It’s been seven years now. For seven years, my good friend Courtney (go follow him on instagram @sculpinarmy) and I have been doing a summer road trip. It started just a few days after he and his wife were married. She had to lead a volleyball camp and Courtney had no immediate responsibilities. Having just finished graduate school, I too, was responsibility free. And what do good friends do with free time and no responsibilities? They go on a road trip!
The first year we traveled around Northern California testing our growing fly fishing skills against some of the most famous blue ribbon rivers of the west. The next year we slid north, plying the waters of central Oregon. It was on the third trip that our minds were blown and a new addiction was spawned. We drove even farther north to Montana. It was there that our expectations were seriously changed. We landed our first 20” trout on that trip. The next year we HAD to go back. The following three summers we followed a similar path through South West Montana. Each year we’d hit some of the well known rivers that we’ve all heard of and we were sure to take some time to dive deep into the woods or off the beaten path to find some of the secret spots still alive and well in Montana.
This year, Courtney and our new summer road trip companion Aaron (@vanschyndel) drove north for now familiar waters. Our plan was to fish our favorite waters and time things just right. We’d throw dries during the PMD hatch and maybe even catch a piece of the stonefly extravaganza on the Madison. There would be evening streamer sessions and the possibility of some bull trout (with permit of course) action. I’m not exactly where my friends’ headspace was, but I was daydreaming of countless fish rising to dries, fish in the 30” range, and cycling through my streamer box so frequently I’d get to try some interesting new flies I’d tied. Why would I expect anything different? I’d been blown away with new experiences every year prior!
So when we started fishing, I was ready for anything. My second cast of the trip was promptly interrupted when a 20-ish inch brown trout turned from it’s lie, came down stream, and erupted out of the water with my streamer in his mouth. I knew right then that things were going to go one of two ways. The trip was going to be another one for the ages, filled with stories of triumph, or it was going to be an utter disaster of a trip.
We spent the next two weeks fishing hard and having a lot of fun. Without a doubt we landed some really nice fish and even explored a few new stretches of river. In the end, the trip was neither one for the ages, nor an utter disaster. It fell somewhere in between. Memories were made, fish were caught, and we had a blast out on the river. But somehow my expectations were misaligned this year. Was it the higher water levels? Maybe the fishing pressure? Does it really even matter? I was on a two week fishing trip with great friends….shouldn’t that be enough? And it was, it was just the experience that I needed at just the right moment. This year didn’t set any new records or make my jaw drop, but what it did, was reset my expectations for what a fishing road trip is all about. The adventure.
I’m already beginning to think about next year’s summer plans. Should we head back to our familiar stomping grounds where expectations cast long shadows or should there be a new adventure. As I think back to the days after Courtney’s wedding or our first trip up to Montana, it wasn’t necessarily the fish that made for the memories, it was the new experiences and friendships. The spirit of adventure was what made for such exciting times. If I can convince them, the crew and I just might try a new part of the state or country. Who knows, we may even find ourselves crossing a border to chase new adventures and leave expectations in the dusty roads of our rear view mirrors.