A Fish Out Of Water No More: What I Learned About Myself & Others At My First Idaho Fly Fishing Derby

Last October Boise’s newspaper, The Idaho Statesman, expanded their cancer coverage. For several years they published a one-day, Pink Edition with a paper full of breast cancer related articles. Now they were offering more days and print space which created opportunity for several guest contributors, like me, to highlight local cancer stories. 

In each of those five Sunday papers I wrote about a local cancer outreach. Unfortunately I learned there are very few community resources available in Idaho that provide support for men with cancer. Idaho2Fly was created to help fill this void. They offer 3-day fly fishing retreats at established resorts for men with all types of cancer, in any stage of treatment or recovery. All equipment, food and lodging are provided free of charge to their guests.

I enjoyed meeting the men who put on these retreats and seeing their passion for helping others through the access their sport can facilitate. They appreciated the coverage from my article and have stayed in touch with me, inviting me to volunteer at one of this year’s retreats. I knew the cost of admission would be learning to fly fish. As an native Idahoan this has been for me an unclaimed birthright.

The first Saturday in June Idaho2Fly sponsors a fishing derby at the Three Rivers Ranch near Eagle Island which has a 100-acre private lake stocked with up to 10 lbs. bass and 30-inch trout. The funds from the derby are used to cover the expenses from that year's coming retreats. They limit the attendance to around 50 fishermen and charge them each $500. 


That they created a space for me to participate in today’s event was humbling. 

That I showed up this morning like a fish out of water was humiliating.

I knew my ego was in for a bruising when I turned onto the long, private drive in my 1985 Saab 900. My kids will tell you I wholeheartedly believe my coolness factor is multiplied by four when I drive my gorgeous, little European stick-shift. It didn’t work today. Nobody informed me that I needed to show up in an XL-sized, American-built pickup. I spotted trucks with extra wheels, trucks with extra cabs, and trucks with extra beds. The parking attendant who was directing these behemoths to where they could safely park actually questioned me when I pulled up next to him, “Are you here to fly fish?”

“Yep.” I replied, lowering my voice like I had left my ¾ ton dually at the mechanics. I tried to sound convincing but I knew I was losing my conviction.

“Well, let’s see… I guess you can park that thing just about anywhere. Try squeezing it into that little space next to the silo.”

Unfortunately to get there I had to drive right through the crowd of men who had just finished parking their big rigs and were now unloading their pontoon boats, float tubes, and fly fishing kayaks. All I had brought was a water proof bag for my cell phone.

My second time to blush was at the registration table. After signing a waiver and pinning on my name tag I was handed a bumper sticker, baseball cap, cup of black coffee and a maple bar. The next table offered me a small box of six fly fishing flies. Men around me were picking up the boxes discussing the Wully Buggers, Nymphs, Muddlers and Poppers. I picked up a box and said something like, “That blue one sure is pretty…”

I failed for the third time at the dress code. I was the only man who didn’t have zip off pants. Yes, I was wearing shorts but it was obvious I didn't have the lower half leggings to zip either off or back on. I also missed the memo that I was supposed to wear a long-sleeved, open-air, khaki colored shirt to match my missing zip off pants. My hat was all wrong. My backpacking Chaco sandals (which I thought would be admired because they stay on in the water) was ridiculed by one man because he said my line would get caught on the strap. He was right.

I showed up knowing I would have to borrow all of the gear. I don’t own a fly fishing rod, reel, line, flies, or any of the approved accouterments. 

I sat down at a table and texted Jamie to share how out of place I felt. She responded with one of those bits of wisdom and was so full of empathy and truth that it changed my outlook and the rest of my day, “I bet," she said, "and that is exactly how one of those men feel when they show up at the hospital for their first chemo treatment.


I let that sink in. Deep.

The retreats that Idaho2Fly hosts are not just for men who are accomplished fishermen. They pair up each guest, regardless of their expertise, with a fly fishing guide who is there to make their time exceptional. They hand them reels, tie on flies, coach them on their casting, and help them land their fish. I decided just to take in this event as one of those guests. Instead of feeling stupid in front of these men I was going to enjoy their hospitality to the fullest.

I began to relax and have a lot of fun!

That is how this works...

I had several coaches through the morning. My casting style needed several coaches. But after about an hour I was down to one man that stayed by my side. He was patient with me. He was kind. He wasn’t bothered by my inadequacies instead he seemed motivated to create the opportunity for me to have fun and success.

We engaged in some small talk, the way men do, between casts. We discussed the weather, talked about Idaho, and shared how we got into fly fishing. He’s been doing this sport for a decade. He of course knew this was my first time so I told him how I got to today’s fishing derby.

I explained how I started writing articles about metastatic breast cancer the year after my having my first art show about breast cancer and how it has expanded to include covering groups like Idaho2Fly.

He was quiet for a second, an XL-sized second. Then he shared, “Chad, my wife died from breast cancer two years ago."

And then we discussed his heartbreaking experience. 

That is how this works.


Thank you Idaho2Fly. If I hadn’t before, I get it now.


PS. I caught three bass today. I am a bad-ass, Idaho fly fisherman!

You can learn more about Idaho2Fly at their website