This is it, the moment we’ve been waiting for. The line is tight, and the battle has begun. Who will give in first—man or fish? The anticipation is high, and the energy is tense, until suddenly the line is not. The defeat immediately washes over one’s body as the realization of loss settles in. It’s disappointing the first time, frustrating the second, but when a fish is lost for the third time without an ounce of success in between, it’s utterly devastating.
Ten nights in the woods, over thirty hours on the road, our hair caked with dirt, our skin tacky with a layer of perpetual sweat, and our egos yearning for success.
A multi-state fly fishing trip was not the leisurely retreat we once envisioned. We knew we would be tested and pushed beyond our comfort zones, and for that, we were prepared. Even so, the trials and tribulations we encountered on this trip exceeded our expectations.
After a week on the rivers with only three fish to show for it, our patience waned. During the latter half of the trip, we decided to bring along a guide, Logan Wilson, who opened our eyes to the profound knowledge necessary for a successful day on the water. As two novice fishermen, we did not account for the nuances of fly fishing that make it a uniquely challenging sport: the variation in casting techniques, the intuitive reading of the current, and the importance of choosing the right fly for specific conditions.
We embarked on this adventure with the blind belief that after a few days of self-education, we would attain the status of master fly fishermen with an abundance of fish under our belts. This was not the case. The mission was to learn how to fish, but through the process of failing, we learned a lot about ourselves.
Despite catching a minimal number of fish, the trip as a whole was highly successful. We were able to fully immerse ourselves in nature and reconnect with parts of our identity that we had been missing. Although fishing is an individual sport, many aspects of this adventure required us to work as a team: choosing locations, setting up camp, learning the craft, sharing road time, and working toward a common goal.
It was transformative to step back into a team mindset; it challenged us in ways that are familiar but distant to us now. For nearly two decades, during our time as football players, being a part of a team was second nature, but since stepping away from the game, that part of us has become less innate. We had forgotten the patience and persistence it took to overcome obstacles as a unit, especially when individually, we were exhausted, frustrated, and at times, completely fed up. To thrive on this journey, we had to remain intentional in our pursuit and remind ourselves how to be good teammates.
In regard to the challenges we endured, the main one was presented by the simple fact that a ten-day fishing trip across five states was seriously unfeasible. Any chance of falling into a groove in a new location was constantly interrupted by the need to move on to the next destination. We were never able to effectively settle into a flow, considering we weren’t stationary for more than two days at a time. The difficulty of trying to familiarize ourselves with each component of the sport was amplified by the overarching complications prevalent in every new, unique environment we inhabited.
With this, we were reminded of our days on the field and were reintroduced to a characteristic that is universal among all athletes: the ability to adapt. Regardless of the sport, athletes are constantly in new locations, facing unpredictable opponents or other uncontrollable variables. This ever-changing trip reminded us that the ability to tackle any new situation is deeply ingrained in us as collegiate and professional football players.
Of the five states on the trip—Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah—Montana, despite being the holy grail for many fishermen, was a remarkably tough stop. One of the primary rivers we fished was incredibly crowded with tourists and amateurs like ourselves. In recent years, the state has gained popularity, so finding a serene, private oasis isn’t as practical as it once was, which also translated to less than ideal camping conditions. This was the reality in Utah as well. Due to weather concerns, we unfortunately had to rush through Wyoming, depriving it of a fair evaluation. With one of us being local to Colorado, we were already familiar with the rivers, but with no significant, positive impact. All things considered, the state we treasured most was Idaho.
We arrived during an explosion of amber and gold; the scenery was exquisite. The mornings were crisp and fresh, followed by a blanket of afternoon warmth. Everything fell perfectly into place here. Positioned in the middle of a meadow, surrounded by a shield of changing trees, we found an optimal place to set up. When we ventured into town, we discovered the best fly shops of the trip and were welcomed by a community of fishermen we had yet to find in the states prior. Others were more than willing to provide us with insights into where they’d found success and even connected us with a highly recommended guide in the area. Not only did we catch the most fish here, but we also felt the most camaraderie and alignment with our environment.
Upon reflection, this experience was not necessarily what we had hoped for but was exactly what we needed. We were confronted with several hurdles we had to tackle as a team, unleashing a dormant part of our minds and opening us to positive new techniques for handling personal challenges in our day-to-day lives and careers. Our network expanded with the friendships we built along the way. We found peace and re-centering in breathtaking autumn landscapes, and although we didn’t leave the trip as master fishermen, we were able to win the battle against a few fish.
Cam and Harrison also collaborated with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Noah Davis, be sure to check out their conservation piece, “Montana State of Mind” as they witnessed the intensity of Big Sky fly fishing culture and learned about the conservation efforts that make these adventures possible. Check it out by clicking here. Cam and Harrison would like to thank Mossy Oak, Yakoda Supply, Emerger Fly Fishing, Peak Refuel, and Gunner Kennels. Be sure to follow Cam & Harrison on Instagram @_killacam and @harrison.creed.