The Fishing Life: An Angler’s Tales of Wild Rivers and Other Restless Metaphors (2013) compiles Paul Schullery’s best stories fish, flies, water, and the people who love them all. Including articles originally published from the 1980s and later, he adds previously unpublished pieces. Schullery fishes his way from Pennsylvania to Mexico, Yellowstone to Alaska, with stops in the Adirondacks and Ohio. These essays explore conservation, favorite rivers, beloved and scorned varieties of fish, non-traditional fly patterns, and the passion behind fly-fishing.
Schullery is a soft-spoken legend, well-known for his reflections about the natural world. He authored nearly 40 books about bears, fly-fishing, Yellowstone, and two works of fiction. Raised in Pennsylvania, he began his career as a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone in 1972. Much of his writing and research is devoted to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, editing the quarterly journal Yellowstone Science from 1992-2009. He also served as executive director of the American Museum of Fly Fishing from 1977 to 1982. I met Mr. Schullery at Montana State University in 2003, when he taught “History of Yellowstone.” I can’t remember most of the lectures, and my old notebooks were trashed along with the futon and PBR cans. I would surely relish the chance to travel back and time and reabsorb every word. Since then, I’ve consulted many of his books for program research. Among his writings outside of fishing, I recommend Mountain Time (1984), Searching for Yellowstone (1997), and Yellowstone’s Ski Pioneers (1995).
Through common goals of keeping fish plentiful and happy, wilderness advocates and fly fisherman usually find companionable ground. Protecting fish inevitably leads to preserving their natural ecosystems. Chapter 21, “How Can You Do That?” explores the wavy lines between catch and release and just…catching. Returning the trout alive to the stream is a conservation practice designed to prevent overharvest in the face of increasing pressure from anglers, environmental concerns, and habit degradation. All of the sport, yet unlike game hunters, none of the bloodshed. Ah, what a fine compromise fishermen made! However, naysayers of catch and release decry the intense pain fish feel from hooking, playing, and prying the hook from its jaws. Schullery relates his experiences amidst this debate. At a wilderness conference, he is approached by some of those in opposition of catch and release. Their claim is that anglers might as well kill the fish as instead of torturing it without ending its suffering. They kept asking, “How can you do that?!” He pauses to think it over, recalling days of glorious fish and wild water, and thinks, “Oh, but how can you not do that?!” Observant anglers are privy to various natural delights besides the pursuit of trout. Chapter Four, “Antlers Aweigh,” reminds us that fish, flies, and water are a small section of the outdoors. As Schullery is fishing Michigan’s Au Sable River, he encounters a deer swimming upstream. His mind immediately relates the doe to various flies crafted with deer hair, prized for its floatant nature. While pondering the creations possible from the deer’s body hair, he watches her make a 90-degree turn for the opposite shore. Startled, she is laboriously swimming away. Realizing he spooked her, he thinks maybe the value in that day on the river comes not from the fishing, but from the larger experience occurring in the ecosystem.
Fish are as important as those searching for them. Schullery introduces us to different fish, and helps define them according to a sort of anglers’ social class. Reigning supreme are the browns and rainbows of the Gardner, Gallatin, and Yellowstone. In “Home River” he describes the Gardner River as a magic stretch of water that can mark an angler’s soul forever. Catching his first trout on a fly rod there, Schullery discovers hatches, currents, and a whole world the tour busses whizzing past never see. I immediately understood this perspective, if not as an angler, but as a Yellowstone visitor looking for more than bears and geysers. A whole world exists underneath the surface, whether that of the fish in the water, the birds in the trees, or the thriving bacteria mats next to flashy erupting geysers. “So Long, Sucker,” acknowledges that not all fish are created equal. Suckers, for one. The name sucker comes from their tendency to live along the bottoms of rivers and lakes, vacuuming up plants and insects. If suckers were people, they would have weak chins, bug eyes, and wear Cheetos-stained sweatpants. Schullery notes they are often known as trashfish, forage fish, and amongst Vermont anglers, shitfish.
