Ride the Bull 8 – Grand Isle Louisiana

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RTB5 in Caminada Bay

Last weekend, we converged on Bridgeside Marina in Grand Isle, Louisiana for the 8th annual Ride the Bull Kayak Fishing Tournament as Hurricane Harvey loomed in the Gulf of Mexico.  As luck would have it, Grand Isle had gorgeous weather all weekend.  Aside from choppy waters in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caminada Bay waters were as calm as I have ever seen them.

 

This was our groups 4th year participating in the tournament.  Despite numerous efforts, we can never quite find ourselves in the right spot at the right moment to land an enormous redfish.  In fact, we have not to date caught a single redfish during the tournament.  Nonetheless, we persist!

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Shrimp Boats at the dock.

For our group of friends, this tournament has become an event that we look forward to with or without fish.  We usually round up a group of fisherman and non-fisherman who head down to far south Louisiana for a weekend of camaraderie, fishing and fun.  The tradition has been to finish the weekend with a Saturday night shrimp boil after the tournament compliments of our lead non-fisherman – Mimi.

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Too much fun last night = bad day fishing

Over the years, we feel like we are beginning to get the hang of things.  After the first year, we learned that hangovers (no matter how much fun the party was) do not mix well with canoe or kayak fishing in the whitecaps of Caminada Bay.  This year, we only had two fisherman, but after learning that the winner was a petite lady on a paddleboard – I was inspired!  We celebrated with a Saturday night shrimp boil that has since become legendary.

 

During the second year, the 5 fisherman (including 2 girls!) had a good night’s rest before the tournament and were determined to wait for that fish.  We fished until about 15 minutes before the end of the tournament.  As we were pulling the boats out of the water, we heard that a lady fishing near where we had been ALL afternoon had just caught a monster fish.  She ended up winning the tournament that year.  If only we had waited another 15 minutes!!  But, we did get interviewed by a local sportsman’s television show.  (Our moment of fame only to end up on the cutting room floor.)  Licking our wounds, we gathered with our group of friends for another epic Saturday night shrimp boil.

 

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Unfortunately, our third year was preceded by the massive flooding in Baton Rouge.  Attendance was lower than usual in 2016, and I had sprained my ankle severely the week prior to the tournament.  Crutches and canoes are not a good combination.  Even without me, we had 5 fisherman including 2 girls…until Gwen go so seasick that she had to call SOS.  The wind was so strong that year that Greg had to get towed in by a chase boat since he was starting to drift out to the Gulf!!  This was our first year to have the entire group gathered in one extra large camp.  We had the perfect screened in porch to enjoy our traditional Saturday night shrimp boil.  As usual, these were the best shrimp ever!

 

Leading up to this year’s tournament, we thought that this was OUR year.  That is until Hurricane Harvey came into the mix.  This year, our group was much smaller (2 fisherman and 3 girls staying at the posh Hurricane Hole Hotel).  We didn’t know if we were going to even be able to fish due to the uncertain weather conditions.    I think subconsciously, we really thought the tournament would be cancelled, and we simply didn’t prepare.  As it turns out, Harvey cooperated and the tournament went on as planned.  As is our tradition, we didn’t catch a single redfish once again.  I think the problem was that we skipped the traditional Saturday night shrimp boil.

 

We are not quitters!  In fact, we already have a plan for next year!  RTB9 will definitely be OUR year!  And, we need to make sure that Mimi can boil those famous Grand Isle shrimp too!  Besides, the dogs have so much fun in Grand Isle…how could we deny them their vacation?  Stay tuned!!

UNDER THE SPELL OF SAN MIGUEL – San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

IMG_0185A few years ago, I spent Labor Day weekend in the Mexican city of San Miguel de Allende.  I had heard stories about the eternal spring-like weather of San Miguel – a place where many ex-pat artists reside.  But, I was curious to experience the mystic of the city for myself.  Previously, my only encounters with Mexico had been along the Caribbean coast.  San Miguel is located in central Mexico about 2 hours north of Mexico City.  There would be no azure seas lapping at the shoreline.  We were heading to the mountains.  So, I wondered – what was there to do in landlocked San Miguel?  I would soon find out.

