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"The Hat"...Fly Fishing Memories

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

If you are a fly fisherman...or any kind of fisherman for that matter, you most probably have a fishing hat. If you are anything like me, you have multiple fishing hats. I have six fishing hats. One is just for the saltwater and five are “general purpose”. They all have a thing or two in common like a “sweat line” where the cap and the bill meet and they all have multiple flies stuck here and there as little “trophies”...reminders if you will of the fish caught while wearing that hat. I know many who have a “lucky” hat. I even know a guy that has names for at least several of his hats and one of them is “Fred”. I know because he once left his hat in my truck and when he realized he had left it, he asked for my keys so he could “go get Fred”.

Well, I have “The Hat”. It is a Bailey straw cowboy hat. It is now retired, like me, but many years before me. Why I bought a straw hat in the first place is a mystery to me...straw is not the best choice in the rain and I seem to fish in the rain quite a lot.

"The Hat" was purchased in the summer of 1977 in West Yellowstone, Montana at Eagle's Store. It was sold to me by Walter "Wally" Eagle himself. For those of you that have spent any time in West Yellowstone, you know Eagle's Store. If you have ever driven into or out of the West entrance to Yellowstone NP, you drove right past Eagle's Store. It is located on the corner of Canyon St. and Yellowstone Ave. Yellowstone Ave. is the street that leads into YNP and Canyon St. is the "main drag" of West Yellowstone. The store opened in 1908 and was one of the first three business in West Yellowstone. It is now on the National Registry of Historical Places. Perhaps more on my West Yellowstone experiences later...

Eagle's Store sold all of the very best brands of "cowboy" hats and boots and western attire. I also have had two pairs of their boots. In 1984, I was strongly urged to replace “The Hat” (it was a Bailey) with a Stetson 4X Beaver by my relatively new wife. Replace is not exactly the right word as I continued to wear “The Hat” when my wife was not present. For many years she accompanied me on many fishing trips to Idaho and Montana. In her view, “The Hat” was an embarrassment as the result of use and abuse it had suffered in the six years before our marriage. She called it ugly...I called it character. She is now an ex wife...not over “The Hat”! Again, I still have it and may well ask to be buried with it.

The second photo is a closeup of the front. On the hat band are three flies. On the far right is a #20 poly winged rusty spinner that caught my very first 20” rainbow on the Henry’s Fork. It is the most important fly on “The Hat”. Just to the left is a #16 goddard caddis with the hackle feather flared out to the side. Its claim to fame is that it caught 12 Yellowstone cutthroat on The Yellowstone River at Buffalo Ford in about an hour. About half of them with the hackle the way you see it...yellowstone cutts tend to not be very selective. On the far left is a #16 light Cahill that fooled a 22” bank feeder in what was then known as “the Avenue of Giants”. An area on the western bank of the Henry’s Fork a couple of hundred yards above the old cattle bridge.

The third photo is the right side of “The Hat”. Clearly, the most obvious feature is the goose feather. It has been there since 1981. It earned its place of honor by ending up in my net along with a very big rainbow caught on a green drake emerger. Instead of the fly, I kept the feather. Just in front of the feather are a salmon fly dry and a salmon fly nymph. They are the result of an extraordinary day on the Madison River with Bob Lamm and Bobby Johnson. If you do not know, Bob Lamm is the most senior guide at Henry’s Fork Anglers and has been guiding in the area since 1976 or 1977...that is now 43 or 44 years. He is also a good friend. The flies are a remembrance of the day and not a specific fish as those two flies caught well over a dozen big rainbows and browns during the salmonfly hatch.

The picture above is of the left side of “The Hat”. On the front is another adult salmon fly. It too is more for the day than a specific fish. The day was a float on the South Fork (Snake River) below Palisades Reservoir. In addition to several nice rainbows and browns, the fly caught the largest Snake River(fine-spotted) cutthroat trout I have ever caught in the 30 or more years I have fished that river. Finally, the large orange fly caught my first tarpon. It was on a fantastic ten day trip to Belize with Mike Lawson. I was wearing a different hat on that trip but felt the fly deserved a place on “The Hat”.

I have never been a big fan of “hero pics” so “The Hat” and the flies that populate it and the other four or five hats are my “pictures” of the days and the fish that have blessed me over many years.

Surely, I am not the only fisherman with a “special hat”...I would like to see your “special” fishing hat and hear the story of what makes it so special to you.

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