The Fishing Life is a fantastic book. It can sit with pride on any diehard anglers’ shelf next to Richard & Swisher’s Selective Trout. However, if you are interested in the broader aspects of the sport like myself, an evening spent with Selective Trout would find you not understanding much, or dying of boredom. The humor, honesty, and detail of this writing offers more than enough to keep fishermen of any breed well engaged. Bearing in mind this idea that not all anglers are alike, so it stands to reason most will find a good laugh or a moment of reflection. Schullery says,
Fishing-in my case fly fishing- is an opportunity to exercise our intellects and emotions in a realm of inexhaustible wonder. At any given moment we may think we’re in this for just one thing, say the challenge of a difficult fish or the companionships of a fishing trip. But I suspect that most of the time we’re in it for everything we can get, and we’re out there just to see what will develop.
I doubt I will ever wake up one fine July morning and say, “Let’s go float L to P and rip some lips. A dozen over 20” in the boat by noon!” But meandering along small streams in Yellowstone’s backcountry, or fishing for brookies in the pothole lakes of the Beartooths are activities I’ve enjoyed since childhood. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to picking out colors for my new wine bar. Those of you who know Joe may have heard about our recent home remodel. He is busy installing my new Jacuzzi, and will hopefully make it to my custom cedar closet by tomorrow. Happy fall.
- Molly Moore
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Just recently, I’ve spent a little time on the river outside of guiding anglers. After all, it’s still summer for a few more weeks and one must take advantage of the time off. Yes it’s true, when not guiding anglers, tying flies or sorting through mail from the past six months, I enjoy fishing completely on my own. I don’t even really want to talk anyone else, except for that pretty blond at the West Gate of YNP checking passes or the nice lady at the gas station who has sold me beer and fuel for what seems like for ever.
It was chilly outside this morning as it had cleared up after last night’s deluge of a rainstorm. Sprinkles fell again late morning, then it cleared up with sunshine and fish spotting weather for a few hours only to pour cats and dogs this afternoon into the early evening. Around ten o’clock I found a familiar run to sit by and watch for awhile. Cars rolled by at forty-five miles per hour, hardly seeing what they were after, with only a few folks stopping to check out what Wonderland had to offer. While I keep telling myself that summer hasn’t left yet and that we have plenty of warm weather ahead, I realize that wearing waders and layering up felt darn good. With my boots laced up, both rods in hand and rigged with wet flies, I made way way across the river and into the lodge pole pine forest. The sun, supposedly behind me through a thick veil of clouds, was trying to poke out; it was hard to see them below the surface, lying on the bottom of the river, but they were there. A window appeared and a fish darted around another and then about a half dozen slid forward together and back again. One of em’ was big, much larger than the others and sitting a foot or so behind the rest. These trout weren’t rising, but they were eating nymphs in about waist deep water. Sunshine burned off the clouds, a few more rain drops hit the water, but it stayed clear enough to sight nymph. Sight nymphing is a tough game, and something I don’t get a chance to do all that often – I need more practice with this technique for certain. For the next hour or more I picked off a handful of nice fish with a #16 green price nymph, tungsten beaded. A few caddis began to pop and that helped my chances as fish were eating the green Prince on the lift.
That big fish, sitting behind the others was a large brown trout, that I didn’t land…..I saw it jump though.
It’s been just over three weeks since the last fishing report. Sorry folks, the river guide lifestyle has gotten in the way of keeping this weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, report from the pages of our web site for your viewing enjoyment.
Not to worry….it’s back!
Over the past six weeks we’ve been fishing on the Madison, Missouri and rivers in YNP. The last report posted here boasted of the incredible three days of salmon fly fishing that one of our clients was lucky enough to partake in. Those memories are still popping up in my brain.
