Friday, July 12, 2013

Kayaking, Fly Fishing and the Importance of Old Friends

Scott swallows hard before"dropping in"!
3rd descent in 1989 of the Clarks Fork Canyon

I first met Paul Denison when he was barely post-pubescent. That was over 35 years ago. Over the ensuing decades, Paul and I became very good friends. We whitewater kayaked all over the western United States spending virtually every summer weekend driving to or kayaking on a clear, cold wild river. We boated the Snake, Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, Shoshone, Cache de la Poudre, Blackfoot and countless other classic western rivers. After exhausting ourselves on Saturday and Sunday, we would roll back into town in the wee hours of Monday morning sleep deprived, muscle sore and sated.
Shoshone River's Famous Grandma Cody Rapid
A critical waterfall jump on Wyoming's Clarks Fork Canyon

I would go to work in the morning sometimes barely able to get around my outdoor store in Sheridan, Wyoming called Big Horn Mountain Sports. Many of you long time clients remember this store! Driving all night, countless portages, and long athletic days on these rivers took their toll, but we always seemed ready for a new adventure the next weekend. Paul and I loved to fly fish too and along with his Dad, Paul Sr., we fished often. We even made it to Alaska with a few guys that worked for the outdoor company Patagonia and are now execs with the company. We always knew fly fishing would be something we could do when our bodies could no longer maintain the training schedule needed to do upper echelon white water kayaking.

Paul negotiates a complex boulder garden.
 Over the past few years, it has become more difficult for Paul and I to get some time to fish together in the summer. Paul has two teenagers and a full life, but last Sunday we both abandoned familial obligations and drove up into the Big Horn Mountains to fish.

We started at mid-day under absolutely clear skies with enough bugs popping out of the river to give us the promise of great things to come. By 6:00 PM, it was 50 degrees, dark clouds scudded in on an ominous breeze and thunder peeled to the west. It was time to get the hell off the river. Soon, all hell let loose with hail and high winds! 

The last fish before the storm
In between the clear skies and the storms cauldron, two old friends, caught a few more than a bajillion 12-18 inch cutthroats, caught up on each others lives and managed at least one afternoon of pure Wyoming fun. The great thing about old friends is no one cares who catches fish. Hell, no one cares who is even fishing. We talked, goofed around, tried different flies and rigs, sat on the bank and caught up on our lives.

The fishing was very engaging with each big fish presenting a puzzle. Not only did we have to decipher the lies and get a fly to these big cutthroats, but some of the biggest sippers were on midges, some were eating emergers and others were downright tricky. I had one 18" male that appeared to be grazing on size 18 tan caddis that were laying eggs in the eddie he was patrolling. But I could not get him to eat! Eventually, I realized he was not eating the caddis at all, but the tiny duns of some dark mayfly. Upon realizing my mistake, I smacked my forehead with the palm of my casting hand, then immediately switched to a #18 blue dun. On the first cast, he inhaled my little fly.

Soon enough we were back in town, promising to get together soon to fish maybe the Big Horn or the Wind River near Thermopolis. We'll see how the summer plays out, but Paul, thanks for a great day and at least we got one day to reconnect!


  1. Great read and some frightenly amazing photos. That one of the yellow kayak launching off that water fall is brilliant.

  2. His name is Arne Terry. Paul and I picked him up (he passed us going the other way on a county road and flashed us with his headlights, we saw his kayak, stopped, he then asked to join us) on the way to the Clarks Fork to do this 48 hour, 35 mile, 19 epic portage (with Class Five rock climbing), Class V third descent. He turned out to be a world class kayaker from California and we had NO idea who he was!
    There were 5 of us. One of our guys, Dave Ryan, died a week later in a rockfall on the Grand Teton. He survived this epic river trip only to die on a relatively easy climb. A week later we were at his funeral service in Cody. Something you never forget!

  3. Fantastic read Scott! Nice looking waters to catch up with old friends.

  4. What a nice place for kayaking and fishing, I'm planning of visiting it someday.

    Click here If you want to see another place like the one on the post.