Quest for 52 rivers finds fishing only part of the benefits
When we last touched base with Denver writer, photographer and fly fisher Shelley Walchak, she was fresh from a mid-January fishing trip to the Taylor River north of Gunnison.
Anyone familiar with the Gunnison country in winter knows there is more to this story, and suffice it to say that trip, with its waist-deep snow and high temperature of minus-10 degrees, will long stay in Walchak’s memory.
At the time, Walchak was fresh into her quest to fish 52 different rivers in seven Western states in a year, a quest she fulfilled late in December with a day on the Big Thompson River.
Now, Walchak will be in Grand Junction on Thursday to talk about her year and the life-changing experiences she encountered.
Her free presentation, “52 Rivers: A Woman’s Fly-Fishing Journey in the Rockies,” will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Mesa County Libraries Central Library, 530 Grand Ave. (Fifth Street and Grand Avenue).
It was a year of highs and lows, of drought and river blowouts, of encountering immense fly hatches and forming long-lasting friendships with guides, other anglers and everyday people who were attracted to her story.
“It’s been such an amazing year,” Walchak said Sunday during a brief phone conversation. “I was on my own, to experience life on whatever level it presented itself to me, and trying to figure it all out by myself.”
Her year began Jan. 1, 2013, “with the frigidness of winter,” she recalled.
“I wanted to start my year fishing some local waters, but I’m not sure fishing the Taylor in January was such a great way to start,” she said with a laugh. “But I had such a great time with Carol and Pat (Oglesby) that I’ll remember it always.”
Walchak bounced like a caddisfly for 12 months across Colorado, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (not necessarily in that order), fishing such famous places as Montana’s Bitterroot and the Henry’s Fork in Idaho as well as the smaller rivers such as Idaho’s Little Wood River.
A question she hears often is: Which was her favorite?
“It was such a wonderful experience, and there were so many places that were great, I really can’t pick out just one that was the highlight of the whole year,” she said. “One of them was on the Henry’s Fork when the salmonfly hatch hit. My husband (Florian Walchak) came up to join me for that trip, and we got to dry-fly fish and watch these giant fish attack these huge bugs on top of the water, and the place was remote and felt just heavenly.”
She also managed to take more than 11,000 photos, some of which she’ll be showing Thursday.
“I fell just as much in love with the photography aspect as I did with my fishing,” she said. “I had planned to tie flies at night, but I ended up working long hours organizing my photos.”
She said her presentation Thursday (her book is to be published in September) also will include a bit about the personal side of her trip.
“People always ask me, ‘How did you choose the rivers? How did you know what equipment to bring?’ ” Walchak said. “I also want to share some of my thoughts about how the year changed me as well as some discussion on the importance of taking care of our waters.”