The flows on the upper Madison have bounced up once again over the past twenty four hours and rushing out of Hebgen Dam is 1090 CFS. At Kirby she’s running along at 1180 CFS. This is a great flow and should help the nocturnal stones get to the bank side boulders and hatch out in good numbers. It might also help insulate the Madison River from the sunshine, but honestly, with 65-71 degree water flowing off the top of Hebgen, we are relying on clouds and cooler nights to help keep the river chilly. Today, on the Madison, the river felt pretty cool till about 3 or so. The river fished spotty with dry flies, but it was quite good at times from Lyons to Windy Point. There were PMDs, Caddis and a few Yellow Sallies hatching that kept fish looking up.
Molly and I had the pleasure of fishing with Maggie Merriman today, a local legend of sorts who has fished these waters for nearly 60 years. Maggie was a bit ahead of her time, developing clothing lines for women and teaching women specific classes on fly fishing and insects back in the late 70′s, 80′s, 90′s and early 2000′s. Molly lived with Maggie a dozen years ago, prior to our meeting here in West Yellowstone and they became quite close. Maggie pulled out a Sage 590 LL and fished it with pure ease from ramp to ramp. She bucked the wind all afternoon and placed her single fly inches from the bank and smack dab in the middle of the slicks. It was a joy to watch her fish…….Thanks Maggie!
I won’t see a day this good on dry flies for a while….it ranks right up there as one the best days ever on the Madison when the big bugs are out. Yesterday and the day before showed moments of greatness, but the river gave us a show today. We got on later than yesterday as the morning temps were super chilly once again, 30 degrees when I stepped out of the house. That’s pretty darn cold for July 1st. Water temps the past couple days in the morning have been very cold as well, temping out at 46 degrees as I launched the boat off the trailer. This morning was a little warmer, but with no clouds to speak of and the sun shinning down, the river warmed up quickly and fish begin to look up for the big fly. There was a light north wind all day that kept the bugs flying and moving upstream. Egg layers were out and sitting over the river…….Big Bugs were on the water.
Angling like this is not an everyday affair here on the Madison River, but every once in a while, shit falls into place just right and we have a banner day with large trout eating dry flies in all the fishy water. The Madison rewards skill and on days like this, the better one is as an angler, the better the fishing can be. Tomo could stick the fly inches from the bank and drift it for twenty feet. He could drift the fly in the middle of the river for what seemed like eternity. When the fish ate, he let it, then set hard, stripped line like a pro and calmly played the fish rarely losing his cool. He believed in what he was doing and with three days on the water, he got in the groove – when the fish cooperated, Tomo didn’t miss a beat. I absolutely love watching someone fish with skill.
At some point in the last seven days, the Madison went from greenish brown and high to damn near clear and lower than expected for June 13th. Some of this is due to no rain and cooler nights and some of this is due to PPL missing the mark and dropping the flows in order to fill Hebgen. Sound familar? Yea…..sadly, we thought so too. We are sitting at the top of the water chain, so to speak, Hebgen should be much easier to manage. After all, they are supposed to be managing water. Dropping the flows during run off, to fill the lake, means that someone wasn’t paying attention to the weather and the snowpack over the past month ro so. However, PPL did some very positive things this past winter: they ran the flows lower all winter therefore keeping the lake elevation higher to start the spring. They also are getting closer to actually finishing the repairs on the dam. Hopefully, in a year’s time, we will have a fully functioning dam once again….seven and half years from the time construction started.
Can you imagine if they would’ve run the lake down all the way down to their normal winter mark? Let’s not think about that….
Instead lets think about summer, trout fishing and the World Cup. Folks, it’s here. After a long winter the river is awake and is on the fringe of popping. Nymph fishing and the streamer bite has been good to great and fish are just beginning to look up towards the surface. Yesterday we floated the Madison for a little R & D to show BRF shop rat and Qtown native, Luke Mayfield, what’s in store for his first summer living in West Yellowstone. Luke’s been here for a month, but hadn’t fished or driven below $3 Bridge on the Madison. When we drove down and around Pine Butte, he was like, “wow, check out those gravel bars and islands.”
