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.
Jennifer Cornell is one of the busiest women in fly fishing. She is a co-owner, along with Lori-Ann Murphy of Reel Women Fly Fishing Adventures, a guiding operation run by women anglers, and of Nic Fin Patagonia, a fly fishing lodge in remote Patagonia, Chile. From June through October, she leads heli-fishing trips in Alaska with Tordrillo Mountain Lodge (where she also leads heli-skiing trips in the spring). When she’s not in any of those places, she still teaches and guides on the Rocky Mountain rivers of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. She also hosts destination trips in both salt water and fresh water.
My wife and I fished with Jennifer on the South Fork in Idaho years ago and had an amazing day. My favorite part was the very beginning of the trip, when Jennifer launched the boat and then proceeded to row hard upstream because she had a spot she wanted to fish. I knew then that we were in good hands for the rest of the day.
1. When did you start fly fishing?
I’m not really sure when I started fly fishing, since it seems like I was always going fishing with my dad where I grew up in Massachusetts. But once I moved to Jackson Hole in 1993 and caught my first wild Snake River cutthroat, then it became a passion. My cousin picked me up at the airport in Jackson Hole, in the fall, with his drift boat in tow, and we went straight to the Snake River. I had traveled to Jackson Hole to ski for the winter after college, but once I caught the fishing bug I had to figure out how to stay for the fishing season, too.
2. What’s your favorite water?
I love to be on the water. If it’s salt water, lakes, or rivers and I’m fishing, then that’s my favorite. If I could have only one more place to fish for fresh water, it would be a tie between the South Fork of the Snake River canyon section and a special creek in Alaska stalking trout. For salt water, it would be Andros Island, in The Bahamas. I was lucky enough to live in Andros and work for the late, great Capt. Rupert Leadon, and if I had to pick a specific favorite day of fishing, it would be the day Cap and I spent on the flats together hunting big bones. Hearing his stories of about a lifetime of bonefishing led me to fall in love with the precious flats of Andros.
3. What’s your favorite species to chase with a fly rod and why?
Oooh, I love fishing for tarpon. I don’t have the chance to do it all that often, so when I can, it’s special. Everything about tarpon fishing keeps me on my game; it has made me develop my fishing skills and continues to challenge me the way only Mother Nature can do.
4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
Fishing down in The Bahamas with my sister and my dad, when they both caught their first bonefish on the same day.
5. What is your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
I once borrowed a friend’s 4-weight set up, and while we were fishing from the boat on the South Fork in high water, the tip caught on the bank. The rod was out of the boat before we could do anything about it, never to be seen again. It was a laugh or cry moment. We laugh now. . . .
6. do you love most about fly fishing
I love that the fish bring me to people, places, and locations I would have never explored, then I have the amazing opportunity to share these places and experiences by bringing people fly-fishing all over the world.
7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
My Clackacraft drift boat allows me to explore and find fish with just my dog and me, or with other people! In Alaska and Chile, I couldn’t live without my women’s Silver Sonic waders. My favorite rod that has fished from Alaska to Baja to Chile to the Bahamas is my Helios 2 9-foot 8-weight, followed up by my little sweetie pie of a rod, a Helios 2 8-foot, 4-inch 2-weight. When I am fishing with either one of those rods, I am having a good time!
8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
Do I really have to share that one? I have a few tricks in my boat—come fishing with me to find out the rest of them—but the one I can share is a Cinnamon Ant. Sometimes you find those picky trout in the Idaho rivers, and cast all types of mayfly patterns at them: emergers, cripples, duns, spinners. Then you try a size 16 Cinnamon Ant, and CHOMP! It’s so rewarding. Yes, I could have tried that first, but where’s the fun in that?
9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
We have an annual ladies’ overnight on the river every fall. when the aspens start to change colors. We may have missed a few but we are going on 20+ years. Some of us have gone through life changes and relocations, jobs, marriages, divorces, dogs, children, but for this one trip we all manage to find our way to the boat ramp.
10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
We meet so many who love to fly fish, going on their fishing trips when time allows, working hard to make those fishing trips happen. A trout bum doesn’t follow any true definition: they fish and fish and fish. They spend more time in the outdoors than indoors. They have made their life choices to allow them fish more than anything else. They have a golden retriever that spots fish and gets more excited about going fishing than eating. They drive a big truck to get them places, they work to fish, and fish for work. Oh hey, that’s me!