You probably know the name Yellowstone for its natural beauty as a national park, and its infamous geyser, Old Faithful. For me, Yellowstone calls to mind a river in Montana, one which gave me one of the best fishing days of my life.
Yes, of my life.
You read that right. I was fortunate enough to go up there with two other couples — my good friends BJ and Pat, along with all of our better halves. Well, at least I can say with MY better half. My wife and I were actually just dating at the time, and it was a spectacular adventure for us to get out into the gorgeous Montana countryside for a nice couples trip. Any chance to spend time with her and my great friends, while doing the sport I love — that’s a formula for bliss.
Bliss for awhile at least. My wife and I still joke to this day that BJ and Pat never ended up with the girls they brought on this trip — only we survived! I don’t think their experiences that trip had anything to do with them ultimately going separate ways, but I know the experience my wife and I shared helped cement our life together for good.
The Yellowstone River is itself like a great relationship. It’s easy, mind-blowingly gorgeous, and prosperous. It’s a river you float down and can’t find a trouble to worry about. It’s got it all. Fierce mountain peaks dotted with sharp evergreen pines, meandering twists and turns through foothills of Montana and Northern Wyoming, and an adrenaline-spiking white water torrent that dumps majestically into the cascades of Yellowstone Falls. If the pioneering American spirit could be turned into a river, this would be it.
And we got to float down it. Laughing, drinking, and yelling to each other from our own float boats, we spent the day basking in sunshine and splashing our significant others with the crisp, clear water. There might as well have been no one else on the earth as we drifted lazily past the pine trees and watched the occasional rabbit scamper through the brush. I say there may have been no other people on earth, but there were certainly fish.
They were practically jumping in the boat that day, and it was seriously one of the best fishing days of my life. My buddies and their girlfriends didn’t really fly fish, but on this type of day even a bozo could catch something good. Just put on an indicator, put out a line about five feet, give it a lazy jerk and BAM — catch a fish.
Nothin’ to it.
Now, like I said, my wife and I were just dating at the time, but I actually got her to fly fish with me for about 30 minutes or so, getting a feel for it and having a nice time. I showed her a few things, but it wasn’t about trying to show off or force her into trying something new, it was about sharing something I loved with someone I already knew I loved.
After 30 minutes, she sat down to read a little, and I just kept pounding the water. And pounding it. Fish after fish after fish. I’m certain I caught a good 90 fish that day, and my buddies probably close to the same.
It was madness, but the craziest part for me was how taken I was with my darling girlfriend. I look back on all the incredible moments of our lives, and this was an early moment surreal feeling for our relationship, a day I could pursue my mad passion for fly fishing and she could be there with me, a part of it but still able to do her own thing, both of us totally content and happy together. What I’m saying is, in that moment, I could see us growing old together. No amount of fish can top that feeling.
It was a small section in the longer, meandering river that is our life together, and that’s why I feel Yellowstone is such a perfect metaphor for that. Sure, it flows across half the country through valleys and meadows and hills; it has a ton of history and just as much character as the park that shares its name, but we didn’t need to float down a huge portion of it to know it and love it. It was a short stretch, and by the end of it we were all grinning, laughing, and already looking back fondly at the memories we’d just made.
We all compared stories of the best catch, talked about how big our fish were and how many beers we all drank. It was a lot of macho contests, but the best part is I won the only contest that matters, because their girlfriends are long gone and I married my wife!
I haven’t been back to Yellowstone River since that day, especially since there are so many epic places in Montana to have the best fly fishing. Sometimes it seems like half the 50 Best Places to Fly Fish Before you Die are out in that part of the country, and maybe the book should’ve just been Montana’s Great Fly Fishing Spots (Plus a Few Others). From the Madison River and DePuy Creek to smaller spots like the Gallatin that have equal beauty, it’s just a stunning place; I can’t encourage you enough to go.
It’s funny, thinking about how many fish we each caught and how incredible the beauty was. “Funny” because the words will never compare to the memories. But I hope if I can paint some kind of picture, or light some kind of spark in the reader, you might get out there yourself. If you have half the time I had, it’ll be one of the best of your life.