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aztightlines 06-15-2007 10:35 AM

Fishing With Drew and Don and Joe
Getting to be that time of year again...Montana. I start dreaming of the West Yellowstone/Island Park area and images of my first magic trip up there come washing across my field of vision. Phone has yet to begin ringing, the unpaid bills and orders can wait; I want to put this down, after years of procrastinating.
Introducing Joe Nazarro ; one of the guys who first got me into flyfishing back in the Catskills, around 1964. His mentor, Frank Mele, was a neighbor and a classical viola player and teacher, also a flyfishing writer - the only one I knew - of some note. Three men, Frank and Joe and a cartoonist named Jim Mulligan regaled me with stories of this mythical pursuit at my mother's parties. They fished nothing but bamboo, tied their own flys and were drinkers and storytellers of the first order. By the time they offered to teach us flycasting in the local highschool gym in the dead of winter, a few of us country boys were champing at the bit to learn the secrets of this arcane, bohemian pursuit.
I had the good fortune to be a senior at my highschool the only year Joe ever taught English and we fished the Esopus River after school and hunted squirrels, partridge and even groundhogs after school let out - heavenly, as I recall, especially in the fall. His wife cooked a couple of woodchucks in a stew and finally said, "Alright, that's enough of that." He later informed me he never graduated highschool in the Bronx himself and matriculated at Columbia after taking a placement test. Joe was a lifelong bartender in Greenwich Village in NYC and Woodstock, coming from a long line of barmen.
He had dated my aunt Ellen when I was about 5 and I remembered him as a guy on a scooter who was fairly nice to us kids.
Joe had moved to Aspen in about 1975, working as a bartender and wine rep since, and told me, after many years of being out of touch, that he rarely fished in the valley around Aspen any more, too crowded, but loved to go to W. Yellowstone and fish the park once or twice a year. I did not need much more encouragement and made plans to meet him.
I flew in to Salt Lake City and drove up to West Yellowstone in a midmorning , midJune snowflurry , checked into the HoHum Motel and drove up to Madison Junction Campground to meet him.
That first first drive up the Madison Valley inside the park was amazing: buffalo, elk, deer all over the road and hanging along the river. I felt as though I already knew this place, maybe because of all the photos we have all seen of the area. I found Joe in his camper, but he was snoozing, so I went up and checked out Old Faithful, got that out of the way. I thought it would have made more noise.
When we did get to fish, he led me up on the Firehole and introduced to me to his techniques on swinging softhackles on a slow, light rod and catching those gorgeous little trout in the midst of spewing geysers, in the riffles. We moved slowly, leisurely and I realized that was pretty much the way Joe moved those days, having slowed down quite a bit. He was quite fatigued from a driving trip back east, he will not fly, to visit a gravely ill brother.
Driving down the Madison for dinner at Bullwinkle's he pointed out the holes that produce the big browns, up from Hebgen, in the fall. He still had his charm with the ladies and had the waitress smiling and treating us royally.
He was also a bit of a curmudgeon, and as I thanked him for doing what he did to get some of us kids going in flyfishing he said, "I don't think I would do it these days, too many people fishing my favorite waters." Then he said "This place is my tonic" and it was obvious the years had washed away, and he was the Joe of old, his features transformed with a spring in his step.
Those Old Guys can be cranky, but they are generous with their time and knowledge, if you catch them at the right moments.
Next: Fishing with Drew

drw57 06-15-2007 02:49 PM

Thanks for the memories Rod.

On The Fly! 06-15-2007 05:23 PM

Good Stuff Rod. Keep it coming. looking forward to Drew memoires!

Don :)

