By Joy Howard, Founder and CEO
Fishing with Yvon Chouinard sparks a decade-long obsession.
If we were going to test out the new pee flap on the women’s waders, we had to get going.
It was already mid-October, and if we waited until after the Patagonia sales meeting, where I worked at the time, fishing season would be over for the year. That’s why, ten years ago, I set out, after a quick read of The Curtis Creek Manifesto, to learn fly fishing from the master and founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. On that trip, I discovered the underlying magic at the heart of Early Majority.
To say that I was intimidated would be an understatement, and as with all of my “onboarding trips,” I stressed about what to wear. I tried to ask the Marketing Director for Fly Fishing, who technically reported to me, but I was informed that he only worked when it wasn’t fishing season, which it still was. So I packed my waders along with my best guesses and headed out to meet up with Yvon at his place in Wyoming.
“Most people learn fishing literally the dumbest possible way,” he informed me when teaching me to cast in the driveway that evening. “Expensive guides put you on a boat, and you can sit there all day and never get a bite. We’re going to hunt for fish— not wait for them to come to us.” That’s why we would set out with small collapsible rods, which fit easily in our packs, to scramble through underbrush or over fallen trees. It’s also why we needed a kit that allowed us to move freely but would keep us warm while standing in freezing cold water for long periods.
“It’s going to be very cold, so you need to layer up,” instructed Yvon gruffly. “Wear this over your base layer and under your insulation–” (a down sweater for him, a heavy fleece for me), “–which goes under your shell,” he said, pulling out an extra Patagonia Houdini for me. I didn’t question him, of course, but I did find it remarkable that this piece created for alpinists would be at the center of his fishing kit. It’s a very lightweight windbreaker that packs in a single breast-pocket. You know it’s for alpinists because it doesn’t have any other pockets, which would add weight (and a kook-factor) to the kits of people who obsess every single gram so much that they share a single sleeping bag for 10-day ascents. We geared up and hiked out.
I’d never fly fished before, but with Yvon’s coaching, the fish were practically jumping onto my line. In those days, he was generally grumpy about doing anything work-related. Fishing, however, transformed his demeanor. I got a big grin for every fish I caught that day (and there were over 40) and belly laughs when I’d pull in two on the line at a time. Now, it’s also true that as someone who grew up fishing in the deep South, I irritated him by repeatedly, accidentally referring to his meticulously tied flies as “lures.” Nevertheless, he was happy enough with the goings-on that he even snapped a picture or two with my iPhone. I’d never seen him touch a cell phone before, and I never did again.
He also showed me how to quickly and empathetically release the fish from the line, and all day, I kept wondering, aren’t we going to eat any of these? Maybe he didn’t want to carry them all the way back? I was relieved as we approached home, and he stopped one last time to cast. Finally, I thought, we’ll get some fish to eat, but he just caught one, which I found even stranger. By the time we got back, Malinda, his wife, was already cooking something else. Only after dinner did Yvon plop the fish he’d caught onto a cutting board, slit its belly, and empty its stomach contents to inspect. Then, based on what he found, he went upstairs and tied the next day’s flies.
Obviously, I learned a lot on that trip, but I’ve used his tip about the windbreaker the most.
I found it remarkable that he would essentially wear it as an extra insulation layer underneath what I already thought was an insulation layer (a fleece or a down sweater). What I found even more remarkable was that it worked! And not just in this situation. It was all I needed for running in winter, wearing under fleeces when walking around windy cities on crisp clear days, and pulling out of my purse in a light rain or an overly air-conditioned train. I’ve layered it under denim, leather, and wool blazers— with hiking pants, tucked into skirts, and over sundresses. For those early Autumn or late Spring days that start and end cold but still get hot, I found I could use it instead of lugging a hat and scarf around.
At first I took it as gospel. I mean after all, it came from the wizard himself.
But then I began to obsess about how to improve it. If it was really going to work as an outer layer and an insulation layer, shouldn’t it feel great against your skin? Also, why have a hood if it blows off in the wind? Why were all the women’s colors so lame? Also, since most of us aren’t alpinists, there really is NO REASON that the self-storing pocket can’t be big enough to hold an iPhone.
It has all the versatility, all the improvements I mentioned above, and then some:
Asymmetrical two-way zip design reduces ‘zip-bulk’ at the neck and across the body. It’s hem cinch enhances both warmth and layerability. Reflective details at cuffs and hood add visibility after dark. And a two way zipper pairs well with a skirt when unzipped from below.
And later this year, it will have its first ascent on Lobuche with @iremtour too!