by Violaine Capet and Eric Bacon.
He spoke of it as a pilgrimage. The time spent in the North American Rivers was a sacred journey that was both physical and spiritual, and an experience that a person must make at least once in their life.
This was the suggestion of a fly fisherman for over twenty years; he started his journey in the sport as a kid, and today you could call him a fishing maniac. This side of him is the whole opposite of me somehow, yet the passion with which he spoke about the unfathomable richness of this fishing world, the way his whole body was awakening to the mere idea of going up the American rivers of Montana and Idaho, peeked my desire to go and experience the rivers that would teach me to better converse with nature in the USA.
She often told me that she liked the way I talked about fishing, and, in particular fly fishing in the USA. One day she told me she would like to accompany me on a fishing trip, rod in hand...why not? Yes, of course!!!
Fly fishing across the Atlantic is a part of who I am. I think about it throughout the year but definitely when September is approaching, because that is the departure of my pilgrimage to the USA. I went there first and often with my fishing buddy, my friend, my mentor, Jacques Dauty. After he passed away a few years ago, I went back to spread his ashes on his favorite river. I still go there every year, sometimes alone or with my fishing buddies who accompany me on the pilgrimage.
It is now time to share this part of me with my life companion, and see if, like me, she manages to disconnect herself to better connect with nature and draw the incredible serenity from it.
It was still his pilgrimage: an accelerated learning opportunity of fly fishing. His codes, techniques, entomology, water reading, and trout behavior in particular, and I was the perfect student. The thought of stepping into the water, feeling the current against my legs, and coming out having the water reshape my philosophy towards the outdoors was more appealing to me than tapping into a predatory instinct, which, incidentally, has always failed me. I have never thought about the connection I have to nature. I have always imaged myself waiting for my hero to return from nature, and there I was to receive what comes out of it, never actually experiencing what it takes to gather.
It was French fly Fishing guide, Pascal, who had the heavy task of teaching me to cast my line during a memorable time in France that brought a newly elected Republic President to our country. During which a howling wind had me so focused on my casting and fishing that the election and the other anglers on the water were almost nonexistent. Pascal’s patience with me was starting to take root in my technique and that lead us to believe that his efforts for the day was not in vain: quite the contrary if I don’t say so myself.
I found myself easily slipping into the oneness of nature after a successful dry fly lesson. After a picnic on the river’s edge it was time to tackle the second half of my training, including nymphing, that led us to the end of day one.
After a stay in the Basque country, my new instructor, Glenn, had me sharpening the techniques of detecting strikes and laying out a good presentation. Everything was coming together for me, and I felt as if I could adopt this new discipline of fly fishing and could easily see myself on the set of a Robert Redford film.
We had to go though the learning phase.
First of all, we discussed, in detail, about water and its movements, fish and their behaviors, equipment, different techniques and insects. The importance of how we fish and why we release almost everything we catch. “What the hell?!” Is not an uncommon reaction for a beginner, but for me it is an aspect of the sport I was enjoying passing along.
I am fortunate to have among my friends two fishing guide instructors: Pascal Martin and Glenn Delporte. A day instruction with each of them was the best way I felt Vio would learn the techniques of fly fishing.
A weekend organized with the first day on the banks of the Agout River and then the Orb; then another shot at fish with the second day on the Nives River. Both days come complete with the best instructors I know that never give up even in the worst fishing conditions. In my mind this was the best way to prepare a beginner for the trip we were about to take.
The road map had been entirely highlighted by Eric from the start: our trip consisted of discovering the most beautiful North American rivers, fishing for trout and discovering (together this time) the magnificent setting of Yellowstone National Park.
Setting up a route for our trip was pretty simple, because I have experienced the golden triangle of fly fishing that Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have to offer every year for the passed 25 years. Our stay will be a true journey along the water..:
- to privilege the most beautiful rivers,
- they are easy to access and not too technical for fishing,
- see a great diversity of landscapes, and finally vary the pleasures: Rainbows, Browns, Cutthroats.
