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.
Eben Schaefer is the Head Guide at Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge in Emigrant, Montana. When I first met him, more than 20 years ago, I was a guide at Hubbard’s, and he was a cook. Over those two decades, he has become a well respected guide, a shrewd lodge manager (along with his lovely wife, Nancy), and the host of one of the more popular guide schools in the U.S..
1. When did you start fly fishing?
I started fly fishing in Vermont when I was 6 years old, although I drowned a lot of worms back then, as well. Actually, I spent more time sitting in my father’s lap trying to tie bucktail streamers than I did fishing.
2. What’s your favorite water?
My favorite water for fishing on my own is one of the major tributaries of the Yellowstone River in south-central Montana. I like to fish it up high late in the season. I don’t want to name the river because I make a point of fishing it with a very select circle of people. One of the reasons I love it is because I almost never see another fisherman.
3. What’s your favorite species to chase with a fly rod and why?
I am a trout fisherman. I love the intricacies of the their environment. I feel like I have to become part of their life cycle to be truly successful. And the fish themselves are beautiful.
4. What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment?
I remember hitting a brook-trout stream in Yellowstone National Park with my kids when they were about 5 and 7. My daughter, the youngest, just kind of splashed around in the water and smiled. She loved the different rocks and the way a freshly released trout blended into them. My son didn’t fish much but wanted to release every one that I caught. Both the kids caught fish that day, but what stands out is all the fun they had just being around the water and the fish.
5. What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment?
I had a string of fly-fishing guide school students strung out behind me as I waded across the Gibbon River on a cold June day. I turned around to tell them to watch for some deep holes in this section just as I went in way over my head. I spent the rest of the day shivering and taking crap from my students.
6. What do you love most about fly fishing?
I love the challenge that trout fishing presents. You need a blend of creativity, critical thinking, and physical grace to be successful. And you get to buy lots of cool crap.
7. What’s your favorite piece of gear and why?
My favorite piece of fly fishing equipment is an old wooden net from Orvis. It is about 40 inches long with a mesh bag that has a seine down the middle of it. It is long enough to dig fish out of the weeds in the spring creeks, sturdy enough to use as a wading staff, and light enough to carry all the time. And having a seine available so readily is just awesome. I have patched a few holes in the ten or so years that I have had it, and I cringe just thinking about the day I have to retire it.
8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
My go-to fly is a KC Creature. In all of my regular fishing spots, this is the one I go to when I am stumped. It has two layers of foam, lots of wriggly legs, and big googly eyes. I just smack it down and give it a few twitches. I will try it anywhere: freestone streams, big meadow streams, tiny brooks, and technical spring creeks.
9. What was your favorite fly-fishing trip?
When I was about 15 or so, my father took me with him when he and a buddy of his went to the Rogue River fishing for Steelhead. I ended up trout fishing for a couple of days. One day, a huge steelhead ate my cricket. I missed him, but the image of that huge fish sucking down that fly is a permanent memory. But what stands out for me is that my father and his friend treated me as one of the guys that trip. I started to feel like an adult for the first time during that trip.
10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
I love fly fishing, and I am lucky enough to have fly fishing as part of my job. But my life is not centered around fishing. My family is the center of my life, and fishing is not absolutely required for me to be happy. I think a true trout bum has completely different priorities in life than a “regular” person. Fishing is the central focus of their life. They can have families and be great parents and spouses, but fishing is a requirement for their happiness. They will sacrifice money and stability for fishing without a second thought. I am a bit sad about it sometimes but I am not a true trout bum, just an avid fly fisher and an admirer of all the true trout bums that I have been lucky enough to meet.