New Heathens

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From Sunday's Great Falls Tribune.

Missoula native shares the joy of fly-fishing Yellowstone

by Patrick Douglas

On any given day, you might find Montana native Nate Schweber on a New York City subway, headed to a nearby fishing hole with a rod in hand.

His passions for fly-fishing go back to his days in Missoula where he graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in journalism.

“Going from subway rats to wild brown trout in an hour and 45 minutes time isn’t terrible, considering that one is in New York City,” Schweber said. “You get some weird looks (with a fishing pole on the subway) but you see drag queens stumbling home at 6:45 in the morning out here.”

It’s his passion for fishing and knowledge of the Rocky Mountain region that landed him the task of penning the book, “Fly Fishing Yellowstone National Park: An Insider’s Guide to the 50 Best Places,” for Stackpole Books.

“I found out they were looking for someone to write a guide to fishing in Yellowstone,” Schweber said. “I basically said, ‘I will get that gig come hell or high water.’”

“Fly Fishing Yellowstone” isn’t your standard manual on where to go and what to do when you get there. It’s broken down into 50 chapters, each featuring a different source talking about a place in the park that is special to them.

“I don’t have the decades of guiding clients in Yellowstone. I never worked as a fishing guide,” said Schweber, who also writes for the New York Times. “I thought what I needed to do to make the book unique was put a lot of journalism into it. I tried to cast as wide a net as possible, to use a fishing metaphor, of voices in the book.

“I tried to get voices that are really interesting, colorful local residents that live around Yellowstone,” he added. “I tried to get voices of some tourists. I got the voices of a lot of biologists and scientists and rangers.

“I had them tell me why it was their favorite spot. What makes the spot special to them? What makes that spot their favorite spot in all of Yellowstone?” he said.

Schweber was even able to wrangle a couple of high-profile politicians in former Vice President Dick Cheney and former President Jimmy Carter to talk about their spots.

Cheney offered inside information for a chapter about the southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake.

“I got a really cool interview with him. Love the guy or hate the guy, he’s well known as being an avid fly-fisherman,” Schweber said. “I also got a little quote from Jimmy Carter just ’cause I figured I ought to for the sake of balance, get a high ranking politician from the other party to balance it out.

“Jimmy Carter had actually gone to Yellowstone and gone fishing while he was president.”

Schweber’s book doesn’t come across as a guy simply talking about the technicalities of fly-fishing in Yellowstone. He’s a fan of fishing and tries to convey that to those who share his passion.

“I think I’m more excited about fly-fishing than I am knowledgeable about fly-fishing,” he said with a laugh.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the gig was the opportunity to spend a summer in Yellowstone researching the region, Schweber recalled.

“I used the writer excuse ‘I’ve got to actually see these places to actually write about them.’ The excuse was that I was writing about them, but I used them as an opportunity to go to all these places at one of my favorite places on earth that I’d never been to before,” he said.

“To do that, I bought a pickup truck sight unseen for a thousand bucks on Craigslist from some kid in Bozeman, and I lived in the back of the pickup all summer long, when I wasn’t camping and sleeping in a tent in the backcountry,” he added. “It was awesome. It was outstanding. I’m wondering if it’s too soon to write a sequel.”

As an added bonus, he was given the green light to provide the majority of the book’s photos.

“That was a cool thing,” said Schweber, who spent a summer working in Yellowstone shortly after graduating high school. “I’m not a photographer, and I’m not trained as a photographer, and I had a pretty unsophisticated point-and-click camera. There’s one picture of a grizzly bear in there that I want to brag that my zoom wasn’t that good. I think the pictures add to the fun of the book.”

Schweber also fronts a rock band based out of New York City called the New Heathens and considers fishing a great way to get away from everything.

“One of the things I like about fishing is, if left to my own devices, I’ll tend to stress and fret about music stuff,” he said. “Being in a band is like having four girlfriends at once and they all hate you. Fishing is a respite from that for me.”


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.


On the topic of Yellowstone, Montana press and this blog, there's an addendum to the wolf saga I followed here. A Montana judge, in one of his last acts before retirement, reversed the decision of state wildlife officials and reinstated wolf hunting and trapping in lands bordering Yellowstone.

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