“Do you sell Oatmeal?” Travis Swartz asked the barista working at the Starbucks located inside the local Missoula grocery store.
“Yes we do.” She replied with a smile, so the three of us ordered blueberry oatmeal for breakfast before heading out to fish. I say three because we were joined by Travis Steven-Jones (Trav), an outfitter gentleman we met as a buddy through Reel Recovery. Trav has fished with us before. In fact, it was both Travis and Trav who were there when I thought a moose was chasing me; a story they both love to tell.
Travis stepped away from the Starbucks kiosk to pick up a few things from the store, and while he was looking around I got the attention of the young barista on the other side of the counter.
“Can you do me a favor?” I asked. Her eyes locked onto me which was an obvious yes.
“Our buddy over there…” I pointed to Travis who was carrying about ten items in his hands headed towards the checkout counter, “He is a fly fishing YouTube sensation. If you are into fly fishing, there is a good chance you know who he is.” I said metaphorically.
“Could you pretend to have seen him before, and ask him questions like, ‘do I know you?’, ‘how do I know you?’, and no matter what he says, say ‘no that’s not it’?”
“Do it!” A second enthusiastic barista said from behind the counter.
“Okay, I’ll do it!” She said with a smile, and casually went back to fixing our oatmeal.
“Here he comes…” Trav said, watching Travis approach.
As the barista handed us our oatmeal she paused on Travis.
“You know, I was thinking… do I know you from somewhere? You look familiar…”
Her tone of voice could have fooled Scorsese.
“I don’t know?!” Travis said, taking the bait…”Do you fly fish?”
“Noooo… Are you in a movie or something?” She replied, sounding like she would have taken him home if she had the chance.
“Yeah, a few.” Travis happily answered.
I looked over to Trav, and he was fighting a smile, and so was I.
“Most people recognize me from the fly fishing videos I do.” Travis said, eating up the conversation.
“Just go to Hankpatterson.com and you will say, ‘oh that’s that idiot I met at work.'” Travis said, making everyone laugh.
“Hmm. Maybe I will have to do that later today.” She said.
“Yeah!” Travis said back, but it was time to get going.
“Thank you.” Travis said along with Trav as we turned to walk out of the store.
Now this type of thing happens a lot with Travis, as you can expect, so I can’t really say that I tricked him. Still, being recognized by a young barista at Starbucks is a nice way to start off your day. “Thank you.” I said, and slipped a few bucks in the tip jar before following the guys out to the car.
Although the extra time spent at the Starbucks was precious fishing time, it was worth giving up. Now that we had our fun, we wasted no time getting to the water.
A small fingerling of the Bitterroot River was the spot of choice, suggested by Trav, who had lived in Missoula in the past. His recommendation was spot on. The water was slightly risen due to runoff, but this stretch of water was easily wadeable.
Both Trav and I were into fish almost immediately when we started fishing, but Travis had to fish a dry fly.
Although a little early in the year to be searching with a dry fly, in my book, the guy willing to throw a dry gets first crack at any decent looking water we come to. Although I was catching fish on my nymph rig, I would have loved to see some top water action.
The three of us walked upstream a ways, with Trav and Travis walking up river-right, and me on river-left. I was slightly ahead of them, walking up a long deeper stretch of water when SPLASH! It was unmistakable, a fish had just rose right next to me. I immediately backed off from the riverbank and got the attention of Travis from the other side of the river.
“Do you still have your dry fly on? I just saw a fish rise.”
“Seriously?” Travis asked, now paying closer attention to the water.
“Yeah, it was just in that slack-water twenty feet out from that broken branch.” I said, pointing with my fly rod.
Travis didn’t waste any time. He unfastened his dry fly from his rod and started fishing the water I had suggested. His first cast landed his fly ever so delicately on the surface of the water; such form and precision.
“Well who the hell are you?” I said with bewilderment to Travis. “Look at that cast! Perfect form, stopped the fly rod at the right angle to allow his fly to land softly, and plenty of slack line for mending. I would just say a few more feet out is where I saw it rise.”
Sadly, nothing was coming up. I started walking downstream to a safer place to cross to join Trav and Travis on the other side.
