My brother drove the whole way. I sat in in the back. My father was up front. My brother and father had split the cost of the drift boat four years earlier. That was before the Rendezvous. The boat is a sixteen-foot Clackacraft. A solid vessel for hunting trout. Now, my brother was pulling it from Seattle to Melrose, Montana where we would fish the Bighole River for four days. Our Shemchuk Rendezvous Summer 2019.
The previous year’s Summer Shemchuk Rendezvous had been on the Bighorn River in Fort Smith Montana. We caught a lot of trout on the Bighorn. I could tell you how many fish I caught at the end of each day. And I knew how many my brother caught. This year I did not want to know.
When we exited I-90 eastbound and turned south on highway I-15 into the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and Pioneer Mountains, I spoke up. “No high stick this year.”
No one said anything. “Let’s not keep track of who catches what or how many. I just want to have fun and fish.”
I waited. Ready with my explanation. No one spoke. Robert Earl Keen sang to us through the speakers.
My father broke the silence, “God this is beautiful country”. It was.
I believe in the merits of competition, and I am a competitive person. Fly fishing keeps me focused on solving problems, and I like that.
But knowing how many fish you caught is not the same as counting them. And once you start counting your fish and start counting other people’s fish, your starting to compete. We keep score when we see who catches the most fish and who catches the biggest fish. The more I fly fish the less this means to me.
I don’t know if you can totally turn off the desire to catch more fish. I probably cannot. I love fly fishing, and even though just being on the river is enough for me most days, I’d rather catch fish than not. Sometimes it can be fun to see who does better fishing. It can lead to some funny scenarios and good ribbing. In the end, there is a competition between brothers that will probably always exist.
Those four days on the Bighole were different for me than the year before on the Bighorn. My brother is an excellent fisherman, and we both caught quite a few trout. This year, I looked at how many fish we both were catching. It seemed like our boat was our team and I was rooting for us. I took more pleasure in catching a trout. Landing a single elusive rising rainbow seemed more exciting. Watching my brother high sticking a riffle, pulling fish after fish out, and then all three of us laughing when I failed to get a bite brought me joy.
I was able to compete against myself and the trout, and that was enough.
On the last night of the Rendezvous my brother had to settle up with the owner of the cabin we had rented. After fishing all day, we pulled into the gravel driveway to the main lodge. I went in with my brother.
The owners name was Adam. He had red hair and a red beard covered a young face. The land had been handed down through generations. His family had built the lodge and the cabins and now it was his. He was always smiling and he smiled at us as we came in through the massive front doors. “How’d you guys do?”
“Oh man, the fishing was great.” My brother replied, “We had a great day yesterday and today was even better I think.”
We told him about the good fishing we had, and how much we enjoyed the cabin. Then he said, “Yeah, the river has been fishing really, really good this year. Its been solid ten to twelve fish days. But sometimes it can even be twenty, thirty fish days.” He kept smiling as we shook hands and said goodbye.
Outside we walked towards the truck. My brother looked at me and grinned. That moment I realized I had no idea how many fish each of us had caught. Of course, I remembered the big ones. And I definitely knew I only caught four fish the first day. Like last year, I knew we had caught many trout.
“We did pretty good fishing.” I said.
“Yeah. We did. All of thirty fish today I’d say.” My brother seemed to understand.
There’s nothing better than being on the river and trying to catch a trout. Wadeoutthere.