How It Feels to Be Yvon Chouinard
Credit: Jean-Marc Giboux / Getty Images
It's 10 minutes to dusk, and I've been watching Chouinard fish, feeling compelled to be better than I am, which is the signature effect of his life. We're standing at a pool called the Secret Spot, waiting for what Río Grande fishermen call the Magic Hour, the silken time just before dark when the fish bite readily. I ask Chouinard for a casting lesson.

You catch these capricious Río Grande trout by plopping your fly on a far bank and drifting it into the current in a steady pattern: cast, drift, take two steps downstream, then repeat. But my fly line swims skyward with each thunderous blast of wind. Part of the problem is that, with my smaller 8-weight fly rod, I'm underpowered: De rigueur on the Río Grande is the longer power-stick known as a double-handed spey rod – like Chouinard's – which can drive a fly line through a brick wall.

Chouinard proceeds to demonstrate the balletic moves of spey casting, praising me when I nail it. Soon, I halfway have the hang of it. Chouinard told me earlier that rock-climbing was about "making links," about finding a zone and wasting no effort. "Fishing," he said, "is like that, too."

As I stand on the riverbank, thinking about this, I start casting in a new rhythm, a new zone, reaching water I haven't reached before. Still, I can't touch the Secret Spot completely, so I cross the river and climb the opposite bank, as Chouinard did that morning. On my second cast, the line comes tight. I can tell the fish is big, but who knows how big? It's dark. The trout sulks on the bottom. Finally, I turn him, and he rises slowly. As he swirls in a blurred pane of moonlight, I see he is the biggest trout I will catch in my life.

Crossing the river, Chouinard calls "Hey, Doug! Way to go!" And the trout, with a beat of its tail, runs up the stony beach and comes to rest at my feet: a male weighing 25 pounds.

"My God," Chouinard says. "Look at that fish!" He shakes my hand, telling me maybe 20 people out of the hundreds who have visited the lodge in its 10-year history have caught a brown trout as enormous as this one. That night, Chouinard toasts me over dinner. We seem ready for the river of his memory, for still more unexplored territory.