Back Issue Content: 2001

I pour a little rum in my cider and get typing. At present, I am coupled with winter, 400 square feet of cabin, a half-empty bottle of rum, and memories of my rookie year of guiding in Yellowstone Park. The only sound breaking the tap-tap of the 'writer is the occasional gust of wind dusting off the roof. A summer spent on the Firehole seems so distant now. Far off like the bonefish flats and snook mangroves of someplace tropical that I'm too poor to visit.

In Montana there are two kinds of winter days-those that are warm enough for fishing and those that aren't. Here, cold is a relative term. A week of high-sky, 40-degree weather in early November can send the Baetis hatch into submission and seem downright arctic after a month of Indian Summer. Yet a windless February day topping off at 35 will feel balmy enough to send you searching for early stoneflies.

Here's how you float the Yellowstone: With a good friend, it's impossible to make a mistake. It's also impossible not to. Every oar splash and drift through a seam is cause for good-natured accusation and graceful riposte ("You're the shithead." / "Hey, fuck you.")

Waiting your turn at the put-in, sizing up the other fishermen. Judging. There is, you decide, at least one fundamental truth about fishing. You yourself are the standard by which other fishermen are measured. Turns out that everyone is either a clown in costume or a sunburned, squint-eyed guru. On a hot weekend morning, the boats are lined up anchor to bumper. Tired guides tying on flies. Nervous clients pacing back and forth, glancing at watches. Name brands everywhere. Which leads to another truth about fly-fishing: Like a magnet with paperclips, it collects pretension. Look at these people. Christ. Inevitably, you find yourself in one of two camps. Competing with or reacting against. That guy in jeans soaked to the crotch and a stringer of browns for the barby might be somebody you could drink a beer with . . . or a local to be ignored. The fat man in the Orvis waders and Armani polarized glasses, his pipe leaking slow trails of Prince Albert, is either a resource to be mined or an out-of-stater to be mocked.

See them coming, swimming toward you like ducks across the sky at dawn. It's hard for a Northern Rockies trout chaser to fathom: no hatch to match, no current seam to aim for, just you and a couple dozen bonefish headed your direction. Throw it too late and you'll spook 'em. Too early and your fly sinks to the bottom. But time it right and suddenly there you are-light breeze, palm trees and a fish heading straight for Honduras.

Ephemerella grandis is, like the rest of us, a sex fiend. From the moment he sheds his heavy, heinous body of youth, his thoughts are dominated by mayfly fornication-drake nookie, if you will. He can't sleep. He can't eat. He can do nothing but flutter about on the breezes of desire, looking above the river for his one true love-or, if he's lucky, a couple of them.

All creatures are, in a way, sex fiends. They must be at some point simply to keep their species in the game. But E. grandis, commonly known as the Western Green Drake, pays one hell of a price for it. He is the All Star sex fiend-for after he does the deed, he's done. His life is over, and we don't mean figuratively. No wonder he does it in midair. The poor guy has no friends when he begins his courtship, surrounded as he is by dozens of others with the same goal-sorta like guys in a ski town. Grandis boy figures, and rightly so, that his acquaintances, all just as sex-crazed, would stab him in the back before they'd help him get laid. Grab a lady and make it happen-that's the name of the game.

Flyfishing is a sexy sport. This I know because I'm in awe of good fishermen, which has left me attracted to grubby guys I normally wouldn't have noticed except maybe to offer them change. I'm not too experienced a flyfisher and I'm a terrible flirt, yet when it comes to mixing the two together I find astounding confidence. I could never ask a guy out and I can't even hold a conversation with someone I've got a crush on, but I don't hesitate to invite myself along in a stranger's drift boat. And I can walk confidently into a fly shop and strike up a conversation with any random man. Some people use beer goggles as an excuse for a momentary lapse in judgment. I think I've got fish eyes.

It only took a few minutes kneeling and staring into the ripples before I spotted a fish. A cutthroat, maybe 10 inches long, darted from behind a rock into the undercut bank. Walking this spread earlier in the afternoon, ranch broker Greg Fay told me that since he began restoring this creek along Montana's Ruby River, the trout have slowly been returning. Fay also introduced me to the ranch manager and the son of the man who owned this creek and its adjoining 800 acres. The son asked that I not use his name. The new owner recently bought this creek and ranch just west of Sheridan, Mont., from Fay who acquired the property from a rancher who'd worked the land since the late 1960s. The former cattle ranch now closer resembles an overgrown parking lot. The creek's banks are collapsed, the riparian corridor is thin and friable and the remaining shrubs and grasses are battered to nothingness. Still, the land hasn't lost its openness, or its golden glow, or its ability to support life. It just needs some help, and Fay, owner of Fay Fly Fishing Properties, is the man for the job.

See them coming, swimming toward you like ducks across the sky at dawn. It's hard for a Northern Rockies trout chaser to fathom: no hatch to match, no current seam to aim for, just you and a couple dozen bonefish headed your direction. Throw it too late and you'll spook 'em. Too early and your fly sinks to the bottom. But time it right and suddenly there you are-light breeze, palm trees and a fish heading straight for Honduras.

Standing thigh-high in the waters of Belize will teach a dedicated western river angler more about our sport's diversity than a thousand bonefish books could ever hope to accomplish. Because the tropics are so not Montana in November. Because a place like Turneffe Flats or Glovers Reef is everything steelhead fishing in springtime isn't. You're warm. You're comfortable. You're wearing shorts. And for once you can leave the "Nobility in Suffering School of Flyfishing" packed away at home with your leech patterns and neoprenes. It's doubtful bonefish will ever replace brown trout on the unspoken scale of our piscatorial caste system. Still, a day on the flats leaves your head as clear as the surrounding sea and you never have to worry about hooking your backcast in the willows.

Sitting up in the pilot house, we could see with our own eyes that a serious storm was coming. The Weatherfax hadn't shown a good picture of it the day before, but you could see it on the radar, streaming through above Cuba, across Grand Bahama, and now it was on top of us. Chris went forward to the windlass while Phil laid down another hundred feet of chain between us and the anchor. The slight shifts in the boat's position were revealed in the apparent movement of the sandy bottom under deep, clear, pale-green tropical water. We were on good holding ground. There wasn't really much to worry about though it couldn't help the fishing. And there were the compensations of a tropical squall: the supercharged atmosphere of deep, humid wind, the unpredictable tide slipping through the roots of heaving mangroves. It was interesting weather.

The game, it seems, is to see who can use the smallest boat to catch the biggest fish. And Adam Kimmerly is getting good at it. Kimmerly discovered sit-on-top kayak fishing a little more than a year ago, not long after moving to San Diego. Now it's his passion.