“There he is! There he is!” I heard as I was on my way to join them. I looked up to see that Travis was hooked into a fish.
“No way! It came up?” I asked.
“Yeah, man. Travis just kept throwing it where you pointed, and it finally came up.” Said Trav.
“Your damn right it came up!” Yelled Travis as he fought his fish.
Everything I said to Travis against dry fly fishing that morning came back out ten fold.
“It’s too early for a dry fly… If I were you I’d start off with a nymph… You’re probably not going to catch anything this early in the year with that gray drake on…” Travis said in a deep, dumb voice.
“Whatever, I don’t even sound like that!” Was all I could think to say back.
Although Trav and I were easily ten fish in for the day, that one fish Travis caught on his dry fly kept him a purist for the rest of the day. We walked upstream for a ways longer, occasionally seeing a gray drake fluttering around, but nothing we would call a hatch… until we started on our way back downstream.
I watched as the fish refused every kind of green and brown drake I had to offer, with Travis upstream having just as much luck as I.
“What the hell are these fish taking?!” Travis yelled, obviously not happy.
“This is the part of fly fishing that those videos don’t capture. The part where you want a fish so bad, and they are taking nothing. It just pisses you off!” He yelled.
“I understand…” I said, listing off all the flies I had tried with no success. The drake hatch was starting to peter-off and we had no fish to our nets.
“It looks like this fish is eating emergers, and is performing a complex rise. That means I will need a long undisturbed drift starting from up there.” I said pointing…“That’s if we can find right fly.”
“I have actually been throwing gray drakes and they are not taking those either.” Travis said.
“Well damn!” I said, and opened my box to look for anything that resembled an emerging gray drake.
“My caddis box!” It was my only hope. I started looking over the CDC winged caddis I had there and smirked when I glanced over a particular one… “I wonder…?”
I plucked out a fly and tied it on. I targeted a fish that had been refusing my flies for a long while now, and thought how sweet would it be to finally hook it? My fly drifted down to where the fish was feeding and with a small blop sound, it was gone.
“THANK YOU SILVIA!” I said setting the hook, and the fish erupted out of the water.
“What did it take?” Travis asked immediately.
“A special fly given to me by my Canadian friend, Silvia. It’s a sparsely tied size ten CDC caddis. You would almost think it was supposed to be a mayfly, but Silvia schooled me with it while fishing a few year back…”
“Yeah, yeah, I didn’t ask for a story. Do you have another one?” Travis interrupted.
“It’s always all about you… Yes, I have two more left.” I said, still fighting the trout. “I’ll give you one as soon as I get in this trout.”
The trout flew out of the water again and again… “Look at this fish, it’s hot! It’s a hot fish! IT’S A HOT JUMPING FISH, TRAVIS!” I yelled with a laugh. Travis was right there with his net ready to scoop up the fish as soon as I could get it near him.
“Get ready, Travis… Get ready.” I said, as I added torque to the fly rod, bringing the fish right at Travis. Travis plunged his net into the water and under the fish lifting it out of the water, but the fish would have none of it. It darted out of Travis’s net so that when he went to lift it up, it was teetering on the rim of his net. Travis brought up the net fast, flinging the fish up and practically flinging it back into the water.
“TRAVIS WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” I screamed, as he tried to regain control of his net.
“THERE IT IS, THERE IT IS!” I yelled.
“Yes I see it!” Travis replied and stabbed his net into the water right in front of the fish. This sudden aggressive move by Travis caused him to be off balance, and his right foot slipped slightly out from under him. Travis quickly regained his balance, but the fish had evaded his second attempt to be netted. The fish slipped by the net and darted downstream right in-between Travis’s legs.
“JESUS CHRIST, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I screamed, as my line was now getting tangled in Travis’s foot.
“I slipped.. Oh and I’M FINE BY THE WAY!” He yelled back. Despite his laughter, Travis lifted his foot and my line slipped under his leg and was free again.
“Okay, this time try NOT netting the fish!” I said, but by now we were both laughing so hard that it didn’t matter if we got the fish or not. If the fish was going to come unbuttoned, it would have happened a long time ago; and with attempt number three Travis got into position and scooped up the fish.
“It feels good to finally get this fish!” I said. We both watched as it slipped away, then started laughing at what a fiasco it was to net the thing.