Upon our arrival at the Del Bajío International Airport in nearby León, Guanajuato, Mexico, we were greeted by our driver.  We loaded our luggage into the vehicle and were off to San Miguel.  The drive from León to San Miguel is an hour and a half on a nice state highway.  Since we stopped for refreshments along the way, the drive went by rather quickly.   We were at the door to Casa Schuck Bed & Breakfast before we knew it.  This boutique B&B located in the heart of historic San Miguel would be our home for the next 3 nights (not nearly long enough!).  The property was absolutely beautiful!  It literally left us (myself and my travel companions) speechless (a rare occurrence in this group!) upon arrival.

Upon entering the reception area, you step out into an enormous central courtyard.  Each room is uniquely decorated and situated around the perimeter of the courtyard.  For this stay, we had booked El Royal Suite and La Escondida Room.  Both rooms were comfortable and spacious.  I look forward to returning to stay in the other rooms!  Each morning, we were served made-to-order breakfast in the courtyard as we planned our excursions for the day.  Casa Schuck created such an amazing environment we really didn’t want to leave each day!  But alas, there was an entire city to explore.  San Miguel de Allende was named the best city in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine for a reason.

During our brief stay (if only we had stayed an extra day or two….), we managed to explore not only the city of San Miguel, but also the neighboring region.  We began our visit with a stop off at El Jardin, which is the central plaza in the city center, and an up close peek at the gorgeous pink church the Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel.  Since San Miguel is a very walkable city, we enjoyed exploring the area on foot, stopping in shops along the way.  One of my first impression of San Miguel is that it felt very much to me like my former neighborhood in Granada, Spain.  The main difference (aside from the extraordinarily clean streets) was the apparent lack of outdoor cafes as are prolific in Spain.  We soon learned that most of the outdoor cafes are located in interior courtyards or on rooftops throughout the city.  Brilliant!

We were astounded by the sheer quantity of top-notch restaurants throughout the city.  This is an international destination without a doubt!  There was a Peruvian place, a German place, even a Louisiana place (although the owner has never even visited Louisiana!) and, of course, several Mexican places too!  We did not have a bad meal during the entire trip!  In fact, we even learned how to prepare guacamole and use a molacete (FYI this is NOT a souvenir to carry onto an airplane!) during a hands-on cooking class at Sazon.

On one morning, we ventured out of the city (with our guide and driver) to visit some of the local pottery workshops.  Along the way, we received a brief history lesson about the role of San Miguel de Allende and Delores Hidalgo in Mexican Independence Day (celebrated on September 16th of each year).  We also were taken to Santuario de Atotonilco known as Mexico’s Sistine Chapel.  The church complex was designated a World Heritage Site and is said to be an excellent example of the sharing of European and Latin American cultures.  But, finally, we arrived at one of the pottery facilities.  It was fascinating to see the artisans busily creating masterpieces that would soon arrive in shops around the region.  Of course, we purchased delicate pieces of pottery that we now needed to find a way to carry home!

As we continued to explore, we wandered through the cobblestone streets between brightly painted buildings trying to catch a glimpse of the inner courtyards through open doors.  The architecture could best be described as simple on the exterior with a treasure hidden behind the thick cement walls.  While we were busy shopping for treasures at the various markets throughout town, we stumbled upon a wedding procession one afternoon.  Later, we learned that San Miguel is a popular destination for weddings.  With its colonial character, temperate climate and abiding safety, I could understand why this magical city would provide an ideal setting for a new beginning.

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HORSES AND BBQ IN VICTOR IDAHO

IMG_0898 (1)For our last day in Jackson Hole, we decided to take things a bit slower.  After an 8-hour eco tour, 2 strenuous hikes and a day on the Snake River fly fishing, we needed a moment to catch our breath.  We had been told to make the scenic drive through the Teton Pass over to Victor, Idaho.  So, we decided to make a day of it complete with horses, beer and bbq.

