How Yvon Chouinard Taught My Kids About Trout Fishing
Teaching your kids to fish is smart. Having Yvon Chouinard teach your kids to fish is genius.
As the kids grow older, it becomes clearer and clearer to me how precious, and short, our time is together. It’s also become more important than ever to me that they spend time with key people in my life—friends and mentors who’ve inspired me and helped along the way—in the hopes that a little wisdom and generous spirit will rub off on the kids. With those thoughts in mind, along with Skyla and Weston’s growing interest in fly fishing, we headed east from Puget Sound to the Rockies to meet up with my good friends Yvon and Craig. It started with an early morning ferry ride.
Despite countless traffic delays, one bout of carsickness caused by reading Harry Potter as we twisted through the Cascades, and playing the Lumineers to the point that I now know every word on the entire album, we made Missoula the first night. Next morning, we hit the road again. Quick stop in Ennis for buffalo burgers (when in Rome), provisions and to replace one flip-flop mysteriously blown out while sitting in the car. Then south.
It’s not easy leaving our home waters in the midst of king-salmon season for catch-and-release trout fishing, but I wanted the kids to experience a bigger version of the active wading and casting they’ve started to enjoy around here. Did I mention I know almost nothing about trout fishing? Fortunately, we had my buddy Yvon, the King of Soft-Hackle Wet Flies, with us for guidance.
Craig recommended we explore a little stream near our cabin to “get our feet wet,” before tackling the bigger wading (and fish) challenges of the Madison. Great suggestion. Yvon, the kids and I headed upstream to dip our toes into Montana trout water and soak up the dry, high-elevation scenery. Weston spotted a grizzly on the way up, and Skyla saw a cow moose—a successful day before we even started fishing.
One day we fished a medium-sized river flowing through potato and wheat fields. Once Yvon had Skyla rolling on her own with the tenkara rod (no reel), he helped Weston wade into position to try the same techniques with a regular fly rod. Soft-hackle wet fly, downstream swing, small twitches along the way and … fish on! I think each kid must have landed at least 20 fish in an hour, with lots of laughter, high fives and huge smiles. After a fantastic dinner at Craig and Jackie’s, we wadered up and hit the 50-mile riffle ’til dark. That’s a rhythm I could really get used to.
Every day was a new adventure. One day we drove down into Idaho and fished a gorgeous river near Ashton. On another, Yvon, the kids and I started fishing the Gallatin up high in the park where it’s a meandering meadow creek, then followed it north to where it turned into a medium-sized freestone river. And on yet another day, we took a break from fishing and headed into The Park to brave the circus around Old Faithful (it was 10 minutes late, crowded and still spectacular) and look for wildlife (spotted bison, elk, bighorn sheep and a moose). Of course, we did have to stop for a few casts on the Gibbon and Firehole on the way back.
But wherever we went, we ended each day back “home” on the Madison. We often fished until almost pitch-black night, with bats swooping through the air, and that spooky feeling—a tingly mix of excitement and dread—that comes from being in a river in the dark.
A huge thank you to Craig, Jackie and Yvon for their kindness, patience, generosity, wisdom and for just being plain fun to hang out with. We made the long drive home stoked on gratitude and memories that I know will last forever.
This story first appeared on Dylan’s blog. Check it out for more stories about fly fishing, family and foraging.