I wanted the first river she discovered in the USA to be Kelly Creek in northern Idaho. If we “fly anglers” were to describe the perfect river for our passion, most of us would describe a river like Kelly Creek.
So landing in Missoula to visit northern Idaho first was the plan, then head east to the great plains of Montana. There we would visit the Madison Valley and also Yellowstone National Park. Just south of Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, a must see. And finally, we would head west into Idaho, taking us through the lunar landscapes of Craters of the Moon to Boise where we will fish with my friend, Erik Moncada.
The first day of our arrival was devoted to the river. I recognized right away that my skills as an angler was going to be put to the test. Every riffle or current sweeping around a rock would call for subtle technique changes to adjust to an uncharacteristic current, that, if not calculated for, could ruin your chances of catching a fish. This is why Eric insisted on preparing me before the trip, and this is also the reason, at first glance, I had read the water with trout in mind. Thanks to all the help I had received in France, I caught my first America trout.
The next day we found ourselves on the St. Joe River. Early on we heard the cry of a white wolf in the distance, and we were having a bit of car trouble. The car trouble was testing Eric’s patience, however once he set foot in the river his worries seemed to wash away. We had yet to catch a fish, but the memory of this river in burned into my mind; perhaps it is because I was becoming more connected with nature myself. Fish were rising, but they were very stubborn and forced us to make a quick stop at a fly fishing shop to pick up what I thought looked like white butterflies. This was a new hatch that Eric had yet to encounter, and soon a picture of this fly would be sent to our French entomologist friend, Christian, to be tied just in case we ran into this on the next fishing trip.
The three days on the St. Joe were bluebird days. I was really grateful for the warm winds, however the smoke from the forest fire nearby left me with a feeling of gratitude when it was time to head back to the hotel. The smoke blurred our point of view, and the sky reddened as we bumped along on a gravel road, listening to System of a Down. The memory of the trout that once refused our flies, and were finally caught with our new butterfly pattern, and I felt a kind of gratitude when releasing the fish; I could only imagine the fish feeling the same gratitude.
Here we are on the famous Kelly Creek. Violaine had caught her first Cutthoat Trout fishing with a white caddis. In the beginning of this pilgrimage I knew my role was that of a technical fly fishing adviser: I chose a part of the river to fish where I could stand beside her and give little suggestions as she fished.
After some time she felt confident enough to fish alone, and I watched from a distance as she successfully caught trout. The frustration of losing the fish before it gets to the net, on the other hand, is something that takes time to overcome.
After three days of intensive “practice”, her casting has become so much better; however detecting the strike still needed some work. With the dry fly activity being few and far between, I suggested that we switch to a hopper dropper technique that paid off almost immediately. With Violaine’s success, I felt that I was really doing my job as an advisor.
We were happy to take advantage of the mild weather on the last two rivers, because this so called American “Indian Summer” that we had expected and forecasted was about to take a turn for the worse. The infamous Yellowstone National Park was a “must see” on our fishing pilgrimage, but as we neared the park we were also driving right into a powerful storm.
At first sight, the Gibbon River offered ideal conditions with fish rising, even under the threatening sky. But then the rain started. Afterwards the trout were not as active on the water, but the rain had stopped and the river was very still. Gusts of wind still soared through the grassland, but that didn’t take away the pleasure I felt luring trout, taunting them with a grasshopper imitation, like a giant trying to attract a man with a slab of beef. Success was at had, but just before the trout made it to my net, it had escaped.
The wind was blowing a wall of rain our way, and we geared down and made it back into the car before the strong rain hit. The rest of the day was spent in the car admiring the bison that lived their dossal life, stopping from time to time as a crowd tourists stopped their cars in the road to admire approaching animals.
The following days were devoted to the attractions of the park, famous for a multiplicity of its geothermal phenomena (geysers, fumaroles and hot springs of which the Grand Prismatic and the Old Faithful geyser claim fame).
