By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
January 3, 2018
2017 was a year of fly fishing I’ll never forget.
More than once, I had what would’ve been my new personal best trout on the line – if only I’d managed to land it. I made my first trip to Montana, met the late Tom Morgan and his lovely wife (now widow) Gerri Carlson, and bought a rod from arguably the greatest rod builder of all time.
I finally cracked the code to fishing a river in Idaho that, for the past few years, never yielded its trout for capture. My buddies Hyrum and Alex took me on my first trip to the top of the Wind River Mountains, and I got to fish in Oregon twice with Mysis Mike Kingsbury.
Some of the waters John Gierach has written about his entire career now have their names in my fishing journal. The St. Vrain, Big Thompson, and Cache le Poudre hosted my best friend Lander and I for long fall days of fly fishing Colorado’s Front Range.
A common theme through my favorite moments of 2017 is the fact that I shared them with others. Whether it was the three straight days of afternoon callibaetis hatches on Boulder Mountain, or winter midges on the Middle Provo, someone else was along for the ride.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. The people I’ve met through fly fishing – and consequently, the places I’ve seen because of those people – have all changed my life for the better in one way or the other.
I keep a pretty detailed fishing journal. It’s both a vain and scientific effort; vain in the sense that I make sure to note how many fish I catch, their size, and the species. It’s scientific because I note the flies I used, which ones worked, water conditions, weather, rigs, tippet, line, and rods used so the next time I fish that water I’m actually able to remember what I learned.
According to my fishing journal, I:
- Caught 609 fish in 2017
- Fished 148/365 days
- Caught an average of 4.1 fish per day on the water
- My biggest fish was a 26-inch, 7-pound cutthroat trout
Nothing about that is impressive, and I don’t share it to boast (there’s nothing to brag about). Rather, I hope you’ll consider a fishing journal for 2018. At the very least your musings will end up as invaluable communication from you to your posterity.
With that said, let’s look at what we all really came here to see – pictures of some big-ass fish.
My first fish of the year came on January 7th. Alex Patterson and I fished size 24 and 26 parachute midge patterns (courtesy of brilliant fly tier and designer Ryan McCullough) to rising trout. There was three feet of snow on the ground.
My buddy Clark and I made it out a lot earlier this year, and one trip in particular was the best we’ve ever had on this particular piece of water.
Remember to look up once in a while. One of the best parts of any fly fishing trip is the gorgeous country we’re privileged to see.
My first trip on the water after moving into my new house was to the Green River – 4 hours away from where I live! The fishing was typically spectacular, though. I have to thank Ryan Kelly and his lovely wife Amber for putting me up in their home in Dutch John, and to Ryan for rowing me down the river so many times this year.
The bighorn sheep had to make an appearance that frosty day on the Green.
I finally got my first fish mounted! Troy Peterson, of True Life Taxidermy, completed the work on the fish and rocks. My buddy Chad and I built the base from a solid plank of walnut in Chad’s wood shop.
My good buddy Mysis Mike and I caught the annual run of big rainbow trout at Flaming Gorge Reservoir. We both caught 50 fish that day.
Thanks to Dan Parson – one of the best guides I’ve ever had the opportunity to fish with, and a man I’m honored to call my friend – I was able to fish this stretch of river that, until recently, I’d never set foot in.
2017 was a great water year for the Colorado River drainage. This picture shows the bypass tubes at the Flaming Gorge Dam operating at full capacity – raising the CFS of the Green River to a monstrous 8,600 for a few months.
This is one of the few photos I took in 2017 of which I’m proud.
My buddy Clark strikes again with another stellar catch! I’m glad Clark brings me along to be his net man on fishing trips. The guy can whisper to the water.
Clark’s tiger is good enough for another shot!
I met Tom for the first time in 2017, though we became friends in late 2015. He died about a month after this photo was taken, but his wife Gerri and I still talk occasionally, though our conversations center more around books than fly fishing these days. Tom and Gerri are two of the greatest, brilliant, giving people I’ve ever met. They changed fly fishing in many ways, and for that they have my thanks.
My buddy Blair snapped this shot of me with my first fish off the Madison River! This was right above Three Dollar Bridge. Montana didn’t disappoint on the first go-round.
My buddy Hyrum is one of the best fishermen I know. He caught almost 100 fish in one day on this trip. I wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t been along for the ride, counting each fish as it came to the net.
This was the fish of 2017! A 26-inch, 7-pound cutthroat pulled from some heavy spring runoff. The trout and I fought for a half-hour as it drug me downriver to a lake, where I finally got it in my hands.
Mysis Mike and I found ourselves a lake with an incredible callibaetis hatch and plenty of hungry splake trout.
2017 was an interesting year for politics, and i had the opportunity to sit down with Spencer Cox, the Lieutenant Governor of Utah, to discuss pubic lands, river access, and the heritage of sportsmen across the country. Lt. Governor Cox was refreshingly honest, and I didn’t feel like I’d spent an hour of my day talking to a politician. Cox is a level-headed, intelligent, down-to-earth leader, and if he continues to serve in Utah’s leadership I’m confident the future of outdoor recreation in the Beehive State is in good hands.
Montana, take two! With my great friend Blair. What a day of fishing that was with soft-hackle flies and 2-weight rods.
I watched Hyrum catch 98 fish in one day on this trip. He had to stop and catch his breath before catching another dozen trout before the sun went down.
If you’ve never seen the gorgeous art from Tim Johnson, do yourself a favor and browse his work. He’s the genius behind the Timmy Grips, and designed quite a few pieces of fishing apparel for Orvis. For whatever reason Tim thinks I’m good company, and we had a blast in 2017.
Alex and his wife are two of the greatest people I’ve ever met, and I had the pleasure of accompanying Alex and Hyrum on this trip deep into the Wind River Mountains.
The Wind River Mountains are incredible. And Hyrum took his sunglasses off and looked at the camera for the first in 2017 during this photo.
Mike is one of my favorite fly fishing models. He just knows how to strike a pose.
Ryan Kelly is the most talented photographer I’ve ever worked with. He worked his magic in this photo by managing to make me not look like an idiot while I tried to hold two slippery fish for the camera.
I got to introduce my buddy Cory to fly fishing this year. He took to it rather well – and quickly, too.
You’re not seeing things – that’s really a cutthroat with a hopper in its mouth with SNOW ON THE GROUND. How cool is that? I went up my local stream right after the first snowstorm of 2017. I usually fish a dry-dropper-dropper rig year-round, and it just so happened the rod I had rigged up that day was a big ol’ Chernobyl ant. Apparently the fish didn’t care that it was too cold and late in the year for hoppers – I caught three fish on that fly in an hour.
Tim Johnson making the first of many casts during a two-day trip to Pyramid Lake.
Tim caught the best fish of the trip, too.
My last fish of 2017 was this little rainbow trout from Lees Ferry. A pretty solid way to end what was a spectacular year on the water.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.