I watched Dad as he stood before me a proud man. The roll cast that he was throwing toward the far bank was the same one he taught me years ago. His cigar was lit, the tobacco smell that I've grown used to on fishing trips made me feel at ease. The Bridger Mountains in the distance fascinated him, thoughts of Jim Bridger and his excursions racing through his mind. He had a big family to be proud of and a loving wife to share the journey with. Many years of hard work in the education system, side jobs during the summer, and sacrifices beyond belief brought him to this point. A few years into retirement and he was able to take his wife across the country, into Big Sky Country, to visit their son. A well deserved vacation for years of hard work.
The water flowing underneath us had a calming sound to it, the bald eagle flew overhead with grace. The trout rested close to the river bottom sampling the insects that floated by. He drifted his nymph past many willing fish that day, each one bringing a smile to his face. It didn't have to be a trout either, a few white fish were the most exciting catches of the day. I remember fishing below him, then looking up to witness the happiness in his facial expressions. I paused and took it in, I was happy for him, happy that all the roads he took in life brought him to this very moment with me. That particular moment will resonate with me for a very long time.
Weeks prior to their visit I was knee deep in typical life stuff. Working many hours, worrying about petty things and lacking sleep. Seeing him at the conclusion of all that was just what I needed to clear my head, put life back into perspective. He lived his life for his family, taught lessons from actions not words and affected people far and wide with his powerful smile, selfless attitude and willingness to teach others.
A few days into our trip we ventured up to the Madison River in the park. The Barnes Pools are very popular this time of year, and if you aren't a local you can receive unwarranted backlash from the regulars. There are unwritten rules while fishing those spots, take a few casts then take a few steps down and proceed till your at the bottom of the run. Get back out and do it again if you like, but don't stay put...the locals don't allow it. My old man enjoyed just being out with his sons, and often stayed in one spot for a long time, not bothering anyone. I often wondered what was going through his mind when he stayed put for hours at a time. It really didn't matter, he was enjoying life.
Someone came in above us without my knowledge and took offense to my dad standing in one spot for more then a few minutes. He proceeded to give my father some lip. I was on the verge of blowing up on this guy, that is my nature. I hesitated because I didn't want to make my dad feel uncomfortable. He finished fishing the hole and gracefully walked up to the other angler and explained to him that he was from out of town and apologized for not knowing these unwritten rules. The fisherman proceeded to apologize and gave us some useful information on other spots to fish. Without telling me, he was teaching me a lesson. Don't let mean people get under your skin, and handle the situation with grace and pride. He walked up to that man and kindly spoke his mind, and in the end made HIM feel like the asshole.
Growing up you always see your dad as a role model. He taught me many things but appreciating the small things in life, taking the road less traveled, loving and putting your family first are the ones that will stick with me forever. He also wasn't a fly fishing snob. Although he enjoyed to catch fish on the fly, his origins were that of bait, and he saw all ways of angling, whether with bait for bass or lures for trout, as equal. So the next time I get frustrated with bait anglers, I think I'll look to the sky and not think anything about it, because that's what dad would do.
We got out on the water the day before they left, a day I will forever remember because it was the last time I interacted with him in person. We didn't fish the most popular water or the place with the biggest fish. If you could of seen the elation on his face you would of thought we were hitting the Salmon Flies perfect on the Yellowstone. We weren't. We were just fishing a second tier stream with smaller fish. That was perfect for him, he appreciated the small things in life. The important thing was he was with his son, doing something he taught me at a young age. THAT is what made him tick, THAT is what made him enjoy days on the water with or without us. His life was taken away from us too quickly. But I vow to honor him moving forward in my actions. I plan to be a better brother, son and husband. He has passed his wonderful attributes on to his family, and we are privileged to carry on his legacy . So even though he is no longer with us physically on this earth, his spirit will infect us all, and make us better people.
The upcoming months will be hard for my family and I. I think to the days where my brothers and I will be fishing a favorite stretch of water, or hunting a patch of woods that Dad was a part of. But I also know that he'll be with us through all of it, looking down over us during that hatch, or during that encounter with a big buck. I know we are all so thankful that he introduced us to the woods and water. It's brought us closer together and now more then ever those bonds to the outdoors will see us through this. My dad always followed our blog, and I know he won't stop now, but we just wanted to say thanks.....thanks for being YOU dad.