aztightlines 06-16-2007 10:08 AM

Fishing With Drew
Drew Mentzer, a young man from Tucson, now a full-fledged Montana guide, was working in Bob Jacklin's shop at the time of my first trip to the West Yellowstone area. There were about six flyshops on the main drag, Jacklin's one of the "real" ones. There are a couple that sell ashtrays, banners and assorted tourist paraphernalia, but we won't mention them.
Drew had started at Jacklin's shop a couple of years before and worked for me in the winters and offered to take me fishing. I had no idea of the depth of Drew's knowledge and expertise in fishing that incredible variety of water within an hour of West, as they call it.
An aside: if you want to really know anything about the local fishing anywhere up north, get those young guys in the shops to talk to you, by hook or by crook, as they fish nonstop all summer - they are constantly on the water when not working, eating or sleeping.
Drew took me down on the Madison early one morning, at Three Dollar Bridge before the crowds showed up, and place me right next to shore with a giant stonefly nymph imitation, 3x tippet, and fished one little run next to the shore. He patiently explained the salmonflies migrate to the banks before emerging in mid to late June, and watched as I made a few drifts down the bank. I recall him saying, "Huh, should have been a fish or two there" before beckoning me upstream to the next lie. As I climbed up the bank, I slipped and got my first Madison Baptism, soaked to the skin. Drew was doing his best not to laugh, as I must have looked pretty ridiculous. Luckily, the car was right there and I changed shirts before heading upstream and we started banging fish on nymphs.
The main picture from that day was Drew upstream from me, landing a powerful Madison brown, rod bent with the snow-capped peaks in the background - a postcard shot.
Our next session was up in the Firehole Canyon right before dark, throwing gynormous orange stimulators at rising fish. The road was closed, so we had to hike in a short ways, but no people and plenty of willing fish in the riffly water under gorgeous cliffs, nothing big landed, but nice strong fish. A cow elk was grazing half in the river and looked at me as I approached like,"What's your problem, buddy?" I like places where the animals are in charge.
The following day, at Drew's suggestion, pulled off at one of the many spots along the Madison in the Park to throw stimulators along the rocks forming the roadbed, nice browns coming out and whacking the drys and dropper nymphs. Hopped out on the giant boulders in the river and drifted salmonfly nymphs along side and hooked something very big, but lost it. Killed a fish, unfortunately, with one of those big nymphs, the long shanked hook caused some bleeding and I gave up trying to revive it after several tries. Those things happen, but it is not fun to leave a dying fish in the water, even though a raccoon or osprey will probably have it for dinner. I would not want to get caught taking a fish out of the park.
Met Drew and two of his buddies on the Henry's Fork over at Island Park the morning after the big party at Trouhunters to celebrate the Opening of the Ranch on June 15th every year. To their credit, they showed up pretty much on time, but definitely suffering. They took me to some secret spot below the ranch and we prowled the high banks, spotting fish below, but the few huge trout we saw were moving a lot, feeding sporadically and we never hooked one. Only downstream presentations kept you in the ballgame, they were right, as I tried casting upstream to a fish and failed miserably.
I offered my services to Bob Jacklin, who referred to me as "Drew's boss" in his shop, in his evening flycasting classes, and earned some goodwill in the process. Bob holds free casting clinics every Sunday night in the summers at the train station near the West Gate. There is a casting pond there and casters of various abilities get to learn from one of the true masters - Bob is one of the best flycasters and teachers I have seen, and a nice guy. Drew and a buddy showed up as the class ended, the fishing was just too good somewhere or other to spend time on a clinic.
Drew's calm demeanor and wonderful attitude have served him well; he is now a top guide at Blue Ribbon Outfitters and I can't wait to fish with him next month.

aztightlines 06-18-2007 11:07 AM

Fishing With Don
How to describe Don Prentice: pretty much impossible, but will start with retired highschool teacher, 12 years in the military emcompassing Korea, Vietnam and stuff I have no business discussing here. Fishes 2-3 months in Montana, 2-3 months in New Zealand, hunts every conceivable game animal and bands falcons and various migratory birds the rest of the time. Your basic 70-something outdoorsman with the constitution of a 20-something man.
I am currently walking 2-3 miles every morning so I will not be walked into the dirt by a man 20 years my senior - it can happen, believe me. A day on the river with Don has been described as the Bataan Death March on Short Rations. He says, "I'll carry you out, but I'll have to GUT you first." You are just beginning to get the picture.
Politically, Don is so far to the right, he is almost back around to the left, but somehow we get along, manage to make jokes and it is a privilege to fish with him - I know that, because he reminds me of it so often. Just kidding about that, as he is very generous and never expects a payback for his efforts.
My first day with Don started out fine, though the weight bench and various killing implements strewn around his camp set off alarms.
A beaver was struggling up the milky water of Cabin Creek and Don sauntered over and looked a the critter, arms akimbo, and that beaver took off like the devil was after him - wanted no part of Don. Another clue. We later encountered a moose on the river and he said, "We'll' give her a wide berth, saw her with a calf the other day." She was looking down at us over a small tree, like a creature from Jurassic Park.
His price for the day's guiding on the river he had fished since 1948 or so at the Univ. of Wyoming at Laramie: one hotcake and coffee at the Campfire Lodge Restaurant. Great hotcakes, by the way, if Chuck is still at the grill.
We proceeded to where we were to cross the river, downstream halfway to Quake Lake and Don pulled out a Crocodile Dundee knife and hacked off a couple of branches, then he handed me one and said, "Follow me, use the same rhythm I do and just keep going, on tiptoes if necessary. We trudged in unison across the Madison, the water reaching an inch or two from the tops of our waders, but made it one piece.
We fished our way down to the top of the lake, picking up numerous hard-fighting rainbows and browns. Don got a rainbow all of 22" by hauling it up on a gravel bar before it hit the real fast water and I was amazed, I had never seen anyone land a fish like that. He was using a 7'9"' 3 wt with 3x tippet, so I learned something about tippet size that day: use what you can get away with.
We reached a big pool across from the restaurant, where I had seen deer eating an hour or two before, and Don showed me the molasses and seed brick he had installed on top of the cliff, "To entertain the tourists,help Chuck's business" as he put it.
The teacher in him emerged and he asked, "How would you fish this pool?" and rejected my stock answer of approaching from down stream, leaping up onto a ledge and "shadowcasting" downstream then upstream form his perch.
I stood below in awe as he whipped the line in graceful arcs until he hooked a huge trout, that immediately threw the hook. The sun beamed down on him at that moment, like that scene from "A River Runs Through It."
Through the restaurant window I saw diner with a forkful of his lunch poised outside his mouth, frozen, had to be wondering what heck was he witnessing across the river.
Don broke me of my reliance on strike indicators that day, guided me on to numerous fish, so strong that the 20" mark was irrelevant, and I guess I "passed muster," as we have fished numerous times since that day, always an experience.
Last year, Drew was working in the Blue Ribbon fly shop when Patagonia founder Yvon Chuinnard came in, a true outdoor celebrity, and Drew asked, "Did you know Don Prentice?" Chuinnard replied, "He taught me how to climb." A few eyebrows were raised, guess Drew's stock went up for a few moments, but I tell that story (blatantly name-dropping, which Don would not do) to warn anyone who might encounter Don somewhere and think this just another old guy with fantastic stories. He is the Real Deal, as those of us lucky enough to have experience him in his element - outdoors - have come to learn, and appreciate.

