Welcome to our series called “Trout Bum of the Week,” in which we highlight some of the guys living the good life. . .of a sort. (See the bottom of this post for a link to the previous installments.) Most of the subjects are guides who have turned their passion into a vocation, spending their time in an outdoor “office” that may include a drift boat, gorgeous mountain scenery, and crystal clear water. Others do have day jobs but manage to spend every other available minute on the water with a fly rod in hand. Whether you aspire to one lifestyle or the other, it’s illuminating to explore the different paths these men and women have taken on their way to achieving “trout bum” status.
Bryan Gregson is a Bozeman-based photographer whose images of fly fishing and snow sports have graced pretty much every magazine dealing with these subjects. A Utah native, he has also worked extensively with the Utah Stream Access Coalition (check out their Facebook page, too), whose mission is “to promote and assist in all aspects of securing and maintaining public access to, and use of, Utah’s public waters and streambeds.” Check out Bryan’s brilliant images at his website and on his Facebook page.
1. When did you start fly fishing?
The very first time I held a fly rod was probably right out of the womb. My father, grandfather and great grandfather were all anglers. Everyone in my family fished both conventional and the fly tackle, never limiting their enjoyment. I still carry on the family tradition. Later in life, maybe when I was eight, I started fly fishing with my neighbor friend and his father, who took me under his wing. My own father grew sick and was unable to fish.
From there I spent many years exploring remote locations, backpacking into various drainages in my home state of Utah. After my father’s passing, when I was 16, I left home with $20 and a one-way ticket to Hawaii, and lived in a cave before moving to the country for a few years. It was years before I picked up a fly rod again. I still fished, just not with a fly. I learned traditional ways of throw net, hand line, and spear. I also commercial fished on the East Coast: longline for cod, haddock, and pollock and was a stern man for a Bluefin-tuna boat.
I returned to my roots, to the mountains and my trusty fly rod. I never stopped chasing fish. I think I just needed to put down the rods for a few years because losing my best fishing partner was extremely hard on me. I do value those times away from my rods. I learned, progressed, and studied other forms of fishing.
2. What’s your favorite water?
Small, remote, crystal clear, high-elevation mountain streams are certainly my favorite type of water. Maybe it’s because of the solitude, maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for beautiful imaginative fish, or maybe it’s because it’s my home roots, but to me there’s nothing more amazing than quiet walk in a small stream with a tin of dry flies in my pocket.
3. What’s your favorite species to chase with a fly rod and why?
Honestly, this is a tough one for me to answer. It’s changing all the time. I could easily say my favorite fish to chase is the next one I haven’t personally encountered. Because I like the preparation, anticipation, and adventure that comes with a new undiscovered treasure. I’ve always been this way since a youngster; I’m addicted to adventure. That said, my heart belongs with the mighty little cutthroat; it was my first fish encounter, my first love that kept me up at night and at times, still does.
4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
The moment a small rogue rough group of anglers stormed the Utah Capitol building and made a stand together for public stream access and public property rights. Nympers, dry fly snoots and the hopper-and-dropper dudes were all there standing alongside the gear chuckers, bait dunkers, and worm lovers. Unified in one voice, for once. That was a powerful fly-fishing moment. To me, we are all anglers, and I certainly don’t hold myself beholden to the fly, only to the fish and to the environment.
5. What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment? (Please don’t write, “I forget.”)
The day I couldn’t fish waters I fished as a kid with my father. The moment I realized I only have the memories of a place I once cherished. The moment I realized big money took public rights away and shut down over 400 public rivers and streams to the public. The moment I realized I was naive to the fact that politicians actually lie, cheat, and steal. The moment I realized I can never trace those old but not forgotten footsteps. I’d like to forget all those moments. But it’s because of these moments that my desire to fight the system will never waver, and I will always protect the very resource that I love.
6. What do you love most about fly fishing?
What I love about fly fishing the most is the freedom is gives me, the lessons it constantly teaches me, and the life it’s given to me. Not all lessons end in glorious rays of sunshine, and many have nothing to do with fly fishing itself. But as a whole, it’s where I go to sort things out. Fish are always honest.
I also love the moment right before the fish eats the fly. Those split seconds are why I love to fish and why I’m drawn to sight-fishing. I can’t really explain it, but anyone who’s experienced this knows the feeling.
7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
My camera. I like to think I’m capturing memories and moments so that one day when I’m old, and working as a door greeter at Wal-Mart, I can look back and relive all those adventures once again.
8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
My go-to fly is my most confident fly. Depending, of course, on where I’m fishing and what I’m fishing for. If I had to pick just one fly overall: For trout, an ant pattern and for warmwater/saltwater, some type of Clouser. I choose the ant because I would rather catch a fish on top. I could have easily said a worm or a black Woolly Bugger, but its not life or death; it’s just a game for fools. For warmwater, there are too many species, and Bob Clouser got it right; you can’t perfect simple perfection.
9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
My favorite trips are ones where shit hits the fan, when chaos reigns. Those crazy adventures are what traveling dirtbag anglers live for. Also those trips I am able to interact with my close friends and the local people. I want to see the culture and the environment I’m in. To me, this is just as important as chasing the fish; it’s all intertwined, all a part of the same big adventure.
In Argentina it’s the local gauchos, in Bolivia the Tsimane tribe, and in Belize I was able to travel to see and photograph a local soccer game played in a small village. Besides, its not every day some sketchy Central American dude tries to sell you the Black Market’s latest in used Uzis and hand-grenades.
At home is those moments spent with good friends exploring local waters. There are too many to choose just one; to me those are all amazing tales of adventure you can’t script. The ones I miss the most are with my close friends whom I rarely get to spend time on the water with.
10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
I think many people really truly love fly fishing and to me, that’s a really great thing. The environment needs to be protected and people tend to stand-up for what they love. This is more needed and apparent than ever before. It’s great to see so many people caring. But there is a difference.
To me, the real Fish Bum is a rare thing and is a dying breed. They are not hobbyists; they don’t work a “real job” during the week. Their life is spent evolving around a single complex purpose, the fish. They are anglers, every day, every minute, of every season or every year. They are strong stewards of the resource and sometimes a bit salty until you peel back the layers. Like any life a person chooses, it’s a sacrifice, and it takes courage to pursue the opportunity we are given, to live a full and useful life. Some choose a family, a career, comforts of a city and vacations. Others choose to follow different dreams and chase down different passions. There is nothing wrong with being the hobbyist or the bum. Fishing to me is about gaining the most out of life to explore my inner self, and creating the most opportunity for a boundless imagination, and then making it my reality.