IMG_0910 (1)We headed out of Jackson on Highway 22 through Wilson, Wyoming before reaching the Teton Pass.  All that I can say is that my knuckles were white.  I have driven on plenty of mountain roads (mostly in Spain), but this road had my stomach doing flips like a roller coaster!  Once we hit the Idaho state line, the highway was less treacherous and became Highway 33.  Just before the quaint town of Victor, Idaho, we arrived at Moose Creek Ranch where we would be taking a 2-hour horseback ride through the Targhee National Forest with its exquisite vistas and lush scenery.  Debbie and Kevin Little run the stables at this picturesque ranch.

We arrived at 9:00 a.m. to begin our trail ride with another family of four.  Although I do not proclaim to be a horseman, I am comfortable with horses.  Greg, on the other hand, is not too keen on the idea, but he is a good sport.  So, we both compromised to offer an experience that we both would enjoy….sort of.  I can now say that I have never been on a true nose-to-tail trail ride before, and I hope that I can avoid one in the future.  This was a bit too elementary for my preferences, but I decided to make the most of the experience.  We departed from the ranch and meandered through the forest on sometimes narrow trails – one wrong step and down the ravine we would go!  Near the end of the trail, we spotted a deer in an open field about 10 feet away from us.  No pictures though since my horse spotted the deer too and needed to be directed back to the trail!

Following our ride, I had promised Greg some barbecue at Big Hole BBQ in Victor.  We drove into town finding our destination just off the main road to the left.  (A win-win for me as there was a fly fishing shop located immediately next door!).  We sat outside to enjoy the amazing weather (I believe it was close to 100° in Baton Rouge on August 3!).  The pull pork sandwiches with thin Idaho potato fries and a local craft brew hit the spot.  We did a quick run through the fly fishing shop for souvenirs before heading to Grand Teton Brewing.

The tasting room was located on our way back to Jackson, so this worked out perfectly.  The tasting room was on the small side, but it was not crowded at all.  We tried a few complimentary samples of the 6-8 beers that they had on tap.  I eventually decided on a ½ pint of the Grand Teton Grapefruit Gose. Greg loved the Bitch Creek so much that he bought a t-shirt!

 

Bringing Home the Taste of the West with Bison Sliders

DSC01939One thing is certain in our house – we love to cook!  For me, one of the best souvenirs from a trip to places near or far is the re-creation of a dish that I enjoyed during my travels.  Occasionally, these may be something completely new to me, and other times, it is a reinvention of the familiar.

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In Jackson, and other places out West, we encountered lots of familiar dishes made with either elk or bison meat.  Of course we tried as many of these as we could find.  The main difference with regular beef was a distinct game flavor in both meats.  I guess that is to be expected.  The best examples of both elk and bison were found at the Gun & Barrel in Jackson.  This was a large restaurant filled with tourists, but it was a fun atmosphere with really good food.  We enjoyed bison carpaccio and bison prime rib that night.

Another favorite meal was at Cafe Genevieve in downtown Jackson.  We didn’t have any exotic meat during that meal, but the pig candy was a surprising treat.  I also discovered the Snake River Brewing Hoback Hefeweizen (my favorite local brew of the trip).

I cannot say that we had a bad meal the entire time we were in Jackson.  Everything was absolutely amazing.  In addition to great food, we also popped in to a few of the local watering holes.  The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is located directly on the square and is an icon of Jackson.  We had the Melvin Killer Bee brew and their in house brew while sitting on saddles for bar stools!

The Silver Dollar and the Virginian were two of our other favorites.  The Silver Dollar is located in the Wort Hotel in downtown Jackson and has silver dollars (hence the name) covering the bar tops.  It seems to be a lively place at night with live music offered on most nights.  The Virginian is located on W. Broadway about a mile from the town square.  Behind the bar, you will find these two big horn sheep fighting over a beer (or probably a girl…).  This is another live music venue that is popular later in the evening.

But, one of our favorite spots was the No Name Saloon in Park City, Utah.  We stayed in Park City the night before our flight home and stumbled upon this fun spot.  And, as luck would have it, we finally found our perfect bison sliders.  They were amazingly delicious.  So much so that I have tried to recreate a version here – Bison Sliders.

