It goes without saying that 2020 has been a terrible year on so many levels. Between the national health crisis and numerous natural disasters plaguing large swathes of the country from coast to coast, it has been difficult to remain upbeat. Dealing with the angst of cancelling three fishing trips this year in no way compared to the travails that a number of fellow citizens had to endure dished out by the dark hand of fate these past several months. Although here in the mid Atlantic the stifling gloom of record heat and humidity sobered any attempt to escape the prevailing shroud of bleakness on local waters, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm when the opportunity arose to fish a local stream with a young friend after a cool late September rain.
Barely thirty years old, Gene spent several years working at Backwater Angler fly shop while also guiding on Maryland’s Gunpowder River as well as several other local waters. Revealing to me that it was time for a major direction change in his life, Gene had recently decided to move to Idaho to pursue the life of a “trout bum” in an effort to seek new beginnings. Though this major lifestyle shift would include various forms of work, his intention would be to fish as much of the West as he could from his destined home base of Boise, Idaho. Knowing that I had started my lifelong fishing journey in Idaho as well, he thought that maybe I could share a few insights. Thus, much of the afternoon was spent fishing a bit while, at the same time, pondering all the possibilities that lay before him.
I have always felt that being a fishing bum was a lot easier to pull off in the 70s than it would be these days. Camping was free, gas was less than fifty cents per gallon, food was cheap, and rivers were uncrowded. Even when winter hit, there was always a free cabin to tend or a place to rent for a pittance. Back then northern Idaho was raw and just a few decades removed from the Wild West, but any trepidation I may have had was overcome by the exhilaration of discovery akin to what early explorers must have felt on a more primal level. Eventually I bought some land in the mountains for next to nothing, built a cabin with discarded wood from a local mill, and landed a seasonal position for the US Forest Service. From there, it was one turn after another until the road finally led to Montana - and a career in fly fishing.
Reliving those memories in my mind and relating a few of them to Gene, I was truly excited for him and his journey. Being a trout bum these days would have to be modernized, and we discussed how it just would require more creativity. Although Gene confided that he was quite anxious about the trip, I told him that I knew the feeling as I recalled leaving Salt Lake in 1975 at his same age. With everything I owned packed in the camper on my pickup, the drive north into the unknown was not without apprehension. But since I have always encouraged students and friends alike to take the road less traveled, I was following my own advice - and Gene was doing exactly that too. We talked about Henry’s Fork, the South Fork of the Snake, the Owyhee River, and Silver Creek among many other Idaho fisheries including steelhead fishing on the Salmon. The rivers that once ran through my life are now his to discover, his to find secrets I may have missed in the wise old waters that continue to flow through time.
The other day Gene posted a picture on Facebook of a rainbow he had just caught on Henry’s Fork. Obviously he had arrived in Idaho, and that photo sure took me back to the very road that I hope will lead him to the water of his dreams.