When I'm asked why I came to Montana, my answer is "I always wanted to be a cowboy"........
While I was in a university in Tokyo, Japan, I started fly-fishing. Back then (and still is), the stereotypical fly-fishing in Japan was to fish small mountain streams for native Yamame (indigenous trout with very silky touch) and Iwana (char like brook trout). Before I got into that, I learned to fish carp in a Tokyo suburb river. That was really fun and I still think that was the very foundation of my fly-fishing. Carp weren't dumb. I had to learn precise presentation and mending. And the first fly pattern I learned was a "dry white yarn egg" that imitated foams that they were rising to. Once hooked, carp were so strong and ran like there would be no next minutes!! Even to this day, this tug-of-war experience helps me bring some big trout that I encounter once in a while.
I came to Montana State University - Bozeman in 2000. I studied Animal Science and graduated with a Masters' degree. Of course, I had known that this was the area where "A River Runs Through It" was filmed. However, I had a strong will and mission that I was there to study and pursue my degree. I studied very hard. For some courses, I even covered undergraduate levels (by myself). Not to mention, I kept learning and developing my English as well. I wrote a Masters' thesis and graduated in December 2002. During this time, I didn't have money for hobbies either. So fly-fishing in the Big Sky Country had to be paused (little did I know I would come back in several years later). But I'm very proud of myself studying so hard. If the carp fishing in Tokyo is my backbone of my fly-fishing, these two years of hard work is the backbone and fundamental of my American life.
After graduation, in 2003, the next chapter of my life started. Like any other American students, I had hard times and difficulties to find a job and settle somewhere. I came to know a rancher in northeastern Montana and worked for his ranch. It was a short gig till I could find something more viable. Indeed that went on for the next several months. I was even on the road with my old Toyota and hopped around friends' houses and motels too. It wasn't a pleasant time of my life. I ended up in western Nevada, near California border. I got a job as an artificial insemination technician for dairy (milking) heifers. This was where I was finally able to settle in. After two years, I moved to central California with a more specified position/company as an AI technician. It was a career advancement however, the life and job in California were very hard and wouldn't be my things though I tried. This gig lasted just over a year. I considered moving back to Montana and would try a cowboy again. Time was everything and I came to know the other company in the industry. They offered me a position in eastern Washington and I decided to give one more try. In January 2007, I moved to Yakima Valley in Washington and settled in a town called Prosser.
Looking back, the funny thing was that, both in Nevada and California, I was close to popular trout fishing streams/destinations that I learned later on with magazines. But then again, I didn't have time. Yakima Valley and eastern WA were not as big as Montana but it was much better than California. Yakima River runs through Prosser and I learned lots of fly-fishing could be done in the area. Job was much less stressful. With that finally I got money and time to resume my fly-fishing!!
I fished around eastern WA streams. At that point, I wasn't much interested in lakes that were plenty in the area (I often see some of those lakes in recent magazine articles). I first went to Rocky Ford Creek in Ephrata. It's a unique fishery. I recall, the very first time I went there = fly-fishing in a very very while = I had no clues of what I was doing and fell into the muskrat hole. But that was a wakeup call. From the second time and on, I got a hang of the stream and fly-fishing in general. Very soon, I got a very big triploid trout!!
At the beginning, I wasn't quite interested in Yakima River, which was considered one of top blue ribbon trout streams in the state. Perhaps because it looked too big for wading around. Instead I was attracted to some of its tributaries. I immediately and immensely fell in love with Westslope Cutthroat trout.
I also camped and fished a couple of similar sized streams in further east. I also resumed fly-tying. As all of my previous tying experience was long gone, I thought I might be able to tie right-handed. Not really.......... I tie left-handed as I've been and as I do many other things in life.
Life was good. However, something was missing.......... Brown trout!! As far as I knew and researched, there was no brown trout streams nearby or in WA. I started dreaming of catching brown trout. Suddenly it occurred to me that why wouldn't I visit Montana, where I lived but couldn't fish back then, and try brown trout........... September, 2007, I took a leave from the job and visited West Yellowstone, MT. I hired a guide. I fished a couple of Yellowstone National Park streams (technically Wyoming but who cares) and caught a brown trout!!
In 2008, 2009, and 2010, I made lots of trips like this. I visited West Yellowstone and Livingston. I hired guide service to fish Madison and Yellowstone Rivers. From West Yellowstone, I fished Madison, Firehole, Gibbon Rivers and a few other waters within Yellowstone Park. In Livingston, I fished spring creeks = DePuy's, Armstrong's, and Nelson's.
I kept fishing aforementioned eastern WA streams too. Plus I finally started to learn and fish Yakima River in and around Ellensburg.
My fly tying kept improving through those years. I don't recall I bought flies (except some samples so I can mimic). I very much supplied my own flies for my own fishing.
