Casting 4 a cure

I’m having a pity party. Join me, won’t you?

 

Many months ago—actually as far back as a year—when I started penciling in events for late summer 2012, this was looking to be a rather exciting period of a few weeks. Let’s examine how the calendar would have looked:

August 16-18, IFTD. That’s right, the International Fly Tackle Dealer show, in Reno for 2012. I’ve wanted to go for the past few years, and decided that this year I would finally make it happen, funds be damned. I didn’t want to go just for giggles, but to meet a lot of people in the fly fishing industry with whom I’ve corresponded. To meet and make friends. Rub elbows. Maybe put some deals together. After all, I have products to promote: Olive books, fly box by Montana Fly Company, and my very-soon-to-be-released iPad apps: Olive the Woolly Bugger and Chuckin’ Bugs. I should be there. I’m not.

Next year, for sure.

August 24-26, Casting 4 A Cure. I was there last year with my buddy Marck. We represented Team Olive for a great cause. Met a lot of amazing people. Had an absolutely great time. Planned on going back this year. Well, that wasn’t in the cards. Marck is going, and he’s being joined by the Firehole Rookie Ranger. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they could go. Just really bummed that I couldn’t.

Next year, without a doubt.

August 30-September 1, River X. I was invited to partake of a very special opportunity not only to fish with a bunch of great folks who I’ve wanted to meet in person for a long time, but to witness the filming of a new film that looks to be incredible: A Deliberate Life, produced by Matt Smythe of the Fishing Poet blog. As recently as three weeks ago I spoke with Matt and expressed how badly I was jonesin’ to meet up with he and the others.  In that time, life got very chaotic, and I am sick with remorse that I won’t be able to make the trip.

There won’t be another opportunity quite like this.

I suck.

So yes, I would like some cheese with my whine, thanks.

 

Good Will Fishing, Day Two

Why we were there

Day two of the friendly tournament (in which the catch results really didn’t matter) began for Team Olive at Palisades Dam. We would be floating what was referred to as Section One: approximately 14 river miles to our eventual take out at Conants. Unlike the previous day, the air was cool and made all the moreso by the howling wind and ominous shadow cast by the  large earthen structure. I was without, and wished for, a light jacket for the first hour of the day, but somehow managed to survive. Another notable difference on this day was the kicker motor mounted to the stern of Will’s and many of the other drift boats. The motor would prove invaluable for the first hour.

Palisades Dam

We launched and motored across and upstream against the strong current, taking up a position on the rock bulkhead just below the dam.  With weighted nymph rigs set deep, we worked a heavy seam for what we hoped would be big fish: big trout, to be exact. Casting these gems, with the solid side wind doing what it could to make sure we didn’t cast them, then trying to get a good mend, proved challenging. Marck was clearly up to the challenge and quickly worked his charm on what would be the best fish of the day: a nineteen inch rainbow. As Will recorded the eighteen inch rainbow on the score card we accepted the fact that given his staunch integrity from the day before, there was no chance of us convincing him that the fish was probably 19 inches.

Marck's 19 — er, 18 inch rainbow

After 20 minutes this stationary location yielded no more fish so we jumped into the boat and drifted a another seam below the dam. Aided by the current and the wind, it was a short drift. At the end of the run the motor was put to good use as we positioned ourselves at the top of the section and worked it again. And repeat. A couple of nice whitefish were hooked but no other 19 18 inch trout. The motor was stowed and we were on the go with the flow for the rest of the day.

Another thing that was different about this second day was the presence of clouds. After a clear start to the day, we seemed to be surrounded in all directions by ominous clouds that threatened electricity and rain.

Ominous clouds that didn't amount to much

We kept our fingers crossed that the sun would be obscured and the fish would starting looking up in earnest. We actually did have one cloud make a weak attempt to settle over us during which time a half dozen raindrops even fell. This very brief respite from the glaring sun did result in some actively rising fish but the clouds would not remain long enough to bring any sort of prolonged benefit. As we floated and pounded the banks with hooper/dropper, double dry and double nymph setups,  a recurring theme began to materialize: mend.

The fact that the weather remained largely sunny and hot didn’t mean that we wouldn’t catch any nice fish, however. I managed to land my trout of the trip in a side channel where the current was slow. It was classic dry fly water and we were able to anchor up and watch for rising fish. One thing an angler learns over time is that the fish making a ruckus when rising to bugs are smallish fish. It’s the the subtle riseforms that reveal the bigger fish. Those are the riseforms you want to target, particularly if you’re in a tournament where size matters.

