I Fished 365 Consecutive Days Just to Prove a Point (And I’m Still Married) / by Stephen Veals

2018 was a tough year. 

I lost my job of seven years. My father-in-law passed away from a slow and agonizing battle with cancer. My yellow lab of twelve years had to be put down in front of me. My seventeen-year-old, 1994 Toyota pickup from high school finally tapped out (the only vehicle I’d ever owned and I’m thirty-one). And to top it all off, we were still stuck with an administration that couldn’t wait to sell off more and more of our hard-earned public lands to the greedy fossil fuel industry.  There were countless excuses to lose faith and remain depressed. 

To hell with that. 

It was just one of those years where you had to dig deep. As in, really deep. Consoling the love of your life as she watches her father slip away in his sleep wasn’t easy to do. And it sure wasn’t easy on our new marriage flying back and forth to his hospital bed every few weeks for the last two years knowing full well that each goodbye could possibly be our last. With all of these heavy emotions, I knew I would have to fight to keep my chin up and stay positive for my wife, Laura, even when I knew deep down the odds weren’t looking good for a cancer recovery miracle. 

Late in December 2017, on my home waters in Idaho, my angling buddy Fred and I started talking about the inevitable cock-measuring fishing topic of “Total Days on the Water.” This heated phrase was the subject of much debate, since neither of us wanted to admit that ultimately our wives would have the final say in the matter for the upcoming 2018 season.

After a long roll cast to a deep urban pool, Fred predicted that he would be confidently rounding out 2018 with over seventy-five days on the water.  A few river sodas later and we were both silently doing the algebraic calculations in our own heads. Racking our brains on how we’d out-gun the other angler with sneaking out before and after work just to be able to firmly mark a large “F” on our hanging wall calendars, the dark sharpie letter indicating for the history books that the day had indeed been blessed with “Fishing.” 

The snow on the ground didn’t stop the fish in the net. A wild Rainbow from public lands beats any fish from private water. You end up working harder, but the reward is worth it.

The snow on the ground didn’t stop the fish in the net. A wild Rainbow from public lands beats any fish from private water. You end up working harder, but the reward is worth it.

January 2018 came and went with an abounding bundle of cold winter days on the Boise river: filled with frozen guides and waders that stand up on their own, frostbitten and full of crackling wrinkles of snow and icy river water.  Large trout were plentiful and so were my days on the water. I had decided that I was silently out to fish 365 consecutive days, and my best buddy had no idea I was gunning for his record. This was going to be the only way I’d survive 2018. I had to just keep my mind occupied on the positive thoughts of fishing. I needed this.

By late March, the conversations turned to concession speeches from each of my angling pals: “We get it man, you proved your damn point. There’s no way you’re gonna continue like this every single day right?” 

River cleanup day. While fishing one day in February, I started to notice just how much crap was floating in my favorite river, and I finally snapped. It was time to clean out an entire mile of the Boise river. I ended up removing over 100lbs of garbage I encountered along the banks. My challenge quickly grew into more than just personal achievements in fishing.

River cleanup day. While fishing one day in February, I started to notice just how much crap was floating in my favorite river, and I finally snapped. It was time to clean out an entire mile of the Boise river. I ended up removing over 100lbs of garbage I encountered along the banks. My challenge quickly grew into more than just personal achievements in fishing.

Wrong. The gate was open and I was off to the races, already concocting the rules in my head. I would have to fish for a minimum of fifteen minutes per day and it had to be on a body of water with fish in it. Sorry, the neighborhood pool or drought-prone canals wouldn’t count. Furthermore, I would set out to try and teach others about the joys of fly fishing along the way. What good was the challenge without spreading the stoke of fishing?

I recently became a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and this was also part of my Trump-era idea to help others along the way. My mentee, Brennan, was eagerly awaiting his time on the water. Little did he know he’d get a lot of chances to work on his casting.

Brennan with his first Bluegill on the fly. City ponds were crucial when it came to teaching fundamentals, while also making sure that fish were still hitting the net—no matter how hard the beginner casts were hitting the water.

Brennan with his first Bluegill on the fly. City ponds were crucial when it came to teaching fundamentals, while also making sure that fish were still hitting the net—no matter how hard the beginner casts were hitting the water.

