California Dreamin’

Ventura, CA
Ventura, CA

by Scott Sadil

I’ve parked my truck and trailered Tamalita in sunlight flooding the street in front of the Great Pacific Iron Works, retail anchor of the seemingly ever-expanding Patagonia headquarters, waiting to meet with my old pal Gary Bulla, down from foothills above Ventura this morning to see about some sciatica pain that he’s fairly certain has to do with too many panga rides chasing roosters and dorado, and whatever else a fly can fool, in his reach of the Sea of Cortez.

Taking note of the particular statement made in the style of clothing worn by employees passing through the headquarters gates (What would your wardrobe look like if you happened to work for the likes of Patagonia?), I’m slow to notice a short, round, frumpy fellow, dressed like the other workers, across the street from me, inspecting my boat.

I hop out of the truck, concerned I might be taking up space meant for paying customers.

“That’s a beautiful boat,” says Yvon Chouinard.

He crosses the pavement for a better look.

“Just beautiful,” he adds, coming out from behind her transom.


We shake hands.  We go back a ways, although I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that Chouinard and I are pals or anything of the sort.  We’ve never fished together, for one.  But there’s been a couple of meetings along the way, some correspondence, an exchange of books and cards and whatnot, and once I even stayed at his surfers’ hideaway in the Hollister Ranch where, a long time ago, Bulla and I caught a bunch of barred perch and cooked them up in the elegant kitchen in which Gary had built solid wood cabinets, no plywood, each cabinet from a different species of California tree.

Truth is, I’m still a little bit starstruck chatting with Chouinard, the way I was, say, the first time I sat down to sign books alongside Lefty Kreh, Dave Whitlock, and Gary LaFontaine, who ended up publishing my novel, Cast from the Edge, shortly before his untimely death from ALS.

And, no surprise, it’s literary matters the conversation turns to now.

Chouinard reports he’s just handed in the tenth draft of a new book.  It features some eighteen fly patterns, all of them more or less the same, tied from pheasant tail, varying mostly in size, depending on whether you’re targeting trout, bonefish, Atlantic salmon, or anything in between.

Great Pacific Iron Works, Ventura, CA
Great Pacific Iron Works, Ventura, CA

Having recently published a book featuring sixty fly patterns, I feel somewhat profligate, if not actually shamed, even though the two of us share, basically, the same thesis: The fly doesn’t matter.

As proof of the efficacy of his simple, nondescript flies, Chouinard, a renowned minimalist, claims that he and a fellow angler were in Labrador not long ago and in eleven days of fishing caught 234 Atlantic salmon.

“You keep that up,” I say, “you’ll break Russell Chatham’s record.”

Yvon laughs, a hearty expression of delight, unusual, in my experience, from a guy who seems to spend a lot of time worrying about the fate of our planet.

“Russ was a liar,” says Chouinard.  “I fished with him.”

(The reference was to a story Chatham once wrote about slaying the Atlantic salmon in Iceland or some such place, a story I’m not able to locate this moment in my poorly organized books.  If I remember correctly, however, Chatham hooked and landed over a thousand salmon, recorded, he claimed, in the lodge’s offical records.)

A young woman, Chouinard’s personal assistant, joins us out on the street; she tells Yvon that he’s supposed to be in a meeting soon, leaving just enough time for him to explain that his new book will have QR codes printed with each pattern, so that readers can take out their phones and instantly watch someone demonstrate how to tie the fly – just the sort of technological advance you would expect from the founder of Patagonia, and one that will no doubt leave books like mine languishing on the shelves.

Before Yvon takes his leave, he invites me and Gary to lunch – “If you can find your way into this place,” he says, waving a hand at the fences and security gates that now surround much of the Patagonia headquarters, a response to the number of homeless people camped out along the nearby Ventura River.

“Have to protect my employees,” says Yvon, who in 2022 gave his company away, without, apparently, entirely letting go of the reins.

He strolls away down the sidewalk, splashed with shadows and golden light.

Gray’s angling editor Scott Sadil once had Patagonia repair a fleece jumper that was splotched with holes from sparks landing on him while he tried to dry out next to an Olympic Peninsula campfire.