Fortunately for Team Olive, we couldn’t have cared less about the the size of the fish we were catching. And so with this in mind I targeted a particular sipping fish whose riseforms were barely detectible. After a good mend the PMD slowly drifted closely to where the fish had last been seen, and then Hell broke loose. The take was subtle, but the thrashing that ensued put a solid bend in my 6 weight and shattered the still surface of the water. When the fish flashed its brightly colored flanks I could tell that this fish was unique. After landing the big cutt, it was clear that the old buck had been around the block a time or two. He was dark and vibrantly colored, with a protruding snout and plenty of scar tissue in his lip from a long life of having made bad decisions.

 

This old timer (the fish) made another bad lapse in judgment.

Will scored this fish accurately at 18 inches (easily an inch shorter than Marck’s 18 inch rainbow from the morning) and we continued on our way. Though our two best fish of the day were now behind us, we obviously had no way of knowing this, so we continued fishing with hope that our best fish was still to be caught. We relentlessly pounded the banks, doing our best to follow the orders to mend. Doing so resulted in several more smaller fish and the other two fish that would be scored for the day: Marck’s 17 inch cutt and my 16 inch brown, which appeared much smaller because it was the only skinny fish we’d caught on this river in two days. Why this “snake” was as he was is anyone’s guess, but my hunch is that the fish was burning too many calories chasing imitation bugs and not spending enough time eating the real thing.

 

Marck's 17" cutt

As with the day before, on this second day it became apparent that only fish over 16 inches are worthy of a photo and so the skinny 16 inch brown did not make the cut. I did manage to convince Will that a particular sub-16 inch cutt was worth a photo. Maybe Will silently acknowledged that the fish was actually 16 inches, or may he held it in higher regard because it was a native fish to this river.

 

A rare, photo-worthy, sub-16 inch cutt

As the day wore on the catching slowed a bit, although we did continue to add numbers to our total tally. And every cast brought with it renewed hope, so we kept casting for a fish; for a cure.  And mending.  We even managed to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the river.

Some cliffs

Some waterfalls

Some puffy clouds

We got off the water at about 7 PM, adding an impressive 10 inch rainbow to our total while the take out was in view. At the end of the day we’d managed to improve our performance over the previous day: Team Olive’s total for day two was 27 trout, including an 19 18 inch rainbow, 18 inch cutthroat, 17 inch cutthroat, and a 16 inch brown.  I joke that it didn’t really matter the size or numbers of fish caught because we were there to raise money and awareness for Rett Syndrome. And that’s true. However, each team’s total was assigned a dollar amount ($10 per fish) that would be donated to the International Rett Syndrome Foundation in the name of the angels the teams were representing.  Marck and I were pleased to have $490 donated in the name of Brooklyn.

Total fish counts and dollar amounts donated in the names of our angels.

Overall the event netted over $40,000 for the International Rett Syndrome Foundation. To quote C4C Executive Director Bill Farnum, “This will fund some very important clinical drug trials that we are starting to pull together.” Right on.

I don’t want to showboat my math prowess, but there were some interesting figures that resulted from the two days of fishing:

  • Compiling the length of the 8 biggest fish per team, 2,686 inches of trout were caught
  • The average size of the biggest fish was 16.8″
  • The average total number of trout caught per team was 47.04
  • The total number of trout caught was 988

Team Olive caught 49 total fish and our average biggest size was 16.6″. That indicates that we were right in the ballpark of the overall average, despite Marck’s best efforts to make sure we were better than average. I reckon if you take Marck’s angling skills, add them to my unaccomplished angling skills, you end up with an average skill level.

Oops, my bad.

Yes, I’m definitely going back next year. In fact I have to because I unintentionally brought the card key to our room home with me. It must be returned. In the meantime I’m going to lobby for the addition of a new category for the Biggest Whitefish. I caught 12 of my best whities ever, and I’d like credit for that. And next year Marck and I are going to request Greta as our guide. Sorry, Will–nothing personal. I assure you it has nothing to do with your staunch integrity. 😉

Thanks to Bill Farnum and Jim Copeland for putting on such a great event. Thanks to Will and Worldcast Anglers for putting us and the others on some invaluable fish. Thanks to everyone we met for an incredible time, and thanks to all my friends and family who helped get Team Olive to Victor. It made a difference and will continue to do so until the cure is found.

