Fishing with Yvon

YvonI didn’t expect to like Yvon Chouinard. Everyone respects him, of course, not just for founding the Patagonia clothing company, but also for pioneering big-wall climbing and whitewater kayaking. Yet folks who’d fished with him in the Bahamas and worked with him at Patagonia described a curmudgeon whose pessimism had a way of dousing any merriment around a campfire or water cooler.

When I had the opportunity to fish alongside Chouinard on Idaho’s Fall River last September, I expected to learn tons. What surprised me was just how jolly he was.

“Well good morning, Hugh Heffner,” Chouinard teased when I wore my pink, flowery pajamas into the kitchen to claim my morning cup of coffee. Through my pre-coffee fog, I matched his grin.

He cracked lots of jokes over the two days he spent introducing me (and eight other women) to Tenkara fishing. He made light of the techniques he was teaching: “Fish can’t resist this. It’s like a lap-dance for trout.” He joked wryly—never bitterly—about getting old (he’s 76). Eventually, it occurred to me that Chouinard likes women. Is genuinely at ease with them, in fact.

IMG 5350That’s pretty rare, I find. Men may like ladies, and some sure like looking at us, but it’s uncommon to meet a man who’s completely comfortable in a room full of women. Chouinard is one of those. Never domineering or patronizing, he chatted easily with us about fishing, grandkids, mountain-town living, and collecting skills rather than gear. "Of course I'm a pessimist," he answered when I asked him about his reputation. "There's no reason to be optimistic about our environment." But he also demonstrated that he's plenty capable of having fun. He appeared to truly enjoy our company, which may be the biggest reason I like him.

There are lots of other, even better reasons. He gives wads of cash to environmental efforts. He lives what he preaches about downsizing consumption. He’s smart and inventive, and when I asked him why he was launching women’s fishing gear (which isn’t likely to be a big seller), he replied, “We’ll grow a market.”

So when I say that Yvon Chouinard is a ladies’ man, I mean it as the highest praise.