Rule 406: Never get too high and mighty to fish the local stocked pond. Every now and then a few heavy hitters were dropped in and I’d find myself in a place I never thought I’d be excited to fish: On a bank surrounded by Powerbait-flinging, marshmallow-tossing rednecks going after the supposed “Ten-pounders, buddy!” that had just been planted.

Rule 406: Never get too high and mighty to fish the local stocked pond. Every now and then a few heavy hitters were dropped in and I’d find myself in a place I never thought I’d be excited to fish: On a bank surrounded by Powerbait-flinging, marshmallow-tossing rednecks going after the supposed “Ten-pounders, buddy!” that had just been planted.

Date nights were soon modified. Well…only slightly. What started off as a paddle-boarding date quickly became, “Hey babe, can you troll us over to that tree line real quick? There’s some bass over there by those logs.”

Date nights were soon modified. Well…only slightly. What started off as a paddle-boarding date quickly became, “Hey babe, can you troll us over to that tree line real quick? There’s some bass over there by those logs.”

Obligatory safety meeting before hitting the Green River. The 365 challenge meant that “Bro-Time” was mandatory.

Obligatory safety meeting before hitting the Green River. The 365 challenge meant that “Bro-Time” was mandatory.

In order to achieve this ludicrous goal, I’d have to fish different types of water in drastically different parts of the U.S. You see, I’m a cinematographer, and this means I’m on the road—a lot. With video shoots planned in California, Colorado, and Montana, along with family trips to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England, it would mean I’d have to be reading up on a lot of water.  What ensued was pure marital suicide: I’d leave my wife on our comfy couch during a Wednesday Netflix night only to go fish right at 11:40 pm just so I could log a day’s fishing. I’d sweat the short five minute drive down to the water while mentally scolding myself on how reckless I was acting by nearly forgetting to fish that day. 

6am flights to the Golden State meant I was up and pitching streamers at 4:15am that same morning. Oftentimes, I was hailing a Lyft with my suitcase and fly rod side by side on a dark, city park embankment, much to the driver’s surprise and astonishment. Producers and directors I’d work with on-set oftentimes questioned my sanity as I’d leave a shoot right after the obligatory That’s a wrap folks would leave the director’s mouth. Yeah, there’s no time to hang out for après-surf-and-turf with the client while faking menial small talk. I had to be fly fishing, and fast. I’d wade down to the muddy Napa river with Sperry Topsiders and a cheesy polo shirt, ill-prepared for the tidal rise and fall of this brackish, Striper fishery while mud ruined my only pair of business casual jeans for the next day’s shoot at an expensive vineyard.

By May, I had lost a ton of flies along the way. I’d constantly hook myself in the neck pitching big flies in complete darkness. I’d find myself rushing to quickly tie on a crappy knot, thinking no fish would lie in such a dark run after a late client review session, only to have the trout of a lifetime smash the streamer and snap me off cold. 

Dumb move, buddy.

By August, the challenge was forcing me out of my comfort zone—the type of zone where you easily could call out your cast with a Dave Chappelle-era “Kobe!” before watching the indicator bob down, finishing with a confident “Fish on!” as follow-up commentary. I was fishing tougher and tougher water in different and varying conditions: Rain, gale force winds, high-water blow outs, 100+ degree days…it didn’t matter. They all turned into days on the water. 

A flood-stage day on Boulder Creek while sneaking out during a visit to the in-laws’ house in Colorado. I’d take 20 minutes to clear my head and go down to the creek with whichever rain poncho I’d managed to stuff in my suitcase. The stress relief while being on the water was something I really came to cherish.

A flood-stage day on Boulder Creek while sneaking out during a visit to the in-laws’ house in Colorado. I’d take 20 minutes to clear my head and go down to the creek with whichever rain poncho I’d managed to stuff in my suitcase. The stress relief while being on the water was something I really came to cherish.

Eventually, I was targeting species I never thought I’d land. Kokanee salmon, Steelhead, six-foot-long Sturgeon, high mountain Golden trout, hard-fighting Bull trout, and even Perch. The list just kept growing. By fall 2018, I had shattered my personal best Brown trout record at 24.5” on Halloween dressed as a 1920’s butler. Adding insult to injury, my buddy Fred was there to witness the nighttime streamer take and he was noticeably depressed by having missed the chance at the Brown himself. He still took my photo with a half smile and a “Nice job bud.”

I’d never had a shot at a Steelhead before this challenge and I can’t say I would have ventured out on my own to go for it. One of the benefits of the 365 challenge was having ideas pop in my head followed by concrete plans to track down a wish list fish the very next day.

