A River Runs Through It





A few weeks ago, I was invited by Patagonia on a trip to Idaho for a couple of days to learn how to flyfish. I jumped at the opportunity, having wanted to try the sport ever since seeing Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It”, and guessing a major swag bag was in store. I was told the founder of the company, Yvon Chouinard, who was writing a book called “Simple Fly Fishing”, would be there, and that we would be learning a new technique of flyfishing called Tenkara. What I didn’t know was that “YC”, as he is called, would be hanging out with us the entire time and be our teacher.

Yvon Chouinard is a legend in the outdoor industry and sport world. He is an accomplished rock climber, surfer, kayaker, falconer, and fly fisherman, and his contributions to those sports are recognized worldwide — as is his dedication to environmentalism. Patagonia is considered one of, if not the, most successful outdoor brands. Their integration and promotion of environmentalism is a founding tenet of the company and of particular focus at present.

A recent Patagonia ad in the New York Times read “It’s Fashion Week, when the design world turns its attention to what’s new. We’d like to point out something better: what lasts. While we’re proud of the quality and performance of Patagonia clothes, every new thing we make – everything anyone makes – costs nature more than we now know how to repay.”

This ad launched their “Worn Wear” blog, featuring vintage Patagonia clothes, their owners and adventures, in addition to used-clothing sections in several of their stores. The campaign is part of their Common Threads Partnership to reduce consumption and encourage repair and recycling. Ironcially, the more Patagonia tells people not to buy new products, the more people buy.

So here I was at the Goat Mountain Ranch in Ashton, Idaho, with a river running through it, and the opportunity to learn to fish from this 74-year-old icon. For Chouinard the basis of sustainabilty is simplicity and the fishing book he is writing, “Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel”, he told us is a metaphor for society. “The whole idea of consuming and discarding endlessly has to go away”, he said. “We have to go back to living a simple life”.

Flyfishing has become an increasingly complicated sport with a lots of high tech and expensive components, but Chouinard argues that the better you get at a sport the more simple it should be. Tenkara, an old Japanese style of flyfishing, consists of a telescoping rod without a reel. They are made of carbon fiber and are about 2 feet long when stored, but fold out into varying lengths from 8-11 1/2 feet. The rod is extremely flexible, so when you catch a fish, it bends and you can simply grab the line to pull the fish in. For newcomers like me and those more experienced, it’s a refreshing return to the basics.

Patagonia is launching a new line of women’s flyfishing gear and apparel this spring, as well as a line of Tenkara rods designed by Chouinard in conjunction with Temple Fork Outfitters. They are counting on women to gravitate to this style of flyfishing as our approach to the sport tends to be different from men. The consensus is for women it’s a more contemplative sport, while for men it’s a combat sport.

While I was thrilled to learn to cast, and caught (and released) quite a few little rainbow trout, I would have been just as happy catching nothing, standing in my waders in the middle of that river on a beautiful September day, water babbling down around me, with views of the Tetons in the distance. Their philosophy is you need people to love rivers because you protect what you love.

Walking down to the river for my fishing lesson, I joked with YC that he didn’t have a rod. I asked him if his mastery of the sport and the simple life was such that he didn’t even need one to catch a fish. I was glad he had a laugh and didn’t take himself too seriously, although I think I caught a glimpse of contemplation on the possibility of that one.