Casting Yellowstone 

Nate Schweber's fishing guide runs deep

Nate Schweber grew up in Missoula and used to entertain Grizzly football audiences by dancing in the band section, Mick Jagger-style, playing the tuba. He left in 2001 to pursue an internship at Rolling Stone and ended up staying in New York, where he's now a stringer for The New York Times and plays rock and roll for his band The New Heathens. His new book, Fly Fishing Yellowstone National Park: An Insider's Guide to the 50 Best Places is, in true Schweber form, not your usual guide. Each chapter weaves history, ecology, anecdotes and imagery of the fishing landscape with interviews from fishing guides, authors such as Tom McGuane and Doug Peacock and even White House politicians. Along the way he discovered some surprising stories—like the Nez Perce saga we've excerpted for this week's feature. We talked with Schweber about his motives for writing the book, Dick Cheney, hot-spotting and his love for rock and roll.

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Photo courtesy of Chris Stetler
  • Nate Schweber reads from his book at Shakespeare & Co. Sat., Aug. 25, at 11 AM. Free.

Indy: You're in New York now, why did you decide to write about fishing in Yellowstone?

Schweber: First and foremost is that I'm perennially homesick for Montana...I used to work in Yellowstone Park. It was the first job that I moved away from home for. The second reason is there's an ecological conservation story in Yellowstone that I thought needed to be told...It's a story about lake trout taking over Yellowstone Lake and really walloping the native yellowstone cutthroats. It had really bad reverberations throughout the entire Yellowstone ecosystem.

Indy: How did Dick Cheney and Jimmy Carter end up in this story?

Schweber: I knew I'd talk to fishing guides, but I wanted to also broaden it to voices of writers, biologists, ecologists, colorful locals and longtime visitors to paint a more thorough picture. I put together a list of two dozen notable people who either fly fish or live in the Yellowstone region. I reached out to them through their Hollywood agents every week—and got absolutely nowhere. The only person who got right back to me is Dick Cheney. Contrary to his grumpy public image, he was really generous with his time and gracious with his memories, when talking about fishing in the park. And I thought if I have Dick Cheney, I should—you know, for journalistic balance—also talk to a high-ranking Democrat. Jimmy Carter was an obvious one because he fished in Yellowstone back when he was president.

Indy: Did you struggle with the idea of giving away fishing spots or fishing secrets?

Schweber: Some of the people I talked to warned me about that. There's a term for it: hot-spotting. You won't find a spot in my book that's not in any other guide book. I also left out a couple of spots or kept them vague. One spot for instance, was the Lamar Valley, which is dozens of miles long. I hope the book encourages people to go out and explore specific palces for themselves.

Indy: What do you love about fishing?

Schweber: Fishing has the transporting ability...The only thing that matters is the flow of the water, that stretch of stream in front of me and the puzzle of how to get a fly to float as naturally as possible through that piece of water. It's pretty much the only thing I know like that—maybe that and sex—where you're so in the moment.

Indy: Is Montana still a draw for you and why?

Schweber: After I moved to New York I was pretty miserable for the first couple of years. I noticed the only thing that made it more tolerable was when I started coming back to Missoula for visits and going fishing again. So I kind of rediscovered it with born-again zeal.

Indy: People still remember you in Missoula from Griz Games. How do you entertain people?

Schweber: I play in bands in New York and that was part of the reason I wanted to move there. I had the naïve notion that I had to be in a big city to really rock and roll...I make records and my rock and roll career in financial terms has gone absolutely nowhere, but it's been a cool experience. And at the Shakespeare reading I'll be teaming up with some buddies of mine—Chip Whitson and the inimitable Bob Wire—to play some songs. It should make for a nice ending to a fish story.

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