“Now, give me one of those flies.” Travis said, getting up. I handed him one of the three flies I had left in my box, then started to gather my equipment back together.
By the time I was ready to fish again I saw that Travis was downstream with Trav. Trav was laying on some grass and had pointed out a fish to Travis.
“It won’t eat anything I throw at it.” Trav said, watching Travis peeling off line to make a cast.
“Well, I may have found the fly we need.” I said, as Travis made a cast. There was a fish rising in front of him, and it was only a matter of time before…WAM!
“There it is!” I yelled, as Travis started to fight his fish.
“Oh hell, don’t go that way.” Travis said to his fish, who had made a hard run directly downstream and into some faster current.
“Want help netting the fish?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ll probably need it since it’s in the fast current.” Travis said, as the fish took more line from his reel.
“You better hurry up and get down there…” Travis said to me as line started flying out of his reel. I got a net from Trav, and waded downstream from Travis’s hooked fish.
“Oh no, what have I done? I let him go too far down into that crap!” Travis said, as he started to wade downstream into the current to keep up with his fish.
Just upstream from me I could see Travis’s fish darting around underwater. I had the net ready, but this fish still had plenty of fight left in it. With the current on the side of the fish all Travis could do was keep heavy tension to keep it from moving too far downstream.
“I’m going to spook it back your way!” I yelled up to Travis, half jokingly, but just being downstream kept the fish from going further.
“Net it!” Travis yelled, but there was no way. I had a large net and the speed of the current kept me from making a swift scoop.
“Can you bring the head up?” I asked, but Travis already had tension on the fish to the point of snapping the line.
“Are you kidding?” Travis asked.
“It’s too deep to net.”
“Well try anyway!” Travis yelled, so I did. I jammed the net underwater to capture the fish, but my movements were nearly in slow-motion due to the current. I scooped left and right, both movements were easily parried by the fish, and that just seemed to upset the fish further.
“What the HELL are you doing?!” Travis yelled at me, as the fish ran to the other side of the river.
“The fish is too hot to net!” I yelled back, but the fish made a mistake. It swam away hard to the opposite bank, but the current was much slower there and now Travis was in control.
“Oh I got ’em now!” He yelled, as the fish finally flopped around at the surface. It was net-able now; I just had to get to it. I sloshed my way over as fast as I could, which I’m sure looked like a Jesus Christ lizard only much less graceful. Travis was holding the fly rod up so high you would think he was summoning lightning from the sky, but it was what needed to happen in order to bring in his fish. I was out of breath when I reached the fish, but this time the fish did not evade me.
“There it is BABY!” I yelled lifting the fish into the net.
“Woo hooo!” Trav called, as he watched from the bank.
“Oh My God!” Travis said with a sigh, as he lowered his fly rod and massaged his right forearm.
“This is a nice fish.” I said with a smile, while snapping a picture.
“Hell yeah it’s a nice fish.” Travis reiterated, while dipping his fish underwater to let it go. The fish darted away, and Travis stood to watch it, still nursing his forearm.
“Come on, the fish are still rising.” I said, and grabbed my fly rod that was ready with a dry fly.
Together the three of us headed back downstream, and took turns catching fish along the way. The fish were so willing to hit a dry fly at this point that, sometimes only one cast was needed.
“What a great way to end the day.” I said, after catching my last fish.
“I know, and look…” Travis pointed, “They are still rising.” Both Trav and Travis were already geared down and waiting for me at the car. On my way back I had found one last rising fish that I HAD to catch.
“You better hurry up, because we are taking off.” Travis said, as I approached the car.
“Jut a sec…” I said, and I wasn’t kidding. I am typically the last one off the river all the time, which means I can gear-down faster than anyone I know.
“Ok!” I said, shutting the door.
“Where is all your stuff?” Trav asked.
“It’s in the back of the car, all put away.”
“Seriously?” He said.
“Well it better be, because we are out of here.” Travis said, and stepped on the gas to pull out of the parking spot; then immediately slowed down.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Well now I have to be sure I didn’t leave anything.” He said with a laugh, and after a long glance we bolted off to the Orvis Rendezvous, and arrived on time.