Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Rainbow Whitefish

(Originally published in the Drake in 2014)

It was Idaho legend, like the Everglades' skunk ape or Loch Ness' monster. Since the 1980s, reports of an apparent rainbow trout fly fishing for trout had filtered through staffers and patrons at places like the Nature Conservancy Preserve on Silver Creek and Harriman State Park. Witnesses reported a seeing a “...biped oncorhynchus mykiss with a pungent odor and rambling vocalizations...”
To the chagrin of my cryptozoological side, this Rocky Mountain boogeyman turned out to be a male human from Boise who merely likes his elbow room, and will go to lengths to get it. Sometimes he wears sequins, face paint and a hot-pink construction helmet. Other times, it's metallic-silver fringed smock with matching headwear. Sometimes, it's as simple as his Whitefish Unlimited baseball hat, a tie-dyed t-shirt and painted waders.
It, is Ed Dunn, better known as Whitefish Ed.

Photo via Facebook.com
 “The first experiment was on the Henry’s Fork,” Dunn said, comfortably nestled in his lair. “I scored a hot-pink soccer shirt for 50 cents from a thrift store... Thus the neon monster was born.”
He’s the antithesis to the ubiquitous “bro”, and stirs up a wide range of reactions. Some see a breath of fresh air, and others see a distraction worthy of an eye-roll, at best.
“By far the most predominant reaction I would hear from those who couldn’t get there jaw back in place was 'WTF is that?!'” Dunn said. “In the beginning and for about 15 years thereafter, 100 percent negative except for those that knew me all this time, but I think they still questioned my mind.”
Anne Marie Emery, Education Conservation Biologist for the Henry's Fork Foundation (HFF), has witnessed the spectacle for the past 8 years.
“Ed is a “!” in every sense and form,” Emery said via e-mail. “I remember the first conversation I had with Ed left me in an analogy-laced, bewildered, whirlwind... Ed sticks out like a flashy, overdone indicator on the Fork. You can see him from miles away dressed in bright neon colors, tie-dye patterns and tin foil. In a place of tradition such as the Fork, Ed sticks out...blindingly so.”
His initial modus operandi was to test the idea that bright colors scare fish. Once he noticed that not only does it not scare fish, but it does scare anglers, his rationale changed. No more getting low-holed, crowded, or even seeing other anglers.
“Even before dipping a tootsie in the water let alone making a cast, I instantly noticed that the hot-pink shirt scared the living snot out of fishermen. I was avoided like I had the plague...The more people who think I'm a dork on a ditch and that I scare off every fish in the river, the better. Ever since I started wearing this stuff, I have not had one tinkling match on any river or stream I've fished.”

Photo via Facebook.com
So does this self-proclaimed “pragmatic recessive hippie” actually fish, or is he just looking to stir up the river?
Says Emery: “I have yet to meet another angler who takes not just fishing, but the biology of it, as seriously as Ed.”
Added Dunn: “I take my fly fishing seriously. I take my fun seriously. I have serious fun when doing serious fishing.”
Sprinkle in his generous nature, and you've basically got fly fishing's answer to Wavy Gravy. Take the time he stepped in to help a group of HFF interns survey fish. In harsh summer sunlight with little shade, fish started perishing in plain view of anglers.
“Then Ed comes along and in all seriousness starts showing the crew the proper way to flush a fish through water to maximize oxygen delivery to their gills,” Emery said. “We spent the next while performing this technique on all the little fish, with Ed right there. It was at that point that I became aware of Ed’s genuine care of the resource.”
Or the time he combined the jobs of funking up his fishing fatigues while raising money for the HFF.
“He grabbed a pair of waders and puff paint and charged people 20 bucks to sign his waders that he then wore out on the river. Funds were raised, a dissolved-oxygen meter purchased, and HFF field capacity increased.”
For better or worse, Dunn's influence is spreading. He's put Greg Thomas in yellow sequins on Henry's Fork, and I've placed a red sequin inconspicuously on my waders.
In atypical fly-fishing fashion, Whitefish Ed's unique disposition can remind us that it's only fishing.
Said Emery: “He is boisterous, crass, loud, but painstakingly human.”

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