Fish the Fifty
The setting of a challenge to fish – and more importantly catch a fish - in all fifty states of the USA was surely madness... but for two Brits, Jonathan Bell and Richie Owens it was ‘game on’ and you can now join in and read their exploits as they attempt to ‘Fish the Fifty’
We can't remember with certainty where the idea was conceived, though our hazy recollections suggest that it was probably in a bar somewhere in the Deep South. And, after all, we had already chalked off two states. All we needed to do was add another 48. That's right, we were going to catch a fish - and hopefully a lot more - in all fifty states of the US. A decent challenge for two relatively inexperienced fishermen from England. That's not strictly true as Richie, my former colleague and long time buddy, moved from London to the Big Apple a couple of years ago; but even so...
So the plot was hatched - fish all fifty states, avoid the ignominy of being 'skunked' (a wonderful American term that captures the failure to catch a fish quite nicely) and enjoy the incredible landscapes that Uncle Sam has to offer along the way. Oh, and do it all over the next decade just in time for our fiftieth birthdays; we could even make Hawaii the '50'th state...
Two years on and we are pleased to report strong progress. We have now completed our eleventh state; we have yet to be skunked, we have had some great fun along the way and we now look forward to all of you joining us in this ongoing diary series.
Although our goal to 'Fish the Fifty' remains in its infancy, it has already taken us to some amazing places. The California Zephyr - the train that follows Amtrak's longest route - took us from Chicago to Denver, before we drove through the Rocky Mountains, passing the Great Divide (which separates the watersheds of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans), and the source of the mighty Colorado River; we have fished crystal clear lakes in Wyoming; and we have fished for salmon on Lake Michigan from a boat captained by former college basketball player, Ian Stewart (www.salukispride.com). The calm waters of the lake provided a great contrast with the high-rise backdrop of America's third largest city. In fact, we often combine the natural beauty of rural America with stays in some of its biggest cities - New York, Denver and Boston.
Just as the project gives us an opportunity to explore the length and breadth of America, it is our intention to do as much variety of fishing as possible. Frustrating and rewarding in equal measure, there's something magical about fly fishing for trout. Indeed, in more than half of the states we have chalked off to date, this is what we have been doing: French nymphing and dry flying, and trying to improve our casting. There's little more pleasing than casting a dry fly forty feet over the water, dropping it just above a trout's nose, then setting the hook and bringing the fish in, just like Richie did in Massachusetts recently.
For our first taste of fly fishing, which took place on the Toccoa River in Georgia, we were guided by Bob Borgwat (www.reelanglingadventures.com). Bob showed tremendous patience with us, as he untangled various flies from riverside trees. Under Bob's tutelage, we soon caught some nice rainbow and brook trout, before spending the next day on his speed boat hurtling across Lake Blue Ridge while clinging on to our hats. We also took the opportunity to sample many of Atlanta's craft ale pubs, such as The Porter in the heart of Little Five Points. With some of those beers containing over 10% alcohol, a degree of haziness was inevitable.
On our next trip, Jonathan Wright (www.estesparkmountainshop.com) accompanied us in the Upper Big Thompson River in the Rocky Mountains, near the town of Estes Park. Across incredibly slippery stones, we waded in pursuit of fish and were finally rewarded with a small brook trout.
This wading trip remains our most challenging to date as the stones beneath our feet were very slippery and the current relatively strong. As the Fern Lake Trailhead is also home to black bears, we approached the riverbank in unusual fashion - making as much noise as possible. Advice written on signs was very clear - if attacked by a bear, fight back...
Thankfully, this situation never arose. However, we did happen to see the remains of freshly slain mountain lion kill (an elk, rather than a human) by the riverside - a gentle reminder that in the rural wilderness, we are all part of the food chain.
Steve Brown (www.emeraldwateranglers.com) rowed us several miles down the incredible Roaring Fork - a tributary of the Colorado River - in what was arguably our most successful trip to date. In beautiful weather conditions, and in tandem with another boat, we cast flies left, right and centre and were rewarded with a great haul of browns and rainbows. We really didn't want to leave the river as it was such great fun. Steve is a Colorado native and he knows those rivers like the back of his hand. Lifting our rods from the shallow water whenever Steve shouted 'holding pattern' and, moments later, casting them back into his favoured spots, we caught many fish. The trees that lined that particular stretch of river also contained several Bald Eagles, the first we had seen.
The response to our project has been tremendous, particularly in the United States. The feedback we have had so far tells us that what we are doing is amazing, or crazy, and it just goes to show that there is often a fine line between the two.
A few weeks ago we read that Puerto Rico was intending to become America's 51st state. Much as we could just about live with some of the minor consequences - changing our project name, etc - the additional cost might take a little longer to come to terms with. Anyway, it seems that this is something of a long running saga and, for now, Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory, rather than a state, of the US. And, even if it does one day become so, history tells us that our resulting trip will be more than worthwhile.