Ya man, there is a ton of fishy water on this river……
Today was the start of the greatest soccer tournament in the world and I couldn’t be more excited! For the next month, it will be hard to leave the house and go fishing, that’s for sure. The rules are simple, if you end up in the boat with me, ask me if I’ve see the outcome of a game before you tell me the outcome of a game. I realize that not everyone cares about this game, but I do and I love watching about as much as I love fishing. My playing days are long gone, but just the other night we got into a fine game of Asses Up…..it was too fun.
Stay tuned, the summer is just beginning.
Missouri River at Holter: 6090 cfs at 6pm…….three days ago it was 11,200 cfs.
Madison River below Hebgen: 1200 cfs…….five days ago it was 1850 cfs.
Madison River at Kirby: 1880 cfs…….fishing’s not too bad at all with nymphs in the wade stretch.
Madison River at Varney: 2980 cfs…….muddy, but you can catch a few if you try hard enough.
A week ago, most of us on the Missouri and Madison were preparing for a high water year. Then, things started to drop and flow managers, it seems, began to panic about filling the lakes and the flows were pared back to say the least. Some folks are saying that runoff has peaked……this being said, it’s only June 4th and there’s still boat loads of snow in the high country. I believe that round two of runoff is not far behind. More warm weather is in the forecast and I plan on taking a hike up into the high country next week to check a few spots and look at snow pack. With any luck, Hebgen will fill by the end of the month and we wont’ have a situation like last season with low flows and dried up spawning beds. Canyon Ferry is filling as this is being written, but there is concern that it too won’t fill to full capacity.
This water management concept seems to be hard to figure out……..snow falls and then it melts, at some point a lake or two needs to be filled. While there are lots of variables in the equation and after this many years of managing water, one would think that the water managers would have a easier time with filling the lakes.
If Hebgen isn’t filled by the end of month, it will be disappointing to say the least – this was a banner year for snow pack and filling the lakes should’ve have been an easy task. There is a flow meeting in West Yellowstone on June 12th held by PPL, should be an interesting time.
The Missouri has been, for the most part, pretty good fishing for the past month. From 1-3 fishing’s been a little weird. Some days the fish are grabby in some spots and other days they have moved out of the runs. We’re not getting em’ everywhere and are having to work a little bit. We’ve been mostly nymphing with sow bugs, worms, caddis pupa and bwo nymphs. As the river began to drop a few days ago, the dry fly fishing reared it’s head. A fish here and there were up eating spinners and we found a couple smallish pods that were easily put down after a fish was hooked and blew up jumping it’s way off the hook.
While there is NOT full blown dry fly fishing on the Missouri, we are getting closer each day. If these Missouri flows stabilize and stop jumping around, the caddis should begin and we can stop staring at the bobber all day long. PMD’s? They’ll come soon enough….and when they do the river will come alive.
At this point, my guess is that we’ll be fishing salmonflies on the Madison by the end June……..don’t hold me to this as my crystal ball broke about 38 years ago.
Snow is melting at rapid pace up high in the mountains all across Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. One glance at the flows online will show rivers on the rise, some of which are almost double for this time of the year. The white stuff is still pretty deep in the high country, but the last week t o ten days worth of warm weather mixed with some rain has brought a big push water. Wet wading has been standard protocol, but we aren’t wading much on the Missouri, just getting our feet wet from time to time. Anglers should expect this to be the case for a while now, but it’s hard to say just how long run off will go this season. It all depends on the weather. More sun and rain will push it out, cooler temps and no rain will slow it down. Pay attention to the weather and you too can guess when the Salmon flies will hatch on the Madison. I’m still not throwing a date out for this…….too hard to figure this early into run off.
I’ve been living on the Missouri for the past month, but have managed a handful of days back in West Yellowstone. TAKF was held on May 20th and I got a couple days of fishing in around West Yellowstone and Idaho as well. It’s been a very busy May for us and June is right around the corner. The next few weeks will find us hanging out on the Missouri guiding anglers with a another visit home and then back to the Missouri for mid and late June. With any luck, we’ll be fishing the Madison River a month from now.