Under grey skies we discovered the wonder of Yellowstone National Park. It was ominous to be in the center of what is called a hot spot in the earth’s crust that is still very volcanically active, and, according to geologies, is over due to irrupt again. Still the magic of the surrounding land brings a comfort to both man and trout alike.
It was obvious a snowstorm was on the way so Eric changed our itinerary to take advantage of our time in the park by fishing a day before we had planned to. Flat Creek was our destination and my feet were frozen in fear after a snake slithered by. Eric was not troubled by this so together we walked to the stream only to find a brown bear crossing the river. The scenery which unfolded before our eyes on the drive was definitely something to write about: the herds of bison at sunset with snow to reflect the orange light, deer grazing at the roundabouts of the mall towns, herds of antelope with white buttocks (pronghorns) running across our path as we drove.
We ended our stay in the park with a hike near Cook City. His fly fishing mentor, Jacques, over twenty years ago, first introduced this very hike to Eric. Eric told stories of Jacques as we ascended up the mountain. The further we hiked the more in-tuned I became with the meaning this particular location in the park. More-so, at the end of our hike lie the ashes of Eric’s mentor, Jacques. The power of it all hit me, and after this experience I am apart of the group of friends that find this land in the Lamar Valley sacred.
The magic brought fourth by the rich Yellowstone landscape allowing us to indulge in a successful fishing trip in the name of Eric’s passed friend, which was so intense that it was easy to feel his presents with every moment of enlightenment on or off the river. With the power of the land and Jacques’s memory, it is easy to feel like he is still here standing alongside us.
We had planned a full week at Yellowstone Park. Enough time to fish the main rivers and visit all the tourist sites and attractions (a first for me, who after a dozen stays in the park of geysers had never taken the time to leave the riverbeds).
We had to change our plans because of very unusual weather for the season. Wind, cold, rain, snowfalls often abundant found us almost every day.
Despite these setbacks, Violaine caught her first North American Rainbow in the Madison basin. The Yellowstone and Snake basins allowed her the opportunity to catch and release the magnificent Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. Her ease with a fly rod had grown rapidly in the past few days, and her technique was seriously put to the test by fish that live in rivers that have high pressure angling and know the game.
Many American fishermen on the rivers told us about the difficulty they were experiencing in catching a trout on their local waters, which made me feel especially proud on how well our beginner had adapted.
The previous day was the end of Yellowstone Park and now we were heading to visit Eric’s American friend, Erik Moncada, to which I hear is another fly fishing maniac. Eric had met Erik a few years before in a fly shop and they have been friends ever since, but that’s another journey, another time, another landscape.
On our drive to Boise, Idaho, it was like driving on another planet. If I were to paint this journey, there would be little room for the landscape we came across. An immense sky would take up all the space on the canvas: saturated in places like pillars of light shooting down through the sky. The landscape of Craters of the Moon would almost look like a negative from an old filmstrip, washed out in matte black but with small shimmers of reflected light, like a polished granite countertop.
I now stand in the most sacred of rivers with two very knowledgeable coaches Eric, of course, and Erik, the American fly fisher who’s kindness will never be forgotten. What will also never be forgotten in the very large and vigorous brown trout that took up residence below the dam that made me - in just a few days - a real star in fly fishing.
The experience fishing here was quite different. The pleasure was not so much in the strike as it was in the battle that came after you had earned the respect of a feeding fish. I had to now really pay attention to the subtleties of a very large and very angry struggling fish.
Overcoming these fish meant that I had to reach deep into my biceps and triceps, yet be subtle enough to allow for the flexibility in line management to allow the fish to go where it wanted to go, but still under my control. Before this, my only combat experience with fish was letting the rod do the work.
