Recently I guided a woman whose goal for the year was to fish 52 rivers in 52 weeks.
Shelley Walchak, of Denver, is a retired librarian who worked for a computer business, a school, a university, a public library and as a consultant for a state library. Walchak has handled a lot of books and read quite a few, but she has never published one so she conceived an idea to achieve that end.
Walchak decided she’d travel to a number of rivers in the western United States and write about her experiences.
She explained that her husband has a couple more years before he will retire, and he is OK with her traveling about and fishing.
Walchak has a 13-foot trailer that gives her a place to cook and sleep while she is on a river adventure. She towed the camper trailer from Denver to Cottonwood Camp last week, arriving in heavy rain and was unable to set things up correctly, but the next morning she accomplished that task with a little help from her neighbor at Cottonwood, Jim Schollmeyer. (Schollmeyer is a noted author and fly tyer). By the time I arrived, Walchak was ready to go.
Walchak had booked me on the advice of some mutual acquaintances and had little information as to what she wanted, but it didn’t take long to realize that Walchak would be open to learning as much about the fishing, river history and natural history as possible.
After I rigged up her rods and stowed them in my drift boat, we drove to Three Mile Access and prepared to launch. It occurred to me that Walchak might like to take a quick look at the flora along the river, so I parked my rig out of the way and invited her to join me on a quick hike.
Along the trail from Three Mile Access were blossoming shrubs; most notably black currant with its bright yellow flowers that are oh-so-fragrant and chokecherry with its showy white racemes. Here and there gooseberry blossoms peeked out.
We had hiked a distance when I pointed out a flaxen branch and mentioned that it was an old asparagus stalk and that if we looked around it we might find some fresh stalks — sure enough we picked three thick-as-my-thumb spears. Walchak was amazed at the find and was driven to discover more. Suffice it to say, we found about 20 more stalks.
We headed back to the boat and launched. In a short while, Walchak was casting to the trout that were rising below 3-Mile using a small strike indicator and two beadhead nymphs that were only about 18 and 30 inches below the surface.
It didn’t take long for a feisty 14-inch brown trout to inhale a zebra midge and soon grace the boat with the first fish of the day. The skunk was out of the boat within 10 minutes.
About 15 minutes later Walchak cast at a small pod of rising trout. The half-inch-long teardrop-shaped indicator floated into the pod and submerged slightly. Walchak set the hook and a second later a hefty rainbow cleared the water. It took some skillful rod handling and reeling, but Walchak was finally able to land the fish after a seven-minute fight. The 18¼-inch bow was unmarked and sleek.
We floated on and Walchak casted to the multitude of rising fish along our way. It seemed that she connected a half dozen times before we reached a place to wade fish.
The spot had a fast run that dropped off into a deep pool and eddy. I added a two-split shot and increased the distance from the strike indicator to the first fly by about five feet. I instructed Walchak to make a good upstream cast, mend before the line started to drag and then feed line once the strike indicator was downstream a bit.
It didn’t take long for Walchak to start hooking trout. The blue-winged olives were starting to emerge and the fish were keying on them. After Walchak had caught three browns on the up fly, a beadhead pheasant tail, I decided to change the zebra midge to a quill nymph. The action only accelerated.
Three anglers were across the river from us and could only howl when Walchak hooked four trout while they were fishless — they finally admitted defeat and shoved off.
In the meantime, I started lunch. Though I had sandwich fixings, I decided I should prepare some of the asparagus we picked, so I steamed some up in two of my enamelware plates. I also boiled up a pot of water for mocha.
As we ate lunch, the conversation drifted to life quests and what we wanted to leave on the table when we reached life’s end. Walchak said she wanted to encourage people to follow their dreams and that she wanted to write a book about her river adventures. She had really fallen in love with fly-fishing and wanted to get out to as many streams as she could. She hoped that she could inspire other women to go out on their own and to have a spirit of adventure.
In her blog, 52 Rivers in 52 Weeks, Walchak writes, “During my time as a school librarian, I learned the value of storytelling, both from experts in the field and my own experiences. I believe that stories are integral to our survival because they help to experiment with our emotions and strategize on the challenges we face in life.”
When we ended our day on the river at 9:30, I realized that I had spent a day with a woman who was driven to gather as many stories as possible and then weave them into her life story. I sincerely pray that her quest is fulfilled.