My fishing partner that first day was Terry Collier, a professional fishing guide by trade, who hastened to assure me that he was "just here to have a good time." He did appear to be exceptionally relaxed about the whole thing. As we drove to our put-in point, Collier asked our guide, Bob Lowe, about a fly sitting on his dashboard, gathering dust. "Oh, that's a Letort Hopper with rubber legs," replied Lowe. Collier decided he liked the looks of it and would use it in the competition. After all my angst about which fly to use, this guy picks up an old fly off someone's dashboard! I concluded that there is probably a lot to this "it's not the fly but how you fish it" business.
As Lowe put the boat in the water, I tied on my trusty Trude with a knot of Gordian proportions. I used a 3X leader, one of the strongest available. No doubt the fish would see it attached to the fly and wouldn't be fooled for an instant, but I was taking no chances on losing my fly before noon. As luck would have it, I started out in the front of the boat (contest rules call for changing places at midday), where I would be the first to cast into good pools. As skill would have it, that didn't make much difference. About 20 feet from our put-in point, I made a cast to the left bank, let the fly float under an overhanging tree and congratulated myself on just the right mix of caution and daring. After picking up my fly to cast forward again, I glanced back to see Collier try the same place with his Hopper. Bam! He pulled out a 20-inch cutthroat. Lowe measured it, I took its picture, and Collier released it into the water. At that point I became acutely aware that my hip waders, when I was in a sitting position, did not meet my rain jacket and that my lap was soaking wet. It was 8:35 a.m. This could be a very long day.
But while it was a very wet and very cold day, it never dragged. Only my line did that. As the day wore on, however, my casting improved, and I managed to catch four fish by early afternoon. Because they were nowhere near as big as the four that Collier had caught, my score was nowhere near as high. But it didn't matter. I was pleased to be on the scoreboard at all, so sure had I been that I would lose my fly in the first half hour. Actually, I didn't lose it until 2:30 p.m., and then it was in the most honorable of ways, to a fat 15-inch cutthroat. The fly broke off in his mouth, and he was gone. And so was my anxiety. Free to fish without concern for the score, I began to catch more fish.
Collier's Hopper had by this time lost two of its four rubber legs. Even on its last legs, it was still doing the job for him. But he, too, finally lost his fly to a big fish, and we were both in the same boat, literally and figuratively, for the last couple of hours. It was nice to focus on something other than the relentless casting, for a change. We saw otters, eagles, a male elk bugling for its mate, and an osprey latching on to a trout with its talons and flying off. No catch-and-release fishing for him.
Back at the bar at Nellie's, folks were clearly glad to be out of the rain and wasted no time swapping stories. One poor fellow who kept his fly said he caught nothing but a cold, while another had lost his fly on the third cast of the day. Certain teams began to emerge as the ones to watch. Team Sage (of Sage rods company of Bainbridge Island, Wash.) was reported to have caught a fair number of big fish, as had the Hollywood All-Stars, a team that included the aforementioned actress and her significant other, attorney Skip Brittenham, a member of the U.S. team in the 1989 world fly-fishing championships. Our team had acquitted itself well, thanks to the efforts of team captain Calabi and Garrison.
That night at the banquet at Teton Pines, most conversations began with "How'd you do?" followed by "Where'd you go?" and "What'd you use?" Since anglers are allowed to change flies on the second day, there was a lot of curiosity about which flies had been most successful the first day. Apparently the Trude was one of them. I decided to stick with it.
Day 2 dawned cold and cloudy, but since it wasn't raining, the optimists at breakfast were saying, "Looks like it might clear up!" But the minute we hit the river, the rain came down in buckets. This time I was prepared. I had borrowed long, warm neoprene waders and was layered in a sweater and two jackets. I looked like a fat chocolate bunny. I didn't care. On this day I was teamed up with Mike Atwell of the Sage team. Our guide was Bob Barlow, a local lad who had come prepared with a backup rod, and a good thing too. I had been having trouble fitting my four-piece rod together properly, and sure enough, it cracked on a cast in the middle of the day.
Atwell used a fly called a Stimulator, which caught an obscene number of fish. About 10 fish to each one of mine, in fact. But I bettered my own score from the day before and even managed to catch a couple of small brown trout. Our assigned beat was the Canyon, a deep ravine with many stretches of raging white water. The fishing was difficult and required rapid, accurate casting to pockets along the bank. One group, deciding to fish from the bank for a while, watched in despair as their raft got loose and took off downstream. We captured the runaway craft and held on until the others could make their way downstream to us. But one of those anglers, Kim Vletas, was none too happy at the timing of the mishap. She had been trying to tempt up a cutthroat she estimated at 25 inches. Chasing after the raft cost her a chance at the fish and about a half hour of fishing time. Vletas, by the way, was fishing on an all-woman team that included Joan Wulff and Pat Opler, whose 24⅛-inch trout caught in 1989 is the alltime One-Fly record. At this competition Vletas racked up an impressive 240 points, despite her disappointment about the one that got away.
I had kept my fly for the entire day and caught a respectable number of fish, including a fat 15-inch cutthroat. And I knew I had conquered the "competition thing" when I had to ask the guide how many fish I had caught. Nine, he said, for a total of 40 points (72 for the two days). Other members of my team covered the whole range of fortune. David Kern lost his fly early in the day but still contributed to the scoreboard for our two-day total. Calabi brought in 137 points, while Garrison wowed everyone with a total of 345 points. He also believed he might have landed what surely must be the big fish of the contest, a 23-inch cutthroat. He caught it on a fly he had tied himself, a version of a Double Humpy.
At the awards barbecue, tales of valiant fly retrievals abounded. Kathy Ruddick of the Fly Fishing Canada team reportedly swam under her boat, emerging on the other side with rod and fly intact. Another angler reported leaving footprints on the shoulders of his guide after using him as a ladder to reach the uppermost branches of a tree.