BELGRADE, Mont. – President Barack Obama didn't let thunderstorms and unseasonably cool weather stop him from learning how to fish for Montana's famous trout during his weekend trip to the rustic West and its national parks.
"He insisted that fishermen fish in the rain, so he said, `Let's do it,'" fishing guide Dan Vermillion said. "The weather was really horrendous. We were all real cold at the end of the day."
The president took 2 1/2 hours after his health care town hall near Bozeman on Friday to make good on a campaign promise to learn fly fishing when he revisits the state. His guide said the commander in chief has become a serious student of the sport.
"I found him to be a real good listener. He really wanted to learn about the whole experience of fly fishing," said Vermillion, who runs the Sweetwater Fly Shop in Livingston.
Obama reported practicing the difficult-to-master mechanics of fly casting on retreats at Camp David, Vermillion said.
It paid off. The president did well for a first-timer by hooking half a dozen fish in an area mixed with brown and rainbow trout, but he didn't land any during the afternoon getaway on the East Gallatin River, his guide said.
No reporters or TV cameras were allowed on the trip. The president simply wanted to enjoy the learning experience rather than turn it into a media event, Vermillion said.
Obama used fishing gear he received as a birthday president from some avid fishermen on his staff. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, who used to work for Montana U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, helped set up the trip and fished during the Friday getaway. Press secretary Robert Gibbs joined them.
While fishing, Vermillion said he and Obama talked about everything from Montana land issues to their personal lives, and the president insisted on being called by his first name.
"We talked a lot about his family and the challenges he and Michelle face trying to keep his kids grounded in the surreal experience he lives in," he said.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer had some other advice as Obama headed off Saturday for another quintessential western experience: taking the kids to see the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park.
"I told him to watch his kids' faces, and not the geyser, and you will never forget the expression on their faces when that thing goes off," Schweitzer said in an interview. "It truly is memorable."
The first family also plans to tour Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona on Sunday.