One Fly makes fishing a way to preserve fish

(JHnewsandguide)-"The fish hit at exactly 3:58 p.m. The fishing was slow. So slow that the guide was 10 minutes into telling us about his evening plans. I had fallen into a desultory routine — cast toward the bank, mend, strip, mend strip, pick-up. Do it again. On the second day of the Jackson Hole One Fly, after thousands of casts, and with two minutes left in the tournament, you should be forgiven for falling into a routine.

Unless a fish hits at that moment. And it was a big fish — at least 19 inches long — the kind of fish that saves you from ridicule as the anchor-weight on a team that is knocking on the door of a top-three finish. I brought the fish to the boat, and watched as the guide swiped and missed with his net. The fish popped off, and at 4 p.m., the One Fly was over.

One could be forgiven for thinking the One Fly, a fishing tournament where you fish a single fly all day long, and which is coming back to Jackson this week, is all about trout fishing — but that would be the equivalent of saying we fish in order to catch fish.

Fishing is, of course, part of the fun, but only a small part. Watching the guides work their boats is a joy. The fellowship with the other anglers is a blast. I spent more time laughing than fishing on the first day with my partner, Joe DeBriyn, an accomplished attorney, exceptional angler and the chairman of the event. The fishing and camaraderie are further enhanced by the fact that the Snake and the headwaters of Yellowstone are among the prettiest rivers in the country.

What makes the One Fly most special, however, is that it helps to protect the finest native trout fishery in the West. There are places elsewhere in Wyoming, California, Montana and Idaho where an angler might catch more or bigger fish, but there is no place in the West outside of Alaska where you can catch as many large native trout — fine-spotted cutthroat and Yellowstone cutthroat — as you can in the Snake and the headwaters of the Yellowstone.

Since its inception the One Fly has helped to support about $2 million worth of habitat restoration projects in the region, helping to leverage an additional $14 million in resources from state and federal agencies, foundations and private philanthropy.

Trout Unlimited, in no small way inspired by the One Fly, created the Headwaters of the Snake River Home Rivers Initiative two years ago to help recover native trout in the tributaries of the Upper Snake such as the Salt, the Gros Ventre and other fantastic rivers that feed the Upper Snake. Over the past decade we have used One Fly support on nearly a dozen projects. Today the One Fly Foundation is helping recover Tincup Creek, an important tributary to the Salt River. The poisoning of willows in the 1950s caused the creek’s streambanks to erode and become channelized. By recreating the meanders and restoring the stream side area, Tincup Creek will once again become important spawning and rearing habitat for native cutthroat trout.

The One Fly Foundation also supported an ambitious restoration of several tributaries in the Upper Gros Ventre River. The land was slated to be donated to the U.S. Forest Service, but trout were absent because irrigation practices of 100 years ago had disconnected the tributary streams in the otherwise pristine area. Trout Unlimited worked with partners to reconnect and restore streams on nearly 1,000 acres of land. Native cutthroat should be back before the start of the next One Fly.

Good fishing doesn’t just happen. It is the result of anglers who understand the importance of giving back to the rivers and streams that give us so much joy, and ask for so little in return. I am looking forward to fishing in the One Fly again this week; in part, to redeem my performance of last year, but mostly to play a small role in helping to protect and restore the finest native trout fishery in the West.

Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, a national nonprofit conservation organization working to protect, restore and reconnect cold-water headwaters across the country for native fish. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors."

This article first appeared in the September 5th, 2018 Jackson Hole News and Guide Weekly Edition 'Guest Shot' series.