In spring, while the rest of us are trying to get our bike legs back, pro skier Cody Townsend can be found in the wild mountain ranges of Alaska, sending big lines in front of the camera for Matchstick Productions' next rollicking ski film. But you probably didn't know he packs his fly tackle along with his fat skis. AK rivers and lakes are opening up and on down days Townsend is going after dollies and graylings.
I learned to ski when I was two years old, and I was pretty obsessed with it from a very young age. One weekend, my parents didn't want to drive up to Tahoe from Santa Cruz, where we lived. I went outside and tried to hitchhike to Tahoe. I was seven years old.
When I was younger, I thought fishing was the most boring sport in the world. Then I started going fly fishing with some buddies from Montana that live in Tahoe. They are skiers, dirtbikers, snowmobilers—just really active guys. They dragged me out.
I was hiking up a river, finding myself miles away from where I started. The whole time I was focused on the river and trying to get in tune with what's around me. All of a sudden I realized three hours had passed and I'd been in this incredible state of focus. Of course, I didn't catch any fish, but it was still fun.
Skiing and fly fishing both take you away from people and out into nature. There's a lot of focus involved. In fly fishing, you have to be in tune with what's going on around you—what the bugs are doing, what the water's doing, trying to think where the fish are going to be. It's just like skiing a line, where you've got to think about your sluff, your airs, and your exposure.
I always know that my body's getting pretty tired when I start looking at rivers in March and April. I crave to stand in a river. I see snow starting to melt off and rivers filling up again, and I know it's time.
There's these moments in fly fishing when you see a good drift and you're trying to put everything together to catch a trout that you think is in this one little area. When you drift it in, and all of a sudden you pop one, it's like yes!
My two favorite places to go skiing are my two favorite places to fish. Alaska has massive wild salmon, untamed rivers with tons and tons of wildlife around, amazing fish. But I really love Tahoe, too. Tahoe doesn't have a reputation as a great fly fishing area but it really is. It's got great rivers and high alpine lakes. There are a lot of little nooks and crannies in Tahoe that will take you off the beaten path.
It still feels like everything in fly fishing is targeted to the lodge and jet crowd. I was talking with Adam Trina, the founder of the Montana Fly Company, about it. He's a young guy. An incredibly smart fisheries biologist who's trying to create new products that appeal to a different crowd. It's cool to partner with him and help younger people get into fishing, to make fly fishing look cool enough for an 18-year-old kid who skis his ass off to say, I want to try that. —Olivia Dwyer