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America's Heralded Fly Fishing States are Also the 'Best Places to Live'

We spend a lot of time talking about the value of wild places. We talk about how they inspire reverence and enrich our lives. In turn, we beat the drums of conservation and preservation, given the how much these places matter to us. As fishermen, we're most protective of the wild places where we go to chase fish. But, the qualities these places possess that inspire awe in the mind of the fishermen likewise do so in the hiker, the mountain biker, the rancher, the farmer and so on. Wild places don't only make for better fishing, they make for better living. So, it should come as no surprise to learn that the people that live amongst these wild places -- and their spectacular fishing -- are also the happiest with where they live.

Alaskan Rainbow Trout (photo: Chad Shmukler).
Photo: Chad Shmukler.

Chances are, should you ask any fly fisherman in the country which states offer the best fishing, that places like Alaska, Montana and Wyoming will roll off their tongue without hesitation. As it turns out, these same states also have the country's happiest residents, according to a recent Gallup poll. The poll asked residents of different states whether their state was "the best or one of the best places to live." Residents of Montana and Alaska topped the list, with over three out of four residents (77 percent) answering yes. Residents of Utah and Wyoming weren't far behind, with 70 and 69 percent responding in favor, respectively.

The Littering Fisherman

If you have never seen litter along the banks of the streams and rivers you fish, you are in a very small and select minority. Some streams and rivers are inundated with litter while others are relatively refuse-free, except for the occasional piece of human detritus here and there. Wherever garbage is found along our waters, it not only degrades and damages the resource, it taints the experience we traveled there to cultivate.

Rainier Can in River
This delicious can of Rainier went back out the same way it came in.

Certainly not all stream side trash is from fishemen. But, it seems likely that much of it is, especially that which you find as you stray from the areas where waterways intersect with roads. In these places where garbage found along the water is considerably unlikely to have been tossed from a car window, the suspect sources are those who recreate along its banks. Sure, there are hikers, kids chasing frogs and other fun seekers but mostly there are fishermen. Sometimes, there's little to dispute. Litter piles where discarded beer cans and cigarette butts co-mingle with Powerbait containers and empty bags of Water Gremlin split shot leave little to the imagination regarding their origin.

All of this leaves me wondering: what relationship does the littering fisherman have with his or her stream?

Am I the Only One Who Wants Wet Wading Boots?

Wading boots, as far as they've come over the years, are not hiking boots. Even if you pony up hundreds of dollars for some of the finest models on the market, you're still getting a dumbed down version of a hiking boot. They're a compromise created by the dual requirements of needing a wading boot to do the things a good hiking boot does, but also be suitable for sticking neoprene wader booties into and being submerged under water most of the time.

Simms Wet Wading Boots
These don't exist anymore, and they had felt bottoms when they did.

Quality hiking boots do many things: they feature good latitudinal and longitudinal stability, provide traction on varying terrain, offer good arch support, fit comfortably and so on. All of these aspects combine to allow the wearer to safely hike long hours, over long distances, in relative comfort. Quality wading boots strive to do all of these things as well, but the aforementioned requirement of also allowing the wearer to jam a foot wrapped in a bulky, neoprene sack comes along and essentially ruins the effort.

I don't design boots for a living, nor do I claim to really know anything about it, but the equation seems relatively simple: if a boot needs to fit a wadered foot, aspects of that boots design that make it fit well -- like a properly-sized toe box, well-sculpted mid-sole, etc -- go out the window. Wader booties are bulky and vary widely in size and density. A boot that fits a wadered foot doesn't fit the foot at all, it fits a swollen, disfigured version of a foot.

DamNation Documentary Now Available to Rent or Buy

If you missed the nationwide free screening of DamNation, the award-winning documentary on America's aging dam infrastructure and its effects on our rivers and their inhabitants, you'll have to cough up some dough to view it. And we highly recommend you do now that the film is fully available to the public for the first time.

Ben Knight films a river that someone forgot to dam in Washington’s Olympic National Park.
Ben Knight films a river that someone forgot to dam in Washington’s Olympic National Park. (photo: Travis Rummel)

If you're not familiar with DamNation, despite our droning on about it, here's the film's synopsis form Vimeo: "This powerful film odyssey across America explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers. Dam removal has moved beyond the fictional Monkey Wrench Gang to go mainstream. Where obsolete dams come down, rivers bound back to life, giving salmon and other wild fish the right of return to primeval spawning grounds, after decades without access. DamNation¹s majestic cinematography and unexpected discoveries move through rivers and landscapes altered by dams, but also through a metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature."

3 More Good Conservation Reads

In his article listed below, writer Hal Herring notes that "it is often said that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, and we seem to be falling asleep at the switch." He's right. There are no shortage of issues to learn about, to follow, to advocate for. But staying on top of it all can be cumbersome to say the least. Here are a few good reads to help keep you alert, informed and motivated.

Native Cutthroat Trout

Clean Water = Liberty

Despite our checkered past when it comes to protecting our water resources, passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts in the 1970s led us from an era when American rivers ran fouled by all manner of industrial pollution and even caught fire to an era where 100% of Americans have access to clean drinking water and our rivers are as free from point-source pollution as they have ever been.