Good Will Fishing, Day One

The honorable William Dewey (damn him anyway)

We pick up where we left off last week

As we bounced along the lengthy dirt road to our launch point we were mildly reminded of the festivities the night before, which is to say that I was glad we didn’t stay up any later than we did. Day One of the “friendly competition” had Team Olive fishing the canyon section known as #3: Cottonwood to Byington. And with guide Will Dewey of Worldcast Anglers responsible for the oars and for keeping an honest record of the fish we caught, we had our work cut out for us. To clarify, I do not mean to suggest that Will was incapable of doing his job, which was to navigate the river safely and put us on fish—he proved worthy of that. But he also proved to be a man of integrity, and we were incapable of buying a little “leeway” when sizing our fish and totaling the overall catch. Turns out he was is an Eagle Scout, as was am I, but he’s much younger and the oath we each took as Scouts remains a lot fresher in his mind than in mine.

We had about 12 river miles to cover on this first day, and though we were on the water by around 9 AM, we were not alone.  As one might imagine with 22 teams spread out over 4 sections of river, there would be company (albeit good company) and it would be difficult to fish untouched water.  I was glad to be stationed in the back of the boat where there’s no pressure to perform, whereas Marck occupied the cat bird seat up front where he would earn his keep (and redeem himself from the ass-kicking he took on the Bitterroot two days earlier). I started out the day with a hopper and a dropper while Marck worked the surface with two dries: something big and something small.

Marck scores one for Team Olive

Throughout the day we would hear lots of grasshoppers in the grass, but hopper patterns didn’t rise any fish. Most surface takes were on PMD patterns, and we saw a few of the creme-colored mayflies coming off at times throughout the day, but nothing that would amount to a hatch.  The South Fork has a very good number of both trout and Whitefish per mile, and when you’re nymphing you’re going to catch big trout and lots of Whitefish. Or at least the latter, in my experience.  In my defense, these were all fair hooked: in the mouth. And they were some of the biggest Whities I’ve ever caught…photo-worthy Whities, they were. We didn’t get a lot of photos of fish (trout or otherwise) on the first day, which might partially be due to the fact that we didn’t catch many photo-worthy trout (since when is a 16 inch trout not worth a photo?!). Will is obviously accustomed to much larger trout, and an auto focus cameras proved too slow to capture a photo before most were tossed back.

Hey, that was a "Yakima 18"—I wanted a photo!

Late in the afternoon we were working a small back eddy when Marck’s rod bent like the front bumper of the Fish Taco hitting a deer.  There were no ensuing head shakes or spunky little attempts to slip the hook. This fish just put its head down and stayed put. And then it tangled itself up on some sunken branches. And the broken end of Marck’s 5X tippet returned to the boat. It would have been nice to have gotten a look at whatever leviathan had just stolen more of Will’s flies. My bet was that it was a huge brown, although we’ll forever be left to wonder. Either upset by the loss of yet more flies or the fact that this fish might have won the tournament for Team Olive (and therefore secured a place in the Casting 4 A Cure Guide Hall of Fame for Will), our guide was clearly upset. He may have shed a tear, or he may in fact have had something in his eye, as he alleged.

Will has something in his eye, and a gesture for Marck.

We fished out the remainder of the day without any remarkable fish to note, although I’d like to reiterate that a 16 inch trout is gangbusters from where Team Olive hails.  And 16 inch trout are what we posted as our 4 biggest fish of the day: 3 cutts and one rainbow. We caught a total of 21 trout, which wasn’t too shabby considering we weren’t really there just to catch fish.

That evening back at the Teton Lodge we talked shop with the other anglers. Interestingly everyone seemed to gather near the scoreboard where we they casually glanced, pretending not to care, as totals for the day were entered into the columns. Neither Marck nor I hardly noticed as the results of Day One were totaled up and one of the teams posted unbelievable numbers: 57 total trout caught?! Riiiight, I’m just so sure, Team Sage/Rio 😉

 

Not every guide was an Eagle Scout, apparently.

We feasted on a an exceptional Mexican buffet for dinner, followed by a few more cold beers from The Cooler That Was Never Empty before turning in at the shamefully early hour of 10PM. Some of the heartier younger folks stayed up into the wee hours, but Team Olive needed to make sure we brought our A Game in the morning. There were bigger fish to catch than just 16 inch fingerlings.

 

Jump straight to Day Two by clicking here.

