Fishing and Hunting in the Western United States
I Can't Explain
I live in the South. I fly fish in the South. I talk to Southern fly fishers. I tie flies with southern fly tiers. When they find out that I spent my youth and young adulthood in the West, they ask me about what it was like fly fishing there. I find myself at a loss for words. I think that there is such a strong cultural contrast and it was a different era when I actively fly fished (1970's), that what I have to say is difficult for them to envision. They want to hear me speak about famous fly fishing rivers that they have read about or have traveled to and fished themselves. They envision me in waders, being fully outfitted, and landing 20 inch trout. The truth is, I fished very few of those rivers and had a distaste for waders; they usually leaked and I had a propensity for filling them with water when stepping into holes in the rivers. I considered a two pound trout large.
There Is a Time and Season For Every Purpose
In the West, outdoor activities followed two principles, season and a lack of money. With four distinct seasons and particularly hard winters, what you did outdoors depended on the season. Much of where I ended up doing these activities was determined on where my farther took me.
Summers you fly fished. Many of the larger rivers were under private ownership with the ownership extending to the middle of river to include the land under the water. This status lead my father to fishing creeks and beaver ponds in higher country on public lands. This is where fly fishing became a necessity. A mile hike to a fishing creek was not uncommon. Fly fishing was just plain pragmatic because you carried minimal equipment. You had your rod and a canvas creel where you stored your reel and lunch. The creel had pockets for your flies, tippet, and nippers. Later, you used your creel to carry your fish out. Waders? You left them at home, far too heavy and cumbersome to pack. Fishing tactics required stalking creeks and beaver ponds with short casts and dry flies. The trout were either brook or cutthroat and unless very small, you kept them for dinner that night and froze the rest for future meals. We did fish some larger rivers in late summer when their flows receded and they either had limited public land or fishing easements. This was an era of fiberglass rods and double tapered lines. This equipment, along with my limited casting ability, resulted in short casting distances. I left the fly rod behind and used a spinning real with spoons and spinners for these rivers. My father always fished with a fly rod.
Fall found you cutting wood, hunting big game, and fishing resevoirs. My parents had electric heat, which was expensive - despite having a coal fired power plant across the valley that supplied power to California. We heated the house for the most part with a wood burning insert. We burned about 20 cords of wood - acquired from public land (later, when I worked for the Bureau of Land Management, I learned that you needed permits for such activities). In late fall the wood cutting could be combined with rabbit hunting in the same outing.
Big game hunting consisted of deer and antelope. At the time, elk herds were fewer, smaller, and difficult to get permits for. My uncles and their friends would meet up with my father for deer hunting for up to a week. Nearly everyone got their deer. My father would take me on day or weekend hunts. In truth, I really did not like big game hunting. The country was too full of hunters for my liking and it was very cold at dawn while still (more like chill) hunting. Furthermore, by the time I was a late teen I was having my fill of game (deer, antelope, rabbits, and grouse) and potatoes for meals. People eat more pork and rice in the South, of which I have readily adapted to.
Winter meant ice fishing in the resevoirs. These were stocked rainbow trout which did not have near the taste of brook or cutthroat trout. Inveriably we would run out of wood in late winter, which translated to cutting shaggy juniper (permit free of course) at lower elevations that were accessible. Sometimes rabbit hunting would be combined with a wood gathering trip.
Spring really did not offer much for outdoor activities. The rivers were full to their banks or were flooding and impossible to fish. The high country still had snow and was not accessible. Fortunately, spring was the shortest season. Later, when I left home, my father raised bees to supplement his income. This became his busiest time of year because the quality of honey was at its highest and he could sell it locally for a good price.
What a Long, Strange Trip It Has Been
I wish I could tell the southern fly fishers that once I left home I pursued fly fishing with vigor, but that was not the case. I did not have the time or money. I was a working college student. Later, after graduation, I went on a strange, two year spiritual journey and ultimately got married. I fly fished very little, even when landing career positions and starting a family. I've exposed my kids to fishing and fly fishing, but the interest was not there. It was not until my kids got older and generally did not want their parents involved in some of their activities that I renewed my fly fishing activity with vigor. By that time, I was living in the South. I am a far more accomplished fly fisher today than I was living in the West. So, when the southern fly fisher asks me about western trout fishing, I feel as if they have asked me to describe a segment of a life style that cannot be separated and that segment was not particularly well developed. On that same note, I assure them that where they and I both live in the South affords so much fly fishing opportunity with so many lakes close by that most western trout fly fishers would count themselves bless to live here. I know that I do. Pass the BBQ and yellow rice.