Ken Deaver shows his new fishing buddy, Jim Aylsworth, where to cast on a small headwater stream in Montana. Jim Aylsworth photo.
The older I get the more I appreciate a good friend. A recent study by Dr. Marisa Franco published in Psychology Today concluded men have fewer close friends in comparison to women.
For several years, I have participated in an online forum for Trout Unlimited members called TU Community. It is an open-forum discussion of many topics moderated by Doug Agee, TU’s online community manager. He does a great job of keeping people on subject, recommending other TU resources and avoiding the pitfalls of other sites that wander off into a controversy with the inevitable personal attacks.
An interesting gentleman from Montana, Ken Deaver, who regularly participates on the site, often opined with the prose of a professional writer. I enjoyed reading his posts. Twice Ken posted he had never fished with a fly-fishing guide. I had a trip planned to Yellowstone National Park in mid-July, so I added a trip to Billings to go fishing with Ken, a man I had never met, other than reading his posts on a TU forum.
My wife often wonders what it is about me that allows me to be friends with a complete stranger while fly fishing. Henry Winkler’s book on fly fishing called I Never Met an Idiot on the River answers her inquiry. The Fonz said we anglers are good folk. Even when we may not agree on the hot topics found in the news we clearly agree on the need to protect the natural resources needed to keep trout healthy and allow us to occasionally fish for them.
During one of the hottest summers on record in Montana, we had the challenge of finding water that was not adversely affected by the heat or drought. Ken took me to a spot he and his late wife, whom he affectionally calls “my Karen,” used to visit high in the Beartooth Mountains. It was near the headwaters of one of the better-known rivers in the area. I had my water thermometer and found the fast-flowing river to be in the low 50s.
At each location Ken would look at the water and then direct me to fish the best hole while he moved upstream to fish around the bend. He laughed at my habit of shouting “fish on” every time I caught another trout in that beautiful Wild and Scenic river. “Wild and Scenic” is a special federal designation that passed congress and was signed by the President into law several years ago to stop any dams from being built on this little river. This is an example of how it takes a renewed effort to protect precious fisheries.
The next day it was my turn to be the host for the day, so Ken and I went on his first guided float trip. We started at the Yellowtail Dam and floated three miles of the Bighorn River. It’s currently known as the coldest river in Montana since it is drawn from the bottom of the 400-foot dam. I put my thermometer in the water at the boat take-out ramp midafternoon — the outside temperature had just reached 100 degrees! The water was still a frigid 50 degrees or less.
Initially, Ken asked me to take the bow of the boat so that he could watch how I cast from the front and to observe how I interacted with the guide. As Ken did with me, I pushed him to take the best spot on each island where we stopped to walk and wade. Finally, after much cajoling by the guide and me we convinced Ken to take the bow. As you would expect, his rate of catching fish went up exponentially in comparison to sitting in the stern only to cast to fish after we have floated by them in hopes they did not see our boat or the two anglers whipping sticks wildly in the air.
In the classic movie Casablanca Rick said to Renault, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” In my case it all began with taking the initiative beyond the usual, “Someday we should go fishing together,” in exchange for, “Are you available July 17 and 18?”
Now I know I have made a new friend for the rest of my life. This friendship began on a TU web site and has developed into two buddies doing all they can to make sure the other one has a good time on the river.