LIFE IS MADE UP OF HOW WE CHOOSE TO SPEND OUR TIME, WHERE WE CHOOSE TO LIVE, AND THE PEOPLE AND ADVENTURES THAT FILL THOSE DAYS. IF WE HAVE LEARNED ANYTHING, IT IS THAT GETTING TO THE HEART OF WHO WE ARE MAKES A LIFE THAT IS FILLED WITH EXACTLY THAT: HEART.
We caught up with avid angler, fly fishing enthusiast, and all-around outdoors woman, Maddie Brenneman, to talk about her life on the river, her 16-year love of fly fishing, the places close to her heart, and the path she took to get here.
WHERE IS HOME?
Steamboat, Colorado. I grew up in the city, Denver, but always felt happiest when I was close to the mountains. It was an exciting and empowering feeling when I became an adult and realized I could choose where I wanted to live, and it could be anywhere. I am happy to be living in a place that means a lot to me and still fishing the same water where I first learned,16 years ago. The best days of my life have been spent on a river.
HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR DAYS?
A mixture of things. My partner, Nick, and I live on a small ranch so there are always some chores to be done. We love to cook every night. We try and escape; fishing as much as we can or a hike up to an alpine lake.
WHERE AND WHEN DID YOU LEARN TO FLY FISH?
I learned to fly fish when I was fifteen. This was when I met Nick. We have been together for 16 years now and are getting married this year. Nick and his family taught me how to fly fish when we would spend time in Steamboat during the summers.
WHAT DOES FLY FISHING GIVE YOU THAT OTHER SPORTS MIGHT NOT?
Many things. I love the ability to interact so closely with wildlife. To catch, hold, and safely release a trout back into a river is a special feeling. It has given me a deep appreciation for the environment and taught me how fragile nature can be. I love that it is a sport I can do for the rest of my life. Even one day when I'm an old lady, I know I will still be fishing. I also love the different perspectives that fishing allows me when I travel to fly fish.
WHAT IS THE SECRET TO THE PERFECT DAY OF FISHING?
Any day on the river is by definition, perfect. If I am outside on a river fishing, I am completely content. The secret to a perfect day is letting go of expectations of catching fish and remember that you are really lucky to just be in that beautiful place. In fly fishing, catching a fish is just a bonus.
WALK US THROUGH A DAY OF FISHING...
This day, Nick and I set out with a good friend to float a new piece of water not too far from where we live. We woke up before sunrise and sipped hot coffee as we sleepily gathered our gear and loaded up the truck. We stopped in at one of my favorite fly shops, loaded up on some files and helpful advice, then made our way to the river. We put in at a place knowing it would give us nearly 10 miles of river to float and fish. We floated through a stunning canyon without another boat in sight. We spent the day laughing and fishing for trout. This canyon was burned in a wildfire last year and it was both sad and oddly beautiful to see the scars left from the burn, the contrasting colors of new green and charred black. We watched eagles soar overhead all day long until a storm rolled in just as we made it to the take-out. We hiked up to a campsite in the rain and quickly set up our tents and changed into warm, dry clothes. We made some dinner and drinks and then crawled into our tents to fall asleep beneath the stars. We woke up to a moose investigating our campsite early the next morning. The sounds of the tent zippers opening scared him off into the woods and we crawled out to make some coffee and elk breakfast tacos (I made sure to bring along some fresh pico de gallo salsa for these). Eager to get back on the river, we scarfed down the warm corn tortillas and coffee, packed up camp, and made our way back down to the raft. The sun was warmer this second day and we continued on, taking in the solitude and quietness of the canyon, interrupted only by the swish of a fly line. Close to sunset, we made it to the take-out and said our goodbyes as we piled all our wet gear into the back of the truck, made a quick stop for coffees and snacks at a gas station, and wandered home. I could tell we were all grateful for another new river, experience, and memory to hold on to.
WHAT DOES 'COUNTRY' MEAN TO YOU?
To me, 'country' means free, wild, open, unexplored. I think these are all reasons why I love to fish and be on a river.
WHAT'S A LESSON YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY ANTICIPATE UNTIL YOU'RE IN IT?
When it comes to fly fishing, you can make assumptions about what might lead you to success based on past experiences fishing, but until you actually go and fish a river, you never truly understand it. This is why every time you fish new water, you always learn more.
WHAT DO YOU THINK CONNECTS YOU TO OTHERS?
I love to share this part of my life. I have done so through storytelling and guided fishing in the past. Teaching someone how to fly fish is one of the greatest gifts you can give; It has certainly been one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.
TOP THREE SONGS FOR THE ROAD?
Miles Away – Phil Cook
Black River Killer – Blitzen Trapper
Letter to Madeline – Ian Noe
WHAT'S YOUR IDEA OF GOOD COMPANY?
I like to be with people that like to laugh and don't care about egos or accomplishments. I just really like good-hearted people that are kind before anything else.
WHERE ARE YOU HEADED NEXT?
Well, I'm getting married this month, so I'm feeling very happy and excited for a small summer wedding with family and close friends here in Steamboat. We have some small fishing trips lined up but I'm really excited about the opportunity to travel back to the Amazon and fly fish for a species of fish called the Payara–if you want a scary campfire story, go look up a photo of this fish.