• Toner Mitchell

TROUT UNLIMITED: My Bucket List

By TONER MITCHELL, Contributing Writer, Reprinted with Permission from the Questa Del Rio News


Beautiful Montana Trout Stream, Photo by Toner Mitchel

When I ran a fly shop long ago, I’d look at fishing magazines and see myself in all the pictures. I hadn’t heard the term “bucket list” yet, and if I had, it would have been meaningless. My bucket was always empty, after all, since working in the fly-fishing industry meant that everything – the Amazon, Mongolia, Argentina - was always within my reach. I could send myself to the places I wanted to see and make the adventure pay for itself. I thought that life would never be any different.

It’s silly of me though, especially as I get older, to forget that unless my time on Earth becomes infinite, I will be forced to live in vicarious space, which means fishing magazines and bucket lists. Here’s one for you:

I want to fish for golden dorado on a Bolivian stream no larger than the Red River. I think I still have time to do this, though I’m concerned that if COVID doesn’t stop mutating, I’ll be too phobic to risk a voyage to a jungle where spiders catch birds in their webs and there may be diseases or crawly critters yet to be discovered by humans, namely me.

Since Alaska’s too crowded these days, I want to reëxperience catching big rainbow trout in their least trammeled native habitat. If a Hefty sack full of cash falls on my head, and if someone nicer than Putin ever leads Russia again, let me die having skated mouse flies in Kamchatka.

When my wife and I took our baby son to the Pyrenees for her fortieth birthday, I missed my chance to catch an actual native brown trout. I like the idea of browns swimming near ancient European castles, where men wore chainmail to work and drank terrifying alcohol from four-pound vessels made of crude metal.

One day in the far northern Rockies, a colleague of mine went snorkeling and saw a 30-inch bull trout resting under an enormous log jam, like a witch in a forest cabin waiting for a couple kids to amble by so she could roast them for dinner. I’d like to catch such a witch in the northern Rockies.

I considered my ocean flats fishing career to be unfinished business. If I never get to the Yucatan again, I’ll gladly settle for a few more redfish hunts on the Gulf Coast.

The thing about this late afternoon time of life is being caught between what my body and bank can withstand, and the chance of losing my appreciation for the winding road I’ve traveled to arrive at so much passion and desire. “Get out early and often” should be my credo from now on. It’s gotten me this far, and soon the magazines will be all I’ve got.

Here’s another one for the not-so-distant bucket: a warm house and a cat sleeping on my lap. Thank heaven, I’ll think, for so many talented fishing writers and visual artists, and for the rivers and fish that will hopefully still run. Eventually, I feel the cold in my earlobes and smell tobacco on the breeze, and snort myself awake when the cat jumps off.

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