Updated: Jul 10, 2020
Cam Smythe was many years and many miles from his small-town childhood in the woods and water of Upstate NY. The quick smile, quiet confidence and thoughtful, inquisitive nature he had as a kid translated into a personality that put everyone around him at ease as an adult. Cam’s earliest memories were of fishing with his dad for early-summer bass from a canoe, calling geese from ground blinds tucked in late-season corn-stubble and toting a backpack full of Bowhunter, Field & Stream, Trout and Fly Rod & Reel to school for grade-school show-and-tell. They had stayed as sharp in his head as the first girl he kissed and the smell of the lilacs in her parent’s backyard. He had a mind that valued those details. They all mattered, even the fleeting ones.
His dad, a freelance writer and life-long outdoorsman, had always stressed the importance of good stewardship when it came to the land they hunted and the water they fished. Nature knows how to take care of itself, son. It has a way of finding its own balance. But when humans push the resource too hard – when they don’t respect the value of what they have – then nature needs good people to stand up for it.
Eventually, Cam’s fly fishing interests expanded to pretty much any species that swam in any of the lakes, ponds, rivers and streams that were within biking-distance of his parent’s house. With this new territory also came the realization of just how poorly people treated the water he was fishing. Trash. Worn, muddy trails and trampled brush. Fuel rainbows on the water’s surface. With each passing season, Cam internalized the value of his dad’s words more and more.
Four or five generations back, Cam had a great-grandmother who was full-blood Blackfoot Indian. His dad had told him how she lived up near Winnipeg after marrying a French Canadian, but that the Blackfoot Confederacy spanned from Alberta all the way south to the Yellowstone River. It was this land that the Blackfoot, Shoshone and other Native tribes ceded to the U.S. government with the understanding that they would retain hunting rights, which were eventually stripped away as well. In a way, this was Cam’s first introduction to the meaning of invasive species.
His dad’s gaze once fell on the Tetons, the Park’s southern sentinels, while on a trip west, driving north from Idaho Falls to fly fish the Henry’s Fork. He could feel Yellowstone’s pull in his soul, but never made it into the Park, even after being that close. Never got to see the immense expanses of open valleys and timbered slopes. Herds of elk, pronghorn and bison in their purposeful roaming. Never got to hold a native westslope cutthroat, perfect bronze-orange and flexing in his hand after falling for a hopper pattern. And with rainbows and lake trout steadily decimating cutthroat populations in the Yellowstone watershed since their introduction, it was likely that his father’s missed opportunity would be the fate of all anglers in due time. This weighed heavily on Cam.
Yellowstone was a place of myth and giant-ness to him. Even after 12 years of calling Ashton, Idaho home as a backcountry fishing and hunting guide, the Park was still almost unfathomable. It represented the original perfection of his country, its open spaces and wildlife, and the value of conserving those resources. It was where his quiet heroes, Native Americans and men like Jim Bridger, lived their simple, rugged and deliberate lives. Where the world existed in its gracious and unforgiving balance, and humankind fit where it was able. And where Trout Unlimited, the Yellowstone Park Foundation, Outdoor Blogger Network and others – his quiet heroes of today – work to raise awareness and restore some of that balance.
Cam had moved west for many reasons. From a very young age, he knew he’d head for big sky and big country to live his life according to his passion for hunting and fishing. Cam also knew that it was his responsibility to be one of the people that stand up for the environment and the wildlife, as his dad had said. He understood better than most the effect of invasive species and how they push native species into smaller and smaller areas until the natives and their resources simply disappear. While the genetics of his Native American roots had thinned through the generations, their spirit and the west were still very much in his blood. He was there to make a difference.
There was one other important reason at play though. Standing on the shore of Yellowstone Lake with his dad, looking out over the expanse of glass reflecting first light, he knew that it was going to be a perfect day for cutthroat on the fly. The first time since Cam had moved west that they were actually getting to fish for them in Yellowstone together. Cam watched his dad adjust his well-worn Simms ball-cap and smile over his last sip of coffee. Actually, it was already a perfect day.