Although my time in the wild now is mostly spent exploring the west, this wasn’t always the case. Like most kids, I was not born into the world of fly fishing untouched streams or high alpine lakes, but rather trudging around my hometown river in Pennsylvania armed with a Scooby Doo push-button fishing pole (who knows which cartoon it was in reality, but in such cases of bad memory, all rods default to Scooby Doo).
Despite growing up as an only child whose parents had no interest in fishing, I was obsessively drawn to it, spending my home-time in the back yard casting a plastic plug to entertain myself when I couldn’t be fishing. We had, and still do have, a cottage on nearby French Creek where my dad would take me nearly every day during the summer. I was granted an almost unreasonable level of autonomy as a kid, being allowed to take a kayak out on the river with an unspoken rule of being back before the end of the day in a “when the streetlights come on” sort of way.
Although to this day I can still vividly remember many of my childhood fish, mostly smallmouths, the majority of my time was spent catching absolutely nothing, sometimes for days or weeks in a row. It’s frankly ridiculous that I even continued to enjoy fishing with the track record I was holding. What I do remember of that though, is that every fish was an absolute treasure because of it. These days, I will lose track of many of the fish I catch, sometimes within hours if I have a particularly productive day, but I still remember many of my childhood smallies as though it were yesterday. Eventually I graduated to pulling walleyes, pike, and one lonely muskie out of that river too, albeit by accident on that last one.
I got my first taste of western water the summer after my first year of college, when I started coming to Colorado to work as a junior guide in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was also my first taste of fly fishing, and since I’ve started, I’ve scarcely picked up a spin rod. I was in love with everything about it. The finesse, the versatility, the constant motion and activity involved were irresistible. I caught my first brook trout, the state fish of Pennsylvania, on a fly in the rockies. My next few summers were spent living and working with some of my closest friends doing everything we should have been doing: fishing, drinking, skinny dipping in freezing lakes at night. Sometimes we worked, too.
Fast forward to today, where fishing is still always what I’d rather be doing. I’ve developed a greater appreciation not only for the fish themselves, but also for the places they take me, bright blue lakes above treeline and crystal clear streams in the backwoods of the west. To stand somewhere that most people will never go in search of fish that most people will never have the opportunity to catch is something truly special, and something I intend to be doing as long as I’m still around.