Trout Bum of the Week XLV: Chuck Page

Chuck Page hoists a trophy brown trout on his beloved Big Hole River in Montana.
Photo courtesy Chuck Page

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. 

Chuck Page is the 2015 Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year. A California native, he has been guiding on the Big Hole River and other Southwest Montana waters since 1983. He is head guide at Big Hole Lodge.

1. When did you start fly fishing?
I started fly fishing in my early teens. I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad from an early age. He would take me fishing for bass, stripers, and trout with a spinning rod and bait or spinners. I loved fishing for anything, but my favorite was trout. He taught me to fish with salmon eggs at first, and then I stepped up to Metz spinners. In my early teens, I got my first fly rod. It was a fiberglass starter outfit. My dad and I learned how to fly fish together from that moment on. Success was far from immediate, but it started a passion in me that never left.

2. What’s your favorite water?
My favorite water is the Big Hole River. Because it is a freestone river, rather than a tailwater, the character of the Big Hole changes completely during the season. From pre-runoff, through run-off and the low waters of late summer, the river stays fresh and almost new to me. The different hatches throughout the season keep this river exciting, and a learning experience every day.

3. What’s your favorite species to chase with a fly rod and why?
My favorite species to chase would be brown trout. To see the nose of a large brown tip up and take my dry, or my client’s fly, gives an adrenalin rush that is hard to beat. The rush of seeing this happen has kept guiding exciting for me all these years.

Chuck at the oars of his raft, as his clients follow his directions.
Photo courtesy Chuck Page

4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
My most memorable fly fishing moment is actually many moments—mostly guiding moments and the people I was with. There was the time I was with Patti Walker and her son when Patti caught a huge brown on a dry below Browns Bridge with her husband John and Lyle Reynolds looking on. Now, Lyle was not with our group that evening, but he had stopped on the bank when he saw us. Even Lyle was impressed with Patti’s big fish, which she had caught in front of him. Lyle and I always had fun with Patti and her family when they were fishing with us, and Lyle always liked to joke with her to keep her spirits up, but on that occasion as we floated by Lyle, his joking with Patti turned into real encouragement, making Patti gush with joy over her fish and comment from Lyle.

Patti always fished with me when she came to the Big Hole. She had fly-fished for the first time the day before I took her on the Big Hole, and I will never forget the story she told me about that previous day. She didn’t tell me the story right away, but I could tell the morning I picked her up that she was not real excited about going that day. Later in the day, after Patti started to really enjoy learning how to fly fish, she told me about what happened the day before, which was her first day fly fishing ever.

She had had a bad experience with the guide she was with, and she told me that she had spent most of the evening after the trip crying. Apparently, the guide had gotten frustrated with her, because she was new, and Patti could see this. He really made her feel bad, instead of trying to teach her. I will never forget that story. At the end of the day, I told Patti that there is no crying in fly fishing and that she had done quite well that day. I know she appreciated that day with me, because Patti and her husband and son came out fishing for several more years and I always fished with Patti. Her husband John, said we had a “synergy” going on, and he didn’t want to break it up. One thing that Patti’s story taught me was how important it is for a guide to be a teacher, and encourage, rather than be negative to new fly fishers.

5. What is your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
My most forgettable fly fishing moment would also be many moments and mostly guiding moments. One time, I was guiding many years ago on the Beaverhead River in my raft. I had two clients, and was guiding with another guide, Brett, who had two clients from the same group as my two. Brett put his boat in a couple miles up from me, and we figured we probably wouldn’t see each other the rest of the day. At about mid-day, I pulled my raft over to the bank and dropped my anchor to have lunch. We stayed in the boat during lunch, and one of the clients asked if my boat had ever gotten away from me and floated down river. I never had a person ask me that question before, and of course I responded with a definitive NO, because it never happened before.

Well, after lunch, we got out of the boat to wade an inside corner about 30 yards up river from where we had eaten. I made a mistake at that time by not dragging my boat farther up on shore; instead I felt the anchor would hold the boat in place. We had fished for about ten minutes with our backs toward the boat, when a big gust of wind came up, blowing downriver. The gust was so strong that I can remember leaning into the wind and holding onto my hat. As soon as the gust subsided, it dawned on me to look at my raft. Too late. My raft had been blown into the middle of the narrow river and was at least 100 yards from me and leaving.

