The Fonz Goes Fishing

Henry Winkler is best known for his critically acclaimed starring role as the leather-jacketed toughie with a heart of gold on one of television’s all time most popular series, Happy Days.  Henry is an actor, director, producer, and author. He has won numerous awards, including two Daytime Emmies, two Golden Globes, a Genesis, and a Golden Apple Award, and a TV Land Award.  His new book, I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River, is in praise of both fly-fishing...and Montana. 

Every fisherman has a good “fish story.”  What’s yours?

My best fish story happens every time I get to go and spend time on the river. It has to do with sitting or wading, catching or releasing, daydreaming or just getting lost in the spectacular scenery in front of me.

Describe what fly-fishing means to you in three words.

Peace. Cleansing. Joyful.

In your new book you talk about the  “Montana Zen” of fly-fishing, yet your wife, Stacey, calls you an “absolute maniac on the river.”  How do you explain that?

She might have been talking about somebody else. As I answered the rest of the questions, I’ve been thinking about this...Yes, it’s definitely got to be someone else.

Is it true you start packing for your Montana fishing trip in January?

That is absolutely true. I have a duffel bag and every several weeks, I add another layer of essentials. And here’s one of the greatest tips I’ve ever gotten—I send it by land through UPS so that my wife and I get off the plane with carry-on and nothing more.

Tell us about your Fishing Journal, and what it means to you.

As I write in it each night, before I go to bed, I am reminded about the details of the spectacular day I just finished. It has become clear to me that the record of where I was, what the day was like, the species of fish I caught, and the number of fish I caught, was really important to me. When I first started fly-fishing I absolutely thought I would never be able to actually pursue it. And it gives me joy to re-live my time on the river.

You count and photograph your fish?  How many have you caught and photographed?

I have caught about 800 fish or more. I have photographed 360.

I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River is the title of your book.  How did you come up with that?

The title of the book comes from the fact that everybody  
I have ever met anywhere in the world who fly fishes was warm and open...well, except with their favorite deep trout hole on the river. But I understand that.

You mention that fly-fishing has given you greater self-confidence. Yet you’re an accomplished actor.  Has fly-fishing made that much difference?

Fly-fishing demands your patience, your follow-through, your concentration, your being in tune with that beautiful trout once it’s on the line. The journey I have had going from not being able to net a trout to where I am today, gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction and confidence. Until I tried it, it was a sport I thought I was unable to participate in.

You say in the book, “My heart lives in New York.  My body lives in LA. My soul lives in Montana.”  That doesn’t say much for LA, does it?  Why not reconcile all three by living in one place—say Montana?

That would be swell, but what a commute from Montana to the set in Los Angeles.

You’ve also taken up nature photography.  Is there a follow-up photo book on fly-fishing in the works?

This book, I Never Met an Idiot on the River, combines not only what I’ve learned from the river but also the pictures I’ve taken while waiting for my friend and guide, Rowan, to untangle my line...he has made “detangling” into an art form. He also ties 12,000 dozen flies during the winter. I am standing at attention, saluting him as I write this answer.

You return again and again to the Firehole Ranch.  What makes it so special?

The people who run it, Bruno and his wife, Kris, who feed us spectacularly at the beginning and at the end of each day, the guides who NEVER judge whether you have fallen in the river or not, whether your technique is ugly or smooth as silk. And of course let’s not forget, it’s location, nestled on the shore of Hebgen Lake.

What would you be doing with your free time if you hadn’t discovered fly-fishing?

I would be sitting around waiting for the inspiration to participate in this magnificent sport to hit me. I feel blessed that Skip Brittenham, my attorney, gave this pastime to me as a gift. Seriously—traveling, good food, going to the movies, reading a great thriller, photography, are all fun. But nothing takes the place, outside of my family, of fly-fishing.


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