I’d never had a shot at a Steelhead before this challenge and I can’t say I would have ventured out on my own to go for it. One of the benefits of the 365 challenge was having ideas pop in my head followed by concrete plans to track down a wish list fish the very next day.

Fish of 100,000 casts. You hear about these guys all the time, but few of us ever get to experience the rod flex of a dimly-lit, urban monster on the other end. I think my pupils dilated 1000% when I felt the first tug.

Fish of 100,000 casts. You hear about these guys all the time, but few of us ever get to experience the rod flex of a dimly-lit, urban monster on the other end. I think my pupils dilated 1000% when I felt the first tug.

I was able to track down a piece of water with mystical Golden trout, originally hailing from the Eastern Sierras in California. I was absolutely blown away by the sheer beauty and intelligence of this elusive fish. Like most Golden trout anglers will tell you: finding them is hard enough, but getting them to take is even harder.

I was able to track down a piece of water with mystical Golden trout, originally hailing from the Eastern Sierras in California. I was absolutely blown away by the sheer beauty and intelligence of this elusive fish. Like most Golden trout anglers will tell you: finding them is hard enough, but getting them to take is even harder.

6’6”, 100-plus pound Sturgeon caught on a streamer and an 8-weight modified with 80lb Tarpon shock line and monofilament. The local shop guys asked me with a puzzled look, “So, what kind of species are you targeting with this?” It was a great moment to have my Uncle Peter along to land it with me. I couldn’t have done it without him.

6’6”, 100-plus pound Sturgeon caught on a streamer and an 8-weight modified with 80lb Tarpon shock line and monofilament. The local shop guys asked me with a puzzled look, “So, what kind of species are you targeting with this?” It was a great moment to have my Uncle Peter along to land it with me. I couldn’t have done it without him.

My first Bull Trout coming in at a perfect 20”. After years of searching for them, I finally made it happen.

My first Bull Trout coming in at a perfect 20”. After years of searching for them, I finally made it happen.

A land-locked Kokanee Salmon is really fun on a fly rod. Even though this was in Idaho, your mind can’t help but feel transported to Alaska.

A land-locked Kokanee Salmon is really fun on a fly rod. Even though this was in Idaho, your mind can’t help but feel transported to Alaska.

A word on trash fish: They were caught in the pursuit of other species. Nothing pissed me off more than finding out my supposed “Trophy Brown” was just a greasy, 24.5” Pike Minnow, or even worse, a Mountain Sucker. The Squawfish pictured above, fight hard and have all the tricky head shakes of a trout.

A word on trash fish: They were caught in the pursuit of other species. Nothing pissed me off more than finding out my supposed “Trophy Brown” was just a greasy, 24.5” Pike Minnow, or even worse, a Mountain Sucker. The Squawfish pictured above, fight hard and have all the tricky head shakes of a trout.

When in Rome:  Whatever situation I found myself in meant making do with what I had, even while traveling to other cities for video shoots. Many occasions were spent fishing near culverts or manmade structures, and there were times where I was surprised by a sudden nighttime take. The lesson: fish like you mean it and take what you can get. It’ll make you a better angler.

When in Rome: Whatever situation I found myself in meant making do with what I had, even while traveling to other cities for video shoots. Many occasions were spent fishing near culverts or manmade structures, and there were times where I was surprised by a sudden nighttime take. The lesson: fish like you mean it and take what you can get. It’ll make you a better angler.

If I wasn’t fishing in the moment, I was enjoying putting others onto fish. Chris Beaudoin snapped this photo while we floated the South Fork of the Snake searching for hungry Cutthroats.

If I wasn’t fishing in the moment, I was enjoying putting others onto fish. Chris Beaudoin snapped this photo while we floated the South Fork of the Snake searching for hungry Cutthroats.

The truth is, I was becoming a more confident angler. I wasn’t getting better, but I was giving myself more opportunities to fail fast and pick up the pieces by the time the next session on the water would come. With so many chances, I was able to do what most anglers claim they do (but rarely live up to): experimentation. I threw everything in my boxes. When I was out of flies, I’d go to the shop and ask about any other weird patterns I could throw. I wasted every dollar I made on shit flies that had a .00001% chance of working. I didn’t care though. I still made sure that I was pushing the envelope constantly with my days on the water, and it paid handsome dividends.

