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Should I Fish or Ski?

Boots Allen

I grew up in world where skiing and fly fishing went hand-in-hand. There is nothing special about this type of privileged lifestyle. Ski towns like Park City, Steamboat Springs, and Aspen are famous for having some of the best of both sports. The difference is that in those resort communities, there is very good fishing during the months when the ski hills are going full bore. In my home town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, having both at the same time is a rather new phenomenon. Prior to 2004, our rivers like the Snake and the South Fork of the Snake were closed during the winter months to fishing for trout. There was a “whitefish season” during the winter, but only a handful of fly fishers took part in this. This made the choice of fishing or skiing rather simple – you did one from April through November and the other you did from December through March.

When fishing was finally deemed legal by management agencies a dozen years ago, those of us who pursued both sports were faced with a tantalizing dilemma. We now had to cut away at our number of ski days so that we could hit our rivers with rod in hand, sometimes for fun and sometimes for employment by guiding for permitted outfitters in the area. It was exciting to hit our waters when they first opened up to winter fishing. We discovered hatches of winter stoneflies that we didn’t know we had. We relished in figuring out the blizzard-like emergences of midges during the coldest months of December and January. And we were overjoyed with determining that one to three hour period of the day, dependent on how early or late in the winter you were fishing, when surface action was a real possibility.

The downside was that we saw our skiing days reduced a little more year after year after year. In the winter of 2000, I was able to squeeze in a solid 75 to 80 days a year. Last year, due in part to the winter guiding I am doing and in part to the days I just have to get out on water with my wife and friends, I got in a total of 42 days. Not that I am bitching. But when I was growing up I was convinced that 50-plus days on skis would be in my future until I died.

I would not say that fishing in the Jackson Hole area can match what resort towns have on streams like the Provo or the Frying Pan. Water temperatures are still quite cold many days and, some days, ice flows created from frigid overnight lows nix any possibilities for fishing. But our local climate is getting warmer, and those days that are just too damn cold to fish are becoming fewer with each passing year. As a result, fishing is getting better with each passing year.

In the end, the dilemma of choosing between skiing or fishing on a given day is still tantalizing. The choice can be obvious most of the time. If we get drilled with an 18-inch overnight dump, I am heading for Teton Village or Grand Targhee or Teton Pass to revel in a full, exhausting day on powder boards. If the daytime temperatures are going to get into the 40s and 50s, I am head for the Snake or the South Fork with rod in hand, and sometimes with clients in tow.

It can be an aggravating choice, but it is a damn good choice to have.