Out of Bounds

Life’s Next Chapter

Goals are good, especially the lofty kind

By Rob Breeding

It’s graduation season, a time of milestones, new beginnings and, sometimes, long-winded speeches intended to inspire great accomplishments.

I took in such a ceremony recently. My ears perked up a bit when the speaker, while urging the impending graduates to pursue lofty goals, suggested students consider hunting trophy moose in Alaska, or set out after a fishing grand slam.

Goals are good, especially the lofty kind. What’s the point of life without them? I’m just not sure hunting and fishing are the right venue for such aspirations. Grand slams are great, but sometimes the pursuit turns into obsession, clouding judgment and overwhelming experience in the process.

Fly fishing has the Caribbean flats slam: tarpon, bonefish and permit. You’re supposed to pull it off in a day, which makes it all the more challenging. Anyone who manages a slam — in a day or lifetime — has accomplished something. All three are tough fish to hook and land on a fly, crab-eating permit especially so. 

I don’t watch a lot of outdoor television, but once channel surfed my way into a fly fishing show focusing on the flats. The founder of a well-known outdoor clothing company was fly fishing in Belize, and after a tarpon and permit, the guide hustled his famous sport off to a muddy backwater fish nursery where he landed a 6 inch baby bonefish, completing a remarkable slam in a rather unremarkable fashion.

My first published outdoor story was about one of the founders of the Brown Baggers, a club of mostly Californians with the lofty goal of catching trophy brown trout. To become a member, you need to catch two verified West Coast browns 10 pounds or heavier. Twin Lakes, on the Eastern Sierra in California, is a popular spot. So is Crowley Lake. 

The angler I profiled, Allan Cole, went on to start his own lure company. His A.C. Plug Swimbaits are considered some of the best big fish lures available, and they have a price to match, going for more than $40 a piece. If you snag one on the bottom, apparently you dive in after it. 

Last week Cole landed his 50th 10-pound brown trout, so the plugs obviously work. 

There are a few dozen Brown Baggers today, but for every Allan Cole there are many with one 10-pound brown who never caught that elusive second, the so-called patch fish — for the Brown Baggers patch club members receive. 

One near miss was an angler who caught a 26-pound, 5-ounce brown that once held the California state record. The angler spent years chasing his patch fish but never again topped the 10-pound mark. He came close, but his No. 2 brown fell just shy.

Imagine catching a 26 pounder, and another brown that weighed 9-14, and somehow feeling unworthy about a measly 2 ounces.

My bird hunting partner Doll and I hit a milestone this winter, finishing the lifetime quail slam we’ve been chasing for nearly a decade. The quail slam requires killing all six of the native quail in the U.S. 

I tried a couple times to get all six in one season, but mountain quail were always my foil. There are other challenges, such as the Arizona quail slam — Gambel’s, Montezuma and scaled — but like the flats, it requires doing in a single day to be remarkable.

Now that Doll and I have our slam I’m not sure I care it doesn’t come with a patch. I care more about our time spent in magnificent places, watching Doll do what she loves to do more than just about anything, except maybe getting a nibble of raw hamburger. And I care desperately that my old girl will be up for another season when autumn rolls around.

By my estimation, that’s a lofty goal worth pursuing.

Rob Breeding writes and blogs at www.mthookandbullet.com.

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