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I found a rotten carrot near my seat buckle and cathartically threw it out the window. It was a ceremonial gesture; signaling the end of 9 hours alone in a car with three kids, to the ultimate final destination with friends: a fishing boat. We took the car seats out and put the fishing gear in…if you catch my drift.
Part I- We’re On A Boat
You must understand the significance of riding on a fishing boat for parents. We try to play it cool like we used to, ‘its just a boat, no big deal’. But when I got in the car and looked up front at my friend, Mike, (who had been a stay at home dad for several weeks prior to our trip), all I could see was his gigantic, giddy, unrelenting smile. He had one letter on his mind and it was F….(get your head out of the gutter), F stands for Fly Fishing, Fish, Fun, Friends and most importantly, Freedom. A boat=freedom and a chance to meet up with our old selves who prior to life-sucking prodegy problems, could ride that boat almost any day of the week they wanted to. Just the idea in our minds was almost enough.
We made it to the river and when I heard a boat rev up my heart matched its intent. It was time to par-tay.
Our friend, Calvin Fuller, Spey Casting instructor and manager at the local 40 North Outfitters Fly Shop, zoomed up the river to pick us up. Jess and I sat down like it was the first time we had been home since college. I was like, “Hey, we are kid-free and on a boat!” The wind tossed our hair around and I looked over at Jess’ child-like grin, sure she was having the same euphoric stroll down memory lane of Alaskan nights, riddled with boat gas fumes, and fly rod lines whisking off the bow. Two stay at home moms easily entertained, I would say.
Part II- ‘Snap It’
Once we got to the money spot, and despite being easily entertained, we were ready to learn a bit about spey casting. Calvin did a presentation and worked that line around like it was the easiest thing you could ever learn. He is a true fly fisherman, the kind that are hopelessly addicted yet take up their own fishing time to patiently teach haggard parents new skills. I knew he was desperately in love with the two-hand-rod when he stood out facing the river all mysteriously-like and said,
“Nothing I love more than feeling that grab on the swing”. That, and he could name every fisherman we passed on the boat, which tells me he is in love with more than just his [patient] wife (who also is a fishing lady and they are so adorable).
I remember the tedious balance of 4 or 5 of us fly fishing from a boat in Alaska, but even one person spey casting from a boat seemed like a joke at first. I can’t say I didn’t wonder if they make neck armor, because with Mike on the bow snapping the fly towards my face, I was worried the meaty fly would hook out my jugular. I made emergency plans in my mind and decided I would only call it a day if I punctured a major artery.
Mike would whisk the line back and Calvin would yell, “SNAP IT”. Mike looked like he was trying to rope a fish instead of drift for one and I wondered how everyone else remained so calm with a lunker fly swooshing near their faces. Jess was in front of me trying out spey casting first. And like a real good friend, I hid behind her every time Mike’s line would swoosh. I couldn’t help but say, ‘Oh Snap’, under my breath and then snicker to myself.
The commentary was hilarious. Mike would swing it , snap it, throw the line out and yell, ‘dang it’ and Calvin would say, “That wasn’t it” or “No” or “That was almost it” or “That was kind of it, but not really” and then, “That one looked great!” Mike got it down pretty quickly, which was awesome for being on a boat. [How many times can I say we were on a boat?]
When Jess and I were up casting, Calvin, being the honest teacher he is, also refrained from feeding us false glorified encouragements. He would say, “No, that’s not it, try this.” Or, “You are not doing this right, do this instead”. For a moment it felt like that movie where the surf instructor says, “Pop up. Do less. Do more. Now you are not doing anything.” But thanks to his direct instruction, we both felt the smooth sailing of a Spey Cast line in completion and a dead drift swing that could capture the likings of any rainbow trout on the rise.
Calvin gave me a, “Yeah, you got it,” and my brain was like, ‘wow, old dogs can learn new tricks.” I was already addicted, even though I hadn’t caught anything. Spey casting reminds me of an ancient dance of sorts; you move your arms in a motion that doesn’t make sense, but the line does exactly what it needs to do. It’s no wonder so many fall victim to the two hand rod and never go back [home].
Part III- Hillbilly Relay Team
The moment transitioned real quickly when we reeled in the spey rods and zoomed upstream to do some floating. Busting out any sort of rod or set up that could catch a trout, all four of us turned into fierce trout hunters. Keying in on the water that looked fishy, we would cast and change places when our indicators would collide. I’m sure we resembled some sort of hillbilly relay team (we were in North Idaho after all). I don’t know about the rest of them, but I wasn’t on their team. I was in the lead with 3 and the next competitor behind me only had 1….stick landed…and safely released.
Not only did I land the most stick fish, but I was the reigning champion of the ONLY one to get snagged….and it happened 3 times. But it was real exciting. I set the hook as hard as I could, almost throwing my back out, and start reeling in like it was the chrom mag on the end of my line. Then the reel would squeal in a way similar to a fish, but only it was the boat pulling the line out. Fish on! Just kidding, log on!
Jess and I went from timid stay at home moms in our 33-year-old stretched out bodies, to the agile gals in their 20’s floating rivers in Alaska. I was yelling at the fish to eat what we were providing them and Mike was telling us funny bear stories that almost made me pee my pants. I think it was at that point I felt really guilty my husband was at work….and I had turned my phone off.
The fish were there, but the dam was increasing the water flow all day, which made for a heck of a time actually landing real fish. I was glad it was the dam, because for a while I thought it was my fault since I didn’t pay it forward in a coffee line the other day (the guy behind me looked rich and had a giant gold ring). (Sorry, God, that was rude of me). Thanks, God, for the rivers, mountains and trees. And for giving us a friend with a boat and mad fly fishing skills for a day who was willing to teach us some new things. A giant rainbow in the net would have been nice, but honestly, floating down this river in my hometown with my best gal bud and laughing without taking care of kids for a bit was just what I needed. Oh yeah, did I tell you I got to go on a boat? Oh Snap…it.
If you live in North Idaho or Western Montana, and want to learn Spey Casting or get into fly fishing, Calvin Fuller is definitely the guy you want to call! Swing by the 40 North Outfitter’s Fly Shop to check out his rates or connect with him on his facebook fly shop page: https://www.facebook.com/bigrflyshop (By no way does this story reflect his fly shop or him in any way. But its good for people to know there are helpful fly fishing folks out there!)