Fly-fishing and cell phones:
Something ain't right here

By Don Jordan

Yellowstone National Park--Judging by the huge number of Orvis-clad, brand-spanking new $1,000 fly rod-totin' so-called fly-casters standing in all of my old fishing holes on Soda Butte Creek, you would never know an economic recession is sweeping the world.

I know. It doesn't sound good. Gripes about all those people in "my" fishing holes makes me sound like one of those red-necked back-woodsers who hates all tourists and seasonal residents. You got me, dude. Mea culpa. Criticizing the newness and price tags on their gear (not to speak of their Mercedes SUVs) isn't really fair. I don't care. It isn't that they don't have a right to be here, or that they aren't perfectly decent people, it is just that there are so darn many of them.

Yes, I know, I am a seasonal resident, not a native to this land of overwhelming landscapes and big skies. Yes, I am part of the problem too, but I was here first! No, I don't live here during the long, freezing winter that stretches from October to May. But, dang-nabbit, I was fly-fishing long before that Robert Redford so-and-so made that so-called fly-fishing movie, the name of which will never pass my lips again.

By numerous accounts, THE movie stimulated wealthy 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings everywhere to find spiritual release and revelation on the trout streams of America. They needed a place to salve their consciences after swindling little old ladies out of their life savings. They came in a trickle at first, then a torrent of them descended upon the Rocky Mountain West, and especially Montana, where THE movie was set.

Sure, it's been good for business. Fishing guides and fly shops have multiplied like caddis flies on a hot August day. Fly-fishing schools are booming businesses. There are fewer empty rooms in motels, hotels, lodges, cabins and even fewer empty seats in restaurants and the new upscale coffee shops and "bistros" which have sprung up in some very unlikely mountain mining and ranching communities.

Tiny cabins on trout streams that just 10 years ago were selling for $35,000 are now selling for $70,000 to $100,000, if you can find one to buy. Tiny mom-and-pop motels offer high-speed Internet connections in rooms, and cell phones now tinkle away across the Lamar Valley, competing with wolves for the song of the night.

This is not my vision of fly-fishing. A guy oughta' be able to walk a pristine trout stream, fishing the holes he encounters and handling the different challenges each poses, without driving off interlopers at every riffle and being forced to listen to some dude on his cell phone talking to his broker about his failing stocks.

Of course, I can still find places without cell phone fly casters, but I have to hike six or 10 miles these days instead of parking along the creek and fishing the "Road Hole." It is actually better for me, physically, to take those long hikes. The fish caught just a few miles from the cell phones are often larger, and, best of all, their mouths are not disfigured by being caught and released about 10 or more times a year.

"If that fish only had three or four scars on its mouth, it's a lucky fish," said Hars Haugen, proprietor of Summit Provisions, a small store on the edge of Yellowstone National Park at Silver Gate, Mont. Hars thinks some fish may be caught and released hundreds of times inside Yellowstone.

Haugen hasn't fished inside the park for four years. He stopped going inside when park rules changed about keeping fish from the Soda Butte Creek. For years, the Soda Butte was the only stream from which an angler could keep two, over-12-inch fish a day. Because of the dramatic increase in fishing pressure on this formerly remote and untouched stream, park biologists turned the Soda Butte into a catch-and-release only stream.

Most everyone could see that coming, but for local residents like Haugen who have lived onn the Soda Butte for decades, it was a major change. It stung. Add the influx of new fly-fishers, fancy fishing clothes, expensive SUVS, cell phones and a $20 park fishing license. That was it for Haugen who formerly sold beautiful hand-tied flies of proven local worth to fly-fishers heading into Yellowstone.

"You know there are a lot of fishermen in the park, but they aren't good fishermen. They don't know when to go out or how to fish the stream. I quit selling flies this year. I don't want to encourage them," he said, a twinkle in his eye. He was getting even with those so-and-so's.

But as Haugen knows in his heart, there is no getting even in this game. Things change. Fishing holes get farther and farther away and cell phones get closer and closer to the end times of the last best places on Earth. There are just too many people and too few trout streams. That isn't going to change until the threat and reality of nuclear war returns and provides the solution to human population control.



©Copyright 2008. Jordan Communications.