Seldomseen 06-18-2007 04:07 PM

Great posts.

Would you consider Drew, Don and Joe influences, mentors, or something else?

Kevin Krai 06-18-2007 05:13 PM

Thanks for sharing that, some great stories and some great fishing buddies. So many things you wrote struck a chord with me and was nodding my head while reading. "Baptized on the Madison" :D, **** I thought I just fell in last October, Baptism is a much better way to put it. It is also very cool to hear that one can survive for many years while doing the crazy things we do in pursuit of fish. Once again really enjoyed the post.

aztightlines 06-18-2007 06:07 PM


Originally Posted by Seldomseen (Post 26678)
Great posts.

Would you consider Drew, Don and Joe influences, mentors, or something else?

All of the above, but mentors and friends, above all. Strange to describe a guy a bit older than your elder son a "mentor," but its' true - those kids up there fish so much, they can teach anyone a bunch. I am still ready to be a student, hope it always remains so.

aztightlines 06-19-2007 11:46 AM

Wrapping It Up
My tenth and final day in Flyfishing Paradise, left West ,after saying goodbye to Drew and his coworkers at the flyshop, drove up to the Madison Junction Campground to see Joe. Exchanged a few more stories about the old hometown, bid farewell, and was gratified to see Joe relaxed, his old self again.
Drove out past Yellowstone Lake, the Lewis and headed down towards Jackson Hole,out the South entrance, then through Grand Teton Park. Again, had seen so many pictures of the area, sensed I already knew it, and was reeling from the beauty of the lake, Grand Teton hanging right above the valley and all the water.
Jackson Hole looked like a place that might charge you to breathe the air, (the Sotheby's store scared me) should I get out of the car, so kept going, also time was tight to make the plane.
Down the South Fork of the Snake, seemed to be more river-running than fishing, gorgeous canyon that opened up at Palisades Reservoir, turned south at Alpine and headed into Wyoming, down the Salt Valley. That is a place I would like to return to, to check out the fishing. Some fishermen from that area have told me it is good - the Greys River, above where it dumps into the Snake, as well.
Passed Bear Lake, an interesting looking large body of water with sandy beaches and skeedoos, down along the Logan River (another little spot I would like to fish some day) and made the plane - 8 hour trip by that circuitous route. Beautiful drive, but had to keep moving to barely make the plane.
I felt humble and grateful for my fishing success and all that beauty - could not go wrong with my guides and mentors. Each of them had their own areas and shared their water and knowledge unselfishly.
Almost the perfect balance, my three teachers, even though that number is not usually associated with any kind of equilibrium.

Seldomseen 04-11-2018 10:02 AM


This thread is more than 10 years old, but I found myself revisiting it today and thought some of you might enjoy some water passed under the bridge.


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