This is Part 5, which follows Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 (which I believe were collectively read by only one person: Howard Levett of Windknots & Tangled Lines —thanks, Howie).
So the Firehole Rangers finally found ourselves in Columbia Falls, Montana, faced with the long-awaited opportunity to fish the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
It all began with an online auction to benefit Casting 4 a Cure. I wasn’t able to make it to their annual fundraising event in Victor, Idaho, this year, but I wanted to do my small part to help support this great organization. One particular auction item caught my eye: a one-day, guided trip with Glacier Anglers guide and TroutTV co-host Hilary Hutcheson. Before entering my bid I put out a group email to the Firehole Rangers and suggested we take a September trip to the Flathead Valley of northwest Montana. We had been pondering where to go for the last Ranger excursion of the year and since none of us had ever fished the area around Glacier National Park my suggestion earned collective approval.
With that I threw my hat into the ring and, for several days, enjoyed the peaceful confidence that accompanies a lack of bidding competition. Being that this was a fundraiser I was disappointed that there wasn’t more interest in the float trip. On the other hand I was pretty stoked that I might be able to pick this trip up for less than retail. With each passing day that the auction attracted no other bids I began to suffer from bidder’s remorse and wondered if perhaps others knew something I didn’t. Maybe Hilary was all smoke and mirrors—a hack guide—not worth the price of a bid? If that was true, how could I have missed that?
Social media is a strange and interesting facet of today’s society; a ‘place’ where we strike up ‘friendships’ with people whom we’ve never met and may never meet. We get a sense that we kinda know people without really knowing them and that’s pretty much how it was with Hilary. I’d had some limited professional correspondence with her going back a few years as she does some media work for Montana Fly Company, with whom I had an Olive the Woolly Bugger merchandising deal. I had also had a wee bit of personal interaction with her on Facebook and Instagram, but as one might imagine she has lots of Facebook friends and even more Instagram followers (Twitter, too, although I don’t do much on Twitter—in case you hadn’t noticed I tend to be a tad long-winded and Twitter only allows for 140 characters, including spaces, in which to state your message). But I digress. In short, in the fly fishing world, Hilary is a celebrity of sorts: she’s kind of a big deal. I, on the other hand, am just another average joe and a below-average, unaccomplished angler. I’ll certainly never grace the home page of Patagonia, that’s for sure.
From my social media standpoint Hilary seemed like a good person and I assumed she must be a good angler as well. After all, she does galavant about the West, fishing and filming, with the crew of TroutTV. And despite her busy media schedule she does still find time to guide on her home waters in Glacier country. So why wasn’t anyone else bidding on this trip? My wondering didn’t persist as another anonymous bidder had the nerve to enter into the game.
Mind you I am not an overly competitive person, I just prefer not to lose. Tension mounted as the auction went back and forth, $25 at a time, until there was only one day left. At that point I decided to put an end to the jousting and dealt a final blow to my anonymous competitor by upping the bid by $50. It was, after all, for a good cause.
After a victory like this I often give pause for reflection as I consider who my competition might have been. For half a second I surmised that it may have been Hilary herself, driving up the bid, trying to discourage me from winning so that she wouldn’t have to fish with me. Could she really be that type of person? I didn’t want to think so. She doesn’t come across that way in the virtual world and I’ve watched enough episodes of TroutTV to assess that she actually seems to be a rather shy, reserved person engaging personality—some might almost say, fun.
I’ve subscribed to TroutTV for a year or so and I enjoy the episodes (yes, even the ones that feature co-host Rich Birdsell). On three different occasions the show has ventured to Washington to fish the Yakima River. In one episode Rich struggled early but did finally manage to catch some respectable fish. On the other hand, Hilary made it look easy, catching many and sizable trouts both times she was on the Yakima. In one particular episode (which you can watch for free, HERE) she proclaims, as her rod is doubled over, “So. Cool. I love this place! Washington state rules!”
Right out of the blocks, on another Yakima River episode, Hilary makes short work of a really nice fish (nicer than I’ve caught on the Yakima in many years). “That was kinda easy,” she says. “Can I sign up for the advanced course?”
The Yakima River never fishes like that for me, nor for most of the people I know who fish it. I’ve always resented Hilary for marching into Kittitas County, kicking ass and taking names and making it look so easy. I’ve oft wondered if I would ever get a chance to air my grievances in person and now it appeared as though I might finally get my chance.
When it was confirmed that I had won the auction I reached out to Hilary and inquired about possible dates that might be available for the trip. She refused to return my attempts at contacting herShe pretended to know who I was She was very accommodating and booked two more boats with Glacier Anglers. The Firehole Rangers would be floating the Middle Fork Flathead on September 13th.
And I began accepting bribes to determine who would share my boat with Hilary.
Stay tuned for Part 6 in this 6 Part series of Weekly Drivel®. And remember—every time you leave a comment on the blog, a puppy in a third world country escapes starvation.