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Controlling Outcomes and Missing Beauty on The Green River

Aaron McHugh

Last weekend, I paid six hundred dollars to catch one fish. I joined sixteen other guys on an annual invite-only fly-fishing trip to the Green River in Utah. The Green is a life list “fish before you die” river.

After three years, I decoded that these comrades share an ethos that is unpublished and unspoken but forms a fraternal code of conduct. I like to think of it as, The Dembeck Field Guide of Green River Ethics.

After twenty consecutive years, the lore is rich. The guys like to tell a story about a fella who was caught with a stringer of dead fish that he clubbed over the head. The punch line of the story is that he and the guy who brought him weren’t invited back.

I picture the Hollywood playboy brother from A River Runs Through It showing up with his red coffee can full of worms. Blasphemy.

Rule #1: Do not kill fish. Catch and release only.

The normal ritual is to hike the river trail from Little Hole to fish the shoreline pockets and eddies. Even newbies land five to ten fish each day.

Rule #2: Don’t waste your money on a guide. Fish hard and catch a bunch.

This year a huge alpine snow pack was swelling The Green to burst her banks and blew away the trail.

To guarantee our normal fishing quota, everyone’s actions implied an amendment to Rule #2: now reading, …except when The Green gobbles up trail. We hire guides. Must catch fish.”

Floating The Green (Photo credits Chad Turner)

Drifting down the high-walled canyon, Chad and I, begin hooking into a few fish, but they wiggled off.

Rule #3: “Hook ups don’t count. The fish must be inside the net or boat.

Not landing fish sucks. My buddy floated through our hole to casually pluck out two fish right in front of my line and compounded my defeat.

Rule #4: Be gracious when you steal a fish from your friend’s hole. Pretend he warmed it up for you.

Chad Dreier “Mr. Thanks for warming up the hole for me”. You deserved the fish. Well done.

While we were getting skunked, I asked out loud, “What are we doing wrong? What are we missing?” Our veteran guide, answered, “Nothing. I don’t get it”.

Then I remembered, There are always two stories at work. I now see two headlines. The obvious story is “we’re not catching fish and we paid $600 for a float trip.” The less obvious is, “I manage my risks to maximize outcomes.”

That’s me tied up in the trees. Special thanks to David for catching my bumbles on film 🙂

Finding beauty

I’ve spent most of my life managing circumstances to maximize outcomes. I can see now how my fierce focus on results has limited my experience of joy. I’m learning how to settle in and enjoy the wild ride vs. trying to control how the story will end.

Thankfully, big uncontrollable rivers and small-brained trout invite me to practice the life skill of loosening my grip on life.

When I exhale into the moment, I’m discovering more beauty, rest and peace.

Thank you to the one lonely trout that permitted our net. I’ll come find you again next year

PS. the other guys killed it. Here are a few of their pictures.

Jason Dembeck our host and organizer of the annual Green trip
Dean from Brooklyn netting a big one
Jeff Dembeck Mr. “Double Hookups” which means both guys in the boat caught fish simultaneously
Me with my lone ranger
Eric increasing his fish count
I think Chris may have co-authored much of the Dembeck Field Guide to Green River Ethics.
Scott’s tall tale