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Fly Fishing with President Obama a Trip to Remember

Brothers Guide President Obama on East Gallatin River near Bozeman, Montana

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Local fishing guide Dan Vermillion reacts as President Barack Obama almost hooks a trout on the East

Local fishing guide Dan Vermillion reacts as President Barack Obama almost hooks a trout on the East Gallatin River near Belgrade, Mont., on Aug. 14, 2009.

Official White House photo by Pete Souza
The Vermillion brothers are known best for their international fly fishing exploits, angling everywhere from Mongolia and Brazil, to British Columbia and French Polynesia.

But for one day in August, the Dan and Pat Vermillion were more than fly fishermen, they were presidential advisors.

The Vermillion brothers, who run Sweetwater Travel and Fly Shop in Livingston, Mont., were the first to take President Barack Obama and his staff fly fishing on Aug. 14 on the East Gallatin River near Bozeman, Mont.

Dan was the one-on-one guide who fished with the president, fly fishing for the first time, while Pat guided the president’s staff.

"President Obama arrived by motorcade," Dan Vermillion said. "...We fished the East Gallatin just north of the Bozeman airport. ... Montana is blessed, largely as a result of our great stream access law and our landowners, to have a multitude of quality angling opportunities on public waters."

The president was in town for a town hall meeting about health care, making a brief stop in Big Sky Country before vacationing at Yellowstone National Park. It was the president’s first time on the water, although Dan Vermillion said you wouldn’t have known it by looking at him.

"It was not surreal to see the President as an outdoorsman," Dan Vermillion said. "I have always felt that he understands the world I live in. However, it was surreal to see the man I admire so much walk over to me and say, ‘Hi, I am Barack Obama.’ After he arrived at the fishing spot, I went into the house with him as he put his waders and rain gear on. He asked me to tell him a little about himself. As I began to tell him about the company I own with my brothers, there was a little voice in the back of my head saying can you believe who you are talking with."

Obama had been looking forward to fly fishing in Montana since making a stop in Missoula during his campaign, which is why he was adamant about fishing this time around – even fishing through some intermittent thunderstorms.

"It was incredible to see the President, enjoying the sport to which I have devoted so much of my life," Pat Vermillion said. "I think it is a little optimistic to think that he will feel a connection to our sport after only 2 1/2 hours of fishing.

"However, he sincerely seemed to enjoy himself. The fact that he continued to fish in the rain was testament to that. I hope he does come back to fish with us and take up fly fishing seriously. He seemed genuinely interested in coming back. I feel that fishing has an amazing ability to connect a person to the outdoors and hopefully to appreciate the need to conserve it."

While the president was unable to landing any of the six fish he hooked, Pat Vermillion was able to help staffers Jim Messina and Robert Gibbs land fish on what turned out to be the most memorable fly fishing trip of the Vermillion brothers’ careers.

"I often feel that politicians will do anything to get elected, but I did not get that impression with him," Pat Vermillion said of the president, who requested the trip be a private one without any media coverage.

"I think President Obama appreciated the untouched scenery around him, the river he was fishing and the camaraderie of a day of fly fishing in Montana. Maybe the fact that he is interested in fly fishing is a sign of his environmental beliefs. If so, let’s hope that interest in fly fishing transcends into good environmental policy for all of us."

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