Angst and Irony in Utah

Last year I had the opportunity to take a contract flying trip to Ogden, UT. I’d never heard of Ogden before and had only visited Salt Lake and Moab prior to this trip. All I knew was that there would most likely be some sort of fish-able water in the area. In my previous visits to Salt Lake City I had never thought to bring a fly rod and that was something I would remedy this time.

My research showed that Ogden, as it turns out, is a vibrant town approximately ½ way between Salt Lake City and the southern Idaho border, just to the west of, and right at, the bases of the Wasatch Range of mountains. It’s breath-taking, to put it mildly. This made it even more compelling to agree to the trip, in addition, of course, to 2 days of contract pilot pay.

Rent This Rod had just come into existence and I thought it would be a great idea to bring along one of our rental rods to get some photos for our social media audience. At the time that Rent This Rod first launched we were carrying the G. Loomis Asquith – one of, if not THE most expensive production rods available, but a great casting and good looking rod nonetheless (and for what it’s worth, Loomis doesn’t compensate me to say that). I packed my fishing duffel the night before, complete with waders, boots, rod and reel.

The day of the trip, I woke up with my alarm at 4AM in order grab a quick shower, get dressed, drive to where the aircraft was stationed, meet up with the other crew member, and be ready for a 7AM wheels-up time. It was about a 1.5 hour drive to the airport where the plane was located, adding to an already long day.

I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post that I moonlight as a contract pilot. I most typically fly a turboprop, Pilatus PC12 (the family truckster of airplanes), but this trip would see my flying as second-in-command on a 1982 model Falcon 20 jet. I’d flown this aircraft for several years between 2008 and 2012, ultimately getting my Airline Transport Professional (ATP) rating on the type. This of course added to my desire to do the trip – reuniting with an old bird that I’d spent several hundreds of hours of my life in, in years prior.

7AM came around and our passengers rolled up. We began the day with an on-time departure – things were off on the right track. 

Because it was winter, the headwinds flying westward were significantly stronger than in warmer months. All combined, it was about a 5 hour, uneventful flight to get to Utah, and that’s when the “fun” started…

Like any competent aviators, we’d gotten a weather briefing and checked the Ogden forecast long before we actually departed for Utah. We knew the wind was going to kick up a bit around our arrival time but once we were “in-range” and able to listen to the automated weather recording on the radio, I was astounded to hear that the wind was holding steady around 25 knots and with gusts up to 40 knots. Unreal! 

It’s hard enough landing a 21,000-pound jet in gusty crosswinds so you can imagine the difficulty in casting a fly rod in those kind of conditions.

Nevertheless, we survived the approach and landing and once we had gotten settled at our downtown hotel an hour or so later, the captain (my good friend, Larry) offered for me to take our sole rental car and go have some fun. I gratefully accepted his offer, loaded my fishing gear in the trunk and drove into the nearby town of Roy, Utah to visit Anglers Den fly shop to get some flies and a Utah fishing license, but more importantly, some intel on where I might throw some casts to trout, out of the wind. The nice folks that worked at the shop suggested I drive up into Ogden Canyon (about 25 minutes from my hotel) in an attempt to get out of the wind, and fish the Ogden River that flows out of the Pineview Reservoir. This all sounded like the legitimate best thing to do. $30 later (the cost of a short-term UT fishing license plus some flies), I departed the shop and headed for Ogden Canyon.

It was a picturesque drive for sure and once in the Canyon, the road snaked along the river with numerous pull-offs. I actually drove past the spot that I eventually turned around for. I was the only car to park at the pull-off I selected, and now that I think about it – I can guarantee I was the only person fishing the Ogden River that day.

I got out of the parked car and immediately noticed the wind. While not nearly as extreme as it was at the airport or in town, it was still howling. BUT – the way I looked at it, I traveled 7 hours across the country to fish and that’s exactly what I was going to do! 

I popped open the trunk and pulled out my fishing bag. Waders – check. Wading boots – check. Flies – check. Reel – check. Rod. Rod? Where’s my fly rod? I looked in the back seat – nada. Front seat – nope. I didn’t have it. DAMN IT! Think, Dave. Did I even bring it? The toll it takes to get up at 4AM and travel across time zones was starting to affect my memory. I couldn’t honestly remember if I had actually taken the Asquith out of my truck in NC and put it in the plane, or if I had simply left the rod in the airplane’s lavatory storage area after we’d landed in Ogden. 

