When I was asked to write the guide’s article for this year’s One Fly event, I was stunned. Like a deer in headlights, I didn’t know how to react. Feelings of excitement and gratitude for the opportunity were tethered to a weighted sense of responsibility I did not feel ready for. Looking back, I realized that this overwhelming combination of emotions is something that has been with me every day for the past year.
My journey to the One Fly started with Spencer Morton, the founder of Jackson Hole Fly Fishing School. Like most, I was captivated when I first met Spencer. His presence brought a sense of comradery from the first time we shook hands, and I knew immediately that he was someone I wanted to emulate. As time went on, the bond between Spencer and I continued to grow. He gave me an opportunity to work in my passion and taught me how to share it with others. He not only helped open the door for me but was waiting on the other side to make sure I didn’t get lost. One of Spencer’s favorite quotes was from Lefty Kreh who said, “Never display knowledge, share it.” Spencer was the epitome of this quote, and he encouraged his instructors to live by the same mantra.
I was fortunate enough to work alongside Spencer for 4 years. Under his mentorship, I not only continued to progress as a fly-fishing instructor but also learned the ins and outs of operating a fly-fishing business. Together, we continued to grow JHFFS and were constantly building upon the list of dreams we had for the future. My mentorship under Spencer ended May 10th, 2021 when he suddenly passed away.
The loss of Spencer was felt across so many communities. It seemed like the world had paused. However, we quickly realized the harsh reality that our season was already in motion, and it was now up to our team to carry on Spencer’s legacy. The next day it was straight to work covering outgoing schools and preparing the team for a season that was already at our doorstep. As the following weeks progressed, it was a constant balancing act between focusing on the business, attending memorial events, and visiting with everyone who knew and loved Spencer. The more people I met, the more questions I received about the future of our company. Trying my best to act like everything was going to be ok, I assured everyone that we were going to carry on business as usual and continue growing Spencer’s vision. The truth was, Spencer and I used to work around the clock just to keep the business going through a normal season. Now, he wasn’t here, and I felt like a kid standing in Dad’s muck boots. I was now living each day with an unwavering drive to make Spencer proud while also trying to cope with the huge sense of responsibility I did not feel ready for.
Although obstacles were waiting for us around every corner, we continued to adapt and pulled off one of the best seasons in our company's history. Not a single trip was canceled, every review was 5 stars, and many of our instructors broke previous company records for the number of schools led in a single season. Words cannot describe how proud I am of our team. Without them, none of this would have been possible. Thanks, boys! My biggest thank you, however, is owed to our current owner Melissa Morton. Through all of this and with baby Eloise on the way, Melissa forged ahead, making sure not a single trip was out of place as we scrambled our way through the season. Thank you, Melissa!
Somewhere in the mix of all this, Jimmy and I had our first ever One Fly tournament to guide in!! Jimmy is one of our head instructors and joined the company the same year I did. We both learned everything we know from Spencer, and that certainly includes the importance of participating in the One Fly. Spencer LOVED the One Fly. For a guy like him, what’s not to love? It’s a conservation focused tournament that sets a spectacular stage for competition….of course, he won it! In 2013, Spencer scored 1506 points in Wilson to South Park and won top Wyoming guide. I was still graduating high school, so I cannot say this with certainty, but I truly believe Spencer is one of the few, if not only, guides to ever participate in the One Fly without a single butterfly in his stomach. He loved competing, he loved conservation, he loved the community, and the One Fly brings all that together.
Jimmy and I, on the other hand, had plenty of nerves to spare. As days between us and the tournament continued to pass by, we realized more and more just how badly we wanted to prove we were ready. We weren't there to represent ourselves. We were there to represent Spencer and the entire JHFFS team. We swallowed our nerves and showed up ready to guide our asses off.
When I met my crew on day 1, we went through the usual introductions and discussed strategies for the day. We put the boat on the water, rowed to a holding position, and waited for fishing hour to strike. As we waited, more conversations started, and my whole world came full circle. The gentleman sitting in the front of my boat was Jonathan Lancaster, an angler whose team won the One Fly in 2013 with more than a little help from Spencer. Needless to say, we started sharing stories and practically forgot the tournament was about to begin. It was amazing to hear stories from Spencer's One Fly days, as I was moments away from the start of my own. With a quick refocusing and newfound bond, we were off and running. Streamers were the play for us. I had spoken with Jonathan the night before, hoping to convince him to fish a streamer. After one mention of the word, he was completely on board. I have watched a lot of people fish a streamer. I used to watch Spencer fish streamers. I have never seen anyone fish a streamer like Jonathan. When we were on the phone the night before I said “Jonathan, I’m gonna work my ass off to put you in front of as many fish as I can. I’m counting on you to catch them.” Not only did he catch them…he showed me I still had a lot to learn about streamer fishing! We racked up 550 points on his card alone. I could not have asked for a better first experience, and we both agreed it felt like Spencer was smiling down on us the entire day. That was the highlight of the tournament for me. I went on to have a slower second day but was very pleased to see Jonathan’s team go on to win top amateur team.
Although my first tournament was behind me, my relationship with the One Fly was really just beginning. Over the next couple of months, members from the event began reaching out. The first was Mike Dawkins. Mike and I were already friends, as he helped me integrate with the fly fishing community during my first years in Jackson. He was calling to share that the One Fly Foundation was interested in creating a new award and scholarship program in Spencer's name. The goal of the scholarship had to align with Spencer’s passion, and I couldn’t think of a better way than focusing on helping kids get out fly fishing. Thanks to Mike and the One Fly Foundation, this new award and scholarship was brought to fruition. Each year, lucky participants will be selected to receive this scholarship by the Coombs foundation. With this scholarship, they will attend Jackson Hole Fly Fishing School’s 3-day trout school where we hope to foster a lifelong passion for our resources through the sport of fly fishing.
Next, I received a call from John Holland. John had recently been in contact with Andy Mill who was networking in hopes of expanding his ongoing JR fly fishing program. Andy had already made great efforts with this program in the saltwater community but wanted to see it grow to mountain towns across the country. When John called me to say he thought we would be the perfect candidate to help, I could not have agreed more. Making fly fishing fun and accessible to all is the mission of JHFFS and the vision upon which Spencer built the company. Furthermore, we want to help promote being stewards of our resources, and what better place to start than with the next generation in charge of caring for them. After a few conversations about how we could help, JHFFS teamed up with Andy and his JR fly fishers program to offer free youth fly fishing seminars, helping kids engage with our resources through fly fishing. JHFFS plans to host these seminars every other Saturday, June through August, at our Schoolhouse on the Snake.
Finally, as all this was going on, I also received an email from Jonathan. Excited to catch up and filled with fond memories of our time shared on the water, I opened the email and started reading. As I read, the all too familiar feeling of excitement mixed with overwhelming responsibility settled in. Jonathan was reaching out as a board member of the One Fly Foundation asking if I would help write the Guide’s Corner article for this year’s event. It’s silly to think I would let one small article feel so important. But the way I look at it, just like my participation in the tournament, I am not representing just myself. I am representing Spencer Morton and the entire Jackson Hole Fly Fishing School team. This is a responsibility I did not know if I was ready for. Now, looking back at all the things we have achieved in the past year thanks to our team, Melissa, and the One Fly Foundation, I can proudly say that Jackson Hole Fly Fishing School will continue to carry on Spencer’s legacy and show up ready to compete for years to come.