As the months rolled on, the slabs were stacking up. If I missed a large fish one day, I was right back there the next day trying to bring it in. This Brown couldn’t resist a second attempt.

As the months rolled on, the slabs were stacking up. If I missed a large fish one day, I was right back there the next day trying to bring it in. This Brown couldn’t resist a second attempt.

Right at dark: A fourth-quarter Rainbow looking for a meal, sent right under an over-hanging tree line. I finally had an excuse to work on my night-fishing after years of putting it off.

Right at dark: A fourth-quarter Rainbow looking for a meal, sent right under an over-hanging tree line. I finally had an excuse to work on my night-fishing after years of putting it off.

By the year’s end, my wife’s patience was beginning to wear thin, and understandably so. Comments like, “You’re seriously going fishing right now?” quickly turned to, “God I can’t wait for this challenge to end so I can get my husband back.” These were the comments that threw off my chi the whole next day, resulting in a karma-induced lack of fish after a 14+ hour day on the water. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I could see that the 365 challenge was wearing on my marriage. It was getting harder and harder to justify getting out on the water.

The same week I lost my job, Fred insisted that I could get a pass for cancelling our first-time trip to Pyramid Lake in Nevada. “It’s cool man, I totally understand. I mean, you just lost your job, bro. Can you really afford the guide fees?” I grumpily told him to just worry about picking me up the next day at 2pm. I informed him that we’d still be keeping our fishing commitment, no matter how much I was hurting financially.

The same week I lost my job, Fred insisted that I could get a pass for cancelling our first-time trip to Pyramid Lake in Nevada. “It’s cool man, I totally understand. I mean, you just lost your job, bro. Can you really afford the guide fees?” I grumpily told him to just worry about picking me up the next day at 2pm. I informed him that we’d still be keeping our fishing commitment, no matter how much I was hurting financially.

By midday, I had forgotten about all of the career woes as Cutty after Cutty found its way into our nets. Pictured above is my angling buddy, Fred Simpson, with a nice spawn-colored trout.

By midday, I had forgotten about all of the career woes as Cutty after Cutty found its way into our nets. Pictured above is my angling buddy, Fred Simpson, with a nice spawn-colored trout.

Of course the responsible thing to do when you lose your job is to double-down at the blackjack table. This time, Reno was kind to us after an insane day of fishing on Pyramid Lake.

Of course the responsible thing to do when you lose your job is to double-down at the blackjack table. This time, Reno was kind to us after an insane day of fishing on Pyramid Lake.

Time was flying by. One day I checked my phone’s calendar, only to realize that it was Day 335. Unbeknownst to me, Laura had cleverly commissioned a gag trophy with a fish jumping out of the water and a plaque that read: “Stephen T Veals: Fished for 365 consecutive days”. It was such a simple, thoughtful gift that it brought tears to my eyes when she presented it prematurely to me with 30 days remaining in the challenge. She was so excited unveil it. After thanking her for such a rad gift, I quickly pointed out that I hadn’t earned the trophy yet and that it didn’t mean that I would be cutting the challenge short and cheating my way across the finish life. To mark the occasion, we even brought it out on my last day on the water, just in time to hoist it alongside my last fish of the year. Into my net sprang a wily, 13” urban brown trout caught on a swung streamer, my favorite way to close out the quest.

Wife of the year, hands down. Laura surprised me with this awesome trophy to mark the occasion and I have it proudly displayed at my office.

Wife of the year, hands down. Laura surprised me with this awesome trophy to mark the occasion and I have it proudly displayed at my office.

So what did I learn after fishing more than most average-Joes get to fish in an entire lifetime? The lesson here remains the same: Fish. Every. Single. Day.

Who cares how dumb you look bringing a fly rod to a Napa Valley wine tasting room? Let your buddies laugh. Let your boss laugh at you. Let the whole world think you’re crazy. You may even be certifiable, but at least you’re catching fish while you undergo a mental re-evaluation of your life’s goals. We’re on this earth a short time and the sand keeps slipping through the hour glass…

Fight to keep it upright as long as you can…and don’t forget to teach someone to fish along the way.

It’s moments like these that keep you fishing. We didn’t even catch any fish this day but it didn’t matter. Angling buddies are what count on tough days.

It’s moments like these that keep you fishing. We didn’t even catch any fish this day but it didn’t matter. Angling buddies are what count on tough days.