Flows on the Missouri below Holter Dam are holding at 8790 cfs and down below the Dearborn it hanging around 10,000 cfs. This is quite a bit larger than a year ago right now, but it’s a welcome change of flows and this fine river will fish well into August in 2014. It’s been cooler more often than not, with a prevailing north wind which has brought some moisture up high and down in the low country as well. This afternoon, the sun poked out and life began to warm up a little bit – the goslings are appreciating every ray of sunshine they can get.
The BWO hatch that rolled down the river yesterday could have been considered, in some circles, a blanket hatch. A few fish were up in a couple places, but most of these mayflies drifted down without a fear in the world. I saw some March Browns in the canyon stretch today, but not much up on them at all, except for a few random blow up rises that may have been a skwala eat.
We fished streamers throughout the day, but only the morning bite produced interest for us. For the most part, nymphing was king.
Driving down to the Madison Valley, yesterday afternoon, was a great decision. I almost didn’t go, cause construction, moving to our new place and the guide season starting in late April has consumed me; I wasn’t sure if I could even enjoy fishing with all that lies head. However, as one who has blown off many a’ job to go fishing, this was a much needed day on the water and I am better for it.
Driving past Hebgen Dam and towards Cabin Creek, I counted 11…yes….11 rigs and twice as many anglers. I was told that 14 rigs where there on Saturday. While this stretch is completely legal to fish, it was borderline gross to see all the anglers packed into such a small stretch of river. I too have fished this stretch, countless hours during the Springtime over the past sixteen years, but I just can’t bring myself to fish so darn close to other anglers and stomp redds in the process when there are miles and miles of water below McAtee to access. Biologists will tell you that stepping on redds really doesn’t hurt the fishery, but somehow I’m not sure that I agree, especially when FWP closes the river from Quake’s outlet to McAtee Bridge in order to “protect spawning habitat”. I’m starting to think, as are other anglers, that closing Betwix the Lakes in March, April and early May is a good idea. Maybe Palisades down to McAtee could be opened up to give anglers more water to fish.
Note: Please remember that Quake to Mac is closed……I saw anglers at Pine Butte yesterday. This happens every single season and if they didn’t read the regulations, how would they know that the river is closed? There are no signs ANYWHERE telling anglers otherwise.
Midges were thick when I showed up to the river and shortly after, BWOs started hatching in decent numbers. There were a few fish looking up, but I did best underneath with a rubber legs and small PT. It was a gorgeous day in the Madison Valley and while the fishing was solid, I could’ve cared less cause it was just nice to be on the water.
It was snaining (snow and rain at the same time) on and off throughout the day, as I peered out the windows of our newly remodeled house. We began to move a few boxes this morning from the old rental house, mostly books from Molly’s college education and her rabid addiction to reading everything there is on the planet. Somehow, the only books I managed to keep from college are fishing and fly tying books. Go figure. Molly thinks I have a ton of shit, but her books are by far heavier than anything I own, except for my ’85 Land Cruiser.
Yellowstone National Park opened up today for the 2014 season. I’ve heard rumors of bison calves being born, but have yet to see one here on the Butte. While a ride into YNP would be a nice change from kneeling on wood floors, I believe that taking my fly rod out for a joy ride will hold precedence over watching a geyser blow it’s top or watching fish rise on a river that’s still closed. There is open water on the Madison Arm of Hebgen Lake, but getting there by foot or 4X4 is impossible. Skiing or a sled is the only way to wet a line, it would be worth the ski, that’s for sure. Since we don’t own a sled, that’s out of the question. Betwix the Lakes, while quite good right now, doesn’t really appeal to me at this point in the season. The Gallatin, just north of Big Sky, is still laden with snow and there is plenty of that around here so I think I shall forgo that plan and find some green grass, somewhere down in Idaho or possibly the Madison Valley.
I guess it’s time to buy that fishing license…….