Jake Wells is Yellow Dog’s program director for the US Rockies, Pacific Northwest, and Louisiana programs. This will be the third year that he has worked for Yellow Dog, and has called the Western United States home for 13 years. He has lived in Idaho, Utah, and Montana and has fished his way through all of them.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and what drew you to fly fishing?
Really what started it all was when I was growing up back East. I was always into the outdoors and would be playing outside as a kid catching cray fish in little local creeks, and fishing around rural Virginia farm ponds for bass and panfish – that’s what I did growing up. Then when I came out West to go to college, I found out about this whole thing called fly fishing. And when I was given a fly rod and reel as a Christmas present, it really escalated from there. Back home, I fished a lot with a spinning rod, but once I came out here…I can’t remember the last time I picked up a spinning rod.
After college what did you do?
While I was in college, instead of going back home during the summer months and working construction, I decided to get my first job at a fly shop in Island Park, Idaho. I applied to work at Henry’s Fork Anglers and like everyone should, started off cleaning the toilet, mowing the lawn, filling fly bins, tying needle knots, and fixing tip-tops on broken fly rods. That’s how I started, just in the fly shop working - vacuuming the fly shop floor.
And after school you went straight to Henry’s Fork Anglers?
I worked there for two or three summers and then upon graduation it was just good timing when the manager decided to leave and I moved into a management position. That was my first job after college - being the assistant manager for Henry’s Fork Anglers. Working at the shop was great. That’s probably when I fished the most out of any summer I can remember. We worked four tens, so you were off for three days, and in that area you’d just get in your truck and go. Those were the good old days! You know, you didn’t make a whole lot of money because you were spending it all on gear and stuff. But man, you didn’t have to worry about a whole lot either, you just worked in the shop and fished on your days off. Life was simpler back then.
If you could fish anywhere for one day and one day only, where would it be?
Oh man, that’s a tough question…obviously I’m kind of biased, but I think that I will always be drawn to the Henry’s Fork just because it’s like five rivers in one. Plus you can almost fish it year-round. I would even fish at least one day a month in December, January, and February! But come March and April it certainly starts gets really good down there! So I’d have to say the Henry’s Fork for sure.
When someone calls looking for a lodge, say in the US Rockies, where do you even start?
I always like to start off with a good conversation just so I can get to know the person and the make-up of the group. Also, there are four or five questions I want to ask so that I can get a feel for what they’re looking for because I want to put them at the right place at the right time. Really, there’s two routes people take. Sometimes people already know where they want to fish, let’s say they want to go and fish the Missouri River or some other famous river, but they don’t really know the different times to come out to target that specific river. That’s where I can lay that out for them. Or more often than not, it’s probably that they know when they can do the trip, say late June, early August, or last week of September, but they don’t know where they should go based on that time of year. So, we can go down that route and then I can lay out for them the best four or five different areas per that time of the year. That’s a good way to start things off. But often I have questions for them to help them feel out where they should go. Do they want to fish just one river and really learn it? Or do they want to go somewhere with three or four different rivers within the area that they can fish on any given day. I always ask about the caliber of accommodations too because not only do we want to match them up on the water - whether they like fishing small dries on a technical piece of water, or do they like a freestone river where they could be casting foam flies - but also off the water, what are they looking for as far as their lodge experience.
You’ve been in the fly fishing industry for about 10 years, where do you think it’s headed in the next five years?
That’s a good question, I guess you could say let’s look back at the past five years and see where it’s come from and you can see certain trends or fads. I hope to see within the next five years a lot more conservation efforts coming to light, and a lot of battles being fought in favor of fisheries. Not only in the US Rockies, but across the globe – Canada with their steelhead rivers as well as saltwater fisheries and sustaining those habitats. So hopefully we’ll see that catching on.
When not fly fishing, what’re you doing?
I have a wife so taking care of my family is important to me - I always have a "honey do" list on the weekends! But when I’m not fly fishing during the summertime I’m usually doing something else outdoors in the Bozeman area. In the fall I’ve started to do some upland bird hunting and come wintertime, I like to ski at Bridger Bowl or Big Sky – it’s all super seasonal.
If you could choose one actor to portray you, who would it be?
That’s a really tough question. Want to portray me? I want to say Steve McQueen also known as the “King of Cool.” But the one that should portray me, probably would be a character Tobias Funke (David Cross) from television series Arrested Development. If I were to grow a mustache, wear a set of glasses, and let my hair grow out little, you’d see why. The back story behind that is in the later years of college I was really holding out on getting myself onto Facebook. I had a couple college buddies that decided to take the initiative and start my Facebook page for me behind my back, and for my profile picture they chose Tobias Funke. It was all a good laugh. If you’re in Bozeman, be sure to stop by the Yellow Dog office on South Willson Avenue and say hello to Jake or email him to find out more details about all the fabulous fisheries of the Rockies.