooled in French and Polish methods learned during international competitions, his favorite method is nymphing upstream. Casting no more than a leader’s length and pulling the fly toward him in a drift of no more than three feet, he often set the hook and at the same time launched the fish into the air and whipped out his landing net to catch it before it hit the water again.

The stream is my religion. Standing in a running stream, the rushing roar of water dashing over cobble drowns out the concerns of the world while the line establishes a connection between the fisherman and the universe. There is no line of separation, only connection. It is all consuming, and people with skills like these fellows possess make the connection even deeper.

The first day and night were all about the spirituality of fishing. Then Saturday dawned and I went downstream to be out of their way. I waited near a popular put-in where the connection was shattered by hundreds of people putting in with their inner-tubes, coolers and boom-boxes.

I saw a kid probably not twenty kneeling on one side of a tube with a two foot plastic paddle. Draped over the front of the tube was a child under two years old. They were accompanied by a canoe containing another young man, a cooler and a dog - which says a lot about their priorites. Not two hundred yards from the put-in, the young tuber, tired already of spinning in circles cried out to his friend in the canoe, “What am I gonna do, Dude?”

I thought, what you’re going to do is kill that baby, DUDE, and I wondered how far they thought they were going to get before that child was screaming in pain from being draped over that raw, hot rubber inner-tube while burning in the 90 degree sun. I wanted to shout at him to get off the river before it was too late, but, stupidly not wanting to seem intrusive, I held my piece, but lost my peace.

The rest of the afternoon was a steady stream of rental canoes, inner-tubes, plastic blow ups, boom boxes and beer. Some people were competent floaters doing their best to enjoy a day on a wild Ozark stream, but the majority was out of their element.
Two girls passed by whining about the spider they found in their canoe and were answered by a woman in another canoe who said, “Well, I just saw a huge water snake”, her voice quavering to relay her contempt for the beast. And I thought – they live here folks. If you come out here wanting it to be just like your living room, why not stay home, watch some “Wild Kingdom” and drink your beer in air conditioned comfort?

The last straw of my day was the drunken woman who was floating by in a tied-together flotilla of blue plastic tubes while I was setting up the second night’s camp and letting the campfire burn down to coals for the evening’s grilled pork chops and baked cinnamon rolls. “Got any hotdogs for us?” she yelled. I said nothing. “Hey, you got any hotdogs for us,” she cleverly shouted again, and still I said nothing.

“He’s ignoring me.” She told her friends, “That’s so rude.” I’m rude?? I thought. I was enjoying the peace of the river and my work until you came along.
I had set up four tents and the others were all downstream fishing.

“Hey, you in the yellow shirt. Do you sleep in all them tents, just going from one to the other all night or what?” This lady was so clever.

“We have a party here,” I said, and went back to my work.

By then they had drifted far enough downstream that I suppose it was too much effort to keep trying to communicate with me, so she just said, “Oh” and then shifted her focus to whatever caught her attention next, and I, at last, was left in the peace and beauty of the river where I stole out to do battle with and lose to an over 20” rainbow who taught me that I might be able to fool him, but it was going to take more skill than mine to bring him to net.

The real fishermen came back, the stories flowed, the pork chops and cinnamon rolls disappeared, and we connected with one another in the peace and beauty of the river. The fishing gods, the river gods and the fly casting gods had all returned and all was well with the world once again.