A living legend and a fishing machine

By Chris Wood

“Lefty said, ‘give it a try for a year. If it doesn’t work out, you can come back.’”

That was in April 1973, and Paul Bruun, fishing guide, writer, and Wyoming raconteur, never looked back. He moved from Miami Beach to Jackson to write for the Jackson Hole Guide. Lefty Kreh’s counsel proved wise, as Paul has written an outdoor column for the paper every week for 45 years. In addition, he started the Jackson Hole Daily in 1978, and it thrives today.

I asked how he got into writing, and Paul, who writes the Classics column in TROUT magazine, told a story about going to lunch with his dad and the actor, Jimmy Stewart, in the mid 1950s in Miami Beach, where his dad ran a newspaper. Stewart had just finished a movie, and Paul’s dad said, “go write a column about your lunch with Jimmy Stewart.”

Bruun, who was 12, said, “Dad, I have no idea how to do that.” His Dad replied with some of the best writing advice Paul ever received “Write a letter to your cousins about it.” Bruun has followed that advice of writing in a conversational style for many decades, and in the process became among the deans of western outdoor reporting and writing.

Bruun guided for 37 years, and along the way helped another Jackson-legend, Jack Dennis, to start the Jackson Hole One Fly — an annual fishing tournament where anglers are only allowed to fish with one fly for the day. The One Fly has raised millions of dollars since 1986 to benefit the restoration and recovery of Yellowstone cutthroat trout and Snake River Fine-spotted cutthroat trout.

As soon as we sat down, a pattern emerged. Paul would raise his hand to every fourth or fifth person that entered the restaurant. Everyone knows Paul. Throughout our conversation, Paul mentioned, Jean, his spouse of nine years, and also a well known angler and guide. To hear a dedicated bachelor of 65 years speak of Jean the way Paul does, warms even the most cynical heart.

Paul and Jean planned for a wedding of 100. Over 300 came. Paul asked the caterer to make the cake in the shape of a “wedding cake” Fin-Nor reel “the first quality saltwater reel worth talking about.” Only the fishiest of the guests got the joke.

Years ago, several TU staff and volunteers got angry because Paul, while writing for Trout magazine, was also publicly opposing our efforts to recover Yellowstone cutts by suppressing invasive lake trout. Our editor, Kirk Deeter, urged calm because everyone doesn’t have to agree with everything we do to write for us. Kirk was right. Years later, Paul was pleased that spawning cutthroat are back in the mainstem Yellowstone, Atlantic Creek, and the Thorofare.

After we met, I emailed Paul back and asked him two final questions: “What worries you most about the future,” and “what gives you the most hope about the future?” He ended up writing a column on the topic, but his answers bear repeating here.

“What worries me most about the future are the clever recipes to surgically remove sections of the Invasive Species Acts, Migrating Bird Acts, Clean Water and Air acts and many more that are the work of a brilliantly fiendish group of self-serving advocates whose aim is to set back and ultimately destroy America’s wildlife, public lands and hard fought environmental regulations for pure personal gain.”

He went on, “I’ll continue to count on an informed public that demands real news and examines what positive changes must be made. Not sacrificing a healthy community lifestyle, our wildlife preservation and not choking roadways with overwhelming traffic means putting all current candidates to your personal test. Voting in the upcoming election is the future.”

Americans have a knack for making the best of all situations, but Paul closed out our conversation with a sentiment that I bet many of us share: “This place has always been nice to me, but I worry about the future.”

Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited.

By Chris Wood. Chris has worked at TU for 22 years, and is not the best angler, but he is among the most earnest.