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SEEKING INSPIRATION AT INSPIRATION POINT IN GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK

DSC02380 (3)We had been advised to avoid the Jenny Lake Trailhead due to construction and mass overcrowding.  In the days prior, we had seen cars parked down the highway in the area near the Jenny Lake ferry access.  It was madness!  So, taking the advice of others, we went toward the String Lake Trailhead that lies just North of Jenny Lake.   After leaving the parking lot, there is a wide footbridge that crosses a stream flowing from String Lake.

DSC02319 (1)We turned left and proceeded down the trail that runs alongside the stream.  The landscape was sparse due to a recent wildfire, but it was eerily beautiful.  We had learned earlier in the week that the native lodge pole pines actually require periodic fires in order to thrive.  So, I imagine there will be a forest of smaller pines along this trail in a few short years.

Up until this point, the path climbed gradually and was relatively easy.  Then, the trail led us into a densely forested area that bordered Jenny Lake.  We wound our way through the trees and up and down several ravines for about 2 miles before reaching the trailhead to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.  Although we couldn’t see the lake at the junction, I believe that we were very near the Jenny Lake ferry dock.  As I understand it, from the ferry dock, you could either hike 1 mile to reach Hidden Falls or go to the right and hike up to Inspiration Point.

As we met up with the groups who opted for the ferry ride, we had already hiked almost 2 miles.  This is where the fun began.  The climb up to Inspiration Point was about 1 mile and challenging, to say the least.  For a girl from Louisiana (we might live at 50 feet above sea level), a climb to almost 7,500 feet was tough on the lungs.  I had to stop several times to catch my breath.  Although the trail wasn’t overly crowded, I usually had a fellow hiker stopping to catch their breath with me.  Through our huffs and puffs we would ask, “Where are you from?”.  Ironically, most of us gasping for air on the trail that day all lived much closer to sea level.

We finally made it to our destination – Inspiration Point – a treeless promontory with sweeping views over Jenny Lake and the Snake River Valley.  After finding a shaded spot under a tree, we enjoyed a light lunch with the company of a few local chipmunks (who had obviously dined on human food before our arrival!).  The view was spectacular…inspirational even.  We were so inspired that we decided to continue up through Cascade Canyon in search of one of the shallow pools that we heard about from other hikers.

DSC02400My negotiation skills have kicked in once again as I realized that although we had already hiked 3 miles, the 3-mile return trip would be essentially all downhill.  So, I agreed to hike 1 mile into Cascade Canyon in search of the illustrious swimming hole.  Fortunately, the land was fairly level and the air was cooled by the adjacent flowing waters of Cascade Creek.  We proceeded through a patch of woodland before emerging into the vast lower part of Cascade Canyon.  The landscape felt a bit other worldly with its expanse of large white granite boulders, snowcapped peaks and chiseled cliffs above.

We had already reached the 1-mile turnaround point, but had not yet found the small trail to the water’s edge.  So, we continued for another half mile before we found the spot.  There was a narrow footpath that lead down to a shallow pool along Cascade Creek.  Greg was bound and determined to take a plunge.  He said that it took his breath away the moment he hit the water.  His next thought was – what if there is a bear nearby?  Guess that is the reason he jumped out faster than he jumped in?

Now that Greg was refreshed, we proceeded back down the trail trying not to think that our 5-mile hike had become a 7.5-mile hike!  Instead, we focused on making noise to warn the bears and enjoy the moment in nature’s splendor.  As I led the way, I was taking in all the beauty that surrounded me when suddenly on the trail ahead of me I see it – that creature that scares the snot out of me—it was a terrifying snake!  I was told that there were only two types of snakes in the Grand Tetons, and yes, this was one of those.  It was a ferocious garter snake.  Greg said that I jumped 5 feet in the air and ran faster than he had ever seen.  Of course, I ran BEHIND him!  His first thought was that I had seen a bear and it was coming to get him now that I was BEHIND him.  But, then, he saw the poor little garter snake scurrying off the trail.

After that adrenaline rush, I had plenty of energy to finish our 3-mile descent to the car.  Although we ran out of water (definitely will be purchasing Camelbaks for our next hiking adventure) before the end of the hike, I now had my mind set on a cold craft beer at the end of the trail.  We drove straight to Dornan’s once we found our car and bellied up to the bar for post-hike pizza and beer.  I really couldn’t believe that I did it!  Now we are both inspired to get the proper gear and try to hike Paintbrush Canyon next year.

