Earning Top Guide in the One Fly was not easy, but like a Trout from its lie, I rose to the occasion.
The 30th annual Jackson Hole One Fly competition took place last weekend and what a fun time it was. I was happy to be involved in an event that donates all the raised money towards conservation, stream restoration, Trout Unlimited, and various other non profits that focus on protecting our fish and the beautiful places they live in.
If you have never heard about the One Fly I will tell you a little about it now. Teams of four come from all over the world to participate in this event. The One Fly is held on the Snake River in Wyoming but also in Idaho. Historically the Idaho side of the Snake River produces bigger fish so each team is allowed to choose one of their team members to fish the South Fork of the Snake. It is a two day event, and all anglers are randomly matched up with the guides and the stretches they will fish two days before the competition starts. The guides know which stretch of the river they will be guiding months in advance to encourage practicing and learning that stretch. In my boat for the two days I will have four different people all from different teams. The two people in the boat are actually fishing against each other, and all fish are measured in front of both team members so there is no room for cheating. The anglers pick their flies in the morning, if they break off during the day and are lost, the angler is out of the tournament for that day. The next day they are able to pick a new fly. The participants are allowed to measure 8 fish and keep the 6 biggest. Any trout under 12 inches is considered a “Dink,” and is worth 2 points. Any fish over 12 inches is considered a measurable fish and has a point value. A 13 inch fish is 30 points….A 14 inch fish is 40 points….A 15 inch fish is 50 points….and so on. If you fill up your score card too early and your 9th fish is 25 inches, that fish will only count as 2 points!!! There are also bonus points for 50+ fish caught, and bonus points for keeping your fly until the end of the day.
Now, Im not a fish counter Nor am I a “Big Fish Monger,” and frankly I find it a little obnoxious when people come to these rivers and complain about the size of the fish. What they don’t understand and fail to appreciate, are the circumstances in which you catch a NATIVE Snake River Cutthroat Trout. I always remain positive when teaching people about these rivers, when I explain the fish count, or the harsh winters, and the short growing season. I try to tell them nothing in fishing beats the way an 18 inch cutthroat rises slowly to a tiny dry fly, with the utmost delicacy. This place is not a bumper boat theme park like the “San Juan” or the Green below Flaming Gorge Reservoir, or the “White River” for that matter. This is not one of the stocked trout aquariums of the American West, with pink bobbers and 6x Tippet and boxes of zebra midges, casting and mending with bleak anticipation. Fly fishing is much more than all that. Its a place of worship. Its a way to see the natural world and observe things. And when you do enough of it it becomes my version of “Church.” Religious people go to the Church to Worship, I would prefer a quiet bend in a river somewhere, anxiously waiting for the evening rise.
So when my 5:00 alarm sounded on that Saturday morning I rose to the occasion and after packing a few last minute things drove to the Gun Barrel steakhouse for breakfast to meet my 2 clients for the day, and to sit with other guides and talk a little about strategies and Ideas and to look over possible flies. I had already made up my mind as to what flies I wanted my clients to fish but my clients had not. They had big ideas to fish big flies and I told them those big uglies wouldn’t work this year. It was a different year and I had my mind set on 2 small dry flies. I urged them to trust me as I guide 110 days straight on these rivers. So with some coaxing and reassurance my two contestants fished these small dries you see in the above pictures. After refilling our coffee mugs me and my two boat mates (Bruce and Jerry) headed out towards the put in. During the drive I discussed my plan of attack and was able to get both contestants “on board.” So we dumped the yacht in the water and pushed off anxiously hoping for a great day of fishing.
Im not going to write about all of my tactics during the first day of the competition, but I had a plan all along and lets just say my plan worked. At times I was very reluctant to stick to that plan and doubted my self a few times, but I stuck to my heart and was able to score 1002 points during that first day. I worked my ass off and at times was out of the boat holding the boat in a swift current so my guys could cast into a certain spot. We ran up and down that river chasing fish for points. It was incredible how many big fish they caught. All day I wanted to run around and rejoice but knew better to boast, after all it is a two day tournament and could I be so lucky two days in a row? Only time would tell…
That night I went home and told my friends what had happened. I had had a truly incredible day of guiding and I put my clients on incredible fish and it just happened to occur on the only day that it really matters. So I was in the lead and nervous as hell. After all could the next day be as good? Will my clients keep their flies all day? Will they miss all the big fish I have in mind? Will they hook a tree branch? Will they snap their fly on a rock? I was letting negativity in and it wasn’t good. That night I couldn’t sleep and had a million thoughts. I had to get a very good score the second day as well if I had any chance at winning top guide. After all I was in the lead, and I would probably never be this close again.
So the next morning at breakfast everyone was congratulating me and also adding, “Hope you can hold it together today too,” and that made me more nervous and finally I took a deep breath and trusted my instincts and realized I could only control so much. So we took to the water and pushed on down before most and as soon as 8:30 came we started fishing. I could’t believe what was happening in front of me. All the big fish that I had saved for today were there and boy were they hungry. We were catching big fish after big fish, and I was so giddy like a little kid I just couldn’t believe it. It was a superb day of fishing. And one that I will remember for the rest of my life! I was so happy to be in that boat the second day with my two boat mates Al and Peter. When 4:00 came along and fishing had ended we added up our points and I couldn’t believe we had 750 points. I didn’t want to even think it but I figured after today I could have won the entire event as top guide. So we showed up at the beautiful dinner and awards ceremony that night and I managed to have a cocktail to calm my nerves. Nobody was talking about their points for the day and mostly people were just excited to be done with the whole thing. After dinner the awards ceremony started and I was announced Top Guide for the entire weekend for both Idaho guides and Wyoming guides!
As you guessed the party went on into the wee hours of the night. All guides are smart enough to take the monday after the one fly off as an excuse for excessive partying. It was a great weekend that I will remember forever. More importantly than winning an event like this, were the funds created and used towards all the conservation efforts. Money raised every year gets donated to local and national projects for example, The Snake River fund, Trout Unlimited, Friends of the Teton River, and many others. Guiding has slowed to a dull roar so im excited to do some fishing of my own and explore a few places on my bucket list! Cheers to the Trout!
Well deserved my friend
What a great article-your passion for fishing, the natural world and conservation shows. Thanks for explaining the One Fly. After all these years I never understood the complex rules but it confirmed how difficult it is to be the TOP GUIDE. CONGRATULATIONS
The eloquence with your words is only surpassed by your love and passion for fly fishing. Congratulations on winning the “One Fly” Quite an achievement.
Nice Josh, proud to say that the one fly winner was my wife and I’s guide on the Snake River! Well written too!