Fifty fish, fifty states – on a fly rod

Robert L. Ortiz | The Southern Ute Drum

My quest to catch a fish on my fly rod in all 50 states was not a spur of the moment thought. It evolved, slowly, over a number of years. Before becoming a fly fishing guide I had fly fished in five states while on family vacations. After becoming a guide, and having free time before and after the guiding season, I began to fish more states on various road trips. At some point, during one of these trips, I made a decision to catch a fish, using my fly rod, in all 50 states. I didn’t have to start all over, just fly fish the states I hadn’t already fished. It turned out to be easier said than done.

The other states took a time span of 23 years. Some years I would fish five or six states, other years none. This past winter I realized I was down to the last seven states. I asked she who must be obeyed (Swmbo) if she minded if I fly-fished my way to victory, and would she like to accompany me? Swmbo answered, “No and No”. I was told to take Suzette, (my gps unit) and go for it.

Before heading out on my two-week fly fishing trip, Suzette and I came to an agreement. I would follow her directions, even if I thought they were wrong. (Only once were they wrong.) She, in-turn, agreed as I sang along with thousands of country and rock and roll songs, that I had perfect pitch. We also, by mutual agreement, decided that what happened in the truck, stayed in the truck. Seemed fair to me; we were off.

The seven states that I needed were Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. First to fall was Kansas. I believe most people, who haven’t been to Kansas, envision it as a state flat as pancake. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While some of it is flat, much of it is comprised of rolling hills. The rolling hills are home to any number of state parks with lakes to fly fish. I found a state park, east of Kansas City, that was fishable from the shore. Not only was it fishable from the shore, it held lots of fish. I caught my share of bass and pan-fish.

Missouri was fished in a city park, in Kansas City, on the Missouri side of the border. I fished a beautiful stream that flows through Kansas City. Next to the stream is a great walking path that makes several miles of the stream accessible. The stream is very wadable with lots of areas that hold fish. Here again, I caught bass and pan-fish. As I left Kansas City, heading north, I found a beautiful municipal park with a great looking pond. I stopped and found pan-fish willing to take a popper.

From Missouri I drove to a Bed & Breakfast in Wisconsin, then on to fish Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Iowa and Minnesota were fished from the Mississippi River. That part of the country had received heavy rains and the Mississippi River was positive proof of that, with high and muddy water. However, my guide had a bass boat, so we were able to navigate the river. Minnesota yielded a fish I had never caught on a fly rod. I caught a gar. Iowa coughed up bass. The next day my guide took me to a small river in Wisconsin for trout fishing. Here I caught brown trout on dry flies, which made me miss home.

The next two days were the highlight of my trip. I stayed in Wisconsin and fly fished with a family friend I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. He and his lovely wife wined and dined me as we caught up and reminisced about the old days. I also was able to fish a small lake for an afternoon, evening, and into the next morning. We caught pan-fish and bass on poppers, until our arms were tired.

Illinois was next. Again, a city park with two lakes and a stream connecting them produced fish for my fly rod. Six down and one to go, Indiana was up. Here, I hired a guide for the day, and he was good. Within 15 minutes of launching I had a big smallmouth, on a popper, in the boat. That was the first of many. It was a great day.

So, as I pushed the last seven pins into my United States map, I felt a great sense of pride. The trip took 3,241.6 miles, used 167.5 gallons of fuel, and had my butt strapped to the bucket seat for 58.5 hours. I was tired.

Was my quest over reaching? Maybe … Did I have fun? You bet … Were there great people to meet, and wonderful places to see all over this country? Indeed … What’s next? Maybe Puerto Rico will become a state and I’ll have to go for 51 while Swmbo enjoys the beach.

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