The picture would not be complete if I did not mention the intensely of exposing myself to nature on these fishing trips. There are two of us in each photo: the angler and the fish. Each picture providing a entire story in itself, exaggerating the difficulty of the catch, the skill of the fisherman or the size of the fish, all with the sole idea of adding more excitement to our picturesque stories.
The last part of our American fly fishing pilgrimage is with my friend, Erik Moncada, at his place in Boise, Idaho.
The skill set must be switched to fishing tail-waters (rivers under dams). The situation changed a little for Violaine because the rivers are larger and more powerful than what she has experienced, and the fish are much bigger.
Violaine’s control of her casting and accuracy had vastly improved in those 10 days of fishing, but it remained a struggle to control a fish bigger than 17 inches, which was crucial now. For being so new at the sport, I found myself yet again impressed on her ability to adapt to the new waters. She was quickly able position herself in front of a fish that changed direction once it was hooked, keeping the rod high to absorb head shakes and did not hesitate to follow the fish over several yards to avoid breaking off.
The first day on a river populated by big Browns was a faultless one. No breakage or hesitations on a hook set, and the trophy fish were arriving in the net after sometimes a fifteen-minute battle. A local guide positioned on the opposite bank stopped all activity to enjoy the show.
Despite a cloudy day that was conducive to a hatch, rising fish were rare and fishing was done underwater. The dry/nymph technique was now a well-mastered maneuver by Violaine, and was working remarkably well that day.
The next day we fished the South Fork of the Boise River, and it was a day with multiple opportunities for catching big, mean, heavy wild rainbow trout. Although Violaine was getting the hang of fighting bigger fish, these fish were very mean and there was breakage!!!! I wish I could say it was only tippet that was breaking, but after a great struggle with a very powerful fish, Violaine didn’t offer more line when the fish bolted, and the tip of her three-weight rod snapped under the pressure. It must be said that the choice for her to continue fishing with her light rod on this day was a choice that had been the subject of a long debate with Erik… needless to say, in the end, it was a questionable decision to let her continue.
Violaine was now fishing alternately with my and Erik's fly rod - both were ten foot four weights, but different tapers – and now it was the breaking of the tippet which follow each hookup. It was only after the loss of several flies when she found the subtle pressure to back off her hand from the reel when these fish bolted at high speeds.
The day surged with an uninterrupted and sometimes massive outbreak of BWOs. Trout are very selective when faced with such an abundance of food, and it is often an emergent imitation that wins the bet.
Despite the breaking of a rod and many lost flies, it was all in great spirits and there were many laughs shared in the moment.
There won't be two trips like this.
It is, in fact, both a discovery of a country through its trout, a discipline that I did not even know existed a few months before, and an "us" that is learning to discover each other on the other side of the planet.
On the other hand, I am now looking forward to other fishing trips. I look forward in letting nature show me what else it has in store for me, even if it is again on the other side of the globe. I await to discover more sacred ground, to find those few and so pleasant moments of grace, and to let history unfold as I soak up the wonder of nature and life.
This trip was a rare beauty of intensity. Sharing your passion with the one you love is not insignificant!
The objectives before the departure were clear: a trip along the water, along the most beautiful North American rivers that I know well and will allow a path as an initiation to my passion, but also and especially not to overwhelm her from enjoying fishing. My usual companions often describe me as "unbreakable" by the water and sometimes only the darkness of night can stop me from fishing. So for our trip we had planned for short sessions that Violaine could end as soon as she wanted.
At the water's edge, I spent most of the time next to her with my rod stuck in my waders and I fished only short but intense periods when she rested her arm. What is remarkable is how I felt no frustration at not spending more time trying to lure these fish myself that I have dreamt about for a year now. I found it exciting to be by her side, advising and guiding her. I have advised fishermen by the water and, although I have enjoyed helping them catch fish, I must admit that I would still prefer to catch them myself.
This time it was totally different. With each fish caught by Violaine I felt a joy more intense than when I am with rod in hand, and that was frequent throughout our trip, catch after catch.