I fished with nymphs (bobber & two nymphs!), streamers (articulated ones with sinking lines), and then dry-fly fishing, of course.
There are so many memories and photographs during this period, which I had been summarizing on a blog: https://leftyangler.blogspot.com (this was formerly linked under Blog/Fishing Report. As years passed by, this format grew too old. I intend to keep it as long as Blogspot itself exists.)
Again, life was good. Job seemed steady. But the life continuously evolves whether we like or not, or whether we intend or not. By summer 2010, I felt I was repeating the similar patterns, almost all like routines, for fishing in eastern WA and visiting MT/YNP. Perhaps I would look further west toward the coast and try steelhead and salmon? Then my employment conditions changed. I don't go details but one thing I can mention is that there had been no improvements in dairy industry, been involved for 7 full years. Same cycles (of dramas and stories) that I grew tired of. I resigned in October 2010. Of course, my fly-fishing was the part of this decision. In September, I was fishing one of tributaries of Yakima River. With 6-wt rod, streamers, and full-sinking line, I was targeting larger Westslope Cutthroat. By larger, I mean 14 to 16 inches that look good on the blog!! As I was stripping streamers, I felt I snagged a log or rock. Next moment, this supposed log started to move upstream.........!? It was a humongous fish!! Brown trout!? No, there couldn't be. Then.....it must be salmon!!?? My knees buckled like Elvis Presley from overexcitement and fear. I chased him upstream, rushing on the bank. It wasn't an ideal stretch for "beaching". Certainly my net hanging in the back was useless. Yet I found a tiny break on the bank where I could pull him in, otherwise I wouldn't know if there would be any more structures like that upstream and getting afraid of line or knot breaking. I was able to drag him in........ It was a fresh run King Salmon with the scent of ocean.
It measured 34-inch long and estimated 20-pound or so. I was fishing with a short leader composed of 20- and 15-pound test plus the streamer was tied on a salmon hook. From the mouth of Columbia River to where I was would be over 400 miles on the road distance. Besides that immense distance, he must have had passed more than several dams/ladders and all kinds of fishing tricks posed by human. I was so moved. And I felt "this is it. I caught most fish imaginable and available in this part of WA".
I was ready to move on for the new chapter of my life........
I wanted to move back to Montana. Through my fishing trips, I knew Bozeman had been developing (still going on), not what I knew, and rental property was more expensive than other towns. Also I learned that West Yellowstone had been basically a tourism town and would be very hard to just move in and make living there. I knew I wanted to live in Livingston, which had not been much different from what I remembered. I found a small rental house. I did not have jobs. I saved up some money during those four years. I would be OK for a year or two. I could fish around and see what would happen. I did have some ideas of what I could do and what might work for me though. My original idea was to be involved in beef/ranch breeding. This would be a seasonal job, spring and early summer, may be a limited amount in winter. I relied on a few connections through my previous employment and get to know some people. This seemed to be a viable "something to do" for a short period of a year. What could I do for the rest of the year? How about..............guiding? Sure, I would have been a very good fly-fisher in armature class but could I try? I knew this would be another seasonal job even if (BIG if) it would work out through summer. "You live only once" - that's the ultimate truth in our life. I decided to give a shot. It may not work out for me and I may have to look for a job, including getting back to cattle industry. Whatever would happen, if I could swear to myself that I gave my best, there would be nothing to regret or waste. I talked around a couple of fly-shops and outfitters and I obtained a Montana state guide license in the spring of 2011. I purchased a drift boat (and trailer) as well.
The year 2011.............. it was historically one of the highest snow accumulations and consequently highest flows in all the Montana streams. Yellowstone River was not ready to float until mid August. Even long time guides/outfitters were struggling to get guide trips in June and July. It was very hard to be a "new guy". I only had one official guide trip that summer. I still had some money from my saving and a cattle breeding job in that spring. All I could do was to go and fish Yellowstone National Park streams and float Yellowstone River with a few guides I befriended to improve my rowing and get to know the river.
It was miserable and disappointing. However one chance meeting changed the course of my guiding pursuit (it wasn't a career at all at that point)................
Toward the end of 2011 season, at one of fly-shops in town, I met Tom Travis. I had not really known who he was but I had already read some of his online articles. I even printed out and highlighted some. He's been guiding the area since before I was even born.
Now, clock back a bit. Though I talked to some shops and outfitters in the area, I really did not have any mentor figures. I did ask them some questions about fishing and guiding but their answers? Nothing useful. They may not have seen me as a guide, may not have wanted to associate with me, or perhaps may have wanted to keep certain things secret. But, to be blunt and honest, they just didn't seem to have answers or wouldn't take guiding seriously as a "professional" job. "Professional guides", that's what the most shop websites say, isn't it?
Tom was different from the very beginning.
July 19th, 2021. My story goes on........... I keep updating! Please check back later!