Life On The Water

A third-generation local gives an insider perspective on fly fishing in Jackson Hole

Local fly fishing expert Boots Allen was born into a family of Jackson Hole outfitters, and has dedicated his career to learning about local fish and waters, and sharing these amazing places with guests to the valley. Winner of three High-Scoring Guide Awards in the Jackson Hole One Fly, Boots’ knowledge of local rivers, lakes and streams is second to none. He’s passionate about sharing this understanding with others, both via guiding on the river, and also through top-notch books and articles.

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What was it like growing up in Jackson?

Jackson was quieter when I was growing up in the ‘80s. There were true two-month shoulder seasons: October until Thanksgiving and April until Memorial Day. While these are still quieter than peak seasons, we have much more visitation during those months.

One of the biggest differences between now and the ‘80s is that there is so much more to do. When I was a kid, you pretty much just skied. There were only a few folks who religiously drove snowmobiles. Now both those are bigger, but we also have dog sledding, snowshoeing, wildlife tours, and more. There have always been a number of activities in the summer, but now all of them – climbing, rafting, fly fishing, kayaking, trail rides, mountain biking, music events – have grown significantly.

I got started in fly fishing by being born into a family of outfitters. I started guiding right after high school to pay for college. It was enjoyable and I was good enough at it that I kept doing it to pay for some overseas travel. Then I kept doing it through grad school. By the time I finished by PhD, I was totally immersed in it and decided to make fly fishing my career as well as a lifestyle.

Why are the waters that we have around Jackson unique?

There are two elements that make fly fishing in this region so unique. First is the landscape and the wildlife. I’ve fished or guided in destinations around world; most are exquisitely beautiful places, but not one of them matches the beauty of Jackson Hole. Throw the wildlife in, and Jackson it as a completely different level.

The other unique aspect is the diversity. We have great fishing for rainbows and browns in the region, but we are dominated by Snake River Fine-spotted and Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. There are very few places where these fish can be found. That is really what sets this place apart. On top of that, we have terrific lakes where lake trout and brown trout can be caught on flies. There aren’t too many places one can fly fish in freshwater that has that kind of diversity.

Why is fly fishing such a special sport?

It’s a sport that can teach you a lot about the environment that you are playing in. You can study fish behavior, hydrology, aquatic entomology, the impact of natural factors like weather or water levels or moon phase, and the design of rods and lines and leader and fly patterns. These kinds of sports take you outside. You can do them alone or with friends. It’s a natural fit for inquisitive people who want to not only play hard, but also learn a lot.

Why do you enjoy guiding?

Each day is special. I love guiding because you are totally outside and you have to be in control or things can go wrong fast. But what really makes it special are the people I get to meet and become fast friends with, and showing them something totally new.  You can show the most experienced fly fishers in the world something new on the waters in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

What would you tell someone who has never fished before? 

I would say “try it out!” If it’s not for you, then it’s not for you. But it’s one of those sports that can grab a hold of you and you may end up wanting to do it for the rest of your life. The great thing about that is that it can take you to some pretty incredible places.

Even if you don’t pick it up on that first day, you are going to be on the water, having fun, with a stunning landscape surrounding you. You have to be a real jerk to not enjoy that!

And writing is another way that you share the world of fly fishing? 

Yes! I starting writing magazine articles about 20 years ago. A writer who I admired suggested that I do a book about the Snake River and the South Fork of the Snake, since neither had ever been written about in a detailed fashion. That’s how I got started. The research is really the fun part of it. A lot of the research comes from my own observations over the past three decades. Just as crucial to the research is talking to others in the sport, and lots of reading. For Modern Trout Fishing and Finding Trout in all Conditions, I read dozens of research articles in peer reviewed academic journals. I find it really enjoyable learning more about the game you are involved in for your life.

Why is a fishing trip a must-do on a vacation to Jackson Hole?

 It’s a must-do because it’s happening in an incredible piece of environment. Floating and wading along a river is exciting on it’s own. Now imagine doing it in front of the Teton Range or through the canyon walls of the South Fork of the Snake or in the geyser basin of the Firehole. Throw in the chance at seeing elk or bison or moose or otters or even a bear. Top it off with hooking into a beautiful fish because you did all the right things with your cast and presentation and your hookset when the fish ate your fly. All that put together is tough to beat.

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Boots Allen is the lead guide at Snake River Anglers.

Click here to book a trip with them.

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Images © Taylor Glenn