I rowed most of the day while they fished. The Bighorn River is easy to float in a drift boat and there are many good places to stop and wade. This is the kind of fishing I like, so I smiled while I rowed and waited to stop and wade. And to try to catch a trout.
I moved the oars and placed the drift boat onto the seams I thought would hold fish. I hoped they would hook up. My brother cast from the front. My father from the back. When they caught fish, each of us took swig of whiskey. My father drinks rye, so that is what we drank. We passed the plastic flask around, and toasted, “To the hunt!” Everyone smiled. It was our third day fly fishing the Bighorn and we were toasting more often now. I kept the flask in the cup holder by my seat. Sometimes I would toast when they did not catch a fish. I put the whiskey in the river to cool when we stopped. Whenever it got too warm on my lips, I would say things like, “How about this spot up on the left?” or, “Wanna stop and fish there?” Then we would stop, and I would leave the whiskey to cool in the river while I waded the river, which is the fishing I like.
The Trico hatch is in August on the Bighorn. A Trico is a tiny black fly with white wings. Every year the river is crowded with tiny black flies with white wings, and the guides take the fishermen in drift boats to the river. The fishermen all want to catch fish. The guides all want good tips. So, the guides hope for good fishing as well. It was the middle of August and the Tricos still appeared above the water when the sun warmed your face. By lunchtime there were less Tricos and we would fish beneath the water with pink and orange and grey scuds tied to our lines, below a strike indicator. Choosing a fly on the Bighorn River is not a mystery. There are many fish and they are not particular, so long as you can show them an excellent drift.
Far away fires were burning that made the sky a pale bluish grey. The guides all looked at the sky and said, “Canada’s on fire.” Then they would squint and look away. The night before it had rained. In the morning the sky had been clear, but now the grey skies were coming back. The grey skies hid the mountains, but they did not bother me. My father would laugh and say, “There’s no mountains here.” Then I would reply, “This place would be perfect, if only it was more beautiful”. Everyone thought this was very funny.
At the end of the day we pulled the boat on shore and set the anchor on a patch of grass, then braced it with some rocks from the river. The guides would come later to pick up the boats and bring them back upstream to the dam where we would start again tomorrow. One by one, the boats would slip into the river. Each boat had a different story. And each boat had the same story.
What is the Rendezvous?
The mountain men called it the Rendezvous. They would come down from the Rocky Mountains where they trapped beaver in ice cold streams and avoided being scalped by Indians. Much of their life was alone. Coming back to the world was a time to reunite with their lot of men and tell lies about where they had been and what they had seen. Excessive drinking and hollering was the norm. Overall hell raising would ensue for weeks. Their story is the birthplace of the name Shemchuk Rendezvous — only ours entails less hell raising and more fly fishing.
In the Air Force, my wife and I had lived overseas for years. When we returned to America we were stationed in southern Georgia and later Las Vegas. I was always busy in the fighter squadron. In the A-10 community, like any fighter community, we trained hard to be good at what we did. For me, being good at my job meant always being there for my flight lead, or my wingman, or the guy on the ground. It meant I didn’t want regrets. It meant long days at work, and rarely uniting with my parents or my brother, who lived in Seattle.
After Las Vegas, I got a job flying airplanes for Delta airlines, and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where I flew in the A-10 Air Force Reserves part-time. I had much more free time and shorter days at work. I wanted to spend some of that time with my brother and my father. We decided that we would meet twice a year, to fish or hunt. A winter rendezvous, and a summer rendezvous. It is a beautiful thing. This day on the Bighorn River was the third day of our “Shemchuk Summer Rendezvous 2018”.
Why You Should Rendezvous.
All fly fishermen and women should Rendezvous. Here are some benefits of this tradition:
- It makes you a better fly fisherman. Planning a trip once or twice each year will make you tie new flies, fish new water, try different techniques, exposure to different parts of fly fishing, and help you gain overall experience fly fishing.
- It’s a sure way to get you on the river. If it is hard for you to find the time to get to the river, this is the ticket. Even if it is only two or three times per year, some time on the river is better than none. The formality that comes with agreeing on a time and place to be with people you care about and putting it on the calendar, usually means you are not going to bail out on going. Planning it well in advance makes it easier to find time to get away. Also, it is fun to talk and plan for the next Rendezvous while you are all together.
- It is a great way to build traditions and memories with the ones you love…
…The lodge was attached to the fly shop. It was made of cedar, and the windows all had fly fishing stickers in them. Drift boats littered the yard, like see-saws. When my brother drove his truck into the gravel parking lot, some of the guests were sitting on benches in front of the shop windows. Only two guides stayed to listen to the stories. We said hello as we walked past them. A hallway took us to the back of the building where the guests’ rooms were lined up and facing out to the porch. My brother found our number on the door and turned the brass doorknob with the key from his pocket. It was cool inside. All the rooms were the same. Two or three narrow beds, a small shower, a toilet and a sink. Everything we needed. I laid the fly rods under the bed and tucked the reels back where we would not step on them. My brother stacked our vests and fly boxes in a pile next to the mini fridge. The bottles of beer were cold. I used the bottle opener on my key chain to pop the tops, then took one out to my brother on the porch where he was sitting next to my father.
Just off the porch was a gravel road and then a barbed wire fence. Beyond that was tall grass and the campers where the guides stayed through the summer. Beyond the campers were the hills that led up to the mountains and the grey skies that the fires had left. We hung our wet socks to dry over the barbed wire and wedged our shoes onto the cedar posts. My brother and I sat next to our father on the porch outside our room. They sat in wooden chairs. My back slid down the wall and I sat on the porch, with my knees bent. A breeze would come to warm my skin and press my wet pants against my legs. The evening seemed cool when it stopped.
My father looked past my brother, down the porch toward the distance. He tilted back in his chair, leaned his shoulders over to one side, and grabbed the flask of rye off the floor. As he took a drink, he never stopped looking out to the sky that dipped into dusk as light faded. He raised the whiskey to the big sky. It was an old friend to him. I heard him whisper, “Yessir. I am a happy man.” My brother and I did not speak. We knew why he was happy. I looked up at my father. His eyes were wet, and his mouth fought to keep a smile there. When I reached my arm out, he looked at me. Then he handed me the whiskey and laughed.
The Rendezvous is very special for my father, brother, and I. If you can make it part of your life, I believe it will make you a better fly fisherman. I know it will bring you more good days on the river. And, I truly hope it will bring you as much joy as it has brought me. Wadeoutthere.