 

The Road to Victor

Note to self: next time when driving from Hamilton (MT) to Victor (ID), choose an alternate route rather than taking Hwy 93 all the way south through Salmon, Leodore and Mud Lake, ID. With all due respect to the town of Salmon,  this neck of the woods may be a notch better than say, eastern Nevada, but there’s nothing much to see south of Salmon. Next time we’ll take 43 east to Wisdom, MT and then 278 to Interstate 15 instead of staying on Hwy 93. It may be a little longer but I’m sure it’s worth the extra mileage. Our route took us through barren, high desert and then endless miles of ag land until we began to see the Tetons in the distance around Rexburg.

Nowhere, Idaho

As we approached Driggs the mountains came into full view. Given that I’d never seen the Tetons before, I was gawking like a common tourist instead of a glancing casually at them like a swaggering, confident angler who had just kicked Marck’s ass on the Bitterroot the day before. I figured we’d be staring at the Tetons all weekend, but luckily I shot one marginal photo as we drove past Driggs. As it turns out, that was the last time we’d see the range all weekend—Victor is to the South and tucked behind some foothills which obstructed our view.  Not to worry, the scenery around Victor is still exceptional so I’m not complaining. After all, we weren’t there to sight-see.

Near Driggs, Idaho

After a 5.5 hour drive we pulled into Victor right around 4:30. The first order of business was to stop at World Cast Anglers where we picked up our Idaho licenses and a few other items. We had a coupon for a nice discount thanks to the shop’s partnership with Casting 4 A Cure.  While at the shop I also picked up a sticker for the back of the Fish Taco. This news greatly pleased Mrs. UA when I sent her a text to let her know we’d arrived safely before darkness brought out the many roadside large game animals in Idaho.

Yes, Dear, I got another sticker

The Teton Springs Lodge is a far cry from the Ho Mum Motel in West Yellowstone, and therefore Marck and I were somewhat uncomfortable in the lavish surroundings. We met Jim Copeland with Casting 4 A Cure, checked-in and received a very nice offering of assorted schwag from sponsors Patagonia, Sage, Scott, Fishpond, Fly Fishing Film Tour, Howling Brothers, Loon Outdoors, Rio, Big Agnes and others. Jim pointed to a cooler brimming with ice cold PBR and Coors Light, and we felt right at home.

Casting 4 A Cure

We were, after all, parched from the long drive so we may have partaken of more than one beer as we acclimated ourselves and inspected the scoreboard that would tally the angling accomplishments over the next two days. The board was obviously wide open as fishing had not yet commenced. Anything could happen. There were some impressive anglers in town for the event, and while we may have been out of our league we weren’t intimidated. At least Marck wasn’t. He’s a rock, albeit a rock that had his arse handed to him the day before (did I mention that already?).

Team Olive is on the board!

Auntie Em! We're not at the Ho Hum anymore!

After depositing our bags and gear in our entirely-too-fancy-for-the-likes-of-us suite, we enjoyed mingling with the other guests and feasting on a fantastic dinner of grilled ribeye steaks. A welcome from director Bill Farnum left nary a dry eye in the room as we listened to his experiences raising his daughter Ella, who has Rett Syndrome. Special guest Ed Kammerer also told the group about his daughter who has Rett Syndrome, and like I said–there wasn’t a dry eye to be found. Bryan Huskey of Fishbite Media showed an inspirational film he produced titled, Doc of The Drakes, about a gentleman fighting and fishing his battle against Parkinson’s. While the evening was heart-wrenching for sure, I didn’t leave feeling depressed, but rather filled with hope and the realization that a cure for Rett Syndrome is in sight and could lead to progress in curing other, related neurological disorders. It was a good reminder why we were in Victor.

More cold beer was enjoyed from The Cooler That Was Never Empty and we spent the remainder of the evening telling half truths around the fire pit. We probably stayed up later than we should have, but we were still in bed by 1 AM. That may not be very impressive if you’re 25, but we’re well past the age where howling at the moon can be balanced with an early morning alarm.

Waiting to begin our morning commute

At 7 o’clock the next morning the guests assembled, bright-eyed, eager to go fishing as an army of trucks with drift boats arrived at the lodge. Each team met their guides from World Cast Anglers and learned which section of the South Fork we would be fishing. The guide for Team Olive was a young man by the name of Will Dewey, originally from Pennsylvania. Marck and I piled into Will’s rig and ate a light breakfast on our way to the river. We would be floating section 3, in the canyon, and had about an hour’s drive to our launch point. The fun was about to begin. Well, that’s not entirely true because we’d already had a great time. But it was about to get even better.