Now, what to do…

I could drive all the way back in to town, rendezvous with Larry (if he wasn’t taking a nap), get the airplane key, go to the airport to look for the rod, and then drive all the way back to my fishing spot. Yeah right – that would take at least an hour, likely longer. If I did that, my time on the water would be cut significantly short – something I wasn’t willing to do. 

I then remembered that I passed by a Walmart on my way to the river…

Ahh, Walmart – they have everything a person could want or need. I left the river and drove straight there, only taking about 15 minutes. Most Walmarts have sporting departments with several isles of equipment ranging from kayaks, shotguns, tents, life jackets, etc, but with a very small fraction of an aisle devoted to fly fishing. The Ogden Walmart was no exception. My choices were limited. I could buy a complete setup (rod, reel, line, leader, and flies) for the low, low price of $89.99 or I could buy a fly rod-only for $39.99. I went with the cheaper option. It even had “Cortland” on the clear plastic rod tube – a name synonymous with fly fishing for more than a few decades. Truth be told I was planning to fish with it “lightly” and then return it at the end of the day. I know, I know – shame on me, right? I didn’t care.  I was now over $70 invested in this fishing outing and I was determined to make it work any way I could.

20 minutes later I was back at my fishing spot and still the only fool out fishing the Ogden that day. I suited up (again), and rigged up the fine (sarcasm) 8’ 5/6wt rod I’d acquired and walked down the embankment to the water waiting for me below. The Ogden River, in the area I’d stopped to fish, mostly consisted of areas of pocket water surrounded by riffles and more than steadily flowing water. The river itself was only about 15 feet wide, so I wouldn’t need to make long casts – fine by me, considering I’d left the fast-as-lightning Asquith elsewhere and was now having to use an unproven rug-beater that I’d picked up at the local big-box store. That’s when part of the immense irony of the situation hit me. Here I was, the co-founder of a fly rod business that specializes in renting premium (read, expensive) rods, fishing with an object on the complete opposite end of the fly rod spectrum. I chuckled at myself and just shook my head.

The wind continued to howl above me, through the canyon, as I made my first few back-casts upstream. I was throwing a bead-head hare’s ear nymph and letting it drift through the deeper runs. After about 5 minutes of this I was ready to cross over the stream and switch from a back-cast to my more comfortable, and preferred, front cast. I waded across the small stream relatively easily and positioned myself below a deep pool at the bottom of a narrow and short run. I pulled enough line out from the reel to reach the spot I wanted to drift and as I brought the rod back and began to advance it in a cast, the wind quite literally grabbed hold of my light-weight fly and carried it up to a tree branch about 10 feet above my head, where it stuck fast.

If you know me at all, you’ve probably heard me say that in fly fishing, more than in any other situation, I’m always amazed at how quickly things can go from bad to completely FUBAR in the blink of an eye. Generally, I’m referring to knots or tangles, especially when it comes to tippets or fine leaders. My wife accuses me of being a bit over-dramatic…

So, my fly was stuck above me, out of my reach. Like any rational person, I began with light tugs on the fly line to see if I could pull it free. Nada. Tried a little more forcefully. Nothing. I couldn’t even bend the branch down low enough for me to grab it. I put ever so slightly more pressure on the rod and line to try and snap the fly off… and that’s when the tippet broke. 

In that fraction of a second, the rod tip flew downward from all the torque I had applied and instantly snapped off on a rock jutting an inch out of the water.

It took about 5 seconds for the reality to hit me, and when it did – a stream of obscenities flowed from my mouth like opening a shaken-up can of Coke. I was completely livid. I can usually play it cool under stress and disappointment but this instance did me in. In a furious rant, I also realized my ability to return the rod to Walmart was essentially null and void. I realized I had sunk over $70 into a 20-minute fishing trip, after literally traveling across the US to get to the river that morning. The wind, the drive out to the river (twice), the fact that I’d misplaced my Asquith - It all culminated into one meager attempt to level the playing field. At the top of my lungs I yelled out “ F%*K YOU, UTAH!!!” (sorry mom, dad, God)

I took that Cortland rod and broke it 3 more times over my knee – the butt section being surprisingly harder that I had thought it would be. I crossed the river, walked back up to my rental car, and put the scene in my rear view as fast as I could. I drove back to my hotel, still fuming. It took several hours and a couple beers at a micro-brewery/gastro pub nearby for me to get my nerves down. 

The next morning, I found the Asquith right where I’d packed it - in the corner of the airplane lavatory. We flew back east later that day.

You want to know the really funny part? That Walmart rod didn’t cast half bad…