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ANOTHER FIRST, HIKING IN GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK

01e97e823408b53d7cd6389e5169522801ae29d468Generally speaking, I consider myself to be a traveler as opposed to a tourist.  Semantics you may be thinking.  Well, not exactly.  For me, travel is about experiencing a place – its culture, history, cuisine – not simply a superficial visit of the sights.  Going deeper than the surface provides a richer experience and promotes personal growth.  We evolve as people through travel experiences.

But I digress – as I prepared for our trip to the rugged landscape of Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I researched all the things to do and see.  Obviously, hiking the trails in the Park is something that is high on the list of musts when in the area.  After all, it is about experiencing the great outdoors.  The flaw in my logic is that I believed it was not necessary to stop by a local outfitter to purchase all the latest hiking gear.  We were ONLY doing little day hikes.  I wore running shoes and running shorts.  My tiny backpack with a bottle of water and minimal first aid kit were all that we should need….right?

Following a delicious and scenic lunch at Dornan’s, we headed up Moose-Wilson Road to the Death Canyon Trailhead – yep, Death Canyon not to be confused with Death Valley.   After exiting the nice smooth paved Moose-Wilson Road, we traveled about a mile in our rental car down the very rough dirt road before reaching the trailhead.

Our goal – and the only reason I agreed to this hike in the first place – was to reach the Phelps Lake Overlook.  At exactly one mile from the trailhead, we arrived at the Phelps Lake Overlook.  As we gazed down to the 750-acre, glacially-carved lake that lies 567 feet below, we realized (because the sign said so) that we had reached an elevation of 7200 feet.  For a Louisiana girl, this is over a mile higher than my house!  Needless to say, there was some heavy breathing during the moderate ascent.  We soaked in the outstanding panoramic views and the surrounding old-growth Douglas firs nearby before Greg thought we should go a little further…

We proceeded down the trail beginning the 567 foot descent to Phelps Lake .  This trail is made up of seemingly endless switchbacks albeit with gorgeous views of the Lake below and waterfalls above.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, we had reached the mouth of Death Canyon at the 1.7 mile point in our hike.  At the junction, we turned to the left and made our way down to a small sandy beach along the shore of Phelps Lake.

Unfortunately, less than 200 feet from the beach, I stumbled on a rock, rolling my ankle and landing on my bare knee.  Good thing I had that first aid kit with me!  We made it down to the beach and found the perfect log bench to rest and tend to my wounds.  I quickly removed my shoes and walked into the lake – yes, it was cold – it’s an alpine lake after all!  I cleaned and bandaged my knee before I realized that we had to go BACK.UP.THOSE.SWITCHBACKS.  Our simple two-mile hike had turned into a bear of a 4 miler.  (Did I mention that Death Canyon is bear country? Yep, apparently so).

IMG_0946I tried to wrap my mind around the idea that we only had one mile of climbing 600 feet before reaching Phelps Lake Overlook and the descent to the car.  Mind over matter just did not work.  Maybe I was about to learn firsthand why it was called Death Canyon? My legs were wobbly.  We ran out of water. I was gasping for breath.  I kept asking Greg, “Are we there yet?” like a child on a vacation road trip.  Every time I spotted a shaded area, it was time for a rest. The entire switchback portion of the trail was in full sun!  Talk about adding insult to injury.  But, alas, we made it to the beautifully scenic Phelps Lake Overlook.  It was even more amazing the second time around!

We rested for a hot minute before beginning our descent to the car some 1 mile away.  It was all downhill from here!  This trail, through the dense lodge pine forest, was quiet and peaceful with very few other hikers around.  I began thinking that this was a great area for a bear to be spending his afternoon.  It was then that I recalled that I had forgotten our bear bells in the hotel.  But, thanks to all my research (I became a bit obsessive about the possibility of a bear encounter), I recalled that we should talk and sing as we walked along the trail.  This would at least give the bear the heads up that we are nearby.  Hopefully, the bear is happily eating huckleberries and is not hungry for something more substantial!!  About half way down the trail, we both heard a growl snort sound from the thick brush.  I am no expert, but I feel certain that this particular bear was letting us know he was nearby!!

