A Fly Fishing Magazine Unlike Any Other
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photo by Aimee Bartee photo by Aimee Bartee

Fly fishing duo Aimee and Chase (Tight Loops) travel around North America in their VW Campervan, exploring the wilderness in search of rare species of fish. Their recent adventure took them into Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in search of the elusive California Golden Trout—a fish with a history. An advocate of women in fishing, we caught up with Aimee to understand more about their expedition and why she thinks more women should get involved in fishing.

Fly fishing can be seen as quite a male-dominated sport. This stereotype is, however, being challenged as fishing becomes more popular with, and more accessible to, women. How did you get into fishing and what about the sport attracted you?

My father, aunt, and uncle all took me fishing when I was a little girl—it was part of my childhood. I caught my first trout with my dad, and it was fun and exciting, but it didn’t really become a passion for me at that point—it was just what we did. As life went on, fishing fell off my radar. But when I met my now husband, Chase, he reintroduced me to and got me involved in fly fishing. He took me to a local pond and taught me how to cast. I adored all of the details, like the flies themselves, and the colors and textures from all of the natural materials. I caught my first trout on the fly and that was it. I fell in love.

photo courtesy of - Aimee Bartee

What made you want to pursue fishing by traveling around and exploring the country’s most obscure wildernesses?

Just being on a river. Enjoying the sounds, sites, and rhythms of the natural world is like no other experience a person can have. Fishing has taken us to some incredible places we’ve fallen deeply in love with. When you find something you love, you can’t help but want to share it with others.

Chase and I started making short films about our fly fishing adventures in 2014 under the name Tight Loops Fly. We have since produced two feature films and a multitude of shorts. These films have played a huge role in pushing us creatively and have allowed us to take a leap and work for ourselves. This decision has opened many doors in my work as a photographer. It has pushed me out of my comfort zone and has taught me to interact with the natural landscape, as well as how to be patient, persistent, and humble.

There’s a lot of talk about the benefits of fishing—the connection it gives you to nature, how it empowers women to be independent and take on challenges themselves. In what way do you think that fishing has helped you?

Fly fishing has forged a deep connection with nature in my life. Not only has it given me a reason to spend so much time in the wilderness, but it has allowed me the time to slow down and appreciate everything around me.

Often, I find myself in conversations with folks about catching big fish and, for me, it has never been about that. I could be perfectly happy watching trout sip mayflies. I don’t need to catch them. I find it absolutely mesmerizing to just be able to quietly sit and watch them do their thing.

On this particular trip in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, you were searching for the elusive California Golden Trout, which has a really unique history in the area—can you tell us a bit more about it?

photo courtesy of - Aimee Bartee

The story of how California Golden Trout came to be in the Montana wilderness is a particularly interesting one. When their orange and yellow iridescence was spotted by mountaineers in the Sierra Mountains in the 1800s, sportsmen all over the world wanted to find and catch them. Pretty soon attempts to transplant the rare hue began, but very few were successful. In the early 1900s, a crop of young California Golden Trout were being transported over the Rockies to the East Coast when the vehicle transporting them broke down. Realizing the fish would die, the guys transporting the fish hiked up to the nearest lake and dumped them in, figuring this would at least give them a fighting chance. Little did these “bucket biologists” know, that the lake where they dumped the fish actually had the perfect combination of gravel, rock, and dissolved oxygen to be a golden trout nirvana, and the species has thrived ever since. The population in the lake has remained genetically pure for the last century, unlike their counterparts in their native Sierra.

Your trip meant some pretty arduous trekking and wilderness camping. How do you balance the enjoyment of fly fishing with the practicalities of traveling through these remote places?

photo courtesy of - Aimee Bartee

When we decided to make the trek to find the Golden Trout, it was my first backcountry overnight to an alpine lake, so though quite a butt kicker, it was stunning as well. To say I was a bit nervous about the trip would be an understatement. I am a self-proclaimed ‘bearanoid’…. I’m absolutely terrified of bears. But through some coaxing and reassuring, Chase was able to get me on board for the grueling hike. It felt great to push myself out of my comfort zone and wake up the next morning with the realization that, not only were we not eaten by bears, but I was able to overcome my fear and experience such an incredible place. Not to mention that Chase proposed to me early that next morning!

When I push myself to do these kinds of things, I grow as a person. Perpetual learning and growth is so valuable. Enjoyment and practicality definitely go hand-in-hand. The more remote and inaccessible, the more enjoyable the fishing is for me. The remoteness is what motivates me to get out and explore.

The number of women becoming involved in fishing is on the rise. What advice would you have for women looking to get involved in the sport? In what ways has the sport benefited you?

Fly fishing has been a gateway to so many different outdoor activities and has afforded me the ability to enjoy incredible places. In my opinion, this is why fly fishing is becoming more popular with women. It allows us to get out and spend time out of our normal routine. Only good things can come of that!

I’m not sure what to offer for advice really, other than get out there and try it. Take some time to learn about the fish and their habitats, learn to cast, get good at untangling knots, and, above all, respect these beautiful creatures and their habitats. ❄

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