Mixing sports on a sublime September weekend

Something's fishy about a golf tournament that demands a skilled trout guide

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— Permit me to begin by observing that Jed Clampett and I would feel equally at home on a golf course. The patriarch of the Beverly Hillbillies might even card a lower score than me on the immaculate links of the Sheraton Steamboat Resort.

Accordingly, I spent six hours on a tee box Sunday and never picked up a golf club.

But I witnessed some mighty fancy driving and, in the immortal words of Jed's son Jethro Bodine, "Whooeee, those fellers sure know how to hit some golfs!"

The occasion was the second day of the second annual Golf Trout tournament.

The event raises thousands of dollars to help the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers improve the aquatic environment along the public fishing stretches of the Yampa River. At first glance, this might seem to be a self-serving mission.

After all, any efforts to improve the health of the Yampa will almost certainly result in club members catching more trout, right? Well, to a degree, that is true. But don't kid yourself, visiting fly fishermen occupy a sought-after demographic niche and trout fishing in America is big business.

The word is out that if you can convince your spouse to accompany you on a trip to Steamboat Springs, you can lull him or her into believing it's all about restaurant meals and shopping, when in fact, it's about sticking a fat rainbow just 50 meters from Lincoln Avenue.

On the first day of Golf Trout, participants head out under the supervision of a wicked good fishing guide.

The goal is to try to catch and release as many trout as they possibly can from a sweet stretch of private water, away from the public stretches of the Yampa. Team members earn bonus points for catching various species of trout. On Saturday, 72 anglers netted more than 450 fish.

Is the fishing in Routt County good? I guess so.

On Sunday, the foursomes swapped rivers for fairways, and Orvis rods for Ping irons. They brought their fishing points to a shotgun start at the Sheraton links on a morning when the field had to wait for the frost to evaporate from the greens before they could play 18 holes under cloudless skies.

Does life get any better than this? I think not.

My role in this whole fandango was to plop my rear in a camp chair at the fourth tee and attempt to extort $5 out of every golfer who rolled up.

For that nominal fee, golfers were entered in the "longest drive of the contest."

It takes a special guy or gal to catch 25 trout on Saturday and roll out of bed on Sunday to swat golfs out beyond 250 yards. But I met several such athletes this weekend.

For most of the day, Richard Austin led the competition. He sauntered up, handed me a five spot and announced, "This amounts to a charitable donation."

Then he stepped up to the tee box and smote a mighty drive of about 275 yards.

I told Mr. Austin that I would happily refund his $5 if he would share with me the secret of hitting a white ball almost further than the eye can see.

Austin declined the refund and revealed the wisdom of the ages in hushed tones:

"The secret to hitting long is to hit the sprinkler head." OK.

Keith Mickelson is living right. Not only is he a professional fishing guide, but he wound up third in the driving contest.

I decided to ask him for fishing advice.

"We were catching them on Chernobyl ants with a disco leech on the dropper," Mickelson said. His choice of fly patterns sounds vaguely apocalyptic, but I'm going to tie his advice on the end of my line first chance I get this week.

Finally, there was big Bobby Rulon who displayed a rare combination of strength and a silky swing in blasting the ball at least 280 yards. His teammates let out a holler when the ball left the tee with a lound "thunk!"

Jethro Bodine would have gotten a charge out of the Golf Trout tournament.

I know I did. I wonder if I could teach Mr. Bodine to fly fish?

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.

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