“Try a Soft Hackle”

“Try a Soft Hackle”

For the last three years my wife (Jane), our golden retriever (Poppy), and I (Tim) have spent the month of September camping and fly-fishing primarily in Montana. While doing so we have also taken a few sorties into either Wyoming or Idaho. This year we have taken our current reach down into Henry’s Fork (of the Snake River) in Idaho. We are camping at Henry’s Lake where I go out on my pontoon boat in the morning for a morning of fishing. Afterwards I drove down to the Henry’s Fork River about 20 miles south.

If there ever was a beautiful area… this it. What am I saying…there are hundreds of beautiful spots! Nevertheless, here the river meanders through a tall grassy valley that is bordered on both sides with evergreen hillsides. Do yourself a favor and check out this place if you are ever around West Yellowstone.

I am often asked why I fly-fish, especially as a man who is aging. The answer is not simple. Actually here are many reasons. In fact I am attempting to finish writing a book about why completely sane people spend good money to purchase equipment, which allows them to go out and stand in a stream or river most of the day, swinging a skinny stick in the air. Then when they catch a fish, they usually but not always, release it unharmed. Why, why, one may ask?

I would like to provide a bit of insight from perhaps a different angle. I will not mention the beauty of the woods, or the clean air, or the sounds of nature. No, it is about the people. Now there are wonderful people interested in many ventures…golf, tennis, etc. Often other forms of fishing also produce a great specimen of humanity. But fearing being taken for “snooty”, I would like to suggest that most fly fishers have a special something about them.

Allow me to provide two very recent examples from my time here on the Henry’s Fork yesterday and today.



Yesterday I fished the morning and early afternoon on Henry’s Lake and then arrived down on the Henry’s Fork River about 3:00 for an “evening hatch”. Well as luck would have it, that evening hatch had just ended by the time I got to the parking lot. Several fly-fishers were making their way back to their cars now that the “action had stopped”. I asked the first guy I saw if he was wearing a “smiley or frowny face”? He said “both, I caught fish but somehow my second fly rod fell out of my knapsack into the river”. He and several strangers were gathering to attempt a “search and rescue” mission for his lost rod. I asked if he needed help and he assured me that they had it covered. I guaranteed him that I would be watching to see if anything long and skinny was making its way down stream.

About a mile down stream I came to a couple that were also getting ready to leave for the day. So, doing what I often do, I engaged them in conversation. They were from the Catskills in New York. As we were talking about their month-long trip, up walked a woman from Maine. The New Yorkers tattled that she had caught the most fish on the river that morning. She had pleasant comments about how nice and big the fish are on this river.  After 10 minutes or so she left for her car.

I must have spent another 45 minutes talking to my two “new best friends” whom I know not their names! Before they left for their car, they both ended up giving me a “special soft hackle” which he has tied for 30 years. Since our conversation proved that we have all have a special appreciation for that variety of fly, I find it uncanny how gracious they were to share their hand tied treasures with me. I by the way did end up catching a fish on my gift-fly about thirty minutes later.


My timing on the lake this morning was a bit more precise since I wanted to be down on the river by noon. On the lake I caught two nice 20-inch cutthroat trout, one of which will be dinner this evening.

One difference between today and yesterday on the river is the wind. Apparently the wind began to blow about an hour before I arrived. Hence, hardly anyone was on the river. But I made my way down river anyway. Who should I see, but Mr. and Mrs. New York? We again talked “soft hackles” and how hard it was fishing was on the river today because of the wind…”no bugs on the river” was the complaint.

I made my way further down river about a quarter mile and who should come walking up but Mrs. Maine. Even with her high score yesterday, today she only caught one small one fish…”tough wind and no bugs on the water”. That sounded familiar! Note, without bugs on the water, the fish will not be feeding on the surface…for those who are “dry fly” fishermen bugs on the water are a must.

In about 20 minutes, Mrs. Maine came walking back from the parking lot. Since I was not very far into the water I said, “Forget something”? Her dysphoric response was, “I lost my iPhone, and I don’t know if I dropped it on the trail or in the river. If I dropped it in the river I am screwed.” I volunteered to go hunt for it with her but she declined, noting I was fishing. She would let me know on the return trip if she found it.

After about 40 minutes of casting into the strong wind…and no fish in sight I saw Mrs. Maine returning up the trail. No luck. Frustrated. I suggested we turn around and retrace her steps again but this time use my phone to call her phone and listen for the ring tone. She was obviously bothered about “upsetting my fishing”. I said, “heck this would be more fun than fighting that wind!”

Mrs. Maine was more technological than I. She had the idea to call her husband in Maine and see if he could use the “locate my phone” feature for her phone. It actually worked. To Mrs. Main’s delight he discovered her phone was not in the water but somewhere on the shore. We walked about two miles and then had the idea to have her husband use the locater on my phone to see if we were getting closer to hers. Brilliant.

Walking some more, we saw a fishing guide coming up the trail. He asked if we were per change looking for a cell phone? It was just up the trail waiting for us where he left it.

Much relieved, I got to have a great conversation with Mrs. Maine (I do now know her name) on our long walk back to the cars. I found out that she works in the outdoors industry as a writer. She is a most interesting person.

Now, I can’t guarantee I would never meet such nice people on the golf course. I can guarantee that if I were “shoulder-to-shoulder combat fishing” for salmon on many rivers of the Pacific Northwest I would hear pretty rough words and see considerably rude behavior from time to time.  They are not fly-fishermen.

Why do I love to fly-fish? As I mentioned, there are many reasons but the fact that these are such nice people is a huge factor. In our era of national splitting and sputtering, I find this quite refreshing. I don’t know many things about  the New York or Maine people. I don’t know how they voted in the last election. I don’t know their stand on things like abortion, immigration, or kneeling in protest. I do know that these folk are aging in a positive manner and fly-fishing provides a good avenue for them. Give it a try, it is never too late.

Tim Berry

Leave a Reply

  1. Linda Williamson:

    Love the story. Showed just the mellowness that we old folks are looking for. Who wouldn’t love being in that area. Hope your girls are doing well.

  2. Terry:

    Thanks Tim… humanity at their best.