Dan Vermillion Lands the Big One
BY PAT HILL
Dan Vermillion of the Sweetwater Fly Shop in Livingston is one of only a few people in the world who can say that he spent an afternoon fly fishing with U.S. President Barack Obama.
When the president touched down at Gallatin Field on Aug.14, a town hall meeting in an airport hanger focusing on health care wasn’t the only thing on his agenda. President Obama wanted to get out and do some fly fishing. Vermillion got the nod as the man to serve as the president’s fishing guide.
“I am good friends with Barrett Kaiser, who is [Sen.] Max Baucus’s state director,” Vermillion told the Pioneer. “Barrett and Jim Messina [Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff] are very good friends. Jim called Barrett for a guide recommendation and Barrett recommended me.”
After getting Kaiser’s recommen-dation for the job, Messina (who is also a graduate of the University of Montana in Missoula) gave Vermillion the okay for the job. Then it was time for the Secret Service to step in, first running a background check on Vermillion, and then arriving in Montana prior to the president’s visit to work with the guide preparing for the fishing trip.
“We did a fair amount of prep work,” said Vermillion. “It began with scouting three different pieces of water: two on the Madison, and then one spot on the East Gallatin. The Secret Service walked through both the Madison property and the East Gallatin property with me. They wanted to know where we would be fishing so they could put together a security plan for the particular stretch of water.”
Vermillion said that he “found the Secret Service folks to be really nice and easy to work with.”
“I would like to think we became friends during our prep time,” he said. “The Madison was our preferred alternative but, due to the President’s schedule, was only viable in good weather. The East Gallatin was selected for its proximity to the airport, and was our bad weather alternative.”
The weather wasn’t altogether bad when President Obama landed at Gallatin Field around mid-day, although thunderstorms were flirting around the edges of the Gallatin Valley. But by the time the president was finished with his town hall meeting at the airport, it was raining hard.
“The weather on the day of fishing with President Obama was horrendous,” said Vermillion, “so we fished the East Gallatin. The fishing conditions were very difficult, with gusty winds and a steady downpour. It was the type of weather that would have sent most of us to the bar.” But Vermillion said that the president “persevered through the weather.”
“He was really committed to taking advantage of the opportunity regardless of the weather,” said Vermillion.
Though Obama is new to fly fishing, Vermillion said he was impressed with the president’s grasp of the sport.
“The president was a very quick learner,” said Vermillion. “He was really interested in learning about fly fishing. He had done some casting at Camp David prior to our time on the river together. He ended up with several strikes and fish that were hooked. However, we did not land a fish. If time allows, I think he will become a very good fisherman. He is obviously a very good athlete.”
The president’s skill with a fly rod wasn’t all that impressed Vermillion about the man.
“The thing that impressed me most about President Obama was his sincerity,” Vermillion said. “He immediately put me at ease. He did not just want to catch fish. He really wanted to understand why we were using the flies we were using, why we were fishing the water we were fishing, and what life cycles of trout in the East Gallatin were. I think he will catch a lot of fish in his day.”
Security went smoothly during the president’s East Gallatin fishing trip, although Vermillion did confirm one incident involving a neighboring landowner’s son who was asked to leave the scene.
“I don’t know much about the situation…it is my understanding that it was local law enforcement that asked the boy to leave,” Vermillion said. “It was not the president’s Secret Service detail. I am also pretty sure that the Secret Service, or local law enforcement, visited with the [neighboring] family afterwards and that everything ended on a pretty positive note.” Vermillion said he certainly felt secure while fishing with the president.
“When we fished, there was a Secret Service agent about 40 feet behind us in the river, several Secret Service agents within eyesight of us on either side of the river, and a Suburban tracking [us] as we moved up the river,” said Vermillion. “I felt pretty darn safe.”
Vermillion said that although he isn’t sure if he’ll ever get to fish with the president again, he thinks Obama may be back someday to tempt the trout of Big Sky Country.
“The president genuinely likes Montana, and on several occasions said ‘If it is this pretty in the rain, I can’t imagine how pretty it must be when the sun is shining,’” Vermillion said. “I think he will return to Montana to fish, but from the sounds of it his schedule is pretty full with other commitments.” But Vermillion is glad he got to spend some non-political time on the water with Obama.
“After spending three hours with the president, I felt very good about my decision to vote for him last November, and I felt that our country is in very good hands,” said Vermillion. “I am honored that his first day of fly fishing for trout was with me.”