Paul Ulrich: 98 Years Old and Fly Fishing-A Tale of Wyoming’s Strength & Spirit

Columnist Paul Ulrich writes: My grandmother is 98, her baby brother, Harry, is only 92 and we all went camping. Yes, four Wyoming generations getting together for campfires, hikes, and a lot of fishing.

Paul Ulrich

September 05, 20226 min read

Paul fish 9 5 22 scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

My family has always been an outdoor family. For as long as I can remember our most valued times together have been camping, hunting, and fishing.  Early memories of our fishing trips, tagging along on big game hunts and our annual sage grouse hunt are still vivid.

I can still feel the autumn chill after crawling out of bed and the scent of the dutch oven dinners. Too-strong coffee, a granola bar and off we went to explore. We scoured the Shoshone National Forest for elk, the grasslands for pronghorn and stalked fish in Wyoming’s lakes and rivers from the Hams Fork to Reservoir #1 to the Wood & Greybull rivers and Sunshine Reservoir.

The one constant for us was generational. My grandparents were always there and always contributing and teaching. I wasn’t always the best student. But the love and patience of grandparents tends to overcome.

I remember one of my “finer” moments elk hunting with my grandfather outside of Meeteetse. The area we hunt has a few old oil wells dotted around. Unfenced, a pump jack is incredibly interesting and alluring to a kid.

Should I ride on top and mimic Lane Frost? Should I grab onto the cable and go for a ride? Or should I leave it alone and not be an idiot. I chose option two and latched onto the cable like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible and went for a ride. 

Zero thought to the hazards, let alone the grease now covering me. I recall that ass chewing lasting several days.

Thus continuing my life-long lesson in the outdoors of attempting to not be an idiot. However, the point of that tale is thankfulness. Thankful my grandfather was watching over me. I was and am so very thankful that my parents and grandparents love the outdoors and loved sharing it with us. The generational passing down of outdoor knowledge is all Wyoming. Including the hazards of oil wells.

My grandfather’s parents arrived in Wyoming in the late 1800s, both in wagon trains, to homestead and ranch in the Big Horn Basin. The story goes that my great grandfather WALKED in his family’s journey from Kansas due to no room in the wagon.  My grandmother’s parents arrived just after the turn of the century to work in the oil fields outside of Casper. After a move to Cody, my grandparents met and the rest is history. 

For my great grandparents and grandparents, and throughout my childhood, finances limited entertainment (and food). Hunting and fishing provided family time and put food on the table. Still is the case for a lot of families in Wyoming.

That Wyoming lifestyle also breeds a toughness and longevity that at times is hard to contemplate. Thus, the reason for this column.

Our family has always had multi-generational camping and hunting trips. It was not until I started planning a short trip this year that I realized how significant this one was. When you have a grandparent that has always been part of your life and is in good health you tend to take it for granted.

I planned several days in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains at New Fork Lake. We love to fish and when we can, my fishing partner is my grandmother’s brother. My Uncle Harry and I have fished quite a bit the past few years together and it is something special. 

He started fly-fishing and tying his own flies in the 1930s in Cody and never stopped. I refer to Harry as the West’s best fly-fisherman nobody ever heard of.

Think of the Terminator if his mission was to fly-fish. Part man, part machine and a singular focus on fishing. He has taught me a lot about fishing over the years.

Earlier this summer a significant health issue sidelined him and put our late summer trip in jeopardy. There was also concern that he may not be able to ever fish again. Typical for someone raised in the Wyoming mountains, Harry rebounded in a bit over a month and the trip was on. He was ready to fish.

I contacted family and we put the trip in motion. My first call was to my grandmother. Was she up for a few days camping and fishing? Her answer was yes, and what could she bring. She would drive over.  

Now, my grandmother is 98 years old. Her baby brother, Harry, is only 92 years old. You see where I am going with this. You are taking a 98-year-old and 92-year-old camping? Yes, four generations getting together for campfires, hikes and a lot of fishing. The highlight being my 98-year-old grandmother catching fish on the fly and my Uncle Harry out-fishing all of us.

Neither of them freeloaded either. My grandmother helped pack firewood. Harry helped me manage my fishing ego by destroying me on the lake.

I get asked a lot about my grandmother and Harry. She lives alone, golfs, travels the world and never misses a chance to fish. Harry fishes all over the west and shows little sign of slowing down. Is it the genes? Is it Wyoming’s air and water? Perhaps it’s being raised eating elk, pronghorn, and sage grouse.

 I don’t know but after watching my mom continue to ride horses, kayak, hunt, fish and stay active approximately 18 hours a day I hope it’s the genes.  My lifestyle will most certainly change that narrative but it’s great news for my sisters.  I expect my sisters to be fishing well into their 90s with just as much energy and spitfire. 

It was a trip to remember and a not-so-gentle reminder that our time and our family is everything.

I am sure that our family is not unique. Share your stories of our wonderful Wyoming families, our tough-as-nails parents, grandparents and great grandparents and the amazing lessons they teach us about the great outdoors. 

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Paul Ulrich