As this was my first time to join my father and his friends on their annual fly fishing trip, I fully intended to sit back, observe, and do what I could to “learn the ropes” of their routines and traditions.
Flying into Bozeman, Montana, we got a breathtaking preview of Paradise Valley from above. We excitedly packed all of our Filson luggage into the rental suburban, and began to go through the checklist of pre-fishing necessities. We had to pick up our boat, get fishing licenses, and consult with some local guides on which of the flies the fish found irresistible. But there were some parts of the preparation that we couldn’t do until the rest of the guys got there. I quickly learned that every part of this trip was a tradition to them, even the buying of supplies.
When the rest of the crew arrived, we promptly stocked up on snacks, chewing tobacco, banquet beer, and some rye whiskey for when the day was done. They pretty much had our evenings planned out for us, with visits to their favorite restaurants, watering holes, and even paying house visits to locals they had befriended over the last 30 years. It was plain to see how much they all loved this trip, and how quickly they left their troubles behind.
We had a full 3 days of fishing the Yellowstone River, trying different areas each day. The conditions were near perfect, and the river was for the most part devoid of other boats. My brother and I floated mainly with the guide, which worked in our favor, as he usually put us on the best drift lines, and we landed the most fish overall. But I made a point to rotate boats, and ride with my Dad and his friends as well, so that I could document.
For them, fishing was just one small part of this trip. They are all excellent fishermen, but didn’t take it too seriously, and had more fun just being around each other than any fishing success could provide. They laughed constantly, told stories, and toasted to Zimmy, their fallen friend.
Over the course of the three days, I asked them all what it meant to be out on the river. Their answers were all the same; it was not only an escape from their daily lives and careers, but also a rare chance to be in the company of lifelong friends. And though one of their fishing buddies could no longer be with them, they all felt that being in the Big Sky Country brought them closer to him. Coming back every year was a way that they could honor him, and keep his memory alive.
This type of trip exists for many people; whether friends, brothers, father and son, or grandchildren, those of us who have been fishing with the ones we care about is an experience that is hard to put into words. It is a bond that transcends mere sport, and breaches the realms of the human spirit. Traditions like these must be kept alive, cherished, and documented wherever possible. I am grateful that my father and his friends feel the same way, and invited my brother and I to help keep the spirit of this trip alive, not just for them, but also for the rest of our families for generations to come.