We safely made it to our car without any wildlife sightings.  I had regained use of my legs as they were no longer wobbly.  In fact, I felt invigorated after completing a 4-mile hike!  But, my lesson of the day is that all of that hiking gear is not just for looks – it is extremely useful.  My first purchase will be hiking boots with ankle support.  Then, the list includes Camelbak packs (no more running out of water); good socks; trekking poles (these would have been wonderful when my legs felt like rubber);  and bear spray!

A FIRST FOR ME – FLY FISHING

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

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Geese flying along the Snake River near Jackson, Wyoming

Why do people become obsessed with fishing?  When it is catch and release, as it is along the Snake River in Wyoming, it is clearly not for sustenance.  So, what then is the lure?  Greg is an avid fisherman.  In fact, he has shared his passion for trout fishing in the marshes of Louisiana with me.  Now, I suppose you could say that I too am a fisherman.  But, rod and reel fishing is different than fly fishing.  Ever since I read “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway, I have had a desire to stand along the banks of a stream casting a fly rod hoping to snag a nice trout.  Although we are not in Hemingway’s Spain (and mine too as you will learn if you continue to follow my writing), Jackson, Wyoming presented me with the perfect chance to experience fly fishing firsthand.  I am not ashamed to admit that I was slightly terrified of becoming wrapped up in the fishing line.  I am happy to report that  I boldly faced my fears and gave it an old college try in the name of checks on my bucket list!

I quickly learned that fishing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming is a magical experience.  We had booked a full day guided fishing trip with Jackson Hole Anglers.  Our guide, Mac (he was a great guy even though he went to Bama….Geaux Tigers!) picked us up from our hotel with the drift boat in tow behind his truck.  We made our first stop at Orvis to pick up fishing licenses ($15 for one day) and a few extra flies.  These flies are seriously the coolest things.  They make them from thread, feathers, other materials so that from the fish’s perspective they look like a yummy bug.  Mac, our guide, said that he spends time during the winter months working on his flies.  He has a Louisiana fishing trip planned where he will try to lure some redfish with crab pattern flies!

Once we were legal, we headed toward Wilson, Wyoming to launch the drift boat.  These boats are specifically designed for fly fishing in the rivers out West.  They are lightweight, extremely maneuverable  boats that can handle up to Class III whitewater. Good thing since we hit a few patches of rapids during the day!  Each boat holds two fishermen plus a guide.

We spent the day floating down the Snake River, watching bald eagles soar overhead and casting to rising trout along the way.  At first, I just sat back with my camera in hand and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery.  I listened intently to Mac’s instructions to Greg as he worked on perfecting his casting.  After Greg had caught a few of the native cutthroat trout, I set my camera down, held my breath, said a little prayer that I didn’t “become one” with the fishing line, I made my first cast with a fly rod.  Wow!  It was easier than I thought!  The objective was not to cast far, but it was to hit the spot where the water looked fishy – often directly aside the boat.  With a bit more confidence, I made a second cast making sure to mend the line upstream after the fly hit the water.  Cast then mend, and mend again and again; then repeat.  This was becoming almost natural for me, and then it happened – I had a fish on the line!  It took me a second to register what exactly I was supposed to do – thankfully I had both Mac and Greg coaching me along.  After a brief fight, I pulled in a nice white fish.  That was exhilarating!

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And I didn’t even have to touch that darn fish!

We had fished hard for at least 4 hours before we pulled onto a bank of the river for lunch.  Mac set up a nice table complete with tablecloth and chairs to serve us a wonderful meal as we soaked up our surroundings.  The menu on this day was fried chicken, pasta salad, King’s Hawaiian Rolls, and chips.  I was content.  Greg was a happy camper too!  How could you be anything but at peace in these surroundings?  The rhythm of casting the fly rod was almost meditative.  I didn’t want our day long trip to end, but the fish really were not biting in the afternoon.  It was an ideal time to call it a day – what a great one it was!  I have already started planning our next fly fishing expedition to Montana next year.  Now, I can say that I understand the lure of fly fishing.

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