Set the hook” I heard Zach yell from upstream, “that’s a monster”. I looked up and saw Cholly tight on what was either a log floating downstream or a large green river rainbow trout. As it turned I saw that the latter was true. Zach stood just down stream from him, net in hand. You don’t land a fish like that without a friend. The look on Cholly’s face was pure focus. Any Angler knows that a big fish has a way of pulling a Houdini escape, given the slightest lapse of attention. As the fish came closer I could see the brilliant red, olive, and white coloration along its side. “I’m not going to try netting it until it’s completely tired” Zach said. Cholly did his best to steer the fish into the shallow slow water, despite the fish’s attempts to run out in the fast current. Finally the fish started to tire. The first chance he came close Zach scooped him up in one smooth motion. “Whoo!” cue the handshakes and high fives.
As I came up river to get a better look at the catch, I could see smiles from ear to ear on both their faces. Its not everyday you get to interact with a wild fish of this caliber and it has a way of making the rest of the world melt away. Even from a distance I could sense how special the moment was for Cholly. A busy work schedule and family life have a way of reducing time spent fishing, so each opportunity for him is that much more cherished. After a few quick pictures the fish slipped back into the turquoise depths of the pristine river. Despite being a fantastic chef (as many of you know) Cholly is also an avid conservationist, and would rather allow a fish to swim free for others to enjoy, than cook it for dinner. I couldn’t help but feeling content with my own day.
We had driven out the day before and despite the only directions being “turn left 5 miles from the Utah border” everyone had found the unmarked camp site. The group consisted of HR manager Zach, chefs Cholly and Jason (pictured here with me), adventure center manager Ben, former dining room manager Bubba, Steph’s husband Todd, Home Ranch chef Jonathan, and myself. The weekend was going to be one of our last chances to all camp and spend time together before the season picked up, and free-time no longer aligned. More importantly, it was our chance to celebrate Cholly and Todd’s birthdays. The campsite was one Cholly had been staying at for nearly 20 years and it was obviously special to him. The site was a hidden gem surrounded by cottonwoods right on the banks of the magnificent green river, an oasis in the middle of the Utah desert. Each night the cool river air carried the smell of sage through the valley. The soft sound of the river flowing by was occasionally disturbed by the honking of geese, searching for a mate. The setting sun lit the whole valley on fire as we cooked. Camping with three chefs guarantees camp food that could be served in a 5-star restaurant. Add in great fishing, perfect weather, and good friends–you can’t go wrong.
After each meal we sat around the crackling fire, watching the smoke rise into the dry desert air. We talked and laughed about our day on the water, recounting the fish that we had fooled and the ones that had gotten the better of us. After discussing our plans for the next day, the conversation usually shifted more philosophical (Put any passionate group of outdoorsmen around a fire and its bound to happen). We listened as Cholly told us some of his favorite memories from his 50 years on earth. They ranged from great meals to weeklong rafting trips through the Grand Canyon. Todd Wilson recounted his days as an Olympic ski jumper, travelling and competing. One common theme was that most of their stories involved time spent with family. Spending time with such incredible people has a way of putting things in perspective. As the flames receded into glowing coals I found myself trying to absorb as much of what they were saying as I could.
Leaving was hard. As we drove away I tried to remember as much as I could about every detail. All the jokes, the great meals, and the ultra selective green river trout. I thought about the upcoming season at the ranch and all the new staff members we were about to meet. I know that this core group is going to be there to lead and mentor them, I know as long as they’re at Vista Verde the community’s values are safe. I feel honored to be a part of that group. I know one thing for sure; we will all be back to fish the Green River again.