The dangers fly fishers face are well publicized. Drowning. Lightning. Bear attacks. Rattlesnake bites. But little gets said about one of greatest dangers to your well-being when you plan your next fly fishing trip. It’s the most overlooked fly fishing danger.
It’s the same one facing hunters and airline passengers.
This danger comes from the vehicles you drive or pass on the way to your favorite river or hunting spot or airport. Statistically, the drive to the airport poses more danger to you than the airline flight you will board.
So it is with fly fishing:
1. Animal Encounters
It’s not enough to keep your eyes peeled for the rattlesnake on the trail to your favorite run. It’s the bison or the deer or cattle on the highway that can mess up you, your truck, and your trip. (Okay, the likelihood of hitting a bison is small unless you’re mindlessly driving in Yellowstone Park.)
One fall morning, my friend, Harry, and I left before dawn from Montana’s Gallatin Valley to drive to Henry’s Lake. What turned out to be a good trip (several nice trout on streamers) was almost sabotaged by a whitetail buck that jumped between Harry’s pick-up and boat trailer as we were driving down the highway.
Harry was alert for deer, and so he saw the buck getting ready to cross the road. He slowed down enough that there was no damage to the deer or trailer wiring.
A more serious situation occurred a couple summers ago involving Bobby Knight, the legendary college basketball coach.
A day before Dave, my podcast partner, and I fly fished the Wyoming Bighorn near Thermopolis, WY, Bobby Knight fished the same water and drove away in a Ford Expedition. It was dark, and he was driving in an open range area. Suddenly, cattle appeared on the road. He hit one of them and totaled his vehicle.
Fortunately, he escaped without injury. If you’ve ever driven remote highways in Montana or Wyoming at night, you know that this can happen to anyone.
2. Errant Drivers
When I was in high school, my brother, Dave, and I were fishing a little stream near Hallowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. The stream was below the mountain highway leading up to Bear Lake area. It took us about forty-five minutes to fish upstream to a natural stopping point.
On the way back down, there was a brand new car nose down in the creek—exactly where we had been standing about fifteen minutes earlier!
We learned that an elderly gentleman had fallen asleep because of some medication. He was okay, but we shuddered to think that what would have happened to us if we had been fishing there when the car took a nose dive over the bank.
I rarely fish streams or rivers right off the road. But when I do, I try not to linger too long at spots where errant drivers might land. I know how quickly these kind of accidents can happen—like the time I slid off an icy road and landed upside down in small stream near my home in Montana.
That’s a story for another time.
3. Drifting Vehicles
One day I was fly fishing the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley within sight of my parent’s home. I had walked down to a fishing access that was downriver from the Mill Creek Bridge. Suddenly, I saw a red car floating down the river! I didn’t see anyone in it, so I ran up to my folks house and called the county sheriff. They had already been notified. It turned out that a fly fisher had parked on an incline near the bridge and forgot to set his parking brake.
I now remember to set my parking brake whenever I’m parked on a slope of any kind.
Many are the ways to depart this world while doing what you love. Stay alert. And drive carefully!