I quickly decided I needed to cross the river to have any chance of cutting it off as it went around the next corner below us. I had on hip waders at the time and of course by the time I got across the river they were full of water. So I quickly pulled them off and drained them before running across a field to try and get in front of the boat before it got to the next corner. But, by the time I got to the river again, all I saw was the raft going around the next corner below me. Now this put me on the wrong side of the river, as the river turned away from me and where I was the river was too deep to cross. So all I could do was run down the river through the brush and try to cut it off two corners down where the river would turn back towards the side I was on. But I tried to take a short cut before the next corner, which took me through a swamp with a barbed wire fence stretched across it. I had to hold onto the wire as I crossed the swamp to keep from sinking in and getting stuck in the mud.

Once I crossed the swamp and the fence, I took off running again to get to the next corner. When I got to the river bank, my lungs were burning from running. The river had a fairly long straight stretch below me and the corner about 100 yards above me. Of course, I could not see my boat. So there I was standing on the bank with burning lungs and the fear that my boat had already gone by.

About a minute went by when to my pleasant surprise my boat came floating around the corner above me. What a relief. I did have to wade out into the river and grab it as it came by, filling my hip boats up again. So there I was, in the middle of the river relieved that I had control of my boat again, but wondering how was I going to get my clients back. They were still where we had lunch, which was only about a mile if you were an eagle, but a long way back up a winding river. I literally started to pull the raft back up river thinking I would somehow get closer. About then, around the corner above me came Brett in his boat with his clients and my clients. What a great sight.

Of course. my relief quickly changed to embarrassment, as the closer their boat got to me, the louder there laughter became. Well, I thought, at least I could put on a good show. That was one moment I would like to forget. Of course, later that day, I had to blame what happened on the client that had asked me if I ever lost my boat before. He just laughed more.

His favorite piece of gear is his waders, since he spends a lot of time out of the boat.
Photo courtesy Chuck Page

6. do you love most about fly fishing
What I love most about fly fishing is the entire experience. The experience of being in the outdoors, the people you are with, the river, the birds, the flowers the teaching, the story telling, the tug, all of it. Somebody once said, “Fly fishing is wonderful, because it takes place in the most beautiful places.” The Big Hole definitely falls into this category.

7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
My favorite piece of gear use to be the Tie-Easy knot tier. It made tying the nail knot so easy. But since the fly line makers put a loop at the end of the fly line now, I rarely use it. But I still carry it. So now, I would have to say my waders are my favorite piece of gear. My style of guiding is done mainly from the boat, be it my raft or my drift boat, but I tend to spend a large part of the day out of the boat. I am either holding the boat in a spot to fish or chasing flies caught in the brush. Spending the whole day dry, whether it is a hot or cold day makes it easier to jump out of the boat at a moments notice.

8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
My go-to fly when nothing else is working truly depends on the time of year and weather. For a dry early in the year it would be a Chubby Chernobyl. Later in the year, it would be a Purple Haze. For nymphs, it would be San Juan Worm early in the year, Lightning Bug later in the year. My favorite streamer is the Woolly Bugger, year-round.

9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
One of my favorite fly-fishing trips would be a day on the Big Hole with a friend of mine, Rick. I ended up not fishing for much of the day, though, because the fishing was slow and the day was cold. Rowing the boat was keeping me warm, and Rick loves to fish. So I joked with him that he could keep fishing and I would fish when and if it got better. Well, the fishing never got good, and I was staying warm so I kept rowing. With about 30 minutes left in the float, I suggested I could fish if he wanted to row. He was more than happy to let me fish, so he could get warm. Well, we didn’t go more than 15 minutes down the river, when I hooked up on a 25-inch brown trout on my streamer. To this day, Rick says he guided me to this fish. Of course, I claim I just know when to fish. Rick was kind enough to take a great picture of me and my fish, although he still claims it is our fish. I mean, I do give him credit for the picture.

Chuck poses between Craig (left) and Wade Fellin of Big Hole Lodge after receiving his big award.
Photo by Tom Rosenbauer

10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
The definition of a bum is a person not regarded very highly. I have looked up to every trout bum I have ever come across. I love fly fishing. I guide much more in a year than I fish. I love to teach. A guide is a teacher more than anything. Fishing through my clients is what has kept guiding exciting for me for over 30 years. Seeing a fish come up to a client’s fly gives me a rush. That is my drug. To a trout bum, the tug is the drug. A trout bum will have a fly rod in their hand as much as they can, anywhere they can. They will travel anywhere, fish anywhere, talk anywhere, and look for that tug anywhere. I have had trout bums in my boat several times over the years, and I am in awe of them. What a wonderful and exciting life. But, I also like my life, and I will keep listening to the bums, and reading their stories, while I keep loving fly fishing.

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