 

Destination Victor, Idaho

 

I’m about to embark on a trip, the likes of which I’ve never taken before.  It’s been a long time in the making, and as the departure date draws near I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t giddy as git-out. Fishing is part of the trip, a big part of it to be sure. But there’s much more to the trip than fishing.

In May of 2010 I was contacted by a gentleman by the name of Bill Farnum, who is the Executive Director of Casting 4 A Cure. He buttered me up by telling me he enjoyed reading my blog, and then invited me to join his organization for one or both of their two annual fundraisers. I questioned his taste in blogs and told him that unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to make it to either event last year. But I gave Bill my word that I would be at one of them next year (this year).

Casting 4 a Cure is an organization that was started as a means to raise awareness and funding for the International Rett Syndrome Foundation. Rett Syndrome is a neurological disorder affecting almost exclusively young girls. It’s a rare, life-shortening affliction that robs them of their verbal and gross motor skills. Bill’s daughter, Ella, was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome in 2007. After the diagnosis, it became Bill and his wife Beth’s mission to help find a cure. By combining Bill’s passions for fly fishing and fund raising, Casting 4 A Cure was founded with the help of Bill’s longtime fishing buddy, Jim Copeland.  In the first four years, Casting 4 A Cure has raised over $200,000 for Rett Syndrome research and family support. Funds raised this year will got to 2 different projects: 1) a new clinical trial for a drug that could really help with some of the more excruciating symptoms and 2) funding for a new Rett Syndrome clinic in Denver at Denver Children’s Hospital.  This will allow Rocky Mountain families in Colorado, Idaho, Utah etc to access Rett Syndrome specialists for the care and advice they desperately need but is hard to find locally. Casting 4 A Cure holds benefit events each year in Steamboat, CO and Victor, Idaho. The goal is to raise $1M by 2015 and have a cure in hand by 2020.  As Bill says, “Lofty goals, but we have the people with the passion to make it happen.”

It’s Victor where I’m headed. The South Fork of the Snake River.  Never been there, never done that. I am, to state things mildly, out of my mind with excitement.  Yes, the fishing should be good. In fact, there’s a very strong chance that it should be out-of-this-world good because after a summer of raging flows, the river is just dropping into shape. There should be clear water, and big fish including cutthroat, rainbows and browns. Hungry fish. Big, hungry fish. But whether the fishing is good or not, I’m excited to meet Bill and Beth, and Ella. And the many other great folks who are converging on the town of Victor for this great event.

I spent the last year finding creative ways to raise money through auctions, raffles, pledges from friends and family, and from the modest sales of my Olive the Woolly Bugger books, to cover the majority of cost of the entry fee for Team Olive.  My team mate and I came up a little short so we scraped together the rest. Had I been smart I’d have sold grizzly hackle to teenage girls and easily been able to sponsor two teams.

There are 24 teams coming to the event, and each team will fish with a guide from World Cast Anglers for two days. I recognize some of the names of the other anglers, and some of them I’ve never heard of. People come from all over the country for this event, and so one thing I am sure of is that they’re a group of accomplished anglers. For obvious reasons I’m going to be out of my league. This is a tournament of sorts and that means competition (albeit of a friendly variety). And that’s exactly why I’ve chosen the team mate I have…someone who is as fishy as they come…a man who can stand trout to trout with the best of them. That’s why the backbone of Team Olive is Marck.

We’re leaving a day early so we can fish the Bitterroot in Montana along the way.  The Bitterroot is a river I have long wanted to fish but the opportunity has never presented itself until now. Having passed by Missoula countless times on I-90 with my nose pressed against the car window, staring south into the Bitterroot Valley like a forlorn pup, it’s about time I did something about it. So, this time we’re getting off the interstate and spending a day with guide Jay Dixon, who runs Dixon Adventures. It’ll be a great way to tune up those hook set reflexes and break up the long drive to Victor.

This trip is going to include some great fishing on some beautiful rivers, but the ultimate point isn’t just to catch fish–there’s much more to it than just that. There always is. But this time is special. I encourage you to take a look at the Casting 4 A Cure website–maybe you can be there next year.

Henry David Thoreau said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Bill Farnum knows what he’s after, and I feel privileged to join his group for this event, because each cast gets will get us closer to a cure.