Why You Should Take a Fly-fishing Trip With Your Dad — Even If You Don't Know How to Fish
“It’s so special you brought your dad,” Two Fish John, a dad himself (and a fly-fisherman who earned his new nickname by hooking two at once the day before) said as we sat at the bar before dinner at Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge in Emigrant, Montana.
It was the last night of an Orvis fly-fishing trip that we spent not only catching and releasing trout, but horseback riding, skeet shooting, grizzly bear viewing, touring Yellowstone National Park, and shooting pool at the local saloon.
I had little to no experience with the activities on our itinerary, and it was also my first time traveling solo with my dad, but each adventure-filled day wound down with such ease on the Hubbard’s porch it quickly grew to feel like we’d been spending summers in Montana together for years.
Orvis, known primarily as a fly-fishing outfitter, hosts more than 30 adventure trips a year in some of the world’s greatest fishing destinations, from Yellowstone and Yosemite to Patagonia, Belize, and even Russia. The company has been around since 1856, and in that time it’s gone far beyond just selling rods and waders in its mission to “guide its patrons to lead more fulfilling lives through a deep personal connection to the adventure and wonders of the natural world.”
And even for us, two New Yorkers, Orvis was able to kick-start that connection to the outdoors before we took off for Montana. One of the best parts of booking a vacation is the anticipation, after all — and we were proof of that as we both willingly subjected ourselves to criticism in a Long Island parking lot on a Saturday morning while attempting to cast into the wind and catch a paper fish off the blacktop. Orvis offers free Fly Fishing 101 classes at almost all of its stores, and it’s highly encouraged before a trip.
We'd practice again on the lawn at Hubbard's before our big outing on Story Lake, a pristine and privately owned spot known among fishermen for its fruitful waters. Our instructor, Dave Force, patiently tied our flies, worked with us on our casting techniques, and then set up a beautiful picnic lunch on an original homestead overlooking the lake. Although we admittedly spent the majority of our time on the water sitting and admiring the scenery, and one of us let a few bites pass by (it was me), we both had the opportunity to feel the exhilaration of a fish pulling on our line and wriggling in our net.
Our friends back at the lodge liked to say "the tug is the drug." For most of them, it was the focus of the trip. For some — like a woman named Jenny, who took up the sport in an effort to spend more time with her fishing-obsessed boyfriend, Miller, and lovingly out-fished him most of the trip — it’s a bonding force. For us, it was just one of many foreign and unforgettable Montana moments.
We felt the same high on our horseback ride through the backcountry, where fields of wildflowers meet a massive blue sky in the summer months — although temperamental Montana weather means it could shift from sunshine to hail at any given moment. Wrangler Wray looked the part of cowboy from a mile away: leather chaps, under-the-hat-brim stare, relaxed-cool horse-riding posture and all. But he proved he wasn’t just playing a part when he guided a bunch of beginners over running streams and up steep hills with a level of skill and ease only someone who spends most of his time with horses could pull off.
The professionalism of guides is one of many deciding factors for Orvis’s team when they select lodges to endorse, Seth Berger, a fly-fishing travel specialist for the company, told me. Hubbard’s has been named Orvis Lodge of the Year twice, and though its striking porch with its grand stone fireplace and Adirondack chairs overlooking the Yellowstone River is reason enough to stay a while, it’s the Hubbard family and the staff they’ve chosen that make it stand out.
86-year-old Jim Hubbard owns an expanse of mountain land so breathtaking he’s used to having zealous would-be buyers knocking at his door (singer Paul Simon among them), but he’ll scan the crowd at cocktail hour himself to make sure no one has an empty glass while he tells stories of how his kids helped him grow the lodge into the beloved destination it is today.
Fishing trips are full of storytellers, I would learn, and we made fast friends with them — from Dr. Tim, a fishing guide/radiologist (and opera singer/swing dancer); to Larry, king of inventing tall tales as his wife Brenda kicked him under the table; to Chris and Jason, brothers on their first-ever fishing trip without their own dad, who took to mine so well they knighted him an honorary Texan on our way back to Bozeman Airport.
Some of our favorite stories of all came from Chris Bausch, our guide to Yellowstone and a local history teacher who seemed to know every turn, every rock crevice, and every bison’s habits better than a veteran postal worker knows his mail route. His tales of the park in the days of Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt, and of the Native Americans' first reactions to the bubbling geysers and steaming hot springs, managed to make the world-famous landscape twice as vivid.
"You cannot see Yellowstone in one day," he repeated a few times as he drove us through. But with his guidance, we couldn’t help but feel as though we had.
"I gotta tell you," my dad said as we made our way back, "I've never had a day like this in my life."
In all my travels, neither had I.
On our last night, my dad and I were the last two at the lodge to go to bed. I was walking to my room when I saw him hang back on the porch out of the corner of my eye. “I’m not gonna see this Big Sky Country again,” he said, taking a seat and looking up at the stars.
People who travel often sometimes forget what a privilege it is. Going out and taking the type of trip you’ve never taken before — especially with someone who rarely steps foot on a plane — is guaranteed to remind you.
So while fishing trips are full of old wives’ tales and trout that grow three inches each time a story is retold, Two Fish John was only speaking the truth. Having the opportunity to go on the trip of a lifetime is lucky. But being able to take your dad on his trip of a lifetime is special.
Orvis provided support for the reporting of this story.