I was grounded. The United States budget sequestration in 2013 meant sweeping cuts to the military and because my flying squadron at the USAF Weapons School in Las Vegas was not “combat-coded”, we were left without a class of students to teach for six months. I found myself in the middle of the Nevada desert with no flying duty. In my mind, no flying meant “gone fishing”. But first, I would have to embrace the drive.
How Far is Too Far?
Like so many things, I suppose it depends. As a fly fisherman with no good trout streams nearby, I predictably began searching the internet and doing some math. The solution I reached was equal parts driving and fishing. Thus, three hours of driving requires six hours of fishing for me, as a rule of thumb.
From our home in Summerlin on the west side of Las Vegas, I drove three and a half hours to Mammoth Creek and four to the Sevier River outside of Circleville in Southwest Utah. These became my closest good trout waters.
Four hours up. Four hours back. Eight hours on the river. A sixteen hour day with six to eight hours of sleep. I found my limit.
It sounds a bit brutal when I put it in writing. But I loved each day, so it did not matter. A sixteen hour day in the fighter squadron was not unheard of either. Actually, it was the norm most days. All the parts of a training mission added up. Drive in. Mission prep. Brief. Step to the jets. Ground Ops. Fly. Prep the debrief. Student debrief. Then debrief the group. Then debrief the flight. Drive home.
I loved it though. Each day I was doing exactly what I wanted. Just like I loved fly fishing. Somehow a sixteen hour day does not seem so long when you are doing what you love.
If unable to double my investment of time driving with time on the river, I made it an overnight trip. For example, the drive to the Provo River in Utah was five hours from Las Vegas. That meant two days to make it worthwhile in my mind.
Find Your Rhythm.
It was always too dark to see the red rocks of the canyon behind our home when I left. Four o’clock wake up and a four fifteen departure was typical. The coffee was set to go off so I could smell it when I came downstairs. All my gear was already in the truck.
I drove down the hill out of Summerlin and through the Vegas Spaghetti Bowl, then north past Craig Road, and the racetrack. I always looked east down Craig to Nellis AFB and thought of the jets on the flight line. Wondered about the future. What was ahead. Where our family would go next. But those were fleeting moments. What mattered those mornings was the road to a trout stream and thinking only of convincing a fish to take my fly somewhere north beneath the purple glow of sunrise.
The walls of the Virgin River Canyon were high and by the time I made it out the other end the light began to reach the highway. A long stretch of farms and fields and then I would exit at Cedar City and truck up east into the mountains. On top it was always the same path through the valley and a dirt road to the pull off and the river.
Habit patterns are powerful things. Sometimes they might keep us from recognizing the small things around us that bring beauty. But they can also be helpful in life, and the long drive up to my spot in southwest Utah became a habitual experience. I began to look forward to the familiar parts of the trip. The time went faster it seemed and the excitement mounted each time I drove closer to the river. And when I looked carefully, it was not so hard to see the beautiful places I cut through along the way.
It’s Part of the Deal.
For many of us, living on the river is not reality. Especially as a beginner it is important to realize that you are not alone. Many folks of all experience levels live far from a trout stream, and it does not make them less passionate about fly fishing. I live three hours from trout in the Ozark mountains. I wish I could make the drive more often, but I go when I can.
Even more likely than living far from a trout stream is having a season in our lives where we are away from a river or even fly fishing for a period of time outside our control. For me this was the case with my service in the Air Force. A journey I would not trade for anything, but often kept me from being in the rivers and mountains that I had grown to love as a young person.
Making the drive, whether it is fifteen minutes or three hours is in almost everyone’s day of fly fishing. Some that do live close to a river, will still travel to chase fish. They too, must embrace the drive if they are willing to reach new waters.
In my mind, the best thing we can do is find good water, as close as possible, and manage some days to spend the time it takes to reach it. That is what will keep us progressing. Fly fishing can be a lifelong journey if you let it. The longer the journey, the more value I find. The drive to a river is not so different.
Take the Good and Leave the Bad.
Some things you cannot control. Like getting stationed in Las Vegas Nevada. Or being grounded. Or living four hours from a descent trout stream.
“There is good in everyone. You take the good and leave the bad.” My father told me that when I was little, and I have seen the truth in it throughout my life. Sometimes the cards we are dealt are like the people we meet. We only need to look for the good. And the obstacles we face are often the opportunities we need.
It took me longer than I would have liked but I found the way to a trout stream when the music stopped for six months in the Air Force. A path to walk and wade and cast to beautiful fish in a wild place. And when I found it, I found something special inside me as well, and began a long journey back to the rivers and mountains of my youth.
If you have that place inside you also, I hope a